Racism and the Irish university

An article on migration and citizenship in today’s Irish Times raises once more the issue of racism in Irish universities.

One of the cases described in the article is that of Riaz, who moved to Ireland with his wife and four children 15 years ago. The couple’s initial application for citizenship was rejected, after a two-year wait, because they didn’t fulfil the five-year residency criteria. They reapplied in 2008 but their application is still being processed.

In the mean time their children have grown up in Ireland and studied in the Irish education system. However, because of their exclusion from citizenship, Raiz’ children are not eligible for the free fees scheme and would have to pay the huge fees which apply for international students or, if they’re lucky, the smaller but still prohibitive fees paid by EU students.

Following the 2004 Irish Citizenship referendum, citizenship is now linked to a racist ‘Irish blood in your veins’ conception of the citizen. In order to have an automatic right to citizenship you have the be the child of someone eligible for Irish citizenship. This means that young people who have grown up in Ireland and have no memory or even experience of living elsewhere, but who have studied and worked here are excluded from citizenship while the children or even grandchildren of Irish emigrants who have never stepped foot in Ireland are automatically entitled (the so-called ‘Irish Granny’ rule).

The upshot of all this means that Irish universities have added spurious biological notions of nationality to their already quite extensive mechanisms of exclusion.

There are of course many other forms in which migrants are excluded from 3rd level education, from the lack of language support at 2nd level to the neo-colonial policy of inferior recognition for degrees from developing world universities.

The informal ways in which racial exclusion is produced are nothing new – and here in Ireland we should be well aware of this. The pre-1968 ‘orange state’ of Northern Ireland’s Unionist party recognised at a formal and explicit level the equality of Catholics. However, a whole network of bureaucratic mechanisms ensured the continuous reproduction of Catholic exclusion.

Likewise, today we have no formal exclusion of Africans or Asians from 3rd level but we do have an array of ways in which their access to 3rd level is restricted or made impossible. This an example of what Ronit Lentin calls ‘racism without racism’.

Sadly, the student movement has ignored the kinds of issues which only effect migrants. Perhaps a result of the majoritarian concept of ‘mass movement’ inherited from 20th century ideologies, student organisations have been more concerned with mobilising the majority of Irish citizen students who have recently faced the re-introduction of 3rd level fees.

A genuinely egalitarian conception of the university compels us to fight for free education for everyone – immediate and unconditional access for everyone who so chooses.

Mick O’Broin

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One Response to Racism and the Irish university

  1. Pingback: Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » Racism and the Irish university

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