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247
There things
stand, and that has
managed to leave no
one happy.
Though they get
a better deal than
their counterparts
in many other
countries, Irish
students nonetheless
are seeing big
percentage
increases in their
contributions to
their educations
at exactly the time
their families have
seen declines in their
incomes. As part of the government’s austerity measures, they
also face a four percent decrease in the maintenance grants
about a third of them receive toward their living expenses
while in school. “People are just living on less now,” DCU’s
Megan O’Riordan said with a shrug. “We’re at the threshold
now. Any more cuts and we’re really going to feel it.”
Students’ short-term futures appear no less bleak. More
than 90,000 people under 25 are unemployed, and more
than 59,000 of those are university graduates. More than half
of last year’s graduates still don’t have jobs. Those who do
are being forced to take lower-paid and lower-skilled work,
according to the National Economic and Social Council.
Offices all over Dublin advertise U.S. work visas or Australia
or New Zealand travel for students who are choosing to join
the ranks of those who plan to emigrate.
Still they keep on coming. The number of university
applications for the fall is up another 14 percent, driven by
the unemployed and by students from England, who under
EU law pay the same as Irish students, and for whom Irish
universities are now a bargain.
Nor does there appear to be much public sympathy
for this generation, raised as it was in a time of plenty and
disparaged in popular caricatures as spoiled and entitled.
Today’s students are known as the Broke and in College.
“These are tough times for Irish students like Jamie,” the
Sunday magazine of the
Irish Independent
wrote sarcastically
about an imagined typical student. “The old man is lying
low these days, arguing on the phone with some lawyer guy
about what he meant by personal guarantee…and Jamie
lives at home and works in a convenience store to pay for
Jägermeister at the weekend.”
Facing new taxes and fewer services, two-thirds of Irish
adults support charging students more for their educations,
a poll by the
Irish Independent
found. Forty percent think
universities should be paid for partly by the government and
partly by higher student fees, and 25 percent support the
graduate-tax idea. Fewer than a third think taxpayers should
continue to bear most of the cost of higher education, as they
do now.
Academics are even more unpopular. At a hearing, one
member of the Dáil, or lower house of the Irish parliament,
accused them of working only 15 hours
a week—the amount of time they spend
in lectures. “Most politicians have no
clue what academics are actually doing.
That’s the biggest challenge, explaining
to them that we’re not sunbathing on
some beach,” said UCD’s Hess. “There’s a
certain sense of, so many people have lost
their jobs and there are rumors of how
much money we make.” Added Jennings:
“We are working harder than we’ve ever
worked, we’ve taken significant cuts in
our salaries, and still the image is being
allowed to get abroad that we have a
luxurious existence.”
The government has proposed a pay-
for-performance system for faculty, and
new provisions specifying workloads and
teaching hours. Faculty are being required
to teach for an extra hour per week, on top of their current
annual workload of 560 hours, and face penalties if they
fail to win satisfactory ratings under a proposed evaluation
system based in part on certain learning outcomes. Faculty
unions are fighting these plans, and most have refused to
sign on to the Croke Park agreement (named for the Dublin
sports complex where it was negotiated), under which other
Ireland has built a
science infrastructure
from a level
equivalent to that of
Bangladesh ten years
ago to become ranked
among the top 20
countries in the world
in research.
“We know we have to keep investing in the kind of development
that will help with our recovery,” says Sean Dorgan, chairman of
CRANN, at Trinity College Dublin.
“Politically the
universities keep
trying to justify
their existence as if
they were the R&D
department of the
government.”
—Mike Jennings,
Irish Federation of
University Teachers