Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/177/7952
Don't drop out...
Students get organised!
TUITION FEES and the abolition of the student grant are widening the class divide in education. The drop in university applications from working-class students is threatening further cuts in some universities.
One-third of new universities (formerly polytechnics) are drawing up contingency plans to sack lecturers. The reason? They can't find enough students to fill undergraduate courses.
Unions at Hertfordshire, Guildhall and Northumbria universities are holding strike ballots to oppose redundancies.
In the first year after the student grant was abolished, university entry from disadvantaged areas was down 2,000, and the intake of mature students was down by 9,000.
Students from "independent", ie private, schools are 25 times more likely to go to elite universities than those from poorer backgrounds. Only half of Oxford University's students are from state schools.
The elite 'Russell group' of universities propose "top-up fees" of up to £6,000 a year. The NATFHE lecturers' union predicts that one in five universities could close if colleges are allowed to charge the full cost of courses.
Many students cannot afford to remain at university, or work such long hours to pay their way that their work suffers. 'Drop-out' rates at University of North London reach one in four, compared with less than 1% at Oxford and Cambridge.
Higher Education minister Baroness Blackstone now admits that poor students were hit by losing the grant - the Socialist Party has been saying this since Labour first proposed it. But Blackstone won't return the grant.
The NUS national demo in November is an opportunity for students to build a campaign in every university opposing Labour's higher education policy. Students must link with campus trades unions to oppose both cuts and student poverty.
Last year millions of pounds went unpaid in tuition fees. A mass campaign of non-payment, linked to opposition to exclusions or sanctions against non-payers, and to mass action by students and university workers could get tuition fees scrapped and a living grant restored.
"Even without having to pay fees and with a full student loan, I still have financial problems because there's no maintenance grant. I work 25 hours a week in two jobs.
"This limits my study, and inevitably affects my results. There is the option of financial help from the university's welfare fund, but getting money out of that is harder than getting the words 'I'm sorry' out of Tony Blair." DARREN, A Leicester University student.
In The Socialist 13 October 2000: