An opinion piece by Seán Burke.
In Ireland, free education is very expensive. Despite this dichotomy, we are assured by Fine Gael that they aim to build a ‘Republic of Opportunity.’
While I wholeheartedly take issue with a vision so lacking in ambition that its ideal result is a society, in which people are incredibly equal to be incredibly unequal, it’s undoubtedly better than the alternative that is currently provided. Despite Fine Gael’s words being so devoid of ambition for a meaningfully better society, compared to their actions, their words are something to envy.
While the failings of successive governments, led by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, can be found in every corner of every crisis in Irish society, one such crisis is the commodification of education. The primary purpose of education is to give everyone an equal opportunity to make the most of their life. Unfortunately, the education system, implemented by successive governments, does the opposite. The primary function of Ireland’s education system appears to be a vehicle in which wealth reinforces wealth.
Before even touching the variety of inequalities within third level education, let’s look at the inequalities preceding it. The wealthiest 20% of parents spend seven times that of the poorest 20%, per child on education outside of school. The power of wealth to undermine the democratic purpose of education is further evident in the fact that, despite only making up 10% of all second level students, students that went to private schools make up 30% of those going to Trinity and UCD (the top two colleges in Ireland).
By the time students reach third level education, it is often already evident that the number of opportunities a person has can be counted in euro. But, don’t worry, it gets worse.
With Ireland having the highest college fees in Europe, coupled with a housing crisis permeating through every corner of society, it’s very clear what type of society exists for young people. Margaret Thatcher once said; “there is no such thing as society”. Whilst drawing inspiration from Thatcher is something I’d often be inclined to regard as a symptom of desperation, in this instance, I believe that it’s fair to say that there is no society for young people in Ireland.
This is the natural result of successive governments that seek to preserve a social order from which they benefit. By limiting access to education, and limiting social mobility, the existing social hierarchy becomes much less malleable. Pleas from students who are being squeezed for every penny that they don’t have consistently seem to fall onto deaf ears. It is certainly evident that the government does not care, but when you look around, it would be worse if this was the result of a government that did care.