Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/400/4548
Worldwide attack on higher education
THE G8 Summit claimed that helping people in the 'developing world' was top of their agenda. But how can the G8's pro-market policies help those in the ex-colonial world when they offer nothing positive for the ordinary people of their own countries?
Throughout the developed capitalist world, neo-liberal attacks on our public services have hit the working class. Education is a prime example.
The passing of the Higher Education (HE) Bill in England, which opened the gates for variable top-up fees, is just one example of a Europe-wide trend towards the 'liberalisation' of HE. This trend excludes people from less well-off backgrounds from pursuing their education and takes away something which should be a right to everyone.
In the 1999 Bologna Agreement, Europe's education ministers committed themselves to "promote independence and autonomy" within the HE sector. This has meant the greater use of tuition fees and the marketisation of HE - courses that are less profitable to run are dropped, while greater emphasis falls on lucrative research contracts from the private sector.
Tuition fees are being introduced by the back door in Germany, with various misleadingly labelled charges while politicians still claim that education is free! In Belgium, politicians claim they won't charge for degrees, but this only refers to the exams. Universities are free to charge for, and privatise, tuition on courses, unchecked.
The growing cost of HE for students has meant more university dropouts and students forced to work ever-longer part-time hours to the detriment of their studies.
Fees and the burden of debt are leaving university more and more out of reach of young working-class people. Marketisation means there is now an even wider gap between the top universities and the rest, resulting in cuts and course closures and a two-tiered education system.
What has been forced onto the developing world is even worse. One of the most common 'strings' attached to aid packages is privatisation. The Structural Adjustment Programme of the late 1970s, for example, led to whole-scale privatisation of HE in much of the developing world, with it becoming affordable only to the rich elite.
Shockingly, in Africa only 5% of the population are able to attend university. The G8's policies will result in this minority becoming even smaller.
Education should be a right for everyone, not just a privilege for the few. We need to fight for a publicly funded system of education at all levels, not just here, but internationally.
Billions of pounds are wasted each year on exorbitant profits and fat-cat salaries and the G8 was there to protect this. If we can't count on them to provide something as simple as fair and free education here, why should we rely on them to help anyone in the world's poorest nations?
THE WELSH Assembly announced recently that top-up fees were not to be introduced in Wales. But before students could cheer, the rest of the news followed. It was only for Welsh students studying in Wales.
In The Socialist 7 July 2005: