The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) Youth, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) want to express our support for the New University / ReThink UvA occupation at the University of Amsterdam.
The demand to put an end to “managerialism, real-estate-speculation and precarious labour in Higher Education” should unite students and staff across the world.
In Ireland, the campaigning group Third Level Workplace Watch recently highlighted the terrible conditions facing adjunct staff in our Higher Education institutions – where lecturers are surviving on welfare, in ‘permanent’ part-time status for years, and working sixty hours per week while barely making minimum wage.
At the same time, students are facing exorbitant increases in fees as budgets for Higher Education are cut by successive austerity governments. In the twenty years between 1995 and 2015 these fees have increased 1,579%. From an adjusted figure of just under €190 in 1995 to €3,000 for incoming students.
The balance of funding for Higher Education in Ireland is moving from public to private. In some cases this takes the form of major multinational corporations directing scientific research, in others EU research grants being used in the development of drones and “counter-terrorist” weaponry. Little if any of this enjoys democratic oversight.
Still again this neoliberalisation takes the form of increased emphasis on attracting international students – who pay exorbitant, unsubsidised fees and are set into competition with Irish students for places in a process antithetical to genuine internationalism. These students can expect to pay more for poorer services too.
The neoliberal university in Ireland is profoundly changing the student experience. Most students aspire to engage in the free and critical pursuit of knowledge, to use our time in Higher Education for personal development and to become rounded citizens of society. However, increasingly it seems like we are reduced to consumers in a rat race, with degrees little more than stamps of social capital meant to improve our chances in the job market.
But this is not simply a problem in Higher Education. In Further Education budget cuts have forced the closure of many programmes. Community education and training has also been devalued, utilised as a source of free labour and a means to hide real unemployment figures. 85,000 people are on ‘labour activation’ schemes in Ireland at the moment which are often exploitative and result in little experience being gained. Apprentices have found themselves burdened with extortionate fee increases too.
The occupation in Amsterdam inspires many of us – both students and staff – who are trying to understand how we can break these cycles which worsen year-on-year. In Ireland we understand, like you do, that it is time for a fight back.
We send our solidarity to all of those involved in the occupation and in our common struggle for an education system that is democratic, developmental and focused on serving the needs of society rather than the careers of technocrats or the profits of business.
Derek Keenan (Chairperson, Irish Congress of Trade Unions Youth)
Laura Harmon (President, Union of Students in Ireland)
Mike Jennings (General Secretary, Irish Federation of University Teachers)