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UCC Express - Drop out generation

Pack up those bags folks. End of semester exam and assignment worries, be no more. Word has come through that you’re not wanted around here anymore. Who does this advice come from? A doctor, no less. But not only a doctor who enjoyed the fruits of an education which he now would prefer you didn’t have, but it is the same doctor who, by now, must only be presiding over our university in name. Yes, our very own Dr.Michael Murphy needs you creating jobs, and not blocking up the hallways of his college, fooling yourself into thinking that an education is something to value and cherish. There’s tax to be paid, and six figure salaries to sustain, don’t be so selfish. I’ve often wondered about the hypocrisy of a state which has waxed lyrical about how smart their economy is, while systematically ensuring that the education required to become a cog in the wheel of this now infamous ‘smart economy’, becomes ever less attainable. It seems word has trickled down from the highest parts of government to our very own university president, a man who no doubt knows all too well the value of an education. As a consequence, we have gone from a narrative that only recently suggested the only purpose of third level education should be to make you ‘job ready’, to one where a university president is now suggesting that you shouldn’t even be arsed with an education full stop. Quite an evolution of thought process in such a short space of time it must be said. 

Of course, there are elements of truth to what Dr.Murphy says; he argues that a university education does not suit everyone. This is very true; academia does not play to many peoples natural strengths, however his assertion that he is somehow being outspoken and innovative is nothing short of comical. What better way to disincentivise binary thinking around professional and personal development post secondary education, than to suggest more limited notions of people's worth outside of the mainstream academia which UCC offers, eh? If academia isn’t for you, best get out and make a job and forget about trying to make use of your natural talents. He goes on to suggest that if you fail at business, you can just saunter back into education again. It’s all so easy isn’t it? I am not sure if Dr.Murphy ever had a business fail or studied as a mature student, but neither are very easy. I should know, I have done one and am in my third year of trying to complete the other. But even aside from all that, his greatest folly was in his omission of one enormous, yet critical detail; enroll once, the state picks up the tab for your ‘free education’, enroll a second time, the fees are your responsibility. I know of someone who is paying close to €10,000 per annum because of this conveniently omitted detail. A nominal amount for a doctor or university president perhaps, but not for a young adult trying to start their career, believe me. 

But there is a wider and more worrying point to all this. This represents yet another shock wave in a roll of seismic tremors that have been shaking the foundations of our once valued, albeit briefly, education system. Make no mistake about it, the Irish education system is being systematically attacked by a political movement, that for whatever reason, looks to undermine it at every opportunity. Since 2008, the ‘contribution’ required on behalf of a student to enroll or remain in our ‘free’ third level education system has almost quadrupled. In 2012, a bonus scheme was introduced to unfairly reward leaving cert students who took higher level maths extra CAO points; a move that blatantly undermines the idea of an equitable education system which impartially rewards and caters for all our young people. Why? Well, simply put, there’s nothing more effective at garnering action from our government, than having some tax avoiding multinationals throw their toys out of the pram. Sher why not totally change the value of our education system on the whim of a few CEO’s? It’s not as if education is about anything other than making yourself ‘job ready’ for some companies who would leave our shores at the drop of a hat, or the suggestion that they pay a fair level of tax. But it didn’t stop there; most recently in 2014, the Department of Education attempted to degrade the Junior Cert by passing the responsibility of exam marking to the student’s individual teachers, thereby removing the external examinations board involvement. Can anyone honestly see these changes as enhancing our education system in any way? 

Of course in isolation, these may seem like minor shifts, especially when the PR trains of government roll into town. But collectively, they mark a dangerous precedent in the development, or regression in this case, of our education system. This government has presided over the reintroduction of fees via the hiking of student contribution charges, the dumbing down of the Junior Cert and the creation of an inequitable Leaving Cert system in order to suit vested, private interests. Now we have people who should be champions of third level education and all it can offer our young, asserting the complete opposite. Why? It’s time to get off the fence and be honest with the youth of today. Either their future lies within a ‘smart economy’ in which education is valued, equitable, enriching and worthwhile, or, we train kids from the age of 5 to be ‘job ready’ and forget everything else education offers us outside of monetary gain, and call it what it is, the dumbed-down, ‘cheaper for those who have already ascended the ladder’ economy. Fine Gael, Labour and Dr.Murphy may not think the youth of today deserve a free, balanced and equitable education, but even they know you deserve the truth, so you need to start demanding it.

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