17 October 2002 Edition

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New militancy on campuses


Students in the 26 Counties are among the most hard done by in Europe, according to a new survey of student life on the continent.

The 'Euro Student 2000' survey shows that:

*Ireland has below average educational participation for working class children

*4% of students live in purpose-built student accommodation, the lowest percentage of all countries. To put this in perspective, Finland has 24% and the Netherlands 34%.

*Student purpose accommodation is by far the most expensive of any country at €229 per month.

*51.2% of student income comes from a job, a higher percentage than any other state.

*State assistance is provided to just 40% of students, compared to 83% in Finland and 90% in the Netherlands.

On Tuesday, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) commented on the findings, on a day when student demonstrations were taking place in Dublin and Thurles.

At the Tipperary Institute protest in Thurles, USI President, Colm Jordan said: "These findings show in black and white that Irish students are not enjoying the same rights as most of their European counterparts."

Noel Hogan, Campaigns Officer for USI, said: "The figures revealed in the Euro Student 2000 survey last week show that there is still a huge amount for students to fight for in Ireland. A better grant and more student accommodation are prerequisites for boosting the numbers of disadvantaged students in our colleges. The survey also showed that a third level education is denied to more than just the poor in society - just 0.5% of Irish students are physically disabled, by far the lowest number of any country surveyed."

The Campaign For Free Education (CFE), an organisation set up by UCD students to fight against fees and for equal access to education for all, regardless of economic or social background, was behind Tuesday's protest in UCD.

Over 300 students walked out of their lectures to protest. They were calling upon the government to issue a guarantee that they would not re-introduce fees and for a retraction of the recent 69% hike in registration fees. The campaign has been actively building a movement against registration fees and any possible re-introduction of fees in UCD.

They were prevented from occupying O'Reilly Hall and moved on to stage a symbolic occupation of the dual carriageway, where traffic was held up for over half an hour. Despite fears of an adverse reaction from motorists, those on the protest were surprised by the positive reactions of cheers and beeps from those driving by.

James Redmond, PRO for the campaign, said the protests were just the start of a wider process of taking the issue of educational disadvantage out of the opinion columns of newspapers and putting it back in an arena in which students can win on the streets and campuses.

"While some commentators have expressed horror at the rise of student militancy in the campuses, those of us in the CFE welcome it, because it is silence that got us lumped with this 69% increase, and it is action which will get rid of it," he added.

The group is calling on all students, workers and their families to mount opposition to the increase. They believe that it is only through mass action of ordinary students that the fee increase will be defeated. The campaign ultimately seeks truly free education, which means an end to all financial obstacles placed in the way of students.

Group Secretary Paul Murphy said: "I fear that fees will be increased next year unless students launch a significant campaign."

The group also condemned the government's decision to slash the budget of third level access schemes, designed to make entry to college easier for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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