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national | miscellaneous | news report Tuesday May 20, 2003 10:28 by CFE - Campaign for Free Education irishcfe at yahoo dot com
A number of Campaign for Free Education activists took part in an actions today with the Union of Students Ireland around Dublin. The CFE has been one of the most formidable opponents of fees and cutbacks in education since the summer. It has organized numerous on-campus demonstrations in UCD making it a place of hostility to visiting government figures. The CFE has blockaded the Minister for Education in college buildings for hours; organized a successful occupations of the N11 motorway, the Departments of Finance, Education and Transport; carried out a successful sit- down protest outside Dail Eireann. All this brought invaluable media and public attention to educational inequality and the danger of fees.
A UCD Arts student who has been an activist with the campaign since last summer said
‘Students often see it as easier to solve problems in college by diverting their energies into seeking an individual solution to the barriers in front of them such as taking a part time job. But now there is a need to recognise the threat posed by the direction Irish education is being pushed in. The reintroduction of fees, under whatever guise it is presented will not only erode the living standards of students but presents a threat to the very right of access to higher education. That is why we call for a collective response and urge all students to take action like those we have been engaged in all year. Await for no one to do it on your behalf-do it yourself. We must shift focus away from responding to the government's agenda, and force them to respond to ours, an agenda where educational opportunity is not mitigated by your economical and social background.’
As the Irish government strives to move closer to the introduction of a fee based education system one of its primary tactics is the dressing up of its endeavours in the language of social inclusion. From the current level of debate, one is able only to assume that educational inequality is solely an issue in third level, and no such thing exists in second and primary education.
Class differences in access to higher education represents merely the end stage of a cumulative process which begins at pre-school level and is manifest through primary and secondary education. To secure a place in third level requires a transition through three separate transitions, and success or failure in these transitions ultimately rests on socio-economic background. These transitions include passing the junior cert, remaining in school until leaving cert and obtaining sufficient points to continue to third level, never mind the financial hindrance. For those seeking to combat educational disadvantage, it must be accepted that intervention through the education system is not enough to counteract deep rooted structural inequalities in Irish society at large. The failure of the Celtic Tiger to 'raise all boats' has only exacerbated
these problems. Now the burden of tackling educational inequality must not be left to education alone, or sought in education alone.
The common thread in relation to early school leavers is the economic circumstance of the family, and we stress the need for measures to combat financial deprivation in the family and community. Contrary to the false representation of the government, fees do not represent a simple panacea which will eliminate educational inequality. They believe this because they perceive inequality to only exist in access to third level and seek a solution in third level through the introduction of fees, which can only exacerbate the problem by erecting further financial barriers to those seeking to make the move to third level. Corrective intervention can not be confined to third level alone, nor to education as a whole alone.
Findings of comparative research in Sweden and the Netherlands, two countries which have had some success in the area show that a relatively reduction in educational inequality results from an equalisation of socio economic conditions in society as a whole. The student maintenance grant system needs to be completely overhauled if access to education for all is to be achieved. The CFE calls for the student maintenance grant to be increased to social welfare levels. We also call for the a radical increase in the income threshold to allow increased access to the grant. The CFE recognises the hardship caused by the fact that the grant rarely comes in on time. To combat this, we recommend the setting up of a central grants authority to administer the grant so as to ensure that all grants arrive at the start of each term. A single grants authority would mean that the system is transparent and beyond reproach.
The CFE does not believe that the grant will be increased or measures to combat educational disadvantage brought in if fees are introduced. When the government increased the registration fee by 69%, not a single extra cent was put into third level education. Equally, we do not for one moment believe that fees will only be introduced for the rich. British Prime Minister Tony Blair promised that fees would only be introduced for the rich before re-introducing fees for all students and cancelling the maintenance grant system. The scheme of student loans which has been set up has left students with massive debts and is further damaging access to education in Britain. We oppose the setting up of such a scheme here.
The activist based grassroots network will be holding an open meeting in Trinity College on Wednesday May 21st at 7pm, in The Synge Theatre in the Hamilton building
For further commentary ring on 085 7198001.
Print off flyer for Trinity meeting
For further updates stay tuned to
For an archive of news and commentary process to the Campaign for Free Education Website http:///www.freeeducation.cjb.net