Now is the time for Taoiseach Simon Harris to prove to the students of Ireland that he is not just ‘all talk’ by delivering long overdue and badly needed change to our higher education system, says the Union of Students in Ireland.

USI has met with Simon Harris on numerous occasions since he was appointed Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science in June 2020, but has not seen any real change to improve the increasingly stressful situation facing students in Ireland.

Any measures that have been introduced have been temporary, piecemeal, or simply PR exercises aimed at making it look like action is being taken on student issues, such as the ‘one-off’ reductions to the Student Contribution Charge or the ‘smoke and mirrors’ announcing and reannouncing of student accommodation plans.

However, now-Taoiseach Harris, has told USI representatives this year that he agrees with us on the need for change in areas such as student fees, including the Student Contribution Charge, and for a movement towards publicly funded, on-campus, and affordable student accommodation, but said he did not have the power over the finances to make these changes.

USI Vice President for Campaigns, Zaid Al-Barghouthi said: “USI notes the election of Simon Harris as Taoiseach today, and while we will continue to call for an immediate general election, we will be watching closely to see where the new Taoiseach’s priorities lie when it comes to higher education in Ireland. It is time for Taoiseach Harris to put the Government’s money where its mouth is in relation to student issues. Beyond urgent action is needed on the student accommodation crisis and something absolutely must be done in relation to the huge costs of going to college in Ireland.”

USI will attend the Cost of Education event in Portlaoise this Thursday, which was organised by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science under Harris as Minister, to state in no uncertain terms what students need to see happen on this issue.

Zaid said: “The union actually debated whether we should go because we are sick of being invited into meetings and to events, saying what students need, and then seeing no real change or action. However, we decided that considering the move by the Minister responsible for the area for almost four years into the position of Taoiseach, we would go and set out our stall again. At this stage no one can say they are unclear on the priorities of students: a complete overhaul of the student accommodation system and construction of affordable student accommodation, permanently abolishing the Student Contribution Charge from Budget 2025 and a robust plan for a state-funded solution to the national housing crisis.”

As USI has said before, a lack of action on these issues will directly impact how USI campaigns in the next general election and our message to this Government is loud and clear: Change or be changed.