If national media outlets this week dedicated unusually significant coverage to students in University College Cork (UCC) protesting a proposed 120 per cent increase to their capitation fee, it was hardly any wonder.
It’s not hard to see that the move, which would see students paying €370 each per year in capitated fees by 2023, has huge implications for students all over the country.
The sharp increase – which will not be covered by the SUSI grant – will undoubtedly put untold strain on UCC’s students, but it may also embolden other colleges to heap more of their financial woes onto the backs of students.
Unfortunately, if unsurprisingly, UCC’s administration chose to usher in the fee in mid-summer, when most students are otherwise engaged.
On top of this, University College Cork Students’ Union (UCCSU) sabbatical officers handed over to their successors right in the middle of the whole debacle, creating inevitable disorganisation at a critical juncture.
Understandably, then, the rebellious spirit that swept over Trinity during the heady days of the Take Back Trinity protests was not replicated in Cork this past week. Instead, 14 students turned up outside the office of UCC’s president last week, demanding a meeting and insisting that the university back down on the fee or at least give students a vote.
Somewhat inevitably, the UCCSU officers did not have their demands met. Their protest, one-day long and ultimately lacking in strategy, was never by itself going to force UCC into an embarrassing climbdown.
But this is no time for hesitation: an in-depth critique of strategy can come later. The conditions for a mass student protest movement akin to Take Back Trinity are clearly lacking in Cork, but UCCSU must recognise the seriousness of this fee increase and fight it tooth and nail. More direct action must be organised as a matter of urgency, and more thought needs to go into hitting UCC in places that will force it to listen to its students.
Make no mistake, a fee increase of this magnitude passing – without strong and unrelenting opposition – would represent a decisive loss for students all over the country in the battle to decide who foots higher education’s bill.