Student anger is justified as Ireland’s opposition party weighs in on education

by Rachel Cunningham
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Rachel Cunningham

A Sinn Féin spokesperson for higher and further education, research, innovation and science has told the Dublin Gazette that she is sympathetic to the anger of students in relation to the rental crisis.

Commenting on both the cost of living and the housing rental crises, Rose Conway-Walsh said: “I completely understand the frustration many young people feel as they struggle afford to move out on their own or are living independently paying extortionate rent. Many feel that home ownership will be beyond their reach even after they graduate and start their careers. Their anger is justified.”

The Sinn Féin TD described Ireland’s higher education as having been, “left in austerity mode for the last 10 years”, and criticised the state for giving, “37 per cent less funding per student that they did in 2008”, which she claims has led to, “some of the worst pupil to lecture ratios in Europe”.

Regarding accessibility in our education system, Ms Conway-Walsh said that inequalities continue to be an issue in Irish society. “Prior to Covid, the transfer rate from DEIS post-primary school was declining, meaning that fewer people from disadvantaged areas were going to college”, she explained. 

“Schools in better-off parts of Dublin, such as Dublin 2, 4, 6 and 14, had progression rates of 90 per cent or more. By contrast, individual schools in more deprived parts of the capital, such as Dublin 10, 11, 17 and 24, had progression rates as low as seven per cent.

“This means that students from the most affluent parts of Dublin are up to 14 times more likely to progress to university than their counterparts from some schools in the city’s most disadvantaged areas.

“These figures do not even reflect the real scale of the problem because these figures are based off of post codes, rather than individual family situations. The cost of student accommodation has made it so many people from rural areas who would have to move out to go to college simply can not afford it”, she added.

The Sinn Féin TD concluded by calling for “radical reform” if we are to have a fully publicly funded third-level education system in the future.

23/09/2021 Covid-19 Pandemic (Coronavirus), Ireland. Day 547 since start of lockdown. Day 137 of eased restrictions. Sinn Féin’s Rose Conway-Walsh on the plinth at The Dail (Leinster House) talking to the media on the need to tackle lengthy healthcare waiting lists.. Photo: Sam Boal/

“Over the last 10 years, we have seen piecemeal privatisation and deep commercialisation of public third-level education. Today, most universities have a majority of revenue coming from sources other than the state.

“Some of that is positive, such as winning competitive research funding or attracting more international students. However, it has been driven out of necessity due to what the Irish Universities Association labelled ‘state divestment’ from third-level education.

“The ethos and focus of these centres of education and research have been shifted towards commercial consideration. Huge amounts of time and energy is spent operating on a commercial basis. Energy that would be better spent on education and research. 

“I don’t blame the individual institutions, this has been the explicit policy of successive governments. Radical reform is needed but we still have a public third-level education system that we need to defend and strengthen”, she stated.

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