The initial period of the decade was welcomed with numerous fortunes for USI, as it saw its highest membership ever. The very first Student 10K Walk in aid of Children of Chernobyl took place with great success. Nurses would see the abolition of the fees for their degrees, and over 18,000 students would protest to demand a better grant and the abolition of the capitation fee.
As well as this, there were the first student representations on the National Adult Learning Council (NALC), on the new Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC) and the National Qualification Authority of Ireland (NQAI).
However, the new millennium would soon bring about several new challenges for USI, as well as some devastating events which would rock the union’s foundations. In 2001, the union was discussing financial options with travel company USIT, which USI was a major shareholder in, with an exchange of stock which could net the union a sizable sum. This would ensure its future operations for quite some time.
However, the events of September 11th, 2001, and the subsequent shock to travel operations across the globe would cripple USIT and the finances of USI.
After surviving this rough period, the union resolved to get back on track, fighting for the future of its members. The fight for better conditions for students would focus on calls to crack down on rogue landlords and make reasonable accommodation more affordable.
As well as this, the union would respond to the possibility of the reintroduction of fees by rolling out protests which would characterise the fight for the coming years. It also warned against the problem that the fear of debt among students was causing.
The coming years would prove the union’s worth to the students of Ireland. Fighting off several disaffiliation campaigns, USI galvanised itself around its central mission of fighting for the rights of students to be able to access education and have a good quality of life. The LGBT movement would come to the fore with campaigns focused on the burning issue of civil marriage. As well as this, USI’s Equality Campaign would reorganise itself to become stronger than ever, allowing the most marginalised of students greater recognition and support.
The central issue for the past few years has been to fight off the reintroduction of fees, with local and national protests taking place almost every year. While the oft-threatened re-introduction of full fees hasn’t come to pass, the slowly increasing Student Contribution Charge and the impact of austerity measures on student supports, including the grant and mental health services, are issues of major concern. As students bear the brunt of these regressive decisions, USI’s work becomes all the more essential.