Trinity’s move to online learning, unhappiness with communication in releasing timetables and lack of in-person teaching has led to student unrest bubbling away in the background since summertime. At council, this dissatisfaction came to the fore with a motion passing that mandated Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) to lobby against the annual increase in fees for international students.
The motion – proposed by 10 of Trinity’s international students and headed up by third-year students Rucha Benare and Julia Bochenek – mandated TCDSU to lobby against the annual three to five per cent increases in student fees, including those for non-EU students. The motion also mandated TCDSU to ensure that non-EU students are included in the movement to reduce EU student fees for the 2021/22 academic year.
Discussing the objective of the motion Benare says that she hopes it will “formally bring awareness to and help with the problems faced by international students such as ever-increasing student fees, insufficient communication for travel guidelines and other issues that have cost all the more instability during this global pandemic”.
Benare’s frank and open description, points to the situation international students at Trinity have found themselves in this year.
The issue of increases in international student fees is not solely a Trinity one, as Benare tells me: “Not only does this issue apply to Trinity students but we hear from so many students, regardless of their nationality or the university they attend, that these additional reasons of stress definitely do not help them navigate their personal or academic lives during the pandemic in any positive manner”.
Trinity’s move to online learning, unhappiness with communication in releasing timetables and lack of in-person teaching has led to student unrest bubbling away in the background since summertime
Benare’s words speak to a wider problem that third-level education in Ireland is facing. With student dissatisfaction increasing, actions will likely be taken through campaigning and petitions. This is perhaps most evident in the recent campaign at University College Dublin (UCD).
Towards the end of the 2019/20 academic year, recent master’s degree graduate of engineering Aaditya Shah organised a campaign centred on lowering fees as a result of the move to online teaching during the pandemic. This campaign which started out as a petition and email campaign later transformed into a call to abolish fee increases as Shah explains: “Our campaign was initially to get compensation as we’d struggled during Covid financially. But eventually, this topic came out about increasing fees. UCD raises fees each year by roughly 4 per cent, more increases the intake with the same infrastructure.”
Shah also speaks to the perception in Ireland that non-EU students are rich and so can readily afford the fee increases: “Most of the time the students coming in are either self-funding, funded by parents or took an education loan… There’s an indefinite financial crunch that everyone is suffering”.
Shah is at pains to point out that students from some courses are hit much worse than others through the continued year on year fee increases. International veterinary students, for example, pay €50,000 in fees per annum. At a 3 per cent increase annually students on this course find themselves paying at least €1,500 more each year. Increased financial pressure as a result of the economic slowdown due to the coronavirus pandemic is a widespread story. Shah indicates that he believes “if the rise in fees is removed and fees stay constant, it will be very helpful to the international students.”
Most of the time the students coming in are either self-funding, funded by parents or took an education loan… There’s an indefinite financial crunch that everyone is suffering
TCDSU Education Officer Megan O’Connor says, on the matter of international student fee increases, that it “stems back to an issue that is long-standing. Third-level education needs to be publicly funded and this is another part of that conversation but it is directly impacting so many students who are particularly vulnerable at the minute”.
Describing the impacts of ever-increasing fees O’Connor says: “You’re looking at a rather steep incline [of fee increases] that students just can’t afford”, adding that the topic of fee increases “will require extensive conversations over the coming months”.
Dylan Krug, one of the proposers of the motion and a second-year biomedical sciences student, describes the annual fee increase this year as “tone-deaf to the financial struggle” that many students are facing, adding that without in-person teaching the “costs aren’t justified”.
Like Shah, Krug highlights how a 3 per cent increase in fees would affect international students on a variety of courses differently, with many international students in the Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and the Faculty of Health Sciences having to pay fees of up to €26,199. A 3 per cent increase in fees results in students in these courses having to fork out an extra €785.97 in next academic year if the fee increases were set to continue.
It stems back to an issue that is long-standing. Third-level education needs to be publicly funded and this is another part of that conversation but it is directly impacting so many students who are particularly vulnerable at the minute
While many Irish students were happy to hear the government announce in the budget of a once-off €250 reimbursement of fees, international students were confused as to whether they could avail of this remuneration. Krug describes how there was “confusion as to whether it would apply to international students”.
The reimbursement “doesn’t help in the long run” he says, and instead it “feels like an empty gesture”. On the government reimbursement, O’Connor says that “it’s not for international students, again this cohort of students have been left out of the conversation”.
Indeed, the lack of assistance provided to international students is a recurring problem as O’Connor explains how “the laptop scheme that was run by the government as well wasn’t open to international students”. O’Connor has concerns about how international students are supported during their time at Trinity and in particular with the ongoing pandemic. “If we are to continue to promote Trinity internationally we need to have resources in place to support these students when they are here”, she says.
O’Connor also highlights how the input of international students may not be included in the conversations surrounding student supports: “We might not be doing enough to ensure these students’ voices are raised and projected on a wider scale”.
With one of O’Connor’s manifesto pledges being to campaign against fee increases it is no surprise that she then goes to tell me “it is my belief that education is your right and it should be easily accessible to students”.
We might not be doing enough to ensure these students’ voices are raised and projected on a wider scale
Benare speaks to the same issue, telling me: “We are proud to be in such an amazing university as Trinity. It is very disheartening to see international students often left out in the conversations of reducing students’ financial difficulties”.
While the international student fee increases seem set to become an important topic for TCDSU, Krug points out that it is only “part of a broad set of problems” that international students are facing, particularly at this challenging time.