By Mark Lynch
The Union of Students in Ireland were forced to cancel the ‘Break the Barriers’ protest in Dublin on October 3rd, due to the weather warning for Hurricane Lorenzo. ‘Break the Barriers’, however, was not a one-day event, but, in fact, a year-long campaign by the USI, launched in September and, despite the cancellation of the protest event in Dublin, the campaign lives on.
NUI Galway Students’ Union President, Clare Austick, explains how it came about, “There is always a main campaign chosen (by the USI) every year, with the main focus being on co-ordinating a national day of action (protest in Dublin). This campaign highlights all the barriers students face when accessing higher-level education. It includes the student contribution charge, which are the fees of €3000, the extortionate rent prices that students are expected to pay for accommodation, and the lack of investment in the sector, meaning essential student support services on campus”.
Ms. Austick also stresses the severity of the situation that students are facing, which, in turn, amplifies the importance of this campaign, “I cannot emphasise how important this campaign is and why students should engage with it. This is about their future and the future of their siblings, cousins and people they know. We currently have the second highest fees in Europe and will have the highest after Brexit. 12 years ago, it cost €800 to attend University. Now, it’s €3000. How is that justified? The SUSI grant hasn’t been increased, yet the cost of living has. Support services on campus, such as the Counselling Service, are completely underfunded across Ireland and the housing crisis is worsening. There has not been any focus or investment into third level education in years, which is why I think this campaign is very appropriate and fitting. The Government needs to focus on education and make it a priority”.
The Students’ Union President also believes it’s time students took their power, and campaigns like this one, seriously. “My fear is that if students don’t speak up and call on the Government to do more, they won’t see it as an issue and will possibly increase the fees 10 years from now. Students should never underestimate the power of their voice. Collectively, we absolutely can make a difference”. She adds, “Students pay huge amounts of money each year to be in University but they definitely are not getting the value for their money (seats not functioning in lecture theatres, no seating on campus, lack of funding into support services, student staff ratio etc)”.
Ms. Austick outlines how to get involved in the fight to ‘Break the Barriers’ to education, “Students can use social media to make their peers aware by using the #BreakTheBarriers, they can write to their local TD’s and be part of the alternative event USI organises”.