Claire Laker-Mansfield, Socialist Students national organiser
‘Education is a right not a privilege’ was one of the main slogans of the tens of thousands of students who protested in 2010. We recognised the Con-Dem’s tripling of tuition fees would cut off thousands from higher education, and have unfortunately been proven correct.
In England, where £9,000 is now the standard cost of a year’s tuition, the drop in university applications has been the highest at 10%.
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have also seen drops in applications: 3%, 2% and 5% respectively. In total, 50,000 fewer young people have applied for university.
The spectre of £50,000 debt hangs heavily above our heads. When the government raised the cap on fees they ludicrously claimed it would have little effect on applications.
The Lib-Dems in particular, embarrassed by their flagrant disregard of election pledges, were at pains to add a veneer of ‘social conscience’.
Even now the Con-Dems are attempting to spin statistics, pointing to lower reductions in applications from the very poorest.
But they skilfully ‘forget’ that applications from this group are already many times lower than those from people of more affluent backgrounds. This is thanks to a combination of poverty, underinvestment in primary and secondary education and the previous £3,000 fees (introduced by New Labour in 2006).
The bulk of the 10% reduction in applications are from middle income families. Increased debt, as well as the slimmer chances of finding a decent job after graduation, can make higher education seem like a gamble too far.
But the drop could have been greater. With one in five young people out of work, the prospect of ‘waiting it out’ at university and hoping things improve still looks like the best option for many.
This year’s intake also face brutal cuts, privatisation and the threat of course or even whole university closures.
Only a determined mass campaign of students united with teachers, lecturers and the rest of the labour movement would be able to drive back the government and secure the right to free and decent education for ourselves and future generations.
Socialist Students will be building for mass student turnouts at both the 20 October TUC march and the 21 November National Union of Students demonstration. These must be used as a springboard to further action, including mass student walkouts and occupations, and supporting workers’ strike action.