That dreaded time of the year again

It is that dreaded time of the year again when students are confronted with an email with the simple little word ‘Fees’ in the subject line, writes Alison O'Brien

'If the cost of running universities truly is rising, then surely a different solution that avoids putting more stress and pressure on students can be reached.' Photograph: iStockphoto

'If the cost of running universities truly is rising, then surely a different solution that avoids putting more stress and pressure on students can be reached.' Photograph: iStockphoto

 

The reminder, which boldly announces that the remaining 50 per cent or €1,500 is due, sends a shiver tingling down my spine, sparking a multitude of thoughts and emotions.

First comes the recognition that this is something that will be of benefit to me and must be paid.  Having lived through boom and bust in this country, students in their twenties are all too aware of the need for education. 

In a globalised society we are also aware that they are not simply competing with their friends from UCC, Queens or Dublin, for the limited number of high-end jobs. 

Today's Irish student knows that an increase in the number of students doing a Master’s degree in Germany or Poland will have the knock-on effect of raising the standard of those against whom we will be competing with for jobs in the global arena. 

Indeed, we are already on the back pedal because of the lack of emphasis being placed on the learning of foreign languages in this country.

The second reaction is one of embarrassment.  Being sent this email is a bit of a mistake, as it is ultimately my parents who will have to fork out the €3,224. 

I have been raised to believe that education is paramount and that time in University should be spent studying and not working whilst trying to fit in a bit of study on the side. 

I am one of the lucky ones who can afford to hold such an opinion. 

Many of my friends work long hours in difficult jobs and are still expected to pass exams and to get great results.

I truly admire such students and they are an example of something that we as the nation of saints and scholars should be proud of. 

Instead, I have to ask my father who has diligently headed off to work every morning at 7am for the last twenty years and who arrives home shattered with tiredness at 7pm on Friday evenings. 

I live in the hope that investing the hours and money now, will ultimately mean that when I graduate I will quickly get a job which will enable me to pay him back. 

In reality, if the amount of tax that he pays is anything to go by, and with escalating rental prices it will probably take me a long time to pay him back.

The final emotion is anger.  On Erasmus in Germany last year, my fees came to slightly over €500 and included a student ticket which enabled me to travel for free on most trains in North-West Germany.  When I discovered my rent would be €180 a month (which included heat, internet and electricity) I was overjoyed. 

My joy was however short-lived when I received an email from my home university informing me that I still had to pay my Irish university fees, irrespective of the fact that I would not step foot on the campus that year. 

Being in the position to compare life as a student in two European countries, I feel fleeced. 

Furthermore, because of our high fees I feel that many students are not following their hearts. 

They are committing to courses which they do not really love but which are likely to provide them with a reasonable income in the future. 

The fear of bankrupting their families means that if after their first year they feel like they made a big mistake with their course choice, they have no other option but to stick with it.  All of this feeds into the creation of a frantic pressure on Irish students.

I read an article recently in which a (now former) University president suggested that fees should be increased.  

As a student, and knowing many others who face a future in an ever more complex world, such a thought scares me and seems detached from reality.  If the cost of running universities truly is rising, then surely a different solution that avoids putting more stress and pressure on students can be reached. 

Once I click ‘Pay Now’, I can at least avoid thinking about fees for another year.