Exeter Socialist Students organised a protest outside the office of the university vice-chancellor, photo Exeter Socialist Students
"THE MAXIMUM annual fee paid by students will not rise above £3,000 (uprated annually for inflation) during the next Parliament... The choice for 2010 is forward with new Labour... or back with the Tories to an education system designed to look after the few but fail the many."
So says Labour's 2005 election manifesto, pledging no lifting of the cap on university fees until 2010. The fact that the government will review the cap in 2009 with a view to increasing fees drastically by 2010 is a perfect example of Labour doublespeak. Their policies have delivered exactly what they said they would avoid; an education system designed to look after the few but fail the many.
New Labour will argue that more young people are entering university than under any other government and that fees are a fairer way of funding higher education rather than through general taxation. However, a closer look at the figures reveals that 100,000 students leave university in their first year. According to the National Audit Office, 22.4% of students in the UK in 2007 did not complete their courses, many for financial reasons.
The National Union of Students (NUS) estimates an average graduate debt of £25,000 in tuition fees and maintenance loans, rising to a massive £37,000 for those attending a 'leading university' in an expensive city.
University vice-chancellors are pushing hard for a rise in fees. So confident are they that Labour will grant their wishes that many universities are already budgeting for an increase in income from a lifting of the cap.
Students demonstrating in 2006, photo Dave Carr
The fact that university fees and other student loans do not have to be paid until after a student has graduated is used by the government to present fees as a form of graduate tax. Ordinary tax payers should not have to subsidise graduates who will go on to better paid jobs thanks to their education, is the general line of argument of Labour. But recent events in the economy, particularly the mass sacking of recent graduates at Lehman Brothers at Canary Wharf, show that work for graduates will be highly uncertain.
Instead, the lifting of the cap will see students emerge from university, weighed down by a huge mountain of debt, into a labour market where jobs with decent pay are few and far between. According to the NUS, students taking some subjects - particularly arts - may end up with a degree that will bring absolutely no financial reward.
This is one of the reasons the Socialist Party and Socialist Students are opposed to all forms of fees in education. Entrance to universities, like schools and colleges, should be free. Moreover, all students should be entitled to claim a living grant.
The government and vice-chancellors say that the money is not available to achieve this. However when it comes to fighting imperialist wars, or investing money in Trident nuclear missiles (£76 billion) or bailing out bankers in Northern Rock to the tune of £50 billion, it seems the world's fifth richest economy has plenty of money!
This Labour government is more interested in investing in weapons of mass destruction or bankers who have speculated wildly and enriched themselves, than in young people looking for a decent education.
Students can have no confidence that Labour, or any of the other main political parties will back away from raising fees, let alone abolishing them. Only the pressure of a combined movement of students and trade unions can achieve this.
To this end Socialist Students will be organising a day of action as part of our Campaign to Defeat Fees on 16 October. Get involved today, phone 020 8988 8761.