The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has called on the government to recognise the autonomy of students’ unions, arguing a national framework is a necessity if students are to hold their colleges to account.
In a letter to Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor – who spoke at USI’s national council in Sligo last week – USI President Lorna Fitzpatrick wrote that the “lack of a national framework which recognises the autonomy of Students’ Unions limits their power to effectively hold their Higher Education Institutes to account and ensure they are working in the best interests of students.”
Fitzpatrick said USI “would strongly welcome a commitment from you as Minister to advocate for this development”.
In the letter, which was published on Twitter this afternoon, Fitzpatrick also welcomed Mitchell O’Connor’s apparent acknowledgement that “Budget 2020 did not go far enough”, and urged her to “champion the need for your colleagues in Government to take action on the crisis facing Higher Education”.
On Twitter, Mitchell O’Connor thanked Fitzpatrick for the letter, which saw USI criticise the long-term decline in funding for higher education and argue that the “current financial supports do not reflect the financial reality faced by students”.
USI also called on Mitchell O’Connor to push for better supports in higher education for asylum seekers. Last week, the organisation criticised an Oireachtas report on direct provision that did not make a single recommendation to the government regarding third-level education.
“We urgently need a champion at Government level to address this crisis facing those who have come to Ireland seeking a better life”, Fitzpatrick wrote, adding: “We have also attended far too many protests trying to stop the deportations of our students.”
As Ireland’s institutes of technology undergo mergers to form new technological universities, students’ unions have raised issues about being excluded from decision-making, Fitzpatrick added.
“Students are not being included or consulted at key stages in the decision making process of TU mergers pre and post designation despite numerous calls from Students’ Unions to be involved and to ensure the student voice is being heard”, she said.
Fitzpatrick wrote: “If we wish to sustain an environment where anyone can aspire to, one day, access higher education – it is time, now that you hear us, to take action.”