Student life is no bed of roses these days
We act as if students make no contribution to society
Student teachers, both primary and secondary, as well as newly qualified teachers making their way to the Dáil to protest last year. “Students were the first out on to the street . . . protesting against the erosion of free education . . . They stood up for themselves in a country that refuses to stand up for them.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Ah, the life. Late mornings, later nights. Swapping clothes with flatmates. Entire afternoons made up of Ellen and Judge Judy. Dodgy food, where entire meals don’t pass the €3 mark. Dishonest bus fares. Lost weekends. Hangovers shaken off with remarkable ease. New friends. Classroom dramas. Late-night chats solving the world’s problems until you forget about them in the morning.
Student life. The insecure security of limbo from kidulthood to something more “responsible”. These days, though, it wouldn’t make you so jealous considering everything students have to put up with.
Students get a bad rap, of course. There’s not much love for them in wider society. The newspapers write about a sense of entitlement and drunkenness and risky sex. There’s little consideration of the trials and tribulations of “free education”, or of free education actually being a myth considering the amount the “student contribution” (that’s fees to me and you) increases year on year.
The standard of education is getting worse. Last week, again, six out of eight universities in Ireland fell in the international rankings. Trinity College Dublin and NUI Galway clawed up a couple of places.
As stories inevitably emerge of students in poverty, eye-rolling will greet them.
“There always seems to be money for drink,” people will remark, on radio talkshows and in newspaper columns, when a students’ union gives figures about students not being able to have dinner most of the time. We forget that student life used to be facilitated by part-time jobs, a mythical entity not available to most.
Upon graduation, unless by some fluke or miracle their industry actually needs workers in this country, they’ll be spat out at the end of a three- or four-year tenure and, with their friends, will head off, away. Irish universities deal primarily in exports.
“I’m at the bottom of the food chain,” said my friend Molly from Dingle who can’t find anywhere to live in Dublin.
Landlords and estate agents are once again taking advantage of students, even though it’s a renter’s and buyer’s market, apparently. Myth. Rents go up to suit anonymous landlords. Queues outside flats of people with cash deposits in hand are back.
University welfare offices can’t keep up with the demand of desperation – of students paying €500 a month for a bed in a pokey room nowhere near their college, or sleeping on couches until the end of October when the market is slightly less chaotic and hoping to get a place then.
Dublin, which contains most of Ireland’s student population, comes alive at this time of year. The average age throughout the city drops, and freshers go to rubbish nightclubs because they’re no wiser. The visual landscape of the streets moves from the raincoats of tourists to the hoodies of students; supermarket off-licences make their special offers that bit clearer; every shop, restaurant or premises you’re in has a shaky hand delivering a CV on spec.
I’ve always thought there should be a Usit for Dublin. Usit on the quays looks so enticing. Its windows are populated with signs about cheap visas and cheaper flights, accommodation and jobs.
If you want to jump ship, there’s everything there to help you. Imagine if there was a one-stop shop that helped people stay here, rather than making it so convenient for you to leave?
Imagine if the resources – students unions, letting agents, recruitment agencies – had a package to hand you as if you were going to Sydney Parade, not Sydney? Wouldn’t that give students something to strive for? Wouldn’t that make students more connected to their country? Wouldn’t it give them some semblance of a future?
We act as if students make no contribution to Irish society, as if they’re a burden, not a solution. Casting one’s mind a few years back to how students acted at the time is an interesting exercise. As the recession initially raged and citizens were paralysed by the shock of their mortgages actually being real, students were the first out on to the street. As Icelanders belted pots and pans and Greek kids threw bottles, Ireland was embarrassingly silent.
Not the students, though. They were out on the street, protesting against the erosion of free education. We don’t like to admit that though. That doesn’t fit the narrative, but they did go out. They took to the streets and waved placards. They shouted in megaphones and marched. They stood up for themselves in a country that refuses to stand up for them.
Society likes to preserve itself for adults, but it’s the students who effect change. It’s the youngsters who point out the faults of society and try to mould it as something more idealistic.
Michael Collins was 26 in 1916. Constance Markievicz was 24 when she joined the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. Both were told they had no future in the way they wanted to see it formed. History is made by those dissatisfied with the present, so both shaped that future. Stu- dents: everything is yours, you just need to rip it from the establishment. Rise up.