Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/320/9666
Fighting For Free Education
DESPITE MASS opposition by students, parents, many universities and some vice-chancellors, New Labour are now trying to introduce top-up fees. In a white paper, to be voted on later this year, they are proposing that universities should be able to increase fees to up to £3,000 a year (from £1,125).
This is the latest in a long line of Blairite policies designed to introduce a two-tier higher education system, where a rich minority have access to elite institutions while the majority have to struggle with thousands of pounds worth of debt just to attend poor and under-funded universities.
It is true that New Labour have been forced to abandon their iniquitous policy of upfront fees. Socialist Students has been organising a campaign to spread mass non-payment of tuition fees alongside mass action to support those who cannot or do not want to pay them. This was designed to make fees unworkable and to force New Labour to scrap them.
As a result of this and other campaigns, Blair's government has been forced to propose to scrap upfront fees from 2006.
Although this is a victory for the student movement, New Labour are proposing to introduce a graduate tax which would mean more debts for graduates, many of whom are already leaving university with up to £15,000 worth of debt.
After 2006, graduates will start paying back their fees once they earn £15,000 a year at a rate of 9% on any further income - a greater proportion than is paid by millionaires!
Moreover, the maximum grant of £1,000 which they are also proposing, is nowhere near enough to cover living costs of students (e.g. accommodation, food, books) and will only become available to the poorest students whose parents earn under £10,000 a year.
Although welcoming the grant, Socialist Students campaign for a real living grant which can enable all students to attend university, independently of parents.
A mass campaign
MEANWHILE CURRENT students still have to pay tuition fees. The student movement needs to channel the anger felt by students still having to cough up the money into a democratically organised mass non-payment of upfront fees.
We must build demonstrations, walk-outs and occupations at university and college campuses around the country, to defend students who cannot pay from expulsion. In order to make upfront fees uncollectable, we, as students, can scrap them today by not paying - those who refuse to pay on principle linking with those who cannot afford to pay.
The student movement also needs to step up actions against other attacks on higher education, like top-up fees, cuts and privatisation, and link up with university and college staff trade unions, supporting their struggle for more funding and better wages.
The government says that there is not enough money to fund a free, quality education system, but money is always found by the government to fund weapons and wars like the one on Iraq, which is expected to cost Britain £5 billion pounds.
And while students will be taxed twice over for the right to go to university, British big business gets away with paying the lowest corporation tax in Western Europe.
A socialist alternative
If this system can't afford to provide us with free, quality education, with a living grant, with affordable decent homes while offering young people a future, then we cannot afford this system!
Socialist Students fights for a socialist alternative, on campuses, in the workplaces and in communities, with links to groups and trade unionists across the country.
We want to replace capitalism with socialism - a society where resources are democratically planned to meet the needs of everyone.
Whatever happened to the dream?
"EDUCATION, EDUCATION " rang in my ears as I licked the envelopes of my university application forms in the summer of 2002. I was going to follow my dreams, get onto the course I desired and come out at the other end with a sparkling degree, my golden ticket to a successful career and a comfortable life.
A year and one month into that course and I'm looking around baffled, scratching my head with fellow students, realising that the hours and hours of career lessons my secondary school forced us to sit through were lies.
Sure my careers teacher was right in promising that university would bring lots of new friends, parties, and student discounts in the local clothes shops but, on reflection, this is all overshadowed by the speech where she advertised 'flexible learning opportunities'. Being an undergraduate student is the least flexible of experiences.
The main factor in making the ride on the learning curve as uncomfortable and as suffocating as a London bus in the rush hour traffic is that of student fees. Coming from a fairly working class background, like many I struggle. Before my first lesson I had taken a loan of over £3,000 to pay the university that expected cash, before letting me cross the seemingly suitable prison style gates at the entrance.
Once seated in the lecture halls, I was told of the compulsory handbooks I had to buy and the process to follow in paying to print out work on the computers - just two of the many hidden costs of wanting to educate oneself, besides the testing expenses of accommodation, food and travel. By the time I graduate, I will be in debt of around £9,000, hardly the most comfortable of ways to start the rest of my life.
With conditions already making the higher education system unappealing and inaccessible to the majority of working class students, proposals by Tony Blair and Labour to introduce higher student fees have absolutely no grounds to stand upon.
If plans go ahead and universities charge students more to attend their institutions, we will quickly see a return to greater class divides, where rich families send their children off to university whilst poorer families do not. Everybody in the country has a right to further education, and this simply won't be met.
At a time when we are pouring more and more of the tax-payers' money into Olympic bids which won't benefit the majority of the country for more than as little as four weeks, as well as helping the United States of America imperialise an innocent country by continuously dropping extremely expensive bombs and sending costly troops, domestic issues continue to be ignored.
In The Socialist 25 October 2003: