Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada has called on the Irish Government to stop treating students as a mere commodity and ensure they have more access to funding and support.
The Ireland South MEP was speaking at a hearing on the EU’s Youth Strategy in the Culture and Education Committee when she made the call.
MS. Ní Riada, who sits on the committee, said the financial pressure students were finding themselves under was also affecting their mental health.
“It’s a depressing but illustrative fact that we are holding this hearing in the same week a report was released revealing that more than a third of Irish students are experiencing serious financial difficulty,” she said.
“Cuts to education funding and increased charges on students, as well as the government’s utter failure to tackle the catastrophe that is student accommodation have all contributed to the mounting pressure on those in higher education.
“Education must be a right, not a privilege for those who can afford it and while we in Sinn Féin support free and inclusive education the very least the government can do, especially as they like to harp on endlessly about this so-called recovery, is reinstate the cuts they have made to student funding.
“The EU is not doing its part to help students either. EU austerity policies have created a downward pressure on living standards in Member States which is prolonging the impact of the economic and social crisis.
“Schemes like Erasmus + are quickly becoming little more than loan facilities and the Loan Guarantee Scheme is another mechanism treating students like customers.
“We cannot saddle young people with enormous debt and then wonder why they are having difficulty starting careers, supporting families or buying homes.
“This increased financial pressure is also adding to the explosion we have seen in mental health issues in Ireland, particularly among young people. This is especially dangerous given that many in rural areas cannot access mental health services easily and those who can often find them underfunded and unable to help.
“Luckily there are excellent services such as Jigsaw who do excellent work with young people but the government should not and cannot be relying on charities to pick up the slack where they have failed.
“The EU Youth Strategy is a fine idea in principle but until the resources are put into it to make tangible changes and until Member State governments stop treating students like a commodity that is all it will ever be.”