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Wednesday 29 March 2023 Dublin: 11°C
# out the gap
Thousands of students stage walk-out from lectures in cost of living protest
The protest aims “to remind college authorities and politicians that students aren’t an endless money pit”.

THOUSANDS OF STUDENTS staged a walk-out from lectures this morning in protest against the rising cost of living and its effects on young people.

Third-level students left midway through lectures and tutorials at 11.11am to symbolise the risk of students dropping out of courses due to financial burdens. 

Massive crowds gathered together on campuses around the country, calling on the government for change.

The Union of Students’ in Ireland (USI) said the protest aims “to remind college authorities and politicians that students aren’t an endless money pit”.

Since the UK left the EU, Ireland has had the highest third-level fees in the bloc of €3,000, which is the student contribution charge levied on students who qualify for the ‘Free Fees’ scheme.

Budget 2023 announced a once-off €1,000 reduction to the student contribution charge. The USI welcomed the reduction but lamented that it applies for only one year.

“While the ‘once-off’ €1,000 reduction is of course welcome, students are left not knowing where they stand for the future,” the union said in a statement.

“And the reduction comes too late for students who have already deferred their places in college this year because they could not afford the costs.” 

The protest this morning is demanding the abolishment of the student contribution charge, increased funding for the higher education sector and a minimum wage that matches a living wage, particularly for PhD researchers.

It is also demanding protections for renters, rent reductions and subsidisation of purpose-built student accommodation from public funds.

Hundreds of students at Dublin City University (DCU)’s Glasnevin campus gathered outside their student union building to support the walk-out. 

Glenn is in his final year of studying Economics, Politics and Law in DCU. He told The Journal: “ Students have had enough”.

“I’ve been in college now for three years and every single year, we are let down by the government. Since 2000, every single budget has done absolutely nothing for students,” he said.

“This year, they’re advertising it as they’re reducing the fees, that’s after they promised last year that they’d get rid of the fees within three years. It’s a one off €1,000, that does nothing for people that are going to be studying next year.”

He said that students who want to complete their studies are struggling due to financial stress. 

“Financial stress is like drowning. There is nothing worse, especially for students that are from disadvantaged areas. The SUSI grant is there to help students, but that is only the fees. This does not take into account travel costs or accommodation costs.”

‘There’s people living in tents’

He added that there was “not a penny” put towards student allocated accommodation in the last Budget.

That is a joke. There’s people living in tents. We’ve seen in other colleges – we’re lucky that it hasn’t happened on this campus – but other colleges have had students on the streets. What does that say?

“In particular to international students coming here who see Ireland as a place for prosperity. How is it prosperous, if it’s people living on the streets?”

Emma Monaghan is in her third year of studying Communications at DCU. She told The Journal that she had to find a new place to stay after the price of her off-campus student accommodation increased before the academic year began. 

“I’m from Donegal, so commuting is not an option. I was in the same accommodation for my first and second year, got in touch with them about third year and I was informed that the room that I’d been staying in was going up by €3,000,” she said.

“This for me, I just couldn’t do it. I don’t have the money. I’m on Susi and then because I live so far away, even that isn’t covering my rent as it is.”

She has since moved to new accommodation, but is now “paying more than I ever was” to share a single room with one of her friends.

“It’s a room that, if you walk into it, you can tell it was intended for single occupancy, not for two people. There’s five of us living in a flat that’s made for three.”

Monaghan said the Government needs to step in and ensure more affordable, purpose-built student accommodation is delivered.

Students don’t need this luxury accommodation, with cinemas and swimming pools and gyms. They need a roof over their heads, they need a bed and they need a place to study, a place to eat and a place to just wind down after coming back from college.They don’t need to be thinking ‘where am I going to sleep tonight? Am I gonna have to sleep in my car tonight? In a tent tonight?’.

Ethan Bradbury, a second-year Electronics and Computer Engineering student at DCU told The Journal that there is no accommodation available for students in Dublin. 

Fe8Vde3WYAAq75E Emer Moreau Students protest in Trinity's Front Square Emer Moreau

“I was meant to move out with some friends over the summer and it fell flat on its face, none of us could afford it even though we were working full time at the time,” he said.

