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Labour Party Expand Two-Tier Education System


As September approaches many students across the Twenty-Six Counties find themselves wondering if they can afford to start, or return to, higher education. Large numbers have been forced to forego college places, or abandon courses they have already started, because they simply cannot afford them. Extortionate registration fees, which already stand at €2,250 per annum, are expected to rise significantly over the coming years.

Third and fourth level education has been hit particularly hard by the Dublin government’s austerity programme, with rising fees, cuts to student grants and a severe shortage of college places denying thousands of young people the opportunity to continue their studies. At a time of high unemployment, families that are struggling to pay for the most basic of necessities can ill-afford the additional expense of sending their children to college. Higher education is set to once again become the preserve of the wealthy, while those from less affluent backgrounds will be left to choose between emigration and the dole queue.

In direct contrast to the reality of education becoming more expensive, and therefore more exclusive, is the fact that all expert opinion agrees that a highly educated workforce will be essential for future economic development. Indeed barely a week passes without some government minister or other promoting the merits of ‘the smart economy’ and the value of a highly educated workforce. The hypocrisy of calling on young people to remain on in formal education, whilst simultaneously making it more expensive to do so, is breathtaking in the extreme.

Enter the current Twenty-Six County Minister for Education, Labour’s Ruairí Quinn – no stranger to hypocrisy himself, he recently endorsed a new private loan scheme for postgraduate students. Under the scheme, Bank of Ireland will pay fourth level students’ tuition fees directly to the relevant educational establishment. Students will then repay the loan, with a healthy interest rate of 10.8% APR, over periods of up to five years.

This Labour Party endorsed scheme is regressive for many reasons. Firstly it further entrenches the concept of students being forced to pay for their own education, something which fundamentally undermines another far more progressive concept – that of free universal education. Make no mistake about it, the ‘student pays’ model will always, always benefit the wealthier sections of society.

Secondly it accelerates the commercialisation of the education system. The money lenders from the Bank of Ireland have not developed this scheme out of some altruistic love of education or for the benefit of the nation. On the contrary they have developed this scheme because of their own love of money, regardless of its impact on the nation. If loans were to be extended to postgraduate students, could the state not have provided the loans, at a minimal rate of interest? Why should a postgraduate students’ access to further education be determined on the whim of a money-lender or a bean-counter?

And thirdly it prepares the ground for the introduction of similar schemes for third level students. So, as the Dublin government incrementally increases student fees it is also encouraging the private banking sector to provide the money for students to pay them. In other words Fine Gael and Labour are providing the ‘solution’ to a ‘problem’ which they themselves have created. And who gains? The private banks, of course – the very same private banks that have already bankrupted the state and driven many of those same students’ parents into poverty. And when those students eventually get into the workforce one part of their wages will go to repaying their student loan to the bank and another part of their wages will go to pay for the bank bailout. George Orwell would have struggled to write it!

And so Ruairí Quinn, the great pretender to the legacy of James Connolly, is set to oversee the end of the very idea of free universal education. But will he succeed? Or will he be stopped?

Students in both the Six and Twenty-Six Counties realise the intent of the administrations in Stormont and Leinster House. And the defence of the principle of universal education will largely fall to them. Recent years have seen several large scale student protests across Ireland.

While the main student representative bodies, like their trade union counterparts, have largely failed their members, all is not lost. Independently and collectively students are starting to get organised. The FEE (Free Education for Everyone) campaign in particular, has sought to organise students into an effective political force, not only for the benefit of today’s students but also for tomorrow’s.

For its part éirígí stands full square behind both the principle of free universal education and those who are willing to fight for it. We understand that the battle for education cannot be seen in isolation from the battle for a job, a home or a health system. All are but different battles in the one war, where all will be won or all will be lost. If you are a third level student why not get in touch with éirígí and help us to spread the socialist republican message on your campus.


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