Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/215/9141
Scrap Fees Now!
THE SOCIALIST has consistently argued that the introduction of tuition fees and the abolition of the student grant would deter thousands of students from going to university, due to financial hardship.
Save Free Education (SFE), alongside thousands of students fighting these attacks, has seen upfront fees abolished in Scotland and partially scrapped in Northern Ireland.
Now, the Rees report proposes the scrapping of upfront fees in Wales.
SAVE FREE Education activists protested outside the Welsh Assembly on Wednesday 11 July over the issue of tuition fees.
Sarah Mayo, Save Free Education
Inside, the education committee was meeting to discuss the Rees Report. Among its many recommendations is the scrapping of upfront tuition fees and for a massive increase in student funding.
It recommends that £52 million be allocated for Learning Maintenance Bursaries.
Although seriously limited (particularly as it calls for more stringent means testing) it is nevertheless very important that the Rees Report is implemented as a step towards scrapping fees altogether and restoring a living grant.
Assembly Members (AMs) interrogated the Rees report's authors, Theresa Rees, and her colleagues.
Whilst the authors insisted that it would be ineffective to cherry pick from the recommendations instead of implementing the report as a whole, it's clear that this is what many AMs want to do.
Labour AMs in particular are not willing to embarrass paymaster Blair. They will try to put as many obstacles in the way as possible to implementing the report and will try and claim that their hands are tied.
While the Assembly talks, students are facing enormous financial pressures. We need action now. Therefore, Save Free Education will be keeping up the pressure over the summer until the report is implemented.
If the Welsh Assembly fails to implement the report over the summer, we will build for a mass student lobby of the Welsh Assembly this autumn, calling for the backing of the NUS.
"We're not going away"
ON 11 JULY while the Welsh Assembly was discussing the Rees Report, SFE and Socialist Students held a demonstration outside the Department for Education, in central London.
Clare James, SFE
We demanded the government completely scrap fees across the country and reintroduce a living grant. We also reject a graduation tax, as it means tuition fees through the back door.
We were able to hand in a written statement on the Rees report and our demands to the government. Whilst handing in the statement we warned that unless fees were dropped and the grant reintroduced, thousands of angry students will be returning to university in the autumn ready to take on the government.
Recently, The Mirror has taken an opportunistic turn with their campaign to scrap fees.(see opposite) When I spoke to the journalist writing the material for this she said they had being completely inundated with calls from students with growing debt problems, with many feeling unable to carry on at university - a situation we're only too aware of.
We will step up the campaign and go all out to ensure a good quality, free education is available to all.
Mirror's opportunism - no substitute for mass non-payment of fees
RECENTLY THE The Mirror (2/7/01) highlighted the case of undergraduate Rebecca Ward - forced through poverty to consider dropping out.
This underlines what SFE and the Socialist Party have said since New Labour announced introducing tuition fees in 1997 namely, poorer students will be deterred.
Hugh Caffrey - SFE (Save Free Education)
The Mirror's editorial proclaims: "This [fees] policy must be looked at again. Scotland has abolished tuition fees. The rest of the country should consider doing that same."
Undoubtedly this populism is aimed at boosting sales but it also reflects the reality of fees in Britain: the system is crumbling in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Moreover, among students, lecturers and the population in general, fees are deeply unpopular.
The Mirror demands consideration from "the rest of the country" - by which they mean the government.
But then why has The Mirror effectively blacked-out coverage of protests by students demanding precisely that the government should scrap fees?
SFE HAS consistently argued that the strategy of organised non-payment, backed by appropriate tactics of mass action, can defeat fees.
So far we have won concessions - Coventry, Goldsmiths, and elsewhere - not an entire victory. Nonetheless, the strategy has its proof in partial victories, in the inability of students to pay fees and of most universities to enforce payment.
Vital too is the restoration of the grant, without which poorer students will still be unable to afford university.
This is partly recognised by Nottingham and Oxford with their subsidies to students with household incomes below £20,000 (ie, below the fees threshold).
But £1,000 or £2,000 is not enough. SFE fights for a full living grant of £5,000 a year, without means testing, available to all.
Fees have proven unworkable, deeply unpopular and widely unpaid. Tony Blair's elitist project is crumbling. Organised, mass non-payment can bring it tumbling down.
NUS cuts: Build a fighting, democratic union
THE RIGHT-WING dominated National Union of Students (NUS) leadership has pushed through £300,000 worth of cuts to their own union!
This is a very serious attack by supporters of the Labour government and shows the need for a fighting, democratic NUS accountable to its members.
The £300,000 cuts include: stopping mailings and materials to student unions which do not attend annual conference; abolishing the Women's Unit to create an "Equalities Unit" (which will have two staff as did the Women's Unit but be expected to cover all four liberation campaigns); compulsory staff redundancies among NUS workers - management have their jobs safeguarded; charging increased fees for unions to attend training events.
More cuts are threatened.
This has been done by the right wing, without consultation. None of this was raised at April's NUS annual conference. If there is a financial crisis, why was it never mentioned? These cuts are clearly aimed directly at the Left, who are based solidly in the liberation campaigns.
It will encourage further disaffiliations and will weaken the democracy and integrity of NUS.
Recently, students angered by these cuts occupied the NUS officies in London. NUS officials called the police claiming ridiculously that "hostages" had been taken!
We need a democratic fighting union, against tuition fees, against all government attacks and immune to careerism.
To this end we propose a conference held in the autumn of all left-wing and genuine free education activists in NUS: to discuss the strategy for this campaign, for the free education fight, and to democratically select a united slate of free education candidates for next year's annual conference.
Fight for a socialist alternative
UNIVERSITIES ARE increasingly being run as businesses, where their financial interests are put before the education or needs of students.
Nottingham University for example has accepted £3.8 million from British American Tobacco (BAT) to set up an 'International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility'.
BAT are being sued in the US for knowingly causing fatal diseases to smokers.
Socialist Students, the Socialist Party's education campaigning arm, fights for an alternative to an education system tailored to big business.
Education should develop everyone's potential for the benefit of society as a whole. A free, fully funded system would ensure that all can enjoy a decent education, regardless of background.
This requires a socialist planned economy and education system, which would be democratically controlled by students, workers and communities.
To join and for more information on Socialist Students and SFE write to PO Box 858, London E11 1YG or phone 020 8588 7947.
Save Free Education says:
- Don't pay fees! Spread non-payment and mass action to win free education.
- Abolish tuition fees
- Restore a living grant.
- No exclusions or suspensions.
- No sanctions.
- Cancel tuition fee debt
- No to top-up fees
- No to a graduate tax
In The Socialist 20 July 2001: