Editorial: Universities cannot be left behind after Covid-19

Aoibhín Meghen, Editor in Chief

Protest against further rent increases for students accomodation in February 2020

At long last universities began teaching again this month after the previous academic year was abruptly interrupted by the arrival of Covid-19. 

Now students and faculty are looking to get back to work in the “new normal”. They have however been set up to fail. 

With Irish university fees still remaining the second highest in Europe despite almost all teaching being done online students are understandably upset and frustrated. 

While some universities including DCU have lowered their rent for the year or tried to make their accommodation as flexible as possible for students who are on campus part-time, the price of going to university in Ireland just seems too high.

DCU as well as UCD and NUI Galway (NUIG) have confirmed that their classes would remain online until the end of semester one and students have been wondering what this means in regards to their accommodation costs.

NUIG has agreed to refund most of the cost of on-campus accommodation to students for the first semester, but the same decision has not been made in UCD so far.

Universities have also not ruled out further rent increases in the coming year which can be up to four per cent and would put an even heavier financial burden on students.

Of course we are living through a global pandemic and many industries across Ireland are suffering badly, but this issue regarding the cost of attending university did not start when Covid-19 came to town.

However, perhaps this extortionate cost to students is not at the fault of the university. The student contribution fee has gone from €2,000 in 2010 to  €3,000 now, but despite this universities are still struggling.

The higher education system has been underfunded since their budget was slashed in 2008. According to Times Higher Education, public investment in Irish higher education fell by a third between 2008 and 2016 despite student numbers rising by almost 25 per cent.

According to the Irish Universities Association the amount of state funding per student in Ireland was halved between 2008 and 2017.

Over a decade on from the beginning of the economic crisis and the insufficient funding for higher education in Ireland has created a backlog in “infrastructure movement” as described by Thomas Estermann of the European University Association.

A concrete plan must be developed in order to not only help Irish universities get through Covid-19 but to allow them to grow and develop beyond this pandemic. 

We need more supports for students to help offset the cost of attending university because currently they are insufficient to meet ongoing and future demands. 

There is also a need for “a move towards publicly-financed higher education at the heart of government policy” which the Union of Students in Ireland are asking for in their Education for All campaign.

As we enter yet another economic recession, funding for higher education cannot afford to suffer as it did before. More young people are being encouraged to stay in education during this difficult period but if they do then the supports must be there.

Aoibhín Meghen

Image Credit: Shauna Burdis