Patrick Johnston’s Great Leap Forward – A Student’s Honest Opinion


Image Source: BBC

I wrote quite a while back for Queen’s Sinn Fein blog page stating that tuition fee rises in the North of Ireland/Northern Ireland/Occupied Six Counties (whatever way you want to phrase it) would become an issue in the near future. More specifically I had a hunch it would be right after the next assembly election. Well lo and behold, here we are. Can I have some shocked gasps and some platitudes on social media please from activists? Thank you. 

Sorry I am sounding quite dismissive of some students who have fought admirably against student cuts and tuition fee rises. But quite frankly, it hasn’t worked, or so it seems. And given the news cycle we have been subjected to over the past 5 to 6 weeks (where ultra depressing and scary stories have been hyped up by ISIS being ISIS, the Tories being Tories and Labour backstabbers being Labour backstabbers) I can’t help but feel this has been coming, something more to hammer us down with. 

We all get it, Patrick Johnston is not a nice guy, he’s not particularly good with the media, at best he is incompetent and at worst he is a corporate elitist determined to reaffirm social structures that will take NI back to some point during the industrial revolution. This ‘leaked’ document from Queen’s shows a concerted effort at the top to ensure a rise in tuition fees and as I have pointed out before unless there’s a massive increase in the services I receive as a student as a result of this, then there is no real justification for it. 

The question we are left with as students is what do we do about it? Well who knows. The regular protest and writing about it angrily haven’t worked, they quite simply haven’t. When half a million marched on London to talk angrily about it and then go home did not work, who thought this time if a few students who care about tuition fees in the North got angry it would work? This planning from the top is a concerted effort by people who really care about stealing our money. And they’re really smart at stealing my money, that’s why they are running what is a corporate enterprise. And guess what? They don’t care if you get angry about it, they don’t care at all, the smell of my cash and yours is heroin to them.

The student movement, despite how some elements of it can be quite admirable, has failed on all accounts for quite a while now to stop cuts and increase funding in some much needed areas. Yes, it does win the odd battle here and there (St Marys comes to the forefront of my mind here) but it’s to prevent cuts, not to promote investment. It is not just here in the North though, it is the same right across the UK and in the South/Republic of Ireland/’where the terrorists live’/Irish Free State. We will not be able to prevent the rises in tuition fees by using the same old tactics of student politics. There are several reasons for this, one is that many of us can’t be arsed to vote, another is that the media portrays us as lazy and another perception of us is that we are really just a bunch of alcoholics. Look at the papers, find a good story about a student at university and I can find you ten where by all accounts a student has behaved (lets be liberal with the phrasing) like someone who is slightly immature. We are not critically acclaimed by the public. 

I have stated before, on many occasions, that it is my strong belief that tuition fees should be something that cease to exist, education should be free. But tell that to someone who believes the country has no money (those are the ones that keep voting Tory) that you need a free education that is going to cost the taxpayer loads of money and they will most definitely tell you that you are wrong. Also whether we like it or not, there are quite a number of students who think we should pay some form of a fee and some (elitist students who we hate and tend to ignore) believe a tuition fee rise would be good. Another factor in all of this is that students must face the idea that when I talk to people who went to university when it was free they will tell me quite often that it was a joke as many people dropped out of one degree and dropped in again to a different degree, and they state ‘well it’s only fair since you are going to get so much out of it’.

Students have many problems if they are ever going to win the debate on tuition fees because we are not liked by the media and many of the people who went to university when it was free think it ought to be paid by us through fees in some way, then how do we prevent tuition fee rises? Really what’s the answer? Well firstly I’m going to be boring as I don’t have many ideas myself on this right now given how I am in a state of affairs that leads me to believe the end of the world is nigh, but I would advise the SU’s at all respected universities to ask their students to email as many of their elected representatives as possible to try and get them to at least respond. An email can be very effective in holding any given elected representative to account as they have to write down a response, and because they are an elected representative they are going to pander to you on something that is not particularly controversial. Other ideas in my head right now seem sloppy but since I am blabbering on I’ll throw another one out there. 

The student movement could go down the traditional route in NI by just protesting, shouting and getting angry to make it feel like they are doing something. Although as much as I enjoy a good protest this method seems to have been ignored for now by universities determined to hike your fees. I’ve thought of the idea of setting up a political party in NI, we all forget sometimes that the electoral system in NI is the most proportional system in Western Europe. Students do make up a fair chunk of the electorate. This political party would be a purely student based one, determined to bring down the voting age to 16, and just focus on young people up until age (putting a general number on this) of around 25. I say 25 because up until the age of 25 you are discriminated against in your wages, by the law, which is something that affects many of those who have just graduated from university. Encourage most of the students to maybe register to vote in South Belfast if they’re from the countryside (which a vast amount of students at Queen’s are currently). I say Queen’s because this blog is in response to today’s leak and it is the university I attend. With a strong student voice in the assembly you might finally get somewhere as the ideas actually get airtime on TV and a student getting elected to assembly would be big news. Obviously this is a far out idea that will probably be outright dismissed, but I’m just throwing it out there because the other methods have failed and we need to start doing something else to stop the rises in fees and start reversing them.

However, for now I remain depressed at the current news cycle, depressed that more students will face greater debt if Patrick Johnston’s great leap forward comes into action and just a general feeling of despair at the fact there’s a constant crushing of anything good in the political world. I suspect reaction to this may be quite negative amongst the student movement but this is my two pennies on the tuition fee issue and I hope people can accept that this is my view of reality as it is. A change of direction is needed in order to change the outcome in the struggle the student movement is facing right now and personally I hope that someone better and smarter than me has that idea somewhere as I currently do not.

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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