Last week, this Editorial Board wrote that it was incumbent on the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) to prove the worth of its new “Fund the Future” campaign, after a year in which higher education funding has often seemed far removed from the union’s list of priorities.
If we are to accept, as most who work and study in the sector do, that government intransigence has left third-level education in an almost irremediably dire situation, then it follows that Fund the Future badly needed to hit the mark.
It needed, on its first outing this week, to deliver a full-frontal attack on the government and give those in power no option but to pay attention to an organised and potent student rally.
This, unfortunately, is not what ensued.
The walkouts that took place on campuses across the country on Thursday were not without merit. They mobilised students and staff on a local level and brought the higher education crisis directly to those most affected by it.
They fit the new message USI seems to want to communicate: that the higher education funding crisis should be fought on campuses the country over, by students alive to both the severity of the crisis and the urgency of meeting it head on.
But what Fund the Future ultimately represented was many small, jabbing cuts at the government, not the impossible-to-ignore public assault on third-level underinvestment that USI – and students – needed in order to seriously pressure Leinster House into listening up.
It behooved USI, for the flagship rally of its new campaign, to organise a protest that would capture significant national attention for its size, strength and audability.
Instead, the thousands of students who rallied on different campuses were segmented, not united, and the message was diluted. Just 40 students, for context, marched to the Department of Education to protest.
USI has claimed that “the history books of the future should cast 2019 as the year we decided to strike out as the skills and education capital of Europe”. If the union’s leaders want to make this happen, they will need to become a great deal more ambitious in the scope and scale of their campaigns.