This Thursday, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) will take direct action to campaign for higher education funding on campuses all over Ireland. And it’s about time.
Last week, a letter signed by students’ union leaders in the Irish Times lambasted the government’s neglect of higher education, and denounced the still-looming prospect of student loans. The letter also kicked off the new “Fund the Future” campaign. The first signatory of the letter was, naturally, USI president Síona Ní Chatháil.
The letter was spot on – but its tone of urgency is markedly out of step with USI’s actions for the last year.
In recent months, leaders within the student movement have casually remarked that the fight against student loans has been won – done and dusted. The actions of the national students’ union portray a similar attitude.
Back in October, USI announced that it would be changing the focus of its annual pre-budget march from education to the housing crisis. Many, including this Editorial Board, were dismayed by the decision. After all, if the national students’ union is so flagrantly taking its eyes off the crucial ball that is government funding, what hope is there for ending the ongoing crisis?
Throughout the year, the question of higher education funding has remained adrift: despite small efforts by Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), and the launch of the Save Our Spark campaign by the Irish Universities Association, there has been no significant traction on the issue of funding.
It seems that the government’s decision to refer proposals on student loans to the European Commission – a sure sign that this fight has not been won – finally frightened USI into action. But now it’s March, and we’re hurtling towards the end of the academic year, when a whole new set of union officers across the country will take office. The wheels of this project will inevitably slow once again.
It’s better late than never, of course, but given the half-hearted action on the issue so far, it’s going to take real determination – and tangible results – to prove that the Fund the Future campaign is indeed intended to drive real momentum, rather than simply being an end-of-year box-ticking exercise for USI.