Government votes against bill to abolish third-level fees

Shauna Burdis 

</strong>The bill was proposed by the government’s opposition party People Before Profit, to remove barriers to higher education by abolishing third-level fees so that everyone who wants to access higher education has the same chance. 

The motion titled Young People and access to Further and Higher Education was put forward by People Before Profit, who wanted to radically reform access to further and higher education. On social media, the motion ran under the campaign name of #RemoveTheBarriers. 

The bill received support from the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) who held an online protest on March 24th, along with socially distanced demonstrations on college campuses across Ireland, calling for the government to take action on key student issues, including an end to the highest fees in Europe. 

This included scrapping third-level fees, abolishing the Leaving Certificate, investing to create more places in third-level courses, funding for mental health and counselling services, more funding for grant systems, and creating publicly owned affordable student accommodation. 

The bill was voted down by the coalition government of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, and the Green Party. The motion was defeated 56 to 82.

On Twitter, People Before Profit posted an image of the voting outcome with the caption: “Tonight, the govt [government] showed us how little they really care.” 

In an Instagram post, the USI stated: “Education is a right and yet students continuously encounter insurmountable barriers to accessing education.”

Due to Covid-19 and the on-going health emergency, colleges were forced to close their doors and resume teaching with a mix of blended learning and some on-campus classes, however teaching primarily resumed online. 

The pandemic has put higher education fees into sharp focus. After Brexit, Ireland has the highest college fees in Europe. 

The Higher Education Authority has acknowledged that students from affluent backgrounds are twice as likely to attend college as students from deprived backgrounds.

Undergraduate courses in Irish colleges normally start from €3,000 or more.

Trinity College Dublin (TCD), University College Dublin (UCD) and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) have just 5 per cent of students from disadvantaged areas in their student body. 

36 per cent of students in Trinity are from affluent backgrounds.

Irish Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett commented on his Instagram: “No wonder it is hard to get out of poverty, and that affluence and privilege continues to remain in one narrow strata of society.

“It’s bad for all of us when we deprive society of the talent and potential of large swathes of working-class young people.”

Shauna Burdis 

Image credit: People Before Profit, Twitter