Above: A photo of the protesters outside the Book of Kells from Trinity SU’s Twitter page. Followthem for more.
Last week TCD students blocked access to Trinity via the Front Gate and prevented tourists from viewing the book of Kells. In the last few hours, they have moved on (with the support of the SU) to blocking the entrances to the college and have began occupying the dining hall. Ruaidhri Kiersey gives us the brief on the #takebacktrinity campaign.
Toffs- you might scoff; you and I both know that this last decade’s been rough. Most of us across this nation have been hard pressed. Between the myriads of unemployment and the slew of taxes to slick debtor’s palms, it is understandable why Trinity’s newest campaign against student fees might not top our political agendas.
It’s very easy to look at the universities’ history and current proportions of enrolled students receiving grants (which are means tested) to sense a possible class barrier. In fact, you wouldn’t be blamed if you thought “Trinity clearly doesn’t fight for me, so why would I fight for it?”.
“Nobody can answer the question of who Trinity is for anymore,” says Oisín Coulter, President-elect of the Graduates Student Union (GSU) on campus.
“It’s not for the academics (who’ve been suffering budget cuts now for almost a decade), it’s not for the fellows (whose influence over the university has been outweighed on almost every board by financial bureaucrats) and it’s absolutely not for the students (having endured almost every fee and cost imaginable from the university administration).The only possible answer is that Trinity is for whatever notion that the Provost has for a commercialised university, that serves no scholarly purpose for academics nor students”.
For example, in his voluminous profiles by national media outlets, current provost, Patrick Prendergast has repeatedly hinted at the prospective power of Trinity’s new business school. The message seems clear: Trinity is on the market.
This gives cause to worry about Ryanair’s €1.5 million investment in a Professor of Entrepreneurship (when we consider Ryanair’s own issues with the active exploitation of its workforce) and Prendergast’s pleas that we must further privatise to prevent greater government regulation is farcical. Revenue is power, and private bodies will be as relentless in seeking to turn Universities to their advantage as the state has.
As the Provost rushes to join an economic class outside the University, students must, at least, criticise their Provost’s penchant to capitalise off them to facilitate his notions of the neoliberal university.
The issues facing Trinity face all third level institutions. The reality of large fees and impending commercialization threatens to lock education behind a paywall, forbidding low income students from a basic right. This is, at least, the view of the grassroots Take Back Trinity campaign. Take Back Trinity is a student led movement set up to directly oppose the college’s recent decision to implement a €450 flat fee for students who may need to repeat examinations (whether they failed one paper or five, it doesn’t matter).
“We’ve three very simple demands,” says current Student Union President, Kevin Keane. “First, the removal of the flat fee. Second, a freeze on rents for college owned property. Third, a freeze on post-graduate and non-European undergraduate fees,” all of which have seen drastic rises since the financial crash.
The SU, with the help of the Graduate Students Union and associated activists, have utilised the Union offices as a type of war room for the organisation of protests, picketing and outreach across campus. Kevin and Oisín along with various other campus leaders have been facilitating meetings, rallying support and delegating responsibilities to the rapidly growing campaign from within these walls.
It’s not going unnoticed. On Friday the closure of Trinity’s main gate and the blockage of the Long Room, where the Book of Kells is held, disrupted tourists and hit back at college authorities through its direct denial of commercial services. Kevin looks resolutely onward. “This feeds into a broader culture change we’re trying to foster”. Oisín interjects, “There’s no reason there shouldn’t be a Take Back UCD, Take Back NUIG…What we need is a mass movement across the country if we want to show that we value education!”
This marks a radical turning point for the students of Trinity whose activism against the Provost’s commercialization and implementation of fees has been sporadic at best. This morning a team of activists occupied the iconic Trinity dining room, with a solidarity rally planned to support this escalation – speakers range from politicians to union members. The public are, of course, welcome to help ‘Take Back Trinity’: and to demand that barriers toward all students’ education be lifted.
These are not the acts of privileged gits, contented by class and apathy toward the plight of others. This campaign is very much a statement that students, in Trinity and beyond, will not allow themselves nor their peers to be encumbered by the mismanagement of funds and taxpayer’s money at an institutional nor governmental level.
Trinity has already issued a defence that it will exempt members of its access program and certain others, on a case-by-case basis, from this latest fee, but this goes nowhere near far enough. ‘Take Back Trinity’ demands no special circumstances, but a fairer University and set of opportunities for all students, rich, poor, whatever- whether coming through an access program or not. It needs the help of anybody who believes that education needn’t be further drawn along class lines.