terça-feira, novembro 30, 2010

Attacks on Education and Student Resistance

A text by Julian Brophy about the students strong fights at Ireland Higher Education.
On the 3rd of November about 30,000 people took to the streets of Dublin in what has been dubbed “the biggest Irish student demonstration of a generation”.

Currently the Irish higher educational system is “free”, meaning that students don't pay full tuition fees (as opposed to England for example). The government subsidises higher education to a large extent, and students pay an annual registration fee at the beginning of every college year. In the '08/'09 academic year, the registration fee was 900 Euros per year. In 09/10 the government delivered a staggering blow to Irish education, raising the registration fee to 1,500 Euros per year. In the midst of the plunging the country into unprecedented levels of debt, and failing to handle the economic crisis, the government turned to the education system for easy money once again. Fianna Fail (the Irish ruling party) proposed to raise the registration fee by a further 1,500 Euros, equaling a grand total of 3,000 Euros per student, per year, to attend university. This time however, the government and its law enforcers were met with a very different reaction.

The 3rd of November protest was a surprise to the country in many ways. The most striking feature of the demonstration was the mass mobilisation of tens of thousands of students from every university across the country, resulting in one of the largest student protests in Irish history. The second striking feature was the atmosphere of
energy, anger, and an invigorated student movement on the streets of Dublin.

Click here to read the full text...The routine for student marches in Dublin is usually this: gather at
Parnell Square at 1PM, march down past the Dail (government buildings), listen to speakers on a podium, go home. The 3rd of November however was significantly different. As the demonstration progressed along its path, about 2,000 people broke away from the main protest and marched to Merrion Row, where the Department of Finance is located, and about thirty students made it inside and staged a symbolic occupation of the front lobby, with hundreds outside showing support. At this point the gardai resorted to their heavy-handed and repressive tactics, calling in the riot squad, dog unit, and mounted gardai on horses. Violent clashes broke out between protestors and the police, as the gardai violently attempted to disperse the crowds.

Students were beaten badly, some ended up in hospital and others arrested. But unlike the student protests of two years ago when the government attempted to reintroduce full fees, students did not back down. The 3rd of November was a victory for the students of Ireland, and for the solidarity amongst people who are suffering the rippling effects of the government's cutback agenda. A further indication of Irish student movement's fresh vigour was a 500 person strong protest against the Garda brutality of the day which took place the following week.

In the midst of financial turmoil and colossal IMF/ECB bailouts, the situation in regard to the future of education in Ireland remains unclear. The government has not yet unveiled precise plans, but it has ensured that the registration fee will not go up to 3,000 Euros. What is certain however is that after plunging the country into economic disaster, the government will certainly announce a significant registration increase and cutbacks to university funding.

The effects of this will be devastating to students and their families in particular, but to the Irish working class in general. The USI (Union of Students in Ireland) has estimated that it costs a student/family an average of 10,000 Euros per year to send a student to university (registration, books, travel etc.). The idea of increasing this burden further in times like these, under the facade of “free education”, is a violent attack on working people's living standards. An Irish Times survey showed that in more socio-economically deprived areas of Dublin like Blanchardstown and Finglas, the university attendance rate for students having completed their leaving cert (secondary school diploma) is between 10-14% (while in many affluent parts of South Dublin the rate is close to 100%). If these communities are disadvantaged now, then their hopes of participating in higher education after the budget announcement are close to zero, because the money simply is not there!

Not only will students and workers suffer, but universities themselves will suffer tremendously also. Cutbacks in college services will be rampant, library hours will be cut, health charges implemented, and college workers (like cleaning staff especially) will be made redundant. In the light of pursuing a profitable knowledge based economy that will serve the needs of capital, resources for the Humanities and the Social and Political Sciences will be slashed; and blatant precedence will be given to profitable disciplines like Sciences and Business.

The threatened cutbacks in education are part of a broader agenda of attempting to make people who create wealth pay for the mistakes of bankers, politicians and bureaucrats who had too much of it and grossly mismanaged it. The December 7th Budget will be a staggering blow to workers, students, pensioners, welfare recipients and so on.

Mass mobilisation is planned for the weeks ahead, with a heavy and widespread focus on budget day. Anger at having been ridiculed by the bankers and their puppet government is everywhere in Irish society right now; but prevalent throughout it also is a strong sense of solidarity. Lecturers and unions have defended the students and have spoken out verbosely against the repressive measures used by the gardai on the 3rd of November. Students are mobilising very heavily in support of the upcoming protests (one on the 27th of November against the ECB/IMF deal, and then the huge one on the 7th of December for Budget Day), with radical public meetings on weekly in colleges across the country and student-activist groups like Free Education for Everyone and Students in Solidarity beginning to gain strength again.

It feels as if a fuse has been lit in Irish society that the powerful won't be able to extinguish, and the explosion could go off any day now."

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