#stopfees- Tensions rise as the countdown continues

Padraig McCarrick talks about tomorrow’s march

As the countdown to the USI march carries into it’s final day of momentum building, an air of uncertainty hangs in the mist. After a rather banal ‘debate’ between USI president Gary Redmond and education minister Ho Chi Quinn (Shanes review can be found here), the most recent government leak in relation to scrapping all grants for post-graduate courses may potentially increase tensions further ahead of Wednesday.

Will this just be an exercise in kiting however? Already government TDs such as Patrick Nulty have opposed such ideas, stating in the TheJournal.ie yesterday that “he would fight tooth and nail against proposals that were floated in the media”. Perhaps, these grants for post-grads will only be cut and seen as a relief that ‘at least they weren’t completely scrapped’.

Further still, this could also highlight whispers of a growing split between junior and senior members of the Labour Party ahead of the budget. Added to this is the idea that many senior Labour cabinet members, including Ruairi Quinn, will not contest the next general election and are not too bothered about keeping their constituency seats.

This aside, even if cuts are made to grants such as this, the effects would be catastrophic. An outright scrapping of these grants, which would save apparently €50 million, which many say isn’t much in the grand scheme of our debt but would have an even worse knock on effect. On hearing the news yesterday, many people i talked to on the issue came with the same response, “well that’s me not going back to college next year”.

One student, who was unable to progress to a post graduate course this year due to having to pay debt incurred during his undergraduate course said to me that “even if there is a cut in the existing grant, I probably won’t be able to go forward. My grant has been cut year after year and i’ve gone further into debt in order to finish my degree”.

This void in maintenance grants will put further pressure on a funding system which is already turning down many applicants and denying them an opportunity to conduct worthwhile research as phd students. Funding initiatives such as IRCSET and IRCHSS have already been receiving record numbers of applications with many,which in other years would have been accepted, are being turned down.

For the most part, funding is only given to those conducting research projects and very little is available in terms of funding for taught MA programs. These programs seem to be the ones which will suffer the most if a total grant reduction is put in force. Those wanting to improve their chances of qualifying for a H. Dip in Education by first gaining a masters in their chosen field will be hampered greatly. As a result, many prospective teachers will be denying the chance to first gain greater understanding of there chosen subjects before entering the world of secondary teaching, further deepening the growing problem of under qualified teachers.

One could go on at vast length about the follies of such cuts to post graduate students. In a time where people are turning to upskilling as a way out of the recession and future employment, it seems the government are now leaving only two options to students and those looking at further education, the dole or emigration. Even if the leaked cuts don’t go ahead, it sends a message to USI that despite letters to TDs and mailed packages of broken pencils, a far more sterner approach will be needed by USI than the usual photo ops and and token march.

-Padraig McCarrick

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