|Starving Irish students could be forced to drop out|
if further fee increases are forthcoming, claim leaders.
The latest round of student protests in Ireland come as many full-time college students consider dropping out of college, and look with dread to an impending Budget which is likely to see a further increase in tuition fees.
Since reneging on a historical pledge to leading student education campaigners, Ireland's hapless Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn TD, has been forced to commit to a hotly unpopular programme of annual increases in college fees which parents and families say they simply cannot afford.
Savage cuts to key student support measures and a faltering grants payments system have compounded the difficulties students face in staying in college, students have claimed.
Despite Ireland's near rock bottom level tuition fees (students can pay as little as $2,100 dollars for a year of full-time college education) students have consistently railed against what they perceive as crippling government measures that they say will only serve to stymie any possible economic recovery for Ireland.
Student union leaders, among them UCC Student Union Welfare Officer Dave Carey, have cited educational advancement, and the promotion of hard skills such as mathematics and hi-tech training, as key ways out of Ireland's economic blackhole -- and lucrative incentives for foreign corporations, predominantly American, to reinvest in Ireland.
Government policy aimed at fostering a culture of excellence in science and number intensive industries could be scuppered by these measures, the student spokespersons have claimed.
The latest wave of protests coordinated by national union the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) yesterday saw hundreds of students march to local politicians beseeching them to raise a voice in what they claim has been a debate on third level funding which has totally ignored the rights of students to an affordable third level education.
Hundreds of students in Cork protested outside local Fine Gael politician Jerry Buttimer TD, urging him and other Deputies to take a stand against a one-sided government programme of fees increases.
Dave Carey, of UCC Students Union, underscored the urgency of the situation, saying that he and other welfare case officers at the university, which counts a student enrollment of almost 19,000, have seen a sharp rise in students seeking emergency financial aid packages offered by the European Union.
"Students are finding it increasingly hard to survive," the Union's President, Eoghan Healy, also commented.
University presidents themselves, however, have generally adopted the flip-side of the argument, citing diminishing central government funding and increasing student enrollment figures as factors contributing to create an almost impossibly difficult financial climate in which to run a university.
University College Cork's current president, Dr Michael Murphy, has himself been an outspoken advocate for fee increases, saying they are a necessary evil to ensure a quality education for those attending the institution.
Although precise figures on the number of students dropping out of third level education due to financial issues is impossible to quantify, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) say the number is already high and could rise further if additional increases are made to the cost of attending third level.