The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has called on Ireland’s next government to remove the student contribution charge – at €3,000, the second-highest college fee in the EU – and advocated for free public transport for students, in its general election manifesto released this evening.
The manifesto groups its demands under four headings – Access to Quality Education, An Equal Health System, A Sustainable Society and A Welcoming Nation – and recommends widespread changes to education and healthcare policies.
USI calls on the country’s next government to create “a truly accessible third-level education sector that champions equality of opportunity and outcomes for all our people”.
It also contains ambitious reforms to how the government deals with asylum seekers and their access to higher education. In the wake of deportation orders for a number of asylum seekers studying in third-level institutes in recent years, USI has called on the government to grant legal protection to asylum seekers for the duration of their studies, and to include those living in direct provision in free fees and state grant initiatives.
Perhaps surprisingly, while emphasising the importance of tackling the climate crisis, USI’s manifesto takes a light touch when it comes to pitching policies that could offer solutions.
Amid increasing reports of students suffering from mental health problems, USI has urged elected representatives to expand mental health services in rural areas.
And, with the price of student accommodation spiralling, it has demanded funding to allow colleges to build publicly owned purpose-built student accommodation.
Speaking to The University Times yesterday, USI President Lorna Fitzpatrick called the manifesto “quite broad but very realistic in relation to what we are asking for to be priorities of the next government”.
Access to higher education, she added, is “is a massive priority for USI”.
USI is also calling for an end to Ireland’s direct provision model – describing the system as “inhumane” – and wants the system to be replaced by a “model that is compliant with UN Human Rights standards, in line with the findings of the Oireachtas Committee on Equality and Justice report on direct provision”.
The rights of trans students are also flagged in a manifesto that urges newly elected representatives to implement trans-inclusive healthcare policies.
Elsewhere, Fitzpatrick yesterday called for clarity from the government on voter registration, amid reports that people who have registered in the last year may not automatically make it onto this year’s register of electors.
USI’s manifesto calls for widespread voter reform, including automatic voter registration. It also calls for the voting age to be lowered so that 16-year-olds can vote.
“Educational funding”, the manifesto states, “has been managed by fits and starts, as occasional boosts to the economy or to solve political problems for government. Too often, education is seen as a problem to be dealt with – a ‘demographic time bomb’, a drain on the national resources and the source of problems”.