“Education Is A Right Not A Privilege”: Yesterday’s March

Yesterday’s march against student fees was the latest national demonstration to sweep the nation. It came in the wake of a proposed government loan scheme to restructure college fees for students which would result in each student graduating with around €20,000 of debt.

It is an age old problem where due to economic circumstances some students can’t avail of third level education simply because of the fees, we claim to be a nation where education is free and open to anyone, as long as they can pay the price tag that goes with it. The Union of Students Ireland yesterday marched across Dublin a crowd of 12,000 bristling with slogan bearing signs and banners such as ‘Fees are still scarier than clowns’ and ‘Down with that sort of thing’. The march yesterday not only showed the solidarity amongst students but marked a desperate outcry for the government to remedy the situation; we are becoming a generation that is swallowed up by debt by the time we graduate and under the proposed plans, this problem would only be exacerbated.

Education March
The assembled masses of students.

Yesterday, students lined the streets of our capital, from every corner of this tiny island, filling buses in the early hours, just to march for their rights. We stand together in solidarity as one union, as one student body, no matter where we go or what we do together we are all fighting for the same right to education. It seems the only thing phasing our country is the hike in the price of cigarettes, while the fees for students are multiplying. The Cassel Report gave students limited options, the system they suggest putting in place would mirror that of the U.K, student loan schemes that would inevitably leave students in debt, these income-contingent loans would mean repaying your loan as you begin work after graduation, in the U.K weekly and monthly payments are taken from graduates to repay their loans. If we were to adapt a system like this, we would be swimming in debt before our careers even take off.

Yesterday’s protest showed we are willing to fight for our education, we will not become a generation that has to be dragged down by debt, if we really are the future of this country, it’s about time our government started investing in us. As USI president Annie Hoey said yesterday “We’re not giving up fighting this is just the beginning”.

Our fees are a joke. With most degrees now ranging from four years or more our ‘free’ education saddles students or their parents or guardians with a massive financial burden.  If we accept income contingency loans are we not saddling ourselves down with repayments in a few year’s time, would it not make more sense to come up with an alternative repayment plan, or for the government to sack this idea and find funding for students elsewhere?. Circumstance can only allow so many students to avail of third level education and that is not right. Of the students who lined the streets, each wearing a blue or purple shirt representing their debt, it’s an image we shouldn’t see on our TV screens. While we should be in lectures or labs we’re taking to the streets to fight a system that should be helping us rather than hurting us.

Education March
Blindboy Boatclub of the Rubberbandits and Preident of USI Annie Hoey, both made speeches at the march.

#EducationIs became one of the top trending hashtags on twitter, we have fought fees before, through recession and economic crisis, like the marches in 2010 against the grant cut to rural students, we as a union will keep the fight going. If we don’t invest in the future of this country we will fall behind; education is the beginning of every career. If we aid our future entrepreneurs, doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, it will be an investment in the infrastructure of this country. We have shortages in every sector, schools lacking teachers, hospitals that are understaffed and filled with overworked nurses and doctors, mental health services that are lacking professionals and trained nurses. We as a nation need to come together and prioritise now, education is a right not a privilege.

Aileen O’Leary

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