Higher education: students gear up for fight

Submitted by Matthew on 21 October, 2010 - 11:27

The Browne Review of higher education funding has, as expected, recommended the abolition of the cap on university tuition fees (as well as more private universities and other privatising 'reforms').

Since 1998 we have gone from free tuition to fees of £1,000, to upwards of £3,000 – and now we face unlimited fees, regulated only by the market.

Browne was always going to recommend higher fees; his “independence” was just a way of drawing fire from the Government. The proposal is, in any case, an integral part of the Lib Dem-Tory coalition’s broader assault on public services and working-class living standards. It will lead to a vast increase in student poverty and debt, and to a free-market system on the model of the US, with an Ivy League of academic institutions for an elite and under-funded, low quality higher education for the majority.

Like the coalition’s other attacks, Browne’s proposals must be fought militantly.

That the National Union of Students has, under pressure from the growth of anti-cuts campaigns, called a demonstration on 10 November is good. Everyone who wants to fight Browne’s proposals should take part. The NCAFC will be supporting the Free Education contingent on the demonstration (see our website for more details). But that will not be enough to stop the Government.

We need direct action, including occupations, in every university and as many colleges and schools as possible across the country – modelled on the wave of occupations in solidarity with Gaza in 2009, and the anti-cuts occupations last year, but on a much bigger scale. Activists in anti-fees and cuts groups across the country need to start discussing how we can do this.

If you don’t have a group, set up one up! Even if all you can organise is a first meeting in your school or college, go for it! We can help you.

if we fight, we can win

The Tories are vulnerable on this. The Lib Dems pledged themselves to oppose higher fees; they are so nervous that Lib Dem MPs have been ordered not to speak to the press. They will — should! — come under increasing pressure after Browne’s recommendations are out.

Meanwhile, even many Tory voters will not be happy about being told their children must rack up £80,000 debt to go to university. An ICM survey for the Sunday Telegraph found that 62 percent of Tory voters support a graduate tax, compared with 29 percent for higher fees – almost exactly the same as the figures for the population as a whole. Free education was not an option in the survey!

If we pile on the pressure, the coalition will crack – helping push back their other attacks too. We owe it to ourselves and to everyone else fighting the cuts to be militant.

demand free education

The Government says free education would mean the poor paying for the children of the rich to go to university.

Anyone seriously concerned about this problem would advocate taxing the rich and business to fund an expansion of free, quality higher education for as many people as think they would benefit from or enjoy it. That way the rich can pay for everyone’s children to go to university.

This government of millionaires will tell us the money is not there. Yet last year, just the thousand richest individuals and families in Britain (the Sunday Times ‘Rich List’) increased their wealth by £77 billion. If the financial crisis demands drastic measures – and we agree that it does – that should mean taking hold of the wealth of the rich to preserve and extend the services the rest of us rely on.

We should not accept that the majority have to pay for a crisis caused by a tiny minority, whether through job losses, cuts in services or higher fees.

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