Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/601/8351
Big business fights for fees: Students must fight back
The higher education funding review that will look at university fees levels began on 9 November. On the same day a Compass/YouGov poll showed that only 12% of the public believe the review should even consider raising fees from the present cap of £3,225 and a majority, 52%, believe the outcome of the review should be the abolition of fees.
Matt Dobson, Socialist Students national coordinator
Ordinary people understand that raising fees would worsen the dire financial situation of students who already have mortgage-like debts averaging £23,000. They agree with socialists who say that the price of funding education should not be paid by students and their families.
But the voice of the majority will not be represented in this review. It is a stitch up between the government, big business and universities who all want fees raised to at least £5,000 a year.
The National Union of Students (NUS) appealed to Lord Mandelson for one of its elected national officers to be a representative on the so-called independent review body. But it was refused as the NUS would apparently "undermine" the body's "independence". Instead NUS has been asked to merely write a letter outlining their concerns and alternative policy to raising fees.
This confirms Socialist Students' warnings against the strategy of the NUS leadership. NUS leaders abandoned opposition to fees and fighting for free education. They argued instead for a graduate tax, claiming that this moderate position would win them the ear and sympathy of New Labour ministers when the review began.
They opposed and campaigned against Socialist Students and Campaign to Defeat Fees (CDF) demands and action towards a movement based on mass action against fees, cuts and privatisation. NUS leaders have refused to organise a national demonstration since October 2006.
But now NUS president Wes Streeting has sent an email to student union presidents across the country appealing for them to organise action. Given the current inactive state of many student unions (SU) and the right-wing politics of many full-time officers, how will the NUS leadership make sure SU presidents don't ignore this call from the national leadership? They have ignored limited proposals like the 'students in red' day of action in November 2008.
Suggested action includes organising stunts and flash mobs on campuses and lobbying and picketing MPs' surgeries. These are worthwhile campaigning tactics and Socialist Students, CDF and Youth Fight for Jobs (YFJ) activists will participate and help mobilise for them.
But calling this action and going no further does not constitute the mass campaign that is needed. NUS should follow the example of students in Austria and Germany who have quickly organised mass occupations and demonstrations nationally, and who have linked up with striking workers and trade unions.
Fighting back gets results. In southern Ireland a right-wing government has been forced to back away from raising university registration fees. Widespread public anger was reflected in the successful protests and blockades of campuses by campaigns like Free Education for Everyone (involving the Irish sister organisation of Socialist Students). The battle is still on, however, as there is still the prospect of fees being raised later.
An NUS worthy of the name would respond by using the fees review to mobilise the mass of students and the support of the trade unions and working class. The fightback against fees and savage cuts in higher education could be linked with a fightback against the onslaught on jobs and public services from New Labour and a likely future Tory government.
NUS could throw its national resources and the resources of local SUs into mobilising for the YFJ national demonstration for real jobs and free education in London on Saturday 28 November.
It could also call a well-publicised emergency conference open to all student activists and students unions in the next few weeks to discuss building a fight against fees.
Fighting strategy needed
It's not too late for this to happen. YFJ and the CDF have written an open letter to the NUS leadership asking them to do so and pledging our support for militant action.
Socialist Students, YFJ and the CDF appeal to all student unions and student union officers to participate in and mobilise for the 28 November demonstration. With or without the NUS leadership this demonstration can be the start of building a mass campaign of students and workers against attacks on education and mass unemployment. We demand the scrapping of fees, the writing off of student debt and the introduction of a living grant for all.
Get in touch for leaflets, model motions for the student and trade unions and if you need a speaker for a meeting.
In The Socialist 11 November 2009:
War and occupation
Postal workers strike
Defend the four campaign
Campaign for a New Workers Party
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party review