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Browne Review: threat of a two-tier education system
Mass action needed to defeat fees and cuts
Lord Browne has recommended that universities be free to charge unlimited tuition fees from 2012. This is a door slammed firmly in the face of those looking to education.
But events in France show that young people will fight back in the face of major attacks. Socialist Students will be at the fore of building a movement against rocketing tuition fees and fighting for free, decent education for all.
While the government makes cuts to services for young and working class people with one hand, they are giving tax breaks to big business and the super rich with the other.
The report recommends transferring the cost of education from society to the individual; limitless fees and a slashing of teaching grants by 80%. The result will be that the quality of a student's education will be entirely dependent on their parents' wealth.
For the 7% who have the money to be privately educated this means Oxford and Cambridge. For the vast majority, if they think they can afford university at all, the education on offer will be of a fundamentally different nature to that available at present.
This is going to provoke huge opposition. Hundreds of students have already been out on the streets at short notice, the thunder to the lightning that will soon strike Westminster.
This proposal is not taking us back to the exclusivity of the 1950s and 60s; it is going back to the 19th century. Working (and many middle) class people will be excluded from higher education. In a poll of Conservative voters, only 29% were in favour of higher fees. There is the potential for a massive revolt against this move.
The National Union of Students (NUS) argues for a graduate tax, whereby the average student would pay more than they do at present. This argument was sold to students on the basis that it was 'realistic' and would get 'listened' to in the halls of power.
But the NUS leadership has been ignored by Browne and Co and has simultaneously cut itself off from mobilising students around clear and concise slogans.
Portsmouth Socialist Students protest against cuts, photo Portsmouth Socialist Students
The Browne Review is a far greater attack than any of the leaks suggested. This may have been a deliberate ploy in order to give Cable and others room to 'negotiate' a compromise, quell a rebellion and still give university management what they wanted.
But in doing so they have banked on any reaction against the proposals being small and limited to the 'official' demands of the NUS. Once students move into action, with correct slogans and strategies socialists and genuine activists could quickly become leading figures in the battle.
Browne's recommendation is an extremely divisive issue amongst the junior coalition partners the Liberal Democrats. Charles Kennedy and Ming Campbell have both pledged to keep their election promise to oppose increases, as have many backbench Lib Dem MPs.
But the current parliamentary arithmetic means that all Lib Dem backbenchers and some cabinet members would have to vote against the recommendations (rather than abstain) to stop fees being introduced, assuming all Labour MPs oppose it. This is unlikely to happen.
However, it won't be polite lobbying but mass protest that will stop the government in its tracks.
To stop these attacks would be a huge blow to this weak coalition, perhaps a fatal one, and would give confidence to young people and workers.
The mass of students' initial reaction will be to fight, to oppose huge increases in university fees and cuts in teaching budgets. To mobilise a movement of this scale, with a conviction and determination that it can win, means starting from the point of view of opposing the attacks.
Within emerging campaigns against fees and cuts a new generation of students will be convinced of the case for free education as something that benefits all of society.
This will be especially the case as these campaigns win victories and students become emboldened. However, there is the anger and the potential to inflict a serious defeat on the government, and to halt the dismantling of state education.
Socialist Students has argued against fees since they were first proposed and has already started campaigning for a mass response to the latest attacks. On 20 October we organised a day of action, calling for protests around the country against fees and education cuts.
This will be built on by campaigning for the biggest turnout possible on the NUS/UCU demonstration on 10 November. This has to be seen as the first step of a mass campaign. Anti-cuts campaigns should be initiated in every university, college and school around the country. With militant tactics this could be the start of a movement that can defeat the government.
In The Socialist 20 October 2010:
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