We interviewed László Molnárfi, founder of Students 4 Change at Trinity College Dublin. The University has faced an upsurge in anger from students, surrounding their education. They are organising on campus and demanding changes from the University. However, László also believes that this cannot just happen at Trinity College but has to be a complete transformation of society.
What was the background to this outpouring of anger?
Trinity College has faced over two decades of marketisation. Services have been defunded, the fees for international students are through the roof, and our learning and experience has been degraded. Of course, COVID has worsened the situation and meant students here are receiving less value for their money.
Even as other Universities have opened up, Trinity has kept online learning as the norm. It was not as if students could make their decision about whether to attend or not based on true information, as the University lied and said ‘blended learning’ would be the protocol.
They had promised that any lectures of less than 50 people would be in person. However, even lectures smaller than 30 have been put online. This means students feel lied to and taken advantage of. This is not fair.
Is the University not doing this because of safety?
The University has used safety as an excuse, but the reality is that these are not safety measures. They are cost cutting ones. If this was a safety measure, they would have given students the true information and offered them deferral. However, the University cannot afford to lose this money. After all, University is now a money making institution.
Despite taking our extortionate fees for a limited University experience, they have refused to update any equipment to make it safer. For example, the University has called on their bad ventilation as a problem for COVID safety. Yet, they have refused to fix it. The question is raised, where are our fees going if not to building a safer and more accessible University? If not towards bettering the working conditions for lecturers and learning conditions for students? I would hazard a guess that it is to the bloated salaries of those who do the least in the University.
If the University was actually worried about the health of students and lecturers, they would not have opened up to tourists. In many cases, lines of tourists visiting the University are longer than lines of students. This is because students have already paid their fees, so it does not matter whether they actually use the services.
How did this movement start? And what has it been doing?
I was very inspired by the rent strikes taking place across the UK, and especially the work of the Marxist Student Federation in this. I saw the mass movements of students across the UK, and I thought, ‘there is no reason we cannot have this in Ireland’.
I tweeted about the dire situation at the University and how we needed to fight back. That put me in touch with others who felt the same. We created Students 4 Change, which is an explicitly socialist organisation.
We wrote a public letter about what we thought, and other students got involved. Other groups at the University got involved and we organised a protest. It was great to see how many people were also angry. The first protest included 300 people.
We are trying to explain why all these things tie to capitalism and why we need a revolution! We have been filing freedom of information acts to show students that the University is not spending money on anything useful.
Is this a movement just for students?
Absolutely not, workers in and out of the University are suffering under the same crisis of capitalism. The marketisation of education has not just damaged students’ learning conditions but also the working conditions for lecturers and non academic staff.
One example of this is that students have been asking for more lecture recordings so they can look back at what they have been taught, or catch up on lectures if they have been ill or struggling with mental health issues. However, lecturers cannot do this as the copyright belongs to the University, meaning they are putting themselves in danger of being fired and replaced by their own lecture recordings.
Lecturers should not have to fear this instability in their jobs in order to provide the best education to their students. Trinity has completely disregarded students and staff.
What were the demands of the protest?
What is the solution?
The truth is, there is no solution under capitalism. We must fight for socialism. Universities must no longer be marketised, they must be run in order to provide the best education possible.
This can only be done through democratic planning of the Universities by students and workers. What we have now is a bureaucracy blinded by capitalism. This will not do. However, even with a democratically planned university, this cannot fulfil what students and workers need if it does not exist in a socialist planned economy. We must be able to give education the resources it requires.
If you are also angry at Trinity College and these actions, get in touch with the MSF to find out what more you can do!