By and large, titanic battles have never intimidated the student movement. For decades, they have used various forms of protest to face down governments and university administrations.
The accommodation crisis, however, has forced students to reflect on these efforts. As faceless corporations continue to build extortionately priced accommodation sites across the country, students and the groups that represent them have rightly rallied against their growing hold on the student accommodation market.
Until now, these protests have had varying degrees of success. While they have brought attention to the issue, lasting and impactful results have been lacking. Rents remain high and many students continue to be priced out of a third-level education.
However, the announcement this week that NUI Galway Students’ Union (NUIGSU) is taking a case against Cúirt na Coiribe, the university’s most popular accommodation provider – which hiked rents by 18 per cent this year – demonstrates how the battleground is shifting from guerilla-style tactics to sensible and affirmative action. With summer a notoriously difficult time for unions and other groups to mobilise student support, the decision to take legal action is a logical and well thought-out move by the union.
Facing into a battle with a big, well-funded and largely anonymous corporation, the union could easily have sat back and relied on the kind of everyday protest expected of them.
While naturally these forms of protest aren’t without merit, entering a case with the Residential Tenancies Board demonstrates that decisions such as the one to increase the rent in Cúirt na Coiribe won’t be taken lying down. It is a recognition of the fact that marches and sit-ins are no longer enough – and this is the sort of action that we not only need from our students’ union, but also one we should expect. Who knows what the result of this case will be – but it’s a creative form of protest that draws much-needed attention to the crisis.
Whether NUIGSU is successful or not, students’ unions should learn from them and use every avenue available to tackle this issue.