The plan of the government for third-level education is abysmal. Firstly, there is no commitment to reducing the student fees. Secondly, the funding is less than half of what our universities need. Thirdly, the plan comes with strings attached through the HEA Bill 2022, which is essentially a government takeover to control academia.
Not only does the plan not include a reduction in the student fees, the state is taking over academia. In the over 144-page bill, the “Minister” is mentioned 373 times. He holds sway over universities’ equality policy. The same cabinet that is gifting away the National Maternity Hospital to the church will now hold this power. He approves the budget of universities. The same neoliberal government that has decimated funding for our universities will now be able to control its finances. He will handpick people on governing bodies of universities. The same academic, student and staff voices who are now dissenting will be finally muzzled as state, corporate and university leaders will dominate the soon-to-be butchered governing bodies.
It is a crisis that the government themselves have created, and are now stepping in as saviours to fix it. They will not. They will further push their disastrous neoliberal agenda down our throats.
Students and staff on the ground will be the most affected. The government promised no student loan system, but they cannot be trusted. They are playing the long game. Now that they will control academia, their policies cannot be stopped. We will be pushed to precarity.
In line with government policy, there is not a single mention of mental health funding within the plan. Who controls the money will control the policy. Small courses will be cut. Programmes will be merged. Academics will lose their jobs.
As of the latest developments, we alongside TCDSU, TCDGSU, NCADSU, NUIGSU, DCUSU and UCDSU have all attended the Seanad sittings and through keeping up the pressure managed to stop a guillotine on the bill but it is due to make its way back into the final stage of the Seanad in September 2022 and so we need all hands on deck. Below you can find resources on this piece of legislation, which explain in detail its dangers.
In addition, Students4Change and the Graduate Students’ Union of Trinity lodged an FOI request to Minister Harris’ Office as we felt that there was not appropriate stakeholder consultation across our College. The agenda of his office and tone of Minister Harris we deem unacceptable upon inspecting the documents we received. Insisting that the bill follows the principle of “Comply or explain”, the words written by Minister Harris in reply to the IUA in document n. 18 and 19 sums up his attitude to the autonomy of the higher education sector throughout this bill. The bill has numerous detractors. The 23 documents we received include UCC and Maynooth calling the bill a “command and control” over universities, the IUA saying that aspects of the bill do not “accord with natural justice and will prove unworkable”, and universities raising concerns that state control will lead to reduced EU funding.
This issue has received press attention, including in the Irish Examiner, CRCfm 102.9, Trinity News, University Times and not to mention a letter of editor by Students4Change that was published in the Irish News.
To take action on the bill now, you can sign our open letter, sign the petition or use our portal to easily email the TDs and Senators in your constituency.