Thursday, 11 March 2021
Young People and Access to Further and Higher Education: Motion [Private Members]
I thank People Before Profit for tabling this motion. Unfortunately, the Government has proposed a cynical amendment. It has a habit of doing so in respect of proposals it knows are the right things to do but that do not fit with its conservative, right-wing agenda.
Covid-19 and public restrictions have imposed significant hardships on our students. Their educational experience has been far from ideal and there has been a negative impact on their mental health and general well-being. We must listen to our students. For years, we have heard from them that too much pressure is being placed on them. There is too much emphasis on one exam to decide their paths in life. I am reminded of the song "Little Boxes" by Malvina Reynolds, with students being put in boxes and all coming out the same. We must radically rethink our approach to the leaving certificate. We require an education system that is adaptable and seeks the best for every student regardless of his or her academic ability. We also need to balance between equipping our students with life skills and with academic skills.
There is an unacceptable level of inequality in access to third level education. There are parts of Athy, Portarlington and Newbridge in which the number of students progressing to third level is less than half the county average.
There is widespread poverty and financial hardship among third level students, particularly as a result of extortionate rents. We need to urgently commence a major publicly funded programme of building affordable, publicly-owned student accommodation. Affordable accommodation is a significant barrier for working class people who wish to progress to college. There is also the financial hardship imposed on many students and their families as a result of having to pay what are among the highest registration fees in the EU.
Students should not have to work long hours to keep themselves in college. Students on work placements are doing real work and they deserve fair pay. I cannot believe we are still talking about paying student nurses. Can we not just get it done?
Sinn Féin in government will abolish third level fees. It is a disgrace that while some families make significant sacrifices to keep their child in college, foreign executives can claim tax relief under the special assignee relief programme. Almost 1,500 individuals availed of €42 million in tax relief under that programme in 2018.
Meanwhile, Members are well aware that SUSI, to which the Minister referred, is not fit for purpose. It finds any reason possible to refuse grants to struggling families. It really shows where the priorities of the Government lie. They are certainly not with the working poor of counties Kildare and Laois whom I represent.