On the 21st of September USI and NUS-USI launched #EducationFor All, a campaign calling on elected representatives in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to sign a pledge committing to six key actions that would further strengthen the social dimension of higher education in Ireland. The six actions included:
- An end to the student contribution charge of €3,000, the highest in the EU. (Republic of Ireland).
- An end to tuition fees, some of the highest in Europe (Northern Ireland).
- An end to the ‘study now, pay later’ and ‘earn and learn’ policies, with a move toward publicly funded education at the heart of government policy.
- A publicly financed student accommodation building strategy and charter for student tenant rights.
- Reform of student supports across the island that matches the cost of being a student in the new decade.
- A plan to address the crisis in Irish creative institutions.
- An end to precarious working conditions for academic staff.
As part of the campaign, USI, its member Students’ Union and students lobbied politicians via email and social media and facilitated a Twitter action on October 1st, which saw the #EducationForAll reaching second on the Trending Topics in Ireland. Students and student representatives continue to lobby elected representatives to sign the pledge and the campaign has been referenced on several occasions by elected representatives in the Irish Dáil.
World Mental Health Day
On the 10th October, USI marked World Mental Health Day by running a day of online actions aimed at shedding a light on student mental health and highlighting how looking after your mental health is intrinsic to overall well-being. to encouraging reaching out and asking for professional help when needed. USI also welcomed the publication of the National Student Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Framework, which the union and its members were proud to be involved in producing. USI sat on the working group and played a key role in developing this framework which is set to have a transformative impact on how everyone in higher education views and supports student mental health. Supporting student mental health needs to be tackled through partnership and collaboration across staff and students in the different campuses in Higher Education Institutions across the country.
Considering the sobering statistic that one in four people struggle with their mental health, marking World Mental Health Day was a proactive approach aiming to illustrate the scale and different types of mental illnesses and to destigmatise the negative associations attached to them. It also addressed the importance of looking after your mental health on an ongoing basis. USI will continuously advocate and lobby for the provision of sufficient, resourced mental health services both on campuses and in the community as essential, holistic elements of healthcare.
On Tuesday 13th October 2020, Minister Pascal O’Donohue and Minster Michael McGrath released Budget 2021.
Some of the key outcomes include the news that €50 million was allocated to a financial assistance fund for all full-time students in Higher Education which equates to a once-off, €250 non-means-tested grant. The Postgraduate SUSI threshold was increased to €54,000 and SUSI payment will increase to €3,500. There has also been a commitment to conduct a full review of the SUSI grant between now and next summer which will review eligibility criteria, adjacency rates, part-time education and other relevant costs.
While there are some definite wins for students in Budget 2021, it was extremely disappointing that once again the government failed to consider the long-term, sustainable funding of higher education in a publicly funded system. The government has ignored the systemic barriers preventing students from accessing higher education which will only be addressed through continuous financial support and not through once-off funding packages. You can read USI’s full response to Budget 2021 here.