If we had to pay fees, we'd take it more seriously

 

This week more than 100,000 students are starting or going back to third-level education. RÓISÍN INGLE speaks to seven students about paying fees, exam pressure and getting jobs in a recession

THE COURSE

Elaine: I thought moving away from home to study law in Trinity would be the most scary thing, especially when home is Derry, a five hour drive away. But on my first day I was begging my parents to leave, you know, “go home, you’re embarrassing me”. I’m sad now I’m in my final year it’s almost over. I’d stay for another four years if they’d let me.

Fíodhna: I’m originally from Dublin but have lived in Galway for years. I wanted to do drama from a young age. My parents were a bit concerned and wanted me to study it with a language so I chose French. The first year in Trinity was just immense and I’m looking forward to the second one.

Paul: I find college life very good, better than I expected. I like the course I’m doing – Applied Psychology in IADT – it’s quite a broad course involving computers as well as psychology. The clubs and societies are a great way to make friends.

Aoife: I am studying Human Genetics. Going in to first year I am really happy with my course and I can’t believe I’m going to Trinity. I’ve been before as a tourist, now I am part of it.

Lisa: I was so happy to be accepted to study Science because in sixth year, I was really sick with glandular fever and I was relieved to even sit my Leaving Cert never mind get the points I needed. My school really supported me through my illness and it’s thanks to them that I was able to get here.

Jessica: I am really enjoying my course. I am in second year at IADT doing Business Studies and Arts Management.

Conor: I am doing an Arts degree is UCC studying economics and politics. College life is short so I’ve been making the most of it. You really develop as a person. I am a lot more confident than I used to be and that’s from being involved in a load of different societies.

STUDY AND EXAMS

Elaine: Funding cuts are making life very difficult for students. The Trinity Library closes at 9.45pm. There is a 24-hour study space with 50 desks, but with well over 10,000 undergraduates, 50 desks isn’t good enough. Close to exams, there are people lying on the floor studying and there are people paying for desks in the study space. The library system really needs to be sorted out – we did a sit-in protest but it made no difference.

Fíodhna: There are people who just sit on the red Arts Block couches and watch the hours come and go. But if you do that one day it doesn’t mean you do it every day. I failed one of my exams by 1 per cent so I am waiting for my supplementary results. Hopefully I will pass, otherwise I would drop out for a year, travel maybe, then go back to college.

Aoife: I am definitely not a crammer, that doesn’t work for me so I plan to do what I did in secondary school, which is do my work as it comes in. Then if I find I’ve been a bit lazy for a few weeks it’s still easy to catch up.

Conor: There is a stigma about Arts students; that we don’t turn up to lectures and I’d be the first to admit I go to very few. But you don’t necessarily have to go to all your lectures to get a good degree. I failed my exams last year so I am repeating. I think tutorials are more important than lectures. I’ve never had a “golden week” where you attend all of your lectures, tutorials and seminars.

Jessica: I’ve had a few “golden weeks”.

Paul: So have I, mainly because we have one lecturer who gives a few extra marks for attendance.

ACCOMMODATION

Elaine: In my first year I lived in halls which was fantastic. Then I moved into the smallest flat in Dublin, sharing with three other girls, being charged extortionate rent. Every two weeks, the landlord came to the door and if you didn’t have the rent you were in trouble, so it was a very new experience. There were a few Monday nights when I’d be on the phone to my Dad saying: “Can you please find a bank that’s open?”

Lisa: I am living at home in Dublin. I would like to do my own thing and be independent and I like the idea of living away from home but it wouldn’t make sense at the moment.

Jessica: I live at home, so I don’t have a rent issue but it is very hard for people who are renting and trying to budget as well as worry about the academic side of things.

Paul: I live at home too, but I travel two hours each way on two buses to get to college from Clondalkin.

FINANCES

Fíodhna: I get a weekly allowance from my parents, I am not given anything else so I have to make it last. Some weeks it’s really expensive, with food, transport and general living costs. Some weeks I get to the end and there’s nothing and other weeks I might have money for a new dress. I might try to fit in a part-time job this year, although it would just mean not going home as much.

Lisa: I have a part-time job at the Science Gallery. I know I am lucky because a lot of my friends are having trouble getting jobs. I’ll work whenever I can.

Jessica: My dad is retired now so we have to watch things a bit. I do have a part-time job, which is good from a financial point of view but I also found the job is great for making me multi-task. It feels like the less time you have, the more things you get done.

