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College fees go up by €250 - students have little room to complain

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Students, in fairness, should have relatively little to complain about after today's first installment of the Budget.

While much of the country still braces to see precisely how Enda Kenny and his Cabinet will go about making the kind of massive cuts that prompted the Prime Minster to make a rare 'state of the nation'address on public television last night, all students have to contend with, after the first of two Budgetary installments, is what should seem like a relatively trifling €250 ($336) hike in their fees, alongside a 3% cut in the maintenance grant, a first-line student assistance fund.

No increase, of course, can truthfully or honestly be described as trifling, but given the rather frank and startling tone of the leader's address to the nation last night (“I would love to tell you that .. the worse is over, but for far too many of you that is simply not the truth”), students should be able to see the light from the dark, and acknowledge the fact that the impossible dream of stagnant fees, frozen at €2,000 a year, simply isn't achieveable or feasible, and that an increase of €250, rather than €500, or €1,000, is probably the best out of a few fairly dreary but inevitable options they were faced with.

Despite the relatively benign increase, student leaders, unsurprisingly, seem set to rather predictably jump on the PR attack bandwagon of bashing the hike for all that it's worth: Macra na Feirme has already called the hike 'short sighted', while the USI, refuting claims from the government that the increase will be a once-off, has done likewise, but Education Minister Quinn's statement this afternoon that he merely 'regrets' (rather than, say, profusely apologizes for) the hike is perhaps as good an indication as any that he realizes that the increase was not as bad as many students might have feared it to be, or that might have been levied in the kind of climate the country finds itself in.

He was the Minister, after all, who notoriously and to public outcry decided to backtrack on a pre-election promise not to increase third level fees, whose head was called for at a national student march on Dublin, and who singly seems to have been foisted with responsibility for the government's decision to raise fees.

Despite not knowing what decision had been taken on the fees question, the apparently prophetic Free Education for Everyone (FEE), a breakaway student movement advocating a more hardline approach to countering fees issue than that being taken by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), has managed an impressive four occupations of parliamentarians' constituency offices over recent days in a desperate last attempt to show their opposition to what they must have known was about to take place

Which would make you wonder, or at least it makes me: in light of all the fee increase amounted to, was the fear and distress that student activists caused by barging into busy constituency offices really justified? Could perhaps – I don't mean to suggest this seriously – an apology not be in order?

It seems a little unfair.

Fine Gael TD Anthony Lawlor recounted to a local news site how his staff were confronted by the sight of 8 invading students who proceeded to lock him out of his political office

The students, being hashtagged on Twitter as the 'Maynooth8', after the university they hail from, are still living there on chemical toilets and food rations if the police haven't arrived yet (they almost certainly have), but just in case that hasn't happened, and now that the relatively small hike in fees is now known, would it not be time for them to put down their smartphones and call it quits for the day?

The student movement here is one that is understandably committed to ensuring that third level remains as affordable as possible for as many as possible.

It's a noble aim, and one that I, as a beneficiary of that affordable third level education, fully support t.

It's moments like these, however, when student leaders stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that it's not as bad as it could have been – or, more pointedly, as the country and its finances can afford – that FEE and the USI begin to lose my support, and perhaps that of other students and graduates.

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