Student Protest

By Aishling Phelan

 

The Union of Students in Ireland hopes that violent groups will not ‘hijack’ tomorrow’s student protest and does not want a repeat of last year’s chaos.

Speaking to The College View last night, Deputy President of the USI Colin Murphy said, ‘‘As a result of the violence that occurred outside the Department of Finance last year, the story of the day became a discussion about violence rather than a discussion about higher education funding and what way we can protect Irelands future, keeping people in third level. I’ll be extremely disappointed if anything like that were to happen again.’’

Thousands of students are expected to take to the streets of the city centre to protest against an increase in the Student Contribution Charge and cuts to maintenance grants.

He said, ‘‘There will always be some elements that will attempt to hijack other groups demonstrations but we’ve intended for it to be a peaceful demonstration.’’

DCU’s Students Union issued a similar warning this evening when Education Officer and Vice President, Cillian Byrne stated, ‘‘Under the Public Order Act, if you don’t move on when the Gardai ask you to, they are entitled to remove you,’’ and he asked students to remember that they would be wearing a DCUSU logo.

He warned at the Students’ Union council meeting that it was vital students attended the march regardless of whether they were in their final year because ‘‘the government are looking at cutting everything.’’

When the issue of scrapping all new postgraduate grants came up, MBS in Accounting student, Naomi Zimmermann said that these cuts were acceptable because of the number of graduates that accept grants from the government because they ‘can’t be bothered to go out and find a job.’

Others at the meeting strongly disagreed arguing that blanket cuts to all postgraduate grants would be unfair on those who go on to further education to advance their qualifications and compete at the highest level for their career.

When asked whether this year’s protest would really make an impact on the government USI Deputy President Murphy said, ‘‘’The situation is radically different from last year. Last year we had a government that was on its last legs, this year we have a government that is at the start of its term and we know to show this new government, that it wasn’t merely antipathy towards the last government, it’s a genuine need to protect education.’’

The main argument set out by the government and many academics is that students must pay a portion of their fees to maintain a high standard of education in Ireland. Ireland pays the second highest university fees in Europe after England.

In a recent interview with The College View, the President of DCU, Professor Brian MacCraith said, ‘‘Student numbers are going up, government investment is going down, that divergence between the two means that the quality will start to suffer.’’ My view is that if the government won’t do it, and we continue to put pressure on the government to do it, my feeling is that those who can pay should pay.’’

Murphy strongly disagrees that higher student contributions will result in better quality educations. ‘‘If the contribution charge does increase, it will not necessarily lead to an increase in university budgets or any increase in maintenance quality for courses or academic offerings at third level. Up until now every time the student contribution charge went up or other charges were increased, it was met by a corresponding decrease in funding from the government.’’

He added, ‘‘If there are further cuts to the grant it’s going to further whittle away at students ability to stay in college and a tipping point will come where the grant will become worthless. It simply won’t be possible to live on it.’’

He stressed that it was important that students not only took part in tomorrow’s demonstration but that they put pressure on their local TD’s. ‘‘If fees go up it will have a massive impact particularly for colleges like DCU where you have a student demographic of people coming from all over the country.’’ He believes that if higher fees are introduced and maintenance grants are cut, third level education will return to being the preserve of the wealthy elite.

Buses to the national student march are leaving DCU at the Collins Avenue exit at 12.15pm tomorrow. It will cost €2 for bus fare and a red t-shirt and students can collect a wristband which allows them entry into Ryan Sheridan’s gig in DCU that evening for €5.

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