UCDSU Education Officer Rob Sweeney is encouraging students to turn out for the March for Education this Wednesday. The march which will start at the Custom House at 12pm is being run by the Union of Students Ireland (USI) to protest the government considering income contingent loans as a means to fund third level education in Ireland. UCD is not a part of the USI but have agreed to show solidarity with them during this March.

Speaking to the Tribune Rob outlined the reasons for solidarity saying “We’ve communicated with USI and they especially have made the effort to reach out and to get us there so the [USI’s] message there is ‘Education Is In The Red’ so we have agreed this year to wear red to the march to look and make the message as loud as possible that education is in the red and education needs funding.”

UCD’s slogan for this year’s march is “Student Debt Kills Dreams”, a slogan which highlights the problem with income contingent loans as Rob explained “Income contingent loans and the debt associated there will kill students dreams of moving abroad, starting up their own company, getting a mortgage. Your education and your future should not be mortgaged when you enter college and that grants need to be increased.”

Rob also explained how he wants this march to be used as a platform to send the government a message. “We need the government to realise that students aren’t going to accept student loans, that income contingent loans, will have a very negative effect on students. We need to show the government that it’s time to start funding education.” He also wants Fine Gael to deliver on their manifesto promise of putting €100 million into third level education funding. So far only €36 million has been delivered as Rob explained, that’s simply not good enough. “We want to hammer home that message that Fine Gael made a commitment and people voted on that and took it seriously and it’s time they answered that commitment.”

UCDSU Graduate Officer Niall Torris is also getting behind the march with his focus being on postgraduate issues. UCD is home to nearly a quarter of all postgraduate students in Ireland and Torris wants to use the March for Education to highlight the issues in that area as well as protesting income contingent loans for undergraduates. Speaking to the Tribune he explained some of the problems that postgraduates face in the current system. “The message should be that postgrads are funding the university to a high degree. They’re paying more and getting less support than undergrads and they’re at a much higher level of study”.

Postgraduate grants were partially reintroduced in October 2016 having being removed in 2012. The grants were made available to 1,100 postgrads in the lowest income category. According to Torris many postgraduates aren’t aware that they’re eligible for the grant and once they realise, it’s too late as you cannot reclaim the grant if you’ve completed a year without it. “I think the march should be against the income contingent loans that would push them further into debt but also is a statement about the amount of support that we receive for the amount of funding that we give.”

Both Sweeney and Torris agree that UCD students have a greater responsibility than most to speak up at this year’s March for Education. “I think UCD student showed their knowledge of how important their position is in the way they voted in the referendum on our position on fees.  The fact it was a 3 element question and the way people voted and the discussion that happened around it, showed how important UCD students and UCD student activists realised our voice in the national student community.”

 If UCD students are that informed then it’s imperative that they attend the March on Wednesday as Rob explains. “Students are going to extraordinary lengths just to fund themselves through college so we need to show the government that they need to give more funding to education, take loans off the table and that they need to be increasing student grants.”

If you’re interested in attending the march, you can find the Facebook event here.

Rachel O’Neill – Editor