AN estimated 400 people attended a regional protest in Cork City this afternoon, raising concerns about the cost of student fees as well as a shortage of housing.
Student representatives from University College Cork (UCC) and Munster Technological University (MTU) Cork were among those at the protest.
Speaking to The Echo, UCC Students’ Union communications and engagement officer Maeve Richardson said that the ‘Cost of College’ campaign has two strands to it — the ‘No Keys No Degrees’ protest outside the Dáil today concerning the lack of housing for students, and the ‘Fuck the Fees’ campaign in relation to Ireland having the highest student contribution charge in the EU of €3,000.
“We want to see these fees abolished. Essentially, we want to see Susi grant reform. Students can’t afford their rents, they can’t afford the cost of living,” Ms Richardson explained.
Speaking about the contribution charge, she said: “The €3,000 contribution charge is part of the equation — €3,000 is a lot of money. It doesn’t matter what anyone says, it’s a lot of money and, to a lot of families, it’s way too much.
“So, as well as paying €3,000 contribution charge, you’re also paying for rent and for food, and in cities where universities tend to be and tend to be very expensive.
“So, we’re trying to lobby the Government to take a look at third-level education and realise it’s severely underfunded. We have facilities that are utterly shocking, we have housing situations that are utterly shocking, and that education isn’t accessible.
“We’re seeing lots of students being locked out of education from lower-income families, but the thing is that the threshold is becoming higher. Even families that would consider themselves quite middle-class are now getting locked out of education because they can’t afford to send their kids to college because it’s so expensive.
“Most on-campus accommodation is around €600 per month, and a lot of luxury accommodations are taking up the market and it can cost you up to €1,000 a month, so this is becoming completely inaccessible to so many families.
“People can’t aspire to be a nurse or a doctor, an engineer because they can’t afford to leave home and what’s happening is we’re seeing an increase in hidden homelessness — people sleeping in their cars, people couch surfing.
“And that’s the thing, this contribution charge has not gone down. This contribution charge went up during the recession to help fund universities through a financially tough time, but it has remained and that’s the problem. As well as that, there just is no funding in third-level education,” she said.
Ms Richardson said that the Union of Students in Ireland and UCC Students’ Union are calling for publicly funded higher education through taxation, which is one of three solutions to the funding issues faced by higher-education institutes outlined in the 2016 Cassells report.
She said the student loan system “just puts students in thousands and thousands of euros in debt” and they want to see publicly funded higher education.
“We think that is the only way to support our universities and keep them independent and well funded.
“Most political parties have come out and said, ‘We reject the student loan system’. We’ve seen the effects it’s had in the UK on their student population, but yet we’ve seen no implementation of this recommendation from the Cassells report for publicly funded higher education, and that’s what we’re sick of.
“We’re seeing this €3,000 not being reduced at all and it’s strangling our student population,” she said.