Despite all their lofty promises about the priority of "education, education, education" and their pledge that there would be no top up fees, Blair and co intend to pass the bill for higher education once again onto students and their parents, making it yet more difficult for students from poorer backgrounds to get to university.
Labour pledged in its 2001 election manifesto not to increase top-up fees. Such promises are not worth the paper they are written on. They never pledged to introduce fees at all back in 1997. The new White Paper will propose changes that won't be implemented until 2006, after the next election so they won't break an electoral promise, which always looks good for the Millbank propaganda machine.
In return for extra investment, top universities will be required to show they can deliver on government targets - for instance on attracting working-class students (Guardian, December 5) The punishing option of charging students commercial interest rates on their student loans is now way down the list of preferred options, but student debts continue to rise and new higher rate fees will only increase that debt, whilst creating a two tier system, keeping poorer students out of select academies.
Two points arise from the already delayed White Paper: They claim that they want more working class students at University and they want the banks to make on the equation. The truth of the matter is that working class students do not go in enough numbers to university because they cannot afford it and their schools and colleges are under-funded.
Education officials stressed: "Nothing we will do would create a barrier to kids who do not have the money." (Guardian, January 17). This is completely true because they are already out of the higher education system. They aren't creating the barrier, just propping it up. Only through a properly funded, democratically controlled education can those barriers be pulled down. That's what socialism is all about.
It is not an accident that the universities with the largest working class student population, and at the same time those with the worst for graduate employment are Wolverhampton, Paisley, North East Wales, East London and Bolton Institute, most of them in the deprived areas and with the highest dropout rates.
It would be a good start if those now in the Labour cabinet who benefitted from a free education themselves could at least read their own party constitution. The idea of socialism is in now way compatible with this policy of pricing working class and middle class people out of higher education.
Of course if this proposal goes ahead that will only widen the gap between the good universities and those caricatured as "mickey mouse" ones. If Oxford, Cambridge and Warwick would be allowed to have differential top-up fees to reflect their elite status in return for a package of scholarships and other schemes to help poorer candidates that would only help to strengthen the "privatising trend" in education.
The problem seems to be funding but there is no problem spending the money to wage a war against Iraq, Afghanistan or any of America's other foes. The point is that there is enough wealth in society to fund a free education system, restore living grants and give a Xmas present to all students. We only need to ask Lord Jenkins Chancellor of Oxford (It'll be a bit difficult to ask him now for obvious reasons) and the business school paid by the businessman