Top-Up Fees – Build A Mass Movement Of Action

NEW LABOUR’S ministers clearly intend to increase the cost of university education. Higher education minister Margaret Hodge says that students could pay as much as £15,000 for a three-year degree.

Kieran Roberts

In an echo of the arguments that David Blunkett used when he first introduced fees, Hodge asked last week whether it was right to ask a dustman to subsidise the education of the doctor’s child.

But, as we pointed out when Blunkett used these arguments in 1997, it is young people from working-class families that are hit hardest by fees.

Since tuition fees came in, there has been a dramatic fall in applications to university amongst working-class students. Between 1997 and 2001 applications from people from lower-income backgrounds dropped by 9.5%.

These figures show that fear of taking on massive debts has deterred working-class students. This will be multiplied several times over if the government increases fees even further.

This is as true of a graduate tax scheme, where students pay the cost of their fees after they leave university, as it is for a system of upfront fees.

Big business in Britain makes billions every year – just a small fraction of this could give us a free, well-funded education system. If the ruling class continue to disregard our needs, the government won’t find increasing fees plain sailing.

In a recent poll more than three-quarters of parents were opposed to increases in tuition fees as a solution to the underfunding of universities. And at the last general election, even Tony Blair admitted that tuition fees were the most unpopular issue on the doorstep.

This pressure is reflected in the Cabinet where some ministers are alarmed at the prospect of opposition to even higher fees damaging New Labour’s support. Clare Short has ‘broken ranks’, speaking out against top-up fees.

Wrangling between ministers over what changes to implement has already delayed publication of the government’s review into higher education funding several times. It is now due in January.

If the government does bring in top-up fees or increase existing fees, there could be an explosion of anger amongst students. In the last month there have already been several protests at universities in anticipation of moves towards top-up fees, for instance at Imperial College where the vice-chancellor proposes charging £10,500 a year.

To stop the government increasing the cost of fees, to get rid of fees for good and to win a decent grant, we need to build a mass movement of action and non-payment of fees. The biggest possible turnout must be built for the NUS demonstration on 4 December to help build such a movement.

NUS demo

11am, 4 December, Malet Street,

London WC1, near Euston Station.