Paul: I find it quite difficult financially, it’s hard to pay for everything. The last time I had a job was last Christmas. I put that money away for this year. It will cover half what I need; my Mum paid the other half. It’s only Mum at home taking care of three kids so it is hard.

STUDENT FEES

Elaine: I come from the North, where you get a student loan which you have to pay back once you leave college. If I was going to college in the North or England I’d be paying £4,000 a year in fees, but I would get loans to cover those and another loan for living expenses, which I would pay back when I start earning over a certain amount. I think third-level education is a privilege; I don’t think it’s a right we are entitled to without contributing. The Irish Government needs to look at the student finance system because the more they invest in students, the more they’ll make back. I was at a student union training weekend where the room was divided between those against fees and those in favour. I was on my own on one side with 300 people on the other.

Fíodhna: I was at that event too. I wanted to go into that “pro fees” corner, but was too scared.

Elaine: I know what you mean. I was pointed out as the “pro fees” girl for ages.

Fíodhna: I do think you would take the whole thing a lot more seriously if you were paying several grand a year for it. You are not going to be sitting on Arts Block couches thinking: “Ah lectures, I won’t bother.”

Conor: I think if people had to pay for their degree, even if they paid for it after they start working, people would be more appreciative of their education. Also, if there were fees, you wouldn’t have the registration tax. It’s around €1,700 when you register. Because I failed last year, my parents told me to feck off and pay it myself, which was fair enough.

Jessica: I am not paying for college but I realise my parents are and I don’t see the point in dossing around. Maybe with fees people would have a better appreciation of the education but there is the danger that education will only be for those who have money. What about the people who can’t afford it but still want to be educated?

SOCIAL LIFE

Conor: There are a lot of stereotypes of loutish student behaviour and I think it’s only going to get worse. Students have a lot less money now and a lot of them are drinking at home, which is less expensive than pubs or nightclubs. They go to the off-licence and bring home naggins and shoulders of vodka and they go mad. Last week in Cork, there were three parties in three different houses on College Road and they merged into one party and the gardaí were called. In the main, students are good natured, they want to have a good time but they don’t want to upset the people around them.

Jessica: Your course work is not the be all and end all of college, the other social stuff is important too. Some people do use the time to experiment with drugs, but it’s not everyone – a lot of students I know wouldn’t touch the stuff. I remember my first day of college I couldn’t talk to anyone but the clubs and societies really boost your confidence and help you get involved. I started a Drama Society two years ago and it’s going really well. I am also in the Christian Society which is brilliant, really diverse and interesting.

Paul: I like to mess around, but at the same time I must be serious with my studies. The way I see it, I literally can’t afford to fail a year. I do go out and everything, but I don’t really spend much.

THE FUTURE

Fíodhna: With a drama degree, my options are obviously limited and that’s where the French comes in. I have the option to do a HDip or teach or go to France. I don’t have a clue where I am going to be in four years’ time. I know the recession makes it harder for my parents but at the moment it hasn’t affected me. It would affect me if my parents were saying “we have no money, come home and live in a shed in Galway for the rest of your life.”

Lisa: I know it’s a difficult time for the country but I’m quite positive about the future because I know I am part of a really good thing, studying Science at Trinity. The department is highly regarded around the world and it’s a rapidly expanding industry. I don’t know what my dream job would be yet, perhaps something in immunology, but I am not worried about options when I graduate.

Aoife: I want to make the most of it all, I am not going to worry about what will happen at the end. I just feel so lucky to be here. There are so many people who are not in this position and don’t know what they are going to do. I know I will miss things. The comfort of home and the people, but it will be really fun to have that independence and the freedom to learn things that you won’t learn while you are at home.

Jessica: I am scared of the fact that I will have to face the real world when it’s all over but for now I am just going to enjoy myself and work hard.

Paul: I do worry about getting a job at the end, it might be hard with what I am studying, I will probably have to travel.

Elaine: I have a general plan and it involves living outside of Ireland for a year. I’ve been very involved in Ents while in college, and it’s made me realise I don’t want a nine-to-five job. The recession has given a lot of us the confidence to go out and try stuff – a lot of my friends have decided to do entrepreneurial things. You can’t sit at home crying every day. There will be jobs, there will be opportunities. I’ve only got nine months left and I am not going to spend it panicking.

Conor: I will be sad when I leave UCC but I will definitely move away for a while because life in Ireland can be very small minded. There is a party next week down in Cork called the Great Emigration Party. A lot of my friends who are graduating this year are going off to London and it’s like there are wakes for all these people. But I have a sunny outlook - worrying isn’t going to do any good.