I grew up with my head in a book. I lived in the clouds and I was never more than a day or two away from my next trip to the local library. I relished information, lived for knowledge and thrived for learning. I still do.
Neither of my parents finished their educations. My dad received an “intercert” award at a local tech and my mother left before she was 14.I didn’t grow up poor or wanting, I grew up working-class in an area where less than 15% of individuals obtain a college education. I am the child of a single parent and I am one of the luck few who made it to third level education. On graduation day I’ll be the one hollering and crying “I am the one who made it out” because that’s exactly what education offers me and 1000s of others every year; a way out. Out of my own head, out into the world, out of the proverbial poverty cycle that could so easily drag me in and out of the minimum wage jobs I’d barely qualify for with out my degree.
I hate the “there’s no such thing as a poor student” mentality held by many busybodies who seem to think that by virtue of attending a third level institute, college students are automatically rolling in it. “sure look at the crowds on student nights. Students always drink to excess. Students have the money to blow away. They have a great life for themselves sure don’t they” they croon and sure, the overwriting student “lifestyle” is one heavily laced with alcohol and excess. But when have you ever seen a group of everyday students go heavy on bottles on Monet or Grey Goose. The drinks of choice of students are the cheap (probably laced with god knows what type of chemicals) and unbranded alternatives; €2 shots and the cheapest naggin of vodka around (Knock off brand if you’re a bit richer, Cheap Supermarket if you don’t have the pennies) Many choose to drink excessively to live up to the clichéd student adventure stereotype, many do so to forget the troubles of college life; the stress, the strains and the mounting student debts that appear to be where are futures are heading. As students we’re thought to do everything on the cheap. Live, eat, drink repeat because we don’t have the choice; all our money is pushed into our educations. These “rich” students are the winners in life’s game of circumstance. Some of us are helped by parents, jobs and benefactors while others are forced to live day-to-day and hope that Tesco doesn’t sell out of their 37c noodles because “free education” is damn well expensive.
Without the little aid I get from SUSI, I never could have afforded to attend college without amassing stupid debts (and at 17, who was going to give me a bank loan to pay for tuition, rent and living costs?) I know my parents would do anything they could to help me get the education that I aspire to receive. I’ve always been aware of putting my parents in debt and thus I took the high road when choosing a college; I abandoned the University dream and instead decided to attend my local Institute of Technology (you can read about my IT experiences here) Staying at home has saved me a whole host of money I can invest in other avenues like the rare travel opportunities I get, pastimes and owning a beautiful Mini Cooper but it doesn’t mean the college experience is anyway less expensive. it doesn’t mean I like so many others haven’t spent 3 years balancing a full-time job and a full time education. it doesn’t mean any less sleepless nights filled with worry and woe and it definitely doesn’t mean I can afford to go out partying every night (On full disclosure, I don’t actually drink….) My spare money goes on food and printing; supplies and petrol; 90% necessity and 10% luxury (and please don’t get me started on the price of college textbooks. Compulsory purchasing of a €60 text book I will only use twice always leaves a sour taste in my mouth) Fees and contributions are higher in universities. You can see where I am going here; college is a huge cost center no matter where you attend or what you do. There is no such thing as a “free education”
The current reformation ideas propped by our government for colleges nationwide are in a word; idiotic. What is already a huge drain on finances for 1000s of students each year is about bleed a whole lot more. Fee increases are a move towards alienation and higher drop out rates. I already know so many who have been forced to leave college because of the overwhelming costs of fees/transport/accommodation. Raising fees push those on the margin further away for attaining third level education. The higher you push and prod, the more elitist you are making the education system. This isn’t the 1800s, why should how much money my family earn or my “place in society” deem what type of education I can receive. It’s a right of all to get an education and it should be a reality that no matter who you are, climbing to whatever level of the educational tree you want shouldn’t be perilous and fraught with family crushing debt. Where’s the fairness in that?
Oh, the other option. The one many think should be the more popular. On paper, the more Anglicised ideas of “Study Now, pay later” seems ideal and to struggling students and those without the means to get to college, this trap will become a deep rabbit hole of misunderstanding (Have you ever read stories of crippling student debts faced by British students who fell for the dream of education they could pay for when they started earning?) In reality our young people are setting themselves up for a graduate world of scraping and scampering to get by with amassing debt, negative equity and financial worry. The governments plans amount to nothing more than making education less accessible. We’re alienating those who already struggle so hard to make it to third level introducing costs and charges that will turn many students to graduate lives filled with woe.
We don’t need cuts and price increases (Ireland already has the second highest fees in Europe) We need our educations protected. As the future leaders, doctors, dentists, vets, mechanics, scientists, retail workers, teachers, marketers we are the tomorrow of this country and it is up to the government to protect that what so many have been lost trying to carve out. We’ve already been privy to so many cuts in funding, lecturers, educational assistant programs, healthcare (you get the picture) and a grant system that feels like receivers names and funding levels are being chosen out of hat. We can’t take much more. Brexit offers opportunities for the Irish government to attract foreign students who would have ordinarily chose the UK for study. Capitalise on this and invest in making the Irish educational system more accessible, more widespread and less soul crushing.
We are not the “rich students” we’re made out to be; how can we be when we are working so hard to dig ourselves out from the financial, political and social messes our predecessors have left us with? We don’t need to invest every inch of ourselves to be able to obtain a third level education; our government should already be investing in us.