Over 250 delegates from 24 Students’ Unions are gathering this week at the Carlton Shearwater Hotel in Ballinasloe to discuss the future of the Irish higher education sector at the annual Congress of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).

Despite the recent vote to leave the USI, discount UCD SU have sent delegates to Congress as the process of disaffiliation will not come into full force for another twelve months.

The Congress will see the election of a new President for 2013/2014 as current President John Logue prepares to finish his term.

Current UCD SU Campaigns and Communications officer, viagra Paddy Guiney, will also be seeking election as USI Vice-President for Campaigns during the Congress.

John Lonergan, former Governor of Mountjoy Prison, addressed Congress yesterday. He spoke about his 42 years of public service, including the 24 he spent as the most senior prison officer in the country.

Lonergan explained how he thinks the education system is failing our young people by suppressing skills and talents that aren’t seen as having much economic value. He also discussed the importance of access to education for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

A panel discussion on the higher education sector will feature contributions from Charlie McConalogue, Fianna Fail TD for Donegal North East and spokesperson for Education and Skills, Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh of Sinn Fein and Brian Mulligan, Programme Manager at the centre for Online Learning in IT Sligo.

Delegates will also discuss the events of the past year, including the failure of SUSI and the rise in the registration fee introduced in Budget 2013. Delegates from the newly re-affiliated DCU Students’ Union will also attend Congress for the first time in over a decade.

GMIT Students’ Union President Joe O’Connor is the sole candidate for USI President. Having served for two years as President of GMITSU, O’Connor is looking to become the first student from his college to be elected President of the national Union. Should he be elected he will also be the first President to come from an Institute of Technology since the election of WIT’s Shane Kelly in 2008.

Hustings for positions on USI’s Officer Board, including President, took place on Monday night and delegates will be voting this afternoon, Tuesday March 26th. The results of the elections will be announced on Wednesday morning.

The main business of Congress is the discussion of and voting on the 78 motions that have been proposed by attending Students’ Unions. The results of these votes will dictate USI’s policy on issues such as student representation on the board of SUSI, State funding of fee paying schools and the Government’s austerity Budgets.

John Logue, President of the Union of Students in Ireland commented that with the current challenges faced by students and their families, USI Annual Congress is an opportunity for student leaders from across the island of Ireland to come together to discuss issues such as college fees, the grant system and the quality of teaching and learning in higher education.

“Seldom in USI’s 54 year history has the need for unity been more important, as 250 student leaders gather to reaffirm their common bond and decide the future of the student movement,” remarked Logue.

“It is also an opportunity for student leaders to discuss topical national issues such as the renegotiation of the Croke Park agreement, unemployment and austerity measures as well as tackling major social justice issues such as marriage equality and migrant rights. I am hopeful that student leaders will come away from Annual Congress reinvigorated, unified and with a clear vision to tackle the challenging times ahead.”

-James Grannell