‘There’s nowhere in Dublin right now’

“I’m working four days a week on top of four days in college, and I still can’t find anywhere. Even the few places that do pop up every once in a while, they’re semi affordable and you know, definitely lower in quality than they should be. They disappear within five minutes. There’s nowhere in Dublin right now.”

He said new student complexes are being built by private companies who charge “through the roof”. 

“They have all these amenities that you don’t need when all you’re looking for is a place to stay, because when you know you have nowhere else to go, you’ll take a room at that point.

People are being left out on the streets in tents, they’re having to crash with their friends, putting that stress on other people as well. It’s becoming everybody else’s responsibility but the Government’s, it seems.

Speaking in the Dáil today, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that the “rise in the cost of living is affecting everyone and it’s affecting students too”.

“We understand that, we get that. Students want their voices heard and by protesting today. they’re making sure that their voices are heard and their voices will be heard in this house and by this government.”

He pointed to the measures in the Budget for students, which also include expanded eligibility for the SUSI grants.

“Like all sectors of society students are really suffering when it comes to the impact of the housing crisis and very high rents and we absolutely acknowledge that.”

The Tánaiste said that hundreds of student accommodation places are currently under construction.

IMG_6453 Jane Moore Students protesting on DCU's Glasnevin campus. Jane Moore

He said that students earning income are eligible in theory for the new €500 rent tax credit but that many students are not earning enough money to be paying income tax.

“[Finance] Minister [Paschal] Donohue is examining whether it’s possible to extend the rent tax credit to parents who pay student fees on behalf of their children.

“We hope we can do that. Sometimes these things are easier promised than done but we hope we can do that and we should be in a position to confirm whether or not we can do that by next Tuesday when the Finance bill comes to Cabinet.”

The USI encouraged students to email TDs to bring their attention to today’s protest and the challenges faced by students paying for college fees, accommodation, transport, learning materials and living expenses.

An email template said: “As I’m sure you are aware, the students in third level have been facing significant financial pressures as a result of the cost of living crisis, and I do not believe Budget 2023 tackles the root cause of the issues.”

“The current student accommodation crisis – coupled with Ireland’s high third level fees, have put a huge strain on the wellbeing and finances of students in Ireland,” the email outlined.

“It is imperative for the future of higher education in Ireland that the student voice can be heard at all levels in a non-tokenistic manner, and your support in our action would be greatly appreciated.”

Trade union Siptu issued a message of support for the student protest yesterday.

In the Dáil last week, Sinn Féin spokesperson on higher education and TD Rose Conway-Walsh said the students walking-out of lectures have “well-justified demands”.

“Three of their demands centre around the crisis in student accommodation, yet this year’s budget is the third consecutive budget from the Government with no allocation for student accommodation,” Conway-Walsh said.

“Students have had to defer their courses, sleep in cars and travel long distances. Will the Government look again at student accommodation and stop avoiding the inevitability of investing in such accommodation? Will it listen to these students?”

In response, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said the government is “pursuing a new policy in regard to student accommodation”.

“For the first time as a State, we are going to invest in getting underway projects that have been stuck and building college-owned affordable accommodation. We will update the Cabinet committee on housing on this next week,” Harris said.

The minister said he was due to meet representatives of the USI on the matter.

He said the government “took a number of cost-of-living measures in the budget, such as the first reduction in the contribution fee in more than two decades”.

Meanwhile, Harris today announced €1.5 million in funding to address the issue of sexual harassment and violence on college campuses.

17 sexual violence and harassment prevention and response managers will be appointed in all higher level institutions as part of the Government’s zero tolerance approach to all forms of sexual harassment and sexual violence.

Speaking today, Harris said: “I have been very clear that the tertiary education and training sector must lead the way in changing cultures, behaviours and practices across society to ensure that sexual violence and harassment are not tolerated.

“There is a particular responsibility on those charged with educating the next generation in ensuring that their students and learners are equipped to lead the change more widely across society.

“To manage the implementation of institutional consent programmes and to engage appropriately with internal and external stakeholders, we need to resource our institutions. This new funding will further enhance the capabilities of our higher education institutes to support the Government’s zero tolerance approach to all forms of sexual violence and harassment.”

Additional reporting from Jane Moore and Emer Moreau

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