The year is 2023. The cost of living is skyrocketing, and it isn’t coming back down to Earth anytime soon. The foreseeable future is as dystopian as it sounds, and right now this is very much our present reality. We’ve seen this trend before, and we’ll surely see it again.
Despite the predictably unpredictable, rise and fall of the economics that govern our every which way, unpaid internships have not yet become a thing of the past. One would think that, in this economy, the €14.80 living wage would prompt the payment of students for their troubles.
There are many issues in the country stemming from the ever-increasing costs. The people in Ireland are paying the price, and it begins here. At student level, the precedent is set.
For years, the “student budget” has been commonly accepted as a low standard of living. Scrounging off freshers’ freebies, leftovers, and one-pot wonders, the lifestyle of a student was notoriously unglamourous.
This lifestyle is now unaffordable to many students. The concept of making food in a dorm room and slumming it in the city is no longer an option as rent prices grow higher than the Irish skyline.
What was once considered lowly living is now an enviable experience to so many. Most students don’t want to still be living at home because they can’t afford or even find available and suitable accommodation. Nobody embarks on an hour-long commute in and out of college every day by choice. It’s simply not sustainable.
The cost of being a student on campus is high, and the situation isn’t becoming any less dire. The Kingfisher gym charges a 12-month annual subscription for students that generally aren’t in Galway for a quarter of the year. Campus accommodation prices are higher than ever. The resit fees are a flat fee and the highest in the country.
With all these additional costs, it should be possible to pay students when they’re engaged in a mandatory course module.
It makes sense why so many sectors in Ireland are struggling – people are leaving. The National Youth Council of Ireland have reported that more than 70% of young people aged 18-24 are considering moving abroad to earn a better quality of life.
The message that is being told, from the start, is that people’s time and their efforts don’t matter. We saw from the pandemic just how vital our essential services were. Yet, they’re still underfunded and underpaid.
What good is it to help others if you cannot start by helping yourself?
Unlike the political state of the country, the ineffective tax system, and all other socio-economic issues which plague Irish society, this is a problem which has a solution. In fact, it’s rather simple to solve. Pay student interns.
The University placement system is flawed. Students who are on a placement year will still need to pay full fees, despite not having access to the (overcrowded and underdeveloped) campus facilities.
The response from the University, when addressed by the Students’ Union, was that the decision is above them and it’s just the way which it has always been done – students that are on placement are earning the money to afford the fees. If we look at it from the perspective of those students, then we find it’s quite a different story.
The placement application system generally requires you to take the first job which is offered to you. In most instances, the positions are disproportionately weighted to being Dublin-based opportunities. None of the positions are guaranteed, so it is suggested to students that they apply for multiple.
In my course, Law and Human Rights, the options for a human rights position were limited to being mostly part-time unpaid internships in Dublin. You can either, move to Dublin and work in a big firm where more than half of your wage is going towards rent, or you can choose to work part-time unpaid and then work an alternative job to make ends meet.
As with everything, there are naturally many contributing factors to this problem. That doesn’t mean we should be complacent. This problem has a very clear solution.