By Jennifer Nash
Photo Alexander Howell
The coalition government has launched a massive assault on students which will cause significant social and economic damage. It plans to increase tuition fees from £3290 to £9000 per year, alongside huge cuts of 40 per cent to the higher education budget. Also the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) for students studying in Further Education will be axed. This move will deny poorer students the opportunity to study beyond secondary school.
In short, an even greater portion of the costs of higher and further education are to be placed on the working class.
Maximum unity and vigorous campaigning is needed to oppose this offensive. The Fund Our Future national demonstration against higher fees and education cuts, co-organised by the NUS and UCU is one such initiative. With public opinion hostile to increases in tuition fees and student unions mobilising across the country – using creative campaigning like this to get the message across – the demonstration looks set to be a mass, angry protest against the government’s plans.
This is part of the bourgeoisie’s offensive against the working class, to restore capitalist profitability by making the working class pay for the economic crisis, with the government falsely claiming that higher fees and education cuts are unavoidable and necessary to pay off the deficit.
Britain needs to increase its investment in higher education to ensure long-term prosperity and economic growth. A number of leading economists have been calling for governments to raise investment levels. For example, Professor Joseph W. Stiglitz – Nobel prize-winner and former head of the World Bank, in an article for the Politico website, stated that we need “investments in technology, education and infrastructure… such spending will stimulate the economy and create jobs in the short run and promote growth and debt reduction in the long run.”
A briefing by the Free Education Campaign produced earlier this year points out that the £23 billion spent each year on higher education, funded from both the public and private sectors, produces an economic return of £60 billion.
The University and College Union (UCU) have argued for greater investment into higher education through the introduction of a Business Education Tax to replace tuition fees. The UCU’s report says that increasing corporation tax from its current low rate of 28% to the G7 average of 32.8% would “generate almost £3.9 billion for higher education – more than enough to abolish all tuition fees.” This would be a welcome initiative that would see business, which benefits massively from having a skilled workforce, paying more for the reward it receives.
The UCU have also pointed out that a report released “by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reveals that the UK went from having the third highest graduation rate among industrialized countries in 2000 to 15th place in 2008.” The government’s unwillingness to invest in higher education will exacerbate this relative decline.
All who wish to defend living standards, the welfare state and the universal provision of public services should join with students and lecturers to defend education at this important demonstration.