#TakeBackTrinity: Students and Politicians Fight Against “Commodification of Education”

Ruth Cunningham reports on the recent controversy surrounding the implementation of extra fees for students in Trinity College and their knock on effect on less well-off students

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Photos by Ruth Cunningham

Students and politicians voiced concerns over rising university costs and the implementation of supplementary fees in Ireland at a rally held in Trinity College last Thursday.  The rally was held in the wake of an occupation by approximately 60 students in the Dining Hall overnight.

In February, 82% of 3,504 students polled in a preferendum held by TCDSU voted against the introduction of such supplementary fees.

The planned introduction of fees was announced in early March, with Vice Provost Chris Morash explaining, “We were proposing a figure of €200 per module, and I had some discussions with the SU President regarding the idea that we could cap the number of modules for which we charged; however, we weren’t able to bottom out that negotiation.”

The #TakeBackTrinity grassroots campaign developed on the premise that the introduction of these fees would be exclusionary and prohibitive to students from working class backgrounds, disabled students and students juggling study with work commitments. The rising costs of education have been criticised as discriminatory, with students accusing universities of caring more about their bottom line instead of student welfare.

Hundreds of students and well-wishers attended the rally, held in Trinity College’s Front Square, where rousing speeches were made by student representatives including Student Union President Kevin Keane, Disability Officer Laura Benton, President-elect of the Graduate Student’s Union Oisín Vince Coulter.  The speakers criticised the rising costs of university for students, which they described as ‘exclusionary’ and ‘discriminative’.

The rally and open air concert was organised by Trinity students following a period of protests, which saw approximately 60 students occupy the Dining Hall in the front square for over 24 hours.

This sit-in was part of a campaign known as #TakeBackTrinity which developed in opposition to newly introduced fees, in particular a €450 flat fee for supplemental exams.

Speaking to TheCity.ie during the occupation, Disability Officer and protester Laura Benton explained that the peaceful protests had been escalated by security acting on orders of university management. Benton said, “external security services” were commissioned to block entrances into the hall and to prevent food or water being taken into the protesters.

“Toilet access has also been cut off […] students have been warned that doors are now alarmed – if the alarm is triggered an emergency response unit will be immediately sent.”

The rally was also attended by political leaders from Senators David Norris and Ivana Bacik, People Before Profit (PBP) TD’s Richard Boyd Barrett and Paul Murphy and Dublin City Councillor (DCC) Gary Gannon.

Labour senator for Trinity College Ivana Bacik told TheCity.ie:I support the students protest against the new supplemental exam fee and have arranged a letter to the Provost from myself and the other Trinity Senators expressing our concern about the fee and asking the board to reconsider the decision.”

Social Democrat and Councillor for Dublin North Inner City Gary Gannon said: “I’m very excited about what’s been happening in Trinity over the last few days. What’s really powerful about this movement which has started off in Trinity  – with the catalyst being the introduction of this ridiculous €450 fee for re-examinations – is that it’s very quickly becoming about something much bigger.”

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#TakeBackTrinity I think this is student power? 👊

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“This is all about the commodification of education – it’s about rising registration fees, the exploitation of international students, the absurd cost of accommodation in the city and throughout Ireland.”

“This seems to have started here but I’m getting the sense that this is going to reverberate throughout the state, we’ll see this being repeated throughout other universities. What history has demonstrated is that when students talk and really organize, when they’re really agitated and are out there speaking up, society tends to listen.”

Prior to this announcement, Trinity was one of few universities in Ireland with no additional costs for repeating exams in the event of failure. In DCU there is a flat fee of €190, in UCD there is a charge of €230 per repeat with no cap. Other universities in Ireland charge per credits, including UCC and NUI Maynooth.

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