Fight Back Against Fees

THE LONG-awaited government review of higher education, released this week, contained proposals to raise the top level of tuition fees from £1,100 to £3,000 a year.

Tom Baldwin, Socialist Students.

Free education campaigners were not surprised – in 1997 when fees were first introduced, we predicted that they would lead to higher and higher costs for students.

The review’s recommendations should come into effect by 2006 and will make university a much more expensive process for students, many of whom are already saddled with crippling debts when they finish their course.

The review tried to soften the blow for students by reintroducing grants and scrapping up-front tuition fees in favour of a ‘graduate tax’ system where fees are effectively paid after a student graduates.

But the full grant of £1,000 will only be available to those with a family income under £10,000 per year with reducing amounts for those with a higher income.

While students welcome this concession, it still isn’t a full living grant and it’s not nearly enough to cover the huge debts a student incurs over a degree course.

Transferring payment of fees until after graduation means there is less of a barrier to poorer students going to university, but the prospect of student debt still puts potential students off applying.

It also makes it harder to fight against fees by mass non-payment as graduates are separated and cannot organise in the same way as students. Some students think these proposals will hit middle-class students hardest, as they will receive little or no grant. But in truth, increasing tuition fees will hit all but the richest students and will be especially hard on working-class students.

Having to do part-time work, dropping out due to finance and living in poor conditions all have detrimental effects on students’ learning and are direct results of the funding system.

In Australia 90% of universities charging the top level of fees offer lower entry grades to students able to pay the full amount. If these proposals are implemented we will see richer students ‘buying’ good degrees while poorer students have to fight for limited numbers of scholarships.

Top-up fees will be a disaster for students and the education system in general. We campaign to keep education free for all.

We demand:

  • The scrapping of any kind of fees or graduate tax.
  • The reintroduction of a full living grant.
  • Mass non-payment of fees to make them unworkable.

What the new proposals mean

Bigger debts

The government have got rid of up-front payment of fees in favour of a system where students pay after graduation through taxation. But increased fees will mean students could leave university with up to £20,000 worth of debt – even £50,000 for long courses such as medicine and law.

Fewer working-class students

The prospect of these colossal debts will deter even more students from going to university. The grant which will become available to the poorest students will make little impact – the maximum grant of £1,000 will go nowhere near covering the full £3,000 fees that universities could charge. Only students whose parents earn under £10,000 a year will be entitled to the full grant.

Students to pay more tax than millionaires

Students will start paying back their fees once they earn £15,000 at a rate of 9% on any further income. This would mean graduates will end up paying more tax than millionaires.

Two-tier system

Already the “elite” universities are lining up to charge the full £3,000 fees. How long will it be before the £3,000 cap is removed and universities can charge whatever they like; £5,000, £10,000 or even £15,000 a year (what Imperial College would like to charge)?

New Labour are creating a two-tier HE system in which the rich pay for a well-funded education system at an elite institution while the rest attend poor, under-funded universities.