Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/458/5504
Student fees can be defeated
The media tend to depict students as lazy but, with the TUC reporting that 630,718 full-time students work in part-time jobs, the stereotype is a bit out of date.
A survey into stress, conducted by Manchester University in 2001, showed that 53% of students suffer from stress, anxiety or depression at some point during their course. A Swansea Institute student hung herself last year when her debts became too much.
Students are suffering and students are angry. Millions of them have taken part in the demonstrations against the war and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan - both nationally and locally on campus. "Education not occupation" is a common slogan and now we need to build a movement against every aspect of the marketisation of education.
Universities will receive around £1 billion in income for this year's students. According to the Liberal Democrats, the government has no idea how much money is needed in education. Happy to criticise New Labour, they have no real alternative to the problems facing education because they have no alternative to privatisation. The government's priority has been to break down the opposition to fees with the aim of raising the level at the earliest possible opportunity. Many vice-chancellors (who earn on average £154,000) are already clamouring for the cap on fees to be raised to at least £5,000.
This should not be inevitable - but the government have been aided in this by the inability of the New Labour-led NUS leadership to lead a campaign to defend free education. We have to fight back to defend our rights to education. We can have no illusions that the money needed for our services will be found unless we build a mass campaign.
Students in Belgium are seeing changes in the way their education is organised and financed including the introduction of fees, in some cases as high as Û25,000. The Free University of Brussels was threatened with over 200 job cuts but socialists from the Committee for a Workers' International in Belgium, who are in the leadership of both the university branch of the trade union and the student union, organised a mass campaign with a demonstration of 2,500 students and workers.
They forced the university management to cancel the cuts and to create an extra 20 posts! Universities across Belgium joined the struggle and eventually the minister for education was forced to increase the overall budget for higher education by Û51million!
However, the new finance mechanism opening the way to marketisation and cuts remains. In neither Belgium nor Chile (see box) are victories secure while the governments there defend the fat cats' right to make a profit but not young people's right to free education. But they do show that a struggle of students, with the support of the trade unions, can win victories.
They also show that free education is not a question of what we can afford but of how this New Labour government wants to run education. We don't want the cap on fees to be raised - what we need is a fighting strategy to defeat all fees. Lobbying MPs and writing letters have their place, but we won't win anything through those means alone.
The main NUS demand for the demo on 29 October is to maintain the cap on fees. Socialist Students opposes charging more money but it is urgent that we challenge the whole idea of charging for education.
NUS should be seeking the best strategy for forcing the government into retreat - they should learn the lessons from events abroad and in Britain. When 1.5 million public-sector workers threatened strike action to defend their pension rights, the government were forced into what the Financial Times called 'a huge climb-down by ministers'. Workers' pensions will face further attacks and they will need to take further action to defend them. Nevertheless, the government's retreat shows that determined action can win.
Fundamentally only a transformation of society where education allows people of all ages to develop their skills and talents, which is democratically and publicly planned and run, can defend the right to learn against the profiteers. That is what Socialist Students fights for.
Socialist Students' anti-fees campaign material includes a model motion to take to the students' unions to encourage them to build support for the demo, a leaflet you can distribute to advertise the demo and explain our strategy, a petition to show that students do want a campaign on this, and a guide to campaigning.
This is all available on the Socialist Students website at www.socialiststudents.org.uk. Let us know if there are other things that would be useful for your campaign.
In The Socialist 12 October 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news