Despite the freezing temperatures, more than 2,000 people made it to a lunchtime march in Cork city centre that brought some students three miles from the main Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) campus in Bishopstown, meeting up with their counterparts from University College Cork (UCC) on the way.
Protesters were told the strength of numbers which turned out at a national anti-fees rally in Dublin a fortnight ago was instrumental in the Government last week limiting next year’s increase in student registration charges to €500. However, the four-year national recovery plan also indicated further rises in the renamed student contribution charge up to 2014.
Union of Students in Ireland (USI) president Gary Redmond said the 40,000 students at the Dublin protest sent a clear message to Government party politicians that students will no longer take these kinds of charges.
“Students will mobilise and vote and they will pay for their decisions over the last couple of years at the ballot box. Our campaign has gathered more than 60,000 letters to TDs in the last four weeks telling them that if they support rises in the registration fee or cuts in grants, they too will pay for it at the ballot box,” he said.
Education Minister Mary Coughlan had to get approval yesterday from the Dáil Education Committee to use savings of €43 million from other parts of her budget to add to a €324 million allocation this year for student grants. The main reasons, she said, were a one-fifth increase in new applicants and more recipients qualifying for the top level of grant than in other years.
Students at yesterday’s Cork rally were most vocal about the fees situation and inadequate grants but other issues were also evident.
Aaron Keohane, a final-year degree student from Youghal, Co Cork, plans to train as a second-level teacher after completing a degree in English and maths next year. But he learned in the four-year plan last week that he and other new entrants to the public service will start on lower salaries and pension entitlements.
He carried a placard attached to a hurley, which perfectly summed up his feelings: “Very Angry Future Teacher.”