NUS-USI President’s Speech for USI Education Is in the Red Demo
My name is Olivia and I am the President of NUS-USI, the student movement in the North which represents nearly 200,000 students.
We campaign for free and accessible education in Northern Ireland, where we live in an unsustainable system of loans and debt.
At this point I have completed one year of university, and I am nearly nine grand in debt.
By the time I get my degree, that figure will have tripled and by the time I can expect to start paying it off, I am likely to be over thirty thousand pounds in debt.
I recently learned that I am likely to be one of the people who fall into the category of write offs, and will probably never pay back my loan.
If I don’t fall into that bracket I can expect to pay it off for at least the next thirty years.
I am twenty-two years old and by the time I am fifty, I will still probably be paying for my student loan.
I come from a single-parent, low-income family and because of this I am lucky enough to receive a maintenance grant, but even with this extra money I found myself struggling throughout first year.
Struggling to pay my rent and electricity.
Struggling to do my assignments and work weekends.
Struggling to buy food and look after my mental health while constantly worrying about money.
There have been times when I have considered taking out a pay-day loan.
There have been times when I have had to ask my mother for help.
There was a time when I found myself mortified, crying, in the student finance corridor because I just didn’t know how I was going to manage.
And I am one of the lucky ones.
They argue that theirs in the only ‘reasonable’ position to take. That their proposed fees are small, proportionate, and that they’ll stay that way.
That is a lie.
Tuition fees were tripled in England in one year alone, while a political party who had promised to abolish them were in power.
England is now the most expensive place to get a degree in Western Europe.
They argue that the introduction of tuition fees will mean that students will have more money in their pockets, to cope with daily expenses.
Well 58% of students in the North regularly worry about not having enough money to meet their Basic. Living. Expenses.
How are we meant to succeed when we are worried about just surviving?
And they argue that students benefit from their education and they should be the ones to pay for it.
We. All. Benefit. From. Higher. Education.
We all benefit from having educated nurses, doctors, teachers, scientists, engineers and artists.
With 70% of students worried about their future levels of debt, how many are deciding to avoid that burden entirely?
Our society cannot not function without higher education for the betterment of us all,
Not. Just. The. Wealthy. Few.
And as someone who lives in a loans system, and represents students in that system,
I can tell you that that system is failing us.
The decision of how we fund higher education is about who we are as a society.
Are we a society that values everyone, that values education, which invests in young people?
Or are we a society that washes our hands of the responsibility to create a better future for the generations to come?
This is a call to action.
And let me tell you –
Student. Activism. Works.
In 2011 Northern Irish students were faced with the prospects of their tuition fees being tripled to £9000.
Thousands took to the streets in protest.
We lobbied, we fought – and we won.
Tuition fees in the North rise with inflation, and while this is nowhere near good enough, it was a victory nonetheless.
So I urge you to fight.
Sign the petition.
Register to vote.
Use social media,
Tell your TD.
Education is in the red,
FUND IT. FUND IT. FUND IT.