Scrap tuition fees – end university marketisation

Protesting in  Leeds as part of  a Socialist Students day of action on the education funding crisis. 21st April 2021

Protesting in Leeds as part of a Socialist Students day of action on the education funding crisis. 21st April 2021   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Adam Powell-Davies, Oxford Socialist Students

The Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare the marketised tuition-fee model under which UK universities are operated.

This time last year, students across the country were being lured back to campuses under the false promise of ‘mixed-mode learning’, only to be faced with hastily prepared online classes from the confines of their family bedrooms and university halls.

This situation was, of course, not the fault of teaching staff – staff who, just like students, were forced to adapt to the challenges of remote learning, and the clear detriment this had on mental health.

The blame instead lies with a broken higher education system that can only exist through the imposition of tuition fees. Under this system, universities receive only a small fraction of their funding directly from the government. This pushes universities to the market, causing them to compete like businesses to secure tuition fees as their major source of income. And like businesses do, universities cut jobs and services deemed to negatively affect cashflows.

As a result of this marketised system, students become viewed as cash cows, valued above all for their contribution to universities’ finances. It is for this reason that universities brought students back to campus en masse last year, all the while charging UK undergraduates upwards of £9,000 a year (and more in the case of postgraduates and students from overseas).

In protest, rent strikes were organised at over 45 universities, with tuition fee rebates featuring as a prominent demand from campaigners. Socialist Students has fully supported this demand, but we have also called and campaigned for the scrapping of tuition fees every year, not just during Covid.

Some think that the current fee system is fine as it is, because ‘anyone can apply for a tuition fee loan, and no one ends up repaying their loans in full anyway’.

However, the government now forecasts the value of outstanding student loans to reach £560 billion by 2050. It will be ordinary working people who are made to foot this bill.

Socialist Students calls for the higher education sector to be run as a fully publicly funded service, free to all in society. In his Labour Party manifesto, Jeremy Corbyn made the same demand, by proposing an increase in corporation tax. In doing so, he reached a new layer of politically engaged young people. His demand has only been strengthened by the massive state spending witnessed over the pandemic.

Yet young people must realise that the Starmer-led Labour Party is now no vehicle for change. As well as campaigning to scrap fees and end marketisation, Socialist Students supports the building of a new political socialist alternative for workers and young people.