Education is a right not a privilege - Farrell
Mairead Farrell, is a member of the National Youth Committee, she was a member of the outgoing ard comhairle and is studying for a masters at present.
We have all heard the empty rhetoric of the importance of a knowledge-based economy. This is being spouted at a time when a significant percentage of Irish students are living in abject poverty as a result of increases in registration fees and cuts to grants.
So today we have the appalling situation where Athlone’s Institute of Technology has been forced to establish its own soup kitchen and over 150 of its students are surviving on food vouchers. Athlone is not the exception, it is the rule. Student unions across the 26-counties continue to provide food parcels for impoverished students.
This is happening as the grants provided are insufficient and the numbers of students qualifying for them has declined sharply in recent years.
The launch of the new system for providing grants, Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI), has made the present bad situation worse.
SUSI has been an unmitigated disaster and its failure can be directly attributed to poor planning, a massive lack of resources and staff who were ill-prepared for the challenges of implementing a centralised system that had to replace 66 awarding authorities.
The SUSI debacle has had profound consequences for students who have been forced to live in severe hardship, with many having to drop out of their courses as they were unable to survive at college. The contempt shown by this government to the plight of students is in sharp contrast to its approach when bailing out the banks.
It is worth recalling that three senior government ministers who have allowed this to happen were once high ranking activists in the Union of Students in Ireland; Eamon Gilmore, Pat Rabbite and the present Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn.
All of this is forgotten now that Labour is in power.
Unlike this government, and particularly Labour, Sinn Fein believes that education is a right, not a privilege, and everyone, regardless of their social and economic background, should be entitled to benefit from a third level education.