Poor Representation At Fees Protest
- Michael Collins
Students took to the steps of Stormont on Monday 19th November demanding an end to variable tuition fees. The introduction of top up fees has increased the cost of a university education to somewhere in the region of £3000 per year, resulting in a massive surge in student debt, discouraging many from pursuing third level education.
Around 150 students protested that education is a right not a privilege to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Most politicians who sit in the assembly chamber have pursued a third level education with the help of government grants. Now it appears they have little problem pulling the ladder up behind them.
Katie Morgan, President of NUS/USI said "Students are demanding urgent and concerted action from their politicians in the assembly. We are outraged by the semi-privatisation of University access."
The demonstration is the first of many in a campaign launched in an attempt to ensure that proper third level education services are provided without students finding themselves in debt up to their eyeballs by the time they leave university.
Buses from Jordanstown, the Arts College, St Mary’s Training College and Magee accounted for the majority in a attendance there. Queen’s however was a different story, only 14 students turned up to represent the University which comprises 24,000 students. Details of the bus were barely even publicized. The emailed student roundup which went out two days before the protest mentioned nothing of the fact that Queen’s Union was organising a bus to the demonstration at Stormont. The Union Executive is supposed to represent the interests of students, so quite frankly it is shameful that our Union has not tried to promote the protest.
Perhaps however, they felt it a battle which cannot be won. Union President John Roger has his doubts about the campaign, "This is not a short-term goal, the devolved assembly has just been set up and their budget is settled until 2009. We need to be more realistic about this". Although affirming that he believes free education is a right that all in our society should have, Mr Roger is not confident the current campaign has been thoroughly thought-out. The leaflet distributed to publicize the protest stated a commitment to ‘abolish top-up fees’ while at the same time retaining the cap – a complete contradiction which calls into question the abilities of the organisers of the campaign.
For Queen’s the issue is highly contentious. The ‘Russell Group’ representing some of the ‘top’ colleges including Queen’s has been lobbying the Labour government to lift the cap on tuition fees. If the cap is lifted students could be charged anything up to £10,000 and beyond per year to attend Queen’s University.