Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/326/9304
Scrap Fees Now!
"LISTEN AND scrap fees" was the plea from last month's National Union of Students demonstration. But the message still falls on deaf ears in Downing Street.
Michael Comerford, Socialist Students, Brunel University
The Blairite policy of top-up fees, announced in the Queen's Speech, threatens to impoverish many higher education students and their families.
If the Bill goes through, universities will be able to charge tuition fees of up to £3,000 a year. This is more than double the current figure of £1,125.
Top-up fees have met fierce opposition from students, parents and lecturers, with polls suggesting that 84% of the public oppose the idea.
Their main fear is the creation of a two-tier higher education system in which the rich minority dominate a number of elite institutions while the majority fight for places at inadequate poorly funded universities.
Labour's hugely unpopular move to scrap the grant in 1997 has already devastated the student population with most graduates leaving university with up to a £15,000 debt.
This has the obvious effect of deterring capable individuals from applying to university altogether. Now with the prospect of more pressure being put on students to fund their own education, this will surely deter even more people from entering the higher education system.
The new policy will spell the end for up-front payment of fees which some may see as a fair decision. However, the reality will be the establishment of a graduate tax.
Graduates will have to pay back their fees once their salary reaches £15,000 a year. Any further income would be subjected to a tax of 9% to pay back their tuition fees. This places a further burden on graduates who already have an almost inaccessible housing market to deal with after leaving university.
Socialist Students will be lobbying local MPs over the next few weeks. Campaigns are being built for mass non-payment and to support fellow students who are being threatened with expulsion because of their financial difficulties. These campaigns are critical if the struggle for free education is to be successful.
Blair has created a rod for his own back by underestimating the student movement which now seeks to unite with associated trade unions and support their campaigns for better pay.
This whole situation begs the question that Mr. Blair will not answer; if there is no money to fund the education system what exactly is our money being spent on?
- No to top-up fees and no to a graduation tax
- Scrap tuition fees
- A living grant for all students
- Build mass action to defend non-payers
- Money for education not occupation
"£20,000 debt made me think twice"
FRANK THOMAS is in his GCSE year at Kelmscott School in Waltham Forest, north east London. He spoke to the socialist about top-up tuition fees.
"I've always assumed that I would do A-levels and go on to university. I hadn't really thought about fees or anything like that.
Then I started hearing about top-up fees and realised that if I went to university straight after A-levels in 2006, I would be one of the first to pay them.
Then I started to work out what it would mean. I would probably get the £1,000 grant they're proposing but that wouldn't be enough to live on.
If the course I wanted to do charged the full fee of £3,000, with fees and loans I would still owe nearly £20,000 when I left university.
This made me think twice. I probably will still go to university, if I get the grades, but there will be loads of students from working-class backgrounds who will be put off. And others will just go for the cheapest courses rather than what they really want to do."
Education and occupation
TONY BLAIR says that top-up fees are 'the only game in town' because there is no other money to pay for university spending.
Yet this week it was revealed that the occupation of Iraq is costing £100 million - £200 million a month. So far the invasion and occupation have cost more than £2 billion.
That figure is expected to exceed £3 billion in the first part of next year.
Plenty of money to boost the profits of the multi-national oil companies but not to fund a decent education system. That's capitalism!
Funding per student in higher education in Britain has fallen from £7,916 in 1989 to £5,022 in 2002.
In 2000 Britain spent 1% of GDP on higher education - the second lowest percentage amongst the advanced capitalist countries.
In the US over the past ten years tuition fees in public universities have increased by 85%.
For details of how to campaign against tuition fees and for free education, email:
In The Socialist 6 December 2003: