It comes as no shock that out of 26 countries the OECD surveyed Ireland is the fourth richest, yet comes second last in funding education. In 1999 3.2 per cent of students left the formal education system before even taking the Junior Cert. A 1998 literacy survey found that 1 in 10 children still leave primary school with significant reading problems caused by a lack of resources. Most research proves there is a direct correlation between the social background of a kid and their access to education at any given level.
The OECD identifies a funding crisis in education, something anyone working in education could have told you. This year saw a series of heavy cuts imposed in order to force University heads into accepting fees. Yet despite a funding crisis that led to library cuts last year, the President of UCD Hugh Brady still managed to find euro 1.6m for house renovations paid for by the college.
As in UCD, this is an issue of priorities. Nothing is making this clearer than the state's plans for third level. Reneging on its social duty to fund education, it intends to let private companies fill the gap endangering academic freedom and educational quality in the process. John Dawkins is the main driving force behind the latest OECD report, a former Australian education minister who oversaw similar changes in Australian education in the 1980's. One of the consequences of this was a 38% fall in the numbers of working class men entering third level education and a drop of 17,000 mature students enrolling annually. Fear of accumulating debt was the reason given by 61% of prospective students from low-income backgrounds for their decision not to go to third level. A fact much ignored by Irish media commentators who laud this Australian 'loan model', while buying all the bullshit about inclusion the Education minister has to sell.
Imposing more fees at the college door will only compound the problems of high rents, increased work pressures, miserable incomes and crap grants that drive most people away from third level. And God knows what it will do to tackle underfunding in primary and secondary schools. One thing is for certain, until we stand up and begin to promote a vision of education as a social right for all rather than something reserved for those that can pay and for business interests to exploit, we can expect the inequality to continue. Decisions like Brady's gaff will also continue, until those involved in education control the decisions affecting them. Opposition so far has been meek, its time to crank it up into a movement that can issue more than just press releases, reports and declarations. Instead we need actions and occupations across the campuses involving workers on shit contracts, researchers whose work has no value to business and students subsisting below even the essentials.
by James R
This article was first published online at indymedia.ie
This edition is No83 published in November 2004