Student marching season

Today a student protest march will be taking place in Dublin, and the organisers expect thousands to take part. The purpose of the protest is to put pressure on politicians not to increase the student registration charge, to provide adequate student grants and to secure jobs for graduates.

I am not a stranger to protest marches. Those I remember taking part in as a student and postgraduate and as a young lecturer concerned Vietnam, contraception, and third world aid. I don’t in any way want to suggest that today’s protest is not appropriate (I am not unsympathetic to some of the demands, though sceptical about others), but for all that it is a shame that nowadays student activism, when it erupts in these rare moments, is fundamentally concerned with self-interest.

I cannot help feeling that student engagement with the big issues of the day is often disappointing – but I also wonder whether this is in part the fault of the universities or perhaps the system, and that we don’t sufficiently encourage extra-curricular interests and activities. It is something to ponder.

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15 Comments on “Student marching season”

  1. Perry Share Says:

    When I went from Ireland to Australia in the 1980s, I was struck by the almost complete political disengagement of students there. Where in Ireland students attended political meetings, in Oz the main focus of student bodies (judging by posters around campus) seemed to be on evangelical Christianity! So its not just us.

    I suspect that the apparent depoliticisation of Irish students does have much to do with the overweaning focus on vocational education and individual employability: students do still have social consciences and an interest in social issues, but these can tend to be individualised and, encouraged by the media, psychologised.

    I suspect that as the economic and social crisis in Ireland deepens, we may see an increase in student (and indeed academic) protest. Best wishes to today’s students who are making the effort to register their views on the state of the country.

  2. copernicus Says:

    Nothing wrong in marching and protesting which is part of democracy in action. In my days in 1970s in US MidWest, there were marches opposing Vietnam War.
    The British government is poised to announce that top universities can charge tuition fee upto £9000 per year, but under certain conditions of access. As yet, the protest seems to be there should be no tuition fees and no restrictions (even academic) to the number who attend the universities, etc.. etc.. but then .. is it sustainable.. for, this there seems to be no answer from the students. ..

  3. Anna Notaro Says:

    ‘student activism…is fundamentally concerned with self-interest’ this is not surprising when one considers that our ‘zeitgeist’ is one of fierce competition, extreme entrepreneurialism (best expressed by the ‘You have been Fired’ TV programme)and pervasive commodification (education is no exception). This for me is the ‘moral’ issue which concerns university life (and society at large). As always, the best way would be to teach by example, only I am not sure we are doing that at the moment..

  4. Clare Says:

    I agree that student engagement with current affairs is disappointing. Notwithstanding today’s protest which I expect will be large (although nowhere near the 25,000 I’ve heard mentionned), students are a silent bunch happy to enjoy an easy lifestyle. Universities are partly to blame, advocating a one size fits all approach to education. I think Students Unions and the USI should also take some responsibility for focusing on self-interest issues, rather than global ones. I’m interested to see today’s march.

  5. peruquois Says:

    I seriously think that Universities are the biggest pillars of society on which the great task of creating , nourishing and nurturing a generation exists. But the misery is that the system and the structure upon which the universities exist is far too outdated. They are not changing their structure with the changing time whereas the generation of students is always renewed and fresh.So there is a very big gap . The universities will have tot ake active role in not just producing bachelors and masters , but also to provide a space and environment in which a student can grow as a good and wholesome human being too.

  6. copernicus Says:

    Thre is something else which is serious.

    See the article in the Daily Telegraph, Britain at:

  7. kevin denny Says:

    “Best wishes to today’s students who are making the effort to register their views on the state of the country.” Come again,Perry?

    …who are trying to maintain their priveliged position at the expense of others, more like.
    Just to recap some well-known (I thought) facts:
    University students are not representative of the population, being disproportionately drawn from better-off backgrounds.
    The cost of university education is born largely by the tax-payer (not sure what % exactly).
    So university is a re-distribution to the well-off.
    University education is a very good investment financially.
    This exacerbates the inequity: university is a vehicle to increase inequality as it makes the rich richer.
    Meanwhile the government doesn’t have a dime and has to pay exorbitant rates to borrow on our behalf. There is a very real chance we won’t even be able to do that soon.
    So the reaction to the modest contributions that the government is rumoured to be looking for is reactionary, self-serving and elitist. I was bemused to see Socialist Worker folks at the protests adopting such a blatantly right-wing stance.

    • Kevin, I don’t know if you’re aware of it (as you are in the US), but your work on this got some coverage in the Irish Times this week…

    • Perry Share Says:

      Kevin – you are jumping to the conclusion that all those at the demo were well-heeled uni students. A very significant proportion of those present were students from Institutes of Technology and probably also from PLC colleges (who are being promised a major fee increase). I presume those 5th year school students from Clondalkin, who were going to the march, interviewed on RTE the other day, were also ‘privileged’.

      If you can prove to me that the IoTs and PLCs have had no role in expanding the opportunities for previously excluded groups to access tertiary education, I will eat my metaphorical hat.

      I presume that following your logic, all support to elite arts activities (which demonstrably attract the well-off and so redistribute resources to them) should also be eliminated – eg the Abbey Theatre, IMMA, National Gallery, Opera Ireland, Music Network …

      Followed by all examples of corporate welfare, such as the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, Culture Ireland, Horse Racing Ireland?

      And the investment in Dublin Airport, as we know that air travellers are disproportionately well-off (compared to, say, bus passengers).

      I could go on 🙂

  8. Robert Browne Says:

    If FF told the Greens they were reneging on stag hunting or mink farms what do you think would happen? They would walk out of government. But reneging on students? The hypocrisy of the Greens is stomach wrenching and I say that as an avowed environmentalist.

  9. Jason Michael McCann Says:

    “Self interest?” As an aged student, and as a friend, I would very much like to disagree with this point. This very day I nearly suffered a blow to the head (not that this would have done more damage) from a eager public servant in a constabulary uniform wielding a standard issue Garda baton. Along with countless other “long haired radicals,” I was marching to defend the “very marginal (a la Vincent Browne)” 3.5% working class participants in third level education. As a member of that class I can say that this pathetic level of participation in education is not due to any will-to-stupidity, but the reality of poverty. A reality that is by no means the fault of the working classes. Rather the reality of the working classes is one of social, economic and political alienation. When these obstacles are removed the poor will reach that glorious 100% participation in a more equal society.

    This vicious proposal to introduce a €3,000 registration theft (maybe we should read ‘fee’) is another act of violence against the working class which will reduced that 3.5% participation to the much desired zero. This will serve only to reduce the future participation of the working class in government and the decision making process. If we do not stop Fianna Failure now the working class will be like lambs to the slaughter.

    Well, that was my day.
    Jason Michael

    • Jason, good to hear from you. But bear in kind that ‘free fees’ did not increase working class participation in HE. Are you arguing that spending money on people who are wealthy is important for the working classes? That is the effect of free fees, and it has had the consequence that resources have not been adequately available to support the disadvantaged.

      • Jason McCann Says:

        Ferdinand, that free fees did not increase working class participation is in no doubt. Social, Economic and Political alterations have to be made within working class areas (and in society as a whole) in order to increase this participation. That is a structural change. Fees are not the primary reason for this lack of participation, but it has a secondary and tertiary impact on the lack. The proposed €3,000 will reduced current levels of working class participation.
        So if the free education of youngsters from wealthier families (re: “rich kids,” I refuse to buy into the envy of socialist analysis) enables the poor to avail of the same when the conditions of poverty allow, then so be it. We need at least some educated working class to represent societies majority. These fees will reduce this to zero.
        PS. Great weblog. Love it.

  10. Jason Michael McCann Says:

    “Why should it be necessary to give gifts to rich people in order to provide smaller benefits to the poor?”

    It should not be, but until there is a fundamental change in the order of the world, which I don’t hold much hope for, then this is the way it must be.

    To quote ‘the Mission,’ “No the world is not thus, Señor Hontar, thus have we made the world. Thus have I made it.”

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