The recent student protests in Dublin herald in a new era, both for third-level students and for political activism in Ireland in general. For too long it seems as if both Irish students and Irish people in general have been content to sit back and complain about how bad things have become without actually taking real and sustained action. For too long, we have all been guilty of complete and utter apathy, while government and university bodies consistently ignore educational priorities.
For those watching, the protest may have seemed to degenerate into something violent and wrong, but the original message and ethos cannot be forgotten. While people have long been been happy to write off students as a drunken bunch of party animals without much political leaning, this is no longer the case. Given that an estimated 25,000 students took to the streets, it is no longer possible or fair to ignore the collective student voice.
The violence of certain individuals has overshadowed this message. As a movement, student activism needs to become more cohesive to make sure that we are not the unfair targets in a country that seems unable to retain any sort of financial sense or foresight. We were lucky enough to enjoy the benefits of the boom, but we cannot allow ourselves to victimised while the banks are being bailed out and those who contributed to the decline of the country seem to be rewarded for every mistake that they make.
The motto ‘Education Not Emigration’ resonates for anyone who is close to finishing their degree. There seems no reason to stay in a country that is completely set upon alienating us. We are told that we are the future, yet the actions that the government are taking seem to reassure us that their priorities lie elsewhere.
The cuts are constant and hard to stomach. For anyone looking to enter further education, both at undergraduate and postgraduate level, the financial measures one must take are getting more and more intimidating. More applicants for grants mean that getting funding is harder and harder and for certain schools and disciplines, it is worse.
It now begins to feel that universities are now being viewed as businesses as opposed to centres of higher education. Disciplines such as the arts and humanities, which are not seen as lucrative as areas such as science or business, are being constantly overlooked in terms of basic funding.
With bodies such as the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences (IRCHSS) unsure of their future until after the budget, it has never been a worse or more alienating and financially worrying time to be entering postgraduate research in the arts. At a time of such radical cultural and societal uncertainty, research in the arts and humanities has never been more relevant. However, the powers that be are determined to emphasise the importance of money over knowledge. This, in an institute of education, is unacceptable.
As long as the student movement can retain a sense of organisation, progress can be made. While the November 3rd protest was not perfect, it went some way towards showing the government that we refuse to be the targets when we are not to blame for the mess that this country is in. Yes, cuts must be made in all areas, but it is hard to see sectors such as education and health be cut when NAMA and the banking sector seem to be getting daily cash injections.
The government seems happy to wash their hands of higher education, but protests remind them that they cannot do this. We must all stand up for ourselves, whether it is for capping the registration fee, campaigning against grant cuts or emphasising that research in the humanities is just as valid and important as research in the life sciences and business. Universities were founded on the basis of the arts and humanities. To ignore and marginalise them now would be criminal.
We are not the apathetic sheep that the government considers us to be. November 3rd proved this. It is now time to continue this momentum and make sure that our voices are heard. The options are endless. More protests must occur and we should collaborate with other groups who are being targeted and marginalised by the government, such as the LGBT community, pensioners, lone-parent families, other education sector workers and those who have been affected by problems in the healthcare system.
Our voices are stronger than they give us credit for. We must just keep up the momentum and make sure that we are not continually ignored, as we have been in the past.