“The biggest farce in the history of the Irish Government.” That was the verdict of TU Dublin Students’ Union President Brian Jordan following proceedings at yesterday’s ‘Funding the Future’ stakeholder event organised by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (DFHERIS).
The event was organised by DFHERIS as part of a process to hear the opinions of stakeholders and feed into the Annual Options Paper, currently being drafted by the Minister, Simon Harris TD, on potential measures to reduce the cost of education for students and their families.
Three student representatives from TU Dublin Students’ Union attended yesterday’s event, where the focus was supposed to be on the student voice. However, speaking afterwards, student leader Brian Jordan said opportunities for meaningful student engagement and representation were effectively curtailed before the event ever started.
“One would imagine that as the largest stakeholder in further and higher education, students would be placed at the forefront of the discussion. However, TU Dublin SU were one of the few Students’ Unions that received an invitation to this event. Most Higher Education Institutes (HEI’s) entirely circumvented their local Students’ Unions, who are the sole representative body of all students, and instead chose to cherry-pick students to attend. Not only is this insulting to Students’ Unions around the country who are meant to be the representative voice of students, but it’s a method of governmental censorship.”
Jordan pointed out that when the Minister arrived at the event, “Cameras went up, and pre-selected students were chosen to speak to him by the door. The President of USI, who represents over 300,000 students across the island of Ireland, wasn’t even directly invited to the event, let alone given the opportunity to speak to the Minister.”
Criticising the panel discussion which followed, the student leader said, “We watched as five students, who were selected by a process I have yet to understand, discussed their journey through further and higher education. The students, while inspirational and exceptional, seemed oddly supportive of the government, the HEA, and everything they had done. It was also noticeable that the only SU representative present was from UL, one of the few SU’s not part of USI, the national representative body for students. It was only after the event that several sources informed us that the panel members were ‘prepped’ and encouraged to offer ‘good news stories’”.
The student leader says that the audience was then allowed ask questions, “not to the Minister, or DFHERIS, but to fellow students. It was uncomfortable to ask questions aimed at them. I’m not angry at them, I’m angry at DFHERIS. The event ended with someone expressing the joys of education and the fact that it encourages democracy within our society. I thought that there was a beautiful sense of irony behind this, given that virtually none of our democratically elected Union representatives were invited, given that they used students as propaganda, and given that the Minister wasn’t even present for any of it.”
Jordan also observed that Minister Harris left well before the panel questions were asked. “The Minister was filmed talking to planted students, made a wondrous speech, then left.” In so doing he missed a golden opportunity to engage with the Students’ Union representatives who were in attendance on the issues of most concern to their members. “These range from the abolition of fees to SUSI reform and DIGS legislation, to the complete absence of postgraduate and international student issues being mentioned, to unpaid placements, and so much more.”
The SU President says that the final part of ‘this incredibly short day’ was the table discussion. “We were asked to discuss the ‘three top priorities’ we wanted on this year’s Annual Options Paper. I started with the obvious ‘Abolition of fees’ and was quickly interrupted by the DFHERIS representative who stated, ‘Oh so it’s that easy is it?’”
Jordan continued, “We as students are sick of being used as tokens. Pretending to listen to us. Pretending to care. The reality is that education is becoming increasingly classist, elitist, and out-of-reach. Perhaps it’s because our government is out-of-touch. Perhaps because they’ll never understand what it’s like to be homeless, to not be able to pay fees, pay for food, or afford accommodation.”
Jordan concluded by saying, “The government plans to ‘decrease the student contribution over time’. But this is the same government that increased it in the first place. They promise to solve a problem that they created. So they need to fix it now. The clock is ticking. Abolish fees, increase supports for students, and give us a place to live.”