Archive article from The Socialist Issue 400
Worldwide attack on higher education
THE G8 Summit claimed that helping people in the 'developing world' was top of their agenda. But how can the G8's pro-market policies help those in the ex-colonial world when they offer nothing positive for the ordinary people of their own countries?
Throughout the developed capitalist world, neo-liberal attacks on our public services have hit the working class. Education is a prime example.
The passing of the Higher Education (HE) Bill in England, which opened the gates for variable top-up fees, is just one example of a Europe-wide trend towards the 'liberalisation' of HE. This trend excludes people from less well-off backgrounds from pursuing their education and takes away something which should be a right to everyone.
In the 1999 Bologna Agreement, Europe's education ministers committed themselves to "promote independence and autonomy" within the HE sector. This has meant the greater use of tuition fees and the marketisation of HE - courses that are less profitable to run are dropped, while greater emphasis falls on lucrative research contracts from the private sector.
Tuition fees are being introduced by the back door in Germany, with various misleadingly labelled charges while politicians still claim that education is free! In Belgium, politicians claim they won't charge for degrees, but this only refers to the exams. Universities are free to charge for, and privatise, tuition on courses, unchecked.
The growing cost of HE for students has meant more university dropouts and students forced to work ever-longer part-time hours to the detriment of their studies.
Fees and the burden of debt are leaving university more and more out of reach of young working-class people. Marketisation means there is now an even wider gap between the top universities and the rest, resulting in cuts and course closures and a two-tiered education system.
What has been forced onto the developing world is even worse. One of the most common 'strings' attached to aid packages is privatisation. The Structural Adjustment Programme of the late 1970s, for example, led to whole-scale privatisation of HE in much of the developing world, with it becoming affordable only to the rich elite.
Shockingly, in Africa only 5% of the population are able to attend university. The G8's policies will result in this minority becoming even smaller.
Education should be a right for everyone, not just a privilege for the few. We need to fight for a publicly funded system of education at all levels, not just here, but internationally.
Billions of pounds are wasted each year on exorbitant profits and fat-cat salaries and the G8 was there to protect this. If we can't count on them to provide something as simple as fair and free education here, why should we rely on them to help anyone in the world's poorest nations?
THE WELSH Assembly announced recently that top-up fees were not to be introduced in Wales. But before students could cheer, the rest of the news followed. It was only for Welsh students studying in Wales.
Welsh Assembly makes limited concessions
Working-class students from the rest of Britain who want to study in Wales and hope to escape extortionate fees of up to £3,000 a year in England will still have this price to pay if they study in Wales. Welsh students in England will also have to pay fees imposed by Westminster.
The Welsh Assembly generously offer to cover the costs for subjects which aren't taught in Wales such as veterinary science, but this just shows they could afford to provide free education but will only do so when it is in their interests.
Bursaries will be offered for those studying "shortage subjects" such as engineering and maths in Wales. This could force young people to study a subject they have no interest in, purely because it is the only one they can afford.
The Rees Report - commissioned to look into education funding in Wales - actually came out in favour of top-up fees. It is great that their recommendations were partly ignored, but it's a shame that so much money was wasted on it in the first place.
Instead this money could have been ploughed back into, for instance, making sure that books deemed essential for a course are actually free and available in university libraries.
The Assembly accepted one of the Report's conclusions - they're keeping the flat rate tuition fee. Professor Rees said scrapping tuition fees "is not a realistic option. It would attract many students from outside Wales who would effectively be subsidised from Welsh education funds (and) cause considerable instability in the Welsh higher education sector."
It may not be 'realistic' for her but if you're working-class and Welsh you cannot afford the £1,200 per year to study in Wales and if you're working-class and English you certainly cannot afford £3,000 a year!
As it remains financially out of reach, higher education could become a thing of the past for working-class students across Britain,. We need a mass movement of students, young people and workers to unite and fight these proposals.
We should demand a fully funded free education for all, with grants covering all living expenses. For those who work we should also demand a decent minimum wage, irrespective of their age, with rights which also fully cover temporary and part-time workers.
If we're serious about achieving and keep these demands, we need to fight for a socialist society democratically run by and for the majority rather than the minority elite!
In a world of his own
THE VICE-Chancellor of Swansea University, Professor Davies, believes charging Welsh students 'only' £1,200 a year will encourage more young people in Wales to continue into Higher Education.
He also thinks top-up fees are the way forward for universities!
He built the large (and now almost completely empty) digital Technium to accommodate all the rich business students he hoped to attract to Swansea.
Meanwhile his current students suffer increasing debt whilst struggling to cover living expenses.
Many drop out long before completing their three-year degree as they simply cannot afford it. Others work very long hours, suffering from bad pay and conditions, as local bosses exploit the fact that students are desperate.