Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/284/20308
Students: Fight New Labour's Top-Up Fees
EVEN EDUCATION secretary Charles Clarke admits that graduates face individual debts of up to £21,000 if the government brings in top-up fees. Students already face crippling debt after £1,000-a-year (now £1,100) tuition fees were introduced in 1997. Many poorer students have been put off from applying.
Dave Score, Sheffield University
Government plans, due to be published this week, are expected to include fees of up to £4,000, with richer, elite universities able to charge more. This will double student debt and lead to a two-tier system. Those who can afford it can study at more prestigious universities, others won't have the choice.
Huge anger by students and the public made the government back down over plans for top-up fees to be paid up-front. However, plans would still mean students paying thousands of pounds for each year of study, with only an inadequate maintenance grant for a tiny minority of students to alleviate the situation.
The government have a target to get 50% of young people to university, yet high fees and debt will put off students from applying. Supposedly, only universities that look to be trying to widen access can charge higher fees. I think a bill of £10,000 or more for a degree, would be the biggest barrier to getting working-class people to university.
Top universities say they need more money from students to "compete" against institutions in the US and elsewhere, but why should we want to emulate a system where top universities charge tens of thousands of dollars a year tuition, yet poorer students and colleges struggle?
The government wants a two-tier, "market-based" higher education system where newer, poorer universities will be forced to become teaching-only institutions, in effect going back to the days of the old polytechnics. Struggling universities face closure of campuses and subject areas.
Cabinet members have embarrassed Blair by rowing over how students should be charged - Gordon Brown favouring a graduate tax. Blair has stepped in, favouring top-up fees. Both these options would result in students being charged more for their studies.
The only way to stop massive student debt, and to increase the numbers of students, would be to abolish fees and provide a living grant for all.
The NUS needs to use the anger at top-up fees and fight for a situation where the size of students' wallets is no longer the big issue in applying to university.
In The Socialist 24 January 2003: