Defiance against student loans must be heard

The perception of apathy amongst students was obliterated when students’ unions around the country rallied behind the Yes Equality campaign in the marriage equality referendum in 2015.

Students’ Unions across the country, including our own, held SU referendums that returned 90 per cent Yes votes time after time. Students were united during the course of the campaign and they succeeded in effecting incredible change. This was only last year.

Historically, students have been incredibly effective at delivering change. For example, in the 1980’s, students campaigned on reproductive rights and their activism led to Spuc v Grogan, which led to referendums being held and passed on the right to publish information about abortion, and for women to travel abroad for abortion services, without which today we wouldn’t even be talking about repealing the 8th amendment.

These are things I’ve said a number of times, but it can’t be said enough that historically, students are incredibly effective at influencing change.

But in the last number of years we’ve seen the registration fee, now the student contribution charge, raised by nearly €2100 since 2008. We’ve seen a net migration level of 70,000 18-24 year olds between 2008 and 2014, and cuts of 30 per cent to the social welfare programmes of young people, as well as a youth unemployment rate over double the national level. We’ve witnessed the introduction of the exploitative Jobsbridge, which brought with it a culture of unpaid-internships, effectively adding another peg for young people to climb on the career ladder.

In the context of recession and budgetary constraints, this could be construed as necessary, but this was alongside successive budgets in the last five years that eroded progressive taxation and gave financial relief to the wealthiest in our society.

The icing on the cake is the spectre of the introduction of student loans. An expert group commissioned by the Minister for Education to look into the future funding of third level education looks likely to recommend the introduction of an Income Contingent Student Loan model to replace the current system. This would see yearly student fees of between €4000-€5000, with interest and repayment starting where you earn over €26,000 per annum. Our generation has been sold out and the finale of the austerity period for students is to put thousands of euros of debt on our shoulders.

Student loans have to be where students draw the line. It’s time that our perceived apathy is replaced with some activism. The oncoming general election campaign gives students an opportunity to make their voice heard.

The group Students Against Fees will be organising a student march in the next three weeks. Every student needs to attend this march and show their opposition by making sure that they and their friends vote; by banging the drum of social media and by telling every election candidate that knocks on your door that you’ll be making sure that your vote will matter in this election and the next.

It’s time for students to be united again. Don’t stand back, stand up.

Sean Cassidy
Image credit: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

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