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NUS plans mean students pay
Not content with ditching its commitment to free higher education, the National Union of Students (NUS) is now lobbying the government to introduce a funding system that would actually charge most students even more for their degrees than at present.
The NUS, dominated by Labour Party members, abandoned its commitment to abolishing all tuition fees in April 2008 in an attempt to appear 'credible' to its friends in government.
Just how low the NUS is willing to stoop in search of 'credibility' has now become clear. In summer 2009 it published its blueprint for a new university funding system, called 'Funding our Future'. Under the plans, students would pay for their degrees through a 'graduate tax' from their income during the first 20 years of their working lives.
However, the NUS' figures will in effect make most full-time undergraduate degrees more expensive. If you earn an average of £27,500 a year during the first 20 years of your working life - about average for graduates - the eventual price tag on your degree would be likely to total around £15,240 under the NUS' plans.
This is above the £13,738 you would pay under the current maximum top-up fees of £3,225 per year, with interest on loan repayments factored in at an assumed 3.5% rate.
In other words, the cost of a three-year full-time undergraduate degree would rise by more than 10% for the average UK student under the NUS' plans.
Low-earning graduates would pay less than at present, while higher earners would be hit harder - but most graduates would end up paying more than they do now.
But why is the NUS proposing such a bad deal for students? Once again, the reason is its determination to gain 'credibility' with the Labour government.
Graeme Wise, NUS political officer, told student newspaper London Student: "We could easily have published a version of the blueprint where the average person would pay the same as under the status quo - but it would have been taken much less seriously as a result."
In other words, the NUS was terrified that if it didn't ensure that students were worse off under its plans, it wouldn't be taken seriously by the government. So it promptly sold out the students it is supposed to represent.
There's more. Wise went on to explain that the blueprint "was designed to 'compete' in policy terms with fees if they were raised to £5,000pa, not fees at the present level.
"We felt that in order to ensure the work was politically credible, it needed to offer an alternative to increased fees and deliver more resources to the higher education sector in the long-term."
There is, of course, an alternative to increased fees that would deliver more much-needed resources to universities. It's called free education, funded through progressive taxation.
And while the NUS has given up the fight, others have not. In London alone, Goldsmiths, SOAS, LSE and Birkbeck student unions have passed policy supporting free education, while UCL Union backed free education at the same time as rejecting a motion endorsing the NUS blueprint.
In The Socialist 2 December 2009:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Youth fight for jobs
War and occupation
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party election campaign
Marxist analysis: history