Irish debt crisis: “It’s either emigration or the dole queue”
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As Ireland comes under intense pressure from the EU to request a bailout over its debt crisis, Irish students are facing rising university fees and gloomy job prospects. Many choose to leave the country, prompting fears of a brain drain that could cripple the economy further.
As Ireland comes under intense pressure from the EU to request a bailout over its debt crunch, Irish students are facing rising university fees and gloomy job prospects. Many choose to leave the country, prompting fears of a brain drain that could damage the country’s economy further.
Early November, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan announced a series of unprecedented austerity measures aiming to save 15 billion euros in the next four years and curb the record deficit level of 32% of GDP. Fees for higher education are set to go from 1,500 euros to up to 3,000 euros per year as part of the cuts package. Government grants to students may also be scrapped.
As a result, Irish graduates and young professionals are leaving the country in droves. According to the Central Statistics office, 65,300 people emigrated from Ireland between April 2009 and April 2010. 28,000 of them were native Irish citizens, compared with 18,400 the previous year.
"My friends are, for the most part, resigned to a future that includes emigration for at least ten years"
Luke P. Field, 19 ans, is a student in Politics and Psychology in Cork.
University fees are paid, in theory, to the third-level institution that hosts the student. In practice, however, this money always goes in its entirety to the coffers of the State. We are told that it is ring-fenced for use only in the education sector, but the vast majority of it is actually used to pay off the national debt.
Viewed in isolation, the proposed increase to the registration fee may appear harsh but still workable. After all, paying €9,000 for a degree in the Arts, or €12,000 for a Science or Engineering degree, or €15,000 for a Medicine degree, may appear relatively cheap by international standards and even manageable with the use of the student grant from the Irish State. However, this flawed perception is essentially the result of a concentrated effort by the Irish Government and the Irish media to draw attention away from the other part of the current government’s plans for the education sector: to decimate current student financial support with cuts. These measures sound the death knell for the third-level education of approximately a third of all current and prospective students.
I personally don't consider leaving Ireland in the long term (although I may choose to temporarily pursue studies abroad if need be) because as a student of political science and as a political activist, I feel I have a duty to stay here and attempt to improve the state of the nation. My friends are, for the most part, resigned to a future that includes emigration for at least ten years."
“We cannot stand idly by while the future leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs of this country are given no choice but to join the dole queue or emigrate”
Gary Redmond is President of the Union of Students of Ireland (USI), which has launched a nationwide campaign against university fee hikes.
The brain drain problem in Ireland is absolutely huge. Students are leaving to study or work abroad because of high tuition fees, but they’re also leaving after college because there are absolutely no jobs in the country at the moment. There are currently 100,000 unemployed graduates in the country. The higher education authority estimates that that every week, 100 graduates of the class of 2009 leave the country. And that’s just over the past year: figures released by the Central Statistics Office on September 21 show an increase of 81.05% in emigration from 2006 to 2010. That’s the highest level since 1989!
Before, students used to leave the country for a while for a first experience, to see how things are done in other countries, then come back. The problem is that now many of these people leave for good, because they no longer have a viable economy to return to. The longer the economic downturn lasts, the less chance there will be for young emigrants to come home.
“We are calling on the government to set up a nationwide graduate internship programme”
USI has been in direct talks with both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Enterprise to submit our two main proposals. Firstly, we ask for a halt in university tuition fee hikes. They were already increased by 69% last year. Right now, families cannot afford to go any higher. Secondly, we are calling on the government to set up a nationwide graduate internship programme that would allow students just out of university to be placed in internships, either in the public or private sector, all while retaining their social welfare benefits. Employers who hired graduates at the end of their internship would benefit from a fixed duration tax rebate. That way, students could acquire a first experience in Ireland and face better chances of finding a permanent job when the economy turns around.
Politicians both within the government and the opposition have voiced support for our graduate internship programme proposal, and I believe some of our ideas may be retained. As regards to tuition fees, the government agreed to limit their planned increase to 500 € this year, instead of doubling them as initially planned. It’s much better, but it will still be a problem for many families.”
40,000 students gathered to protest in Dublin on November 3 to protest tuition fee hikes and high unemployment rates, All photos courtesy of USI.