Despite the fact that the student movement faces many obstacles, including inexperience, a relatively apolitical population and short-term positions for those in authority, its successes support the notion that there is indeed strength in numbers. At 200,000, the Irish student population is a veritable Leviathan, and examples of successful college campaigns are numerous. What is often lacking is a sense of cohesive collaboration, the consequences of which include too many missed opportunities for change.
The publication of the Cassells report has primed students for debate. Those of us hoping for the best possible outcome from the report must capitalise on the brief window of opportunity afforded in the coming weeks.
Students’ unions have already begun to lead discussion, with all presidents of unions affiliated with the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) signing an open letter rejecting the Cassells report’s proposed loan scheme at this week’s Student Union Training (SUT). While Trinity’s grassroots group “Students Against Fees” has been diligent in rejecting such a proposal since last year, the letter has deeply symbolic significance for Irish students, as does the image of all 27 presidents standing in solidarity at the onset of their terms.
Student collaboration need not be exclusively national: the North is facing a similar situation, and representatives from both Queen’s University, Belfast and Ulster University were present at SUT. The Fossil Free TCD group proved this point at People and Planet’s Summer Gathering, its first Irish delegation. What became clear at the conference is that most student divestment campaigns are at the same standstill: promised consideration by their universities but awaiting action. Tasked with learning from each other’s experiences, the emphasis was on how best to band together and achieve a global — rather than purely national — goal of divestment. It is this mentality that must catch on.
The examples of both USI and Fossil Free TCD must be followed if we are to arrive at a satisfactory result regarding funding in higher education. With no current indication that students and student organisations — the main stakeholders in the report — will be consulted in the course of the cross-party debate, collaboration is essential.