"We have no plans to introduce University top-up fees,
and have legislated to prevent their introduction." This was a government
statement back in 2001. Since then the actions of the government have exposed
this statement to be nothing other than a fraudulent lie.
With total student debts in the U.K reaching a staggering
£18 billion, the threat to our education by privatisation has never been greater.
Labour has justified the imposition of Top-up fees by claiming that their
promise only applied to the period 2001-2005.
It is true, before the introduction of tuition fees, Britain
had a "funding crisis" in higher education. The question is, why did
this crisis develop? The answer is simple. The New Labour government had simply
decided to spend a mere 1.1% of G.D.P on higher education. This undoubtedly
caused a major problem, and was clearly to pave the way for privatization and
the introduction of the market.
The result has been that the responsibility for higher
education has been handed down, like a cursed heirloom, from government to
university, to family, the buck finally stopping at the student. This means
that students going to university today will pay three times as much as they
would have done a decade ago. So much for the continued prosperity under
"This debt has implications on the welfare of students
and has been associated with stress and academic underachievement", stated
the CUSU Sabbaticals. Nat West bank have recently published a survey showing
that 82% of students relied on a job to help them through university and this
figure was expected to rise to 87% for the forthcoming academic year. This is
just the surface of future problems. One in every three students has skipped
lectures due to work commitments, and one in five students has considered
packing in their degrees altogether for full time work. How can we expect
students to balance employment, and not expect it to encroach heavily on there
quality of degree?
This year, the government has masked fears about the
spiralling levels of debt faced by graduates, and pointed to the 6.4% rise in
university applications. The reason for this is not due to student love for
tuition fees, nor is it a sign of their "commitment" to higher
education. Funnily enough, most students don’t want a lifetime of unskilled
labour and zero job prospects. Unfortunately, this is exactly what they are
likely to face if they don’t make it to higher education.
The degree is increasingly being seen as a life-boat that
everyone must catch or risk sinking. This however does not always exclude those
who make it to university. Employers have been amazed at the number of young
adults who have emerged from the system without a basic education, showing that
numbers obscure the drop in educational standards. "The staff-student
ratio in this country is well above the international average, and staff are
swamped with bureaucracy," stated Gemma Tumelty, NUS President. The fact
is that education is still starved of the resources needed to reverse this
The neglect, both in terms of educational needs and the
opportunities available, has spurred the NUS to openly criticise government
policy. "If vice-chancellors believe today’s statistics give them a green
light to lift the cap on fees, they should think again."
The cost of current degrees will force students into debts
of, on average, £30,000. This is double the amount before the advent of tuition
fees. While the Student Loan Company will provide for half of the varying costs
needed to sustain a degree, it is left for the majority of students to provide
the other half, which means more students entering employment and escalating
credit card debts.
As for people most affected when the ticking time bomb of
tuition fees comes fully into play, it will be devastating. "The link
between prior disadvantage and the chances of success is direct, and explicit.
It comes as no surprise to me that the completion rate drops most sharply
amongst those institutions that perform best on recruiting students from
disadvantaged backgrounds." It will be the poorest in society that will
once again suffer under the modern-day, New Labour Government.
This whole policy must be challenged and defeated. We must
link up with the wider trade union and labour movement to force the government
to change course.
However, students can be optimistic. Students have a key
role to play, but not in isolation. We have a responsibility to tackle the ills
of government policy, and with youth on our side, we do have the energy and
determination to carry this through. A socialist Britain would guarantee free
and equal education for all, an education far beyond the spurious and hollow
endeavours of the present New Labour administration. It is up to today’s
generation to seize the time and put an end to the rotting consequences of an
antiquated big business system. It is through unity, strength and action that
we will succeed in winning a better and more equal world for all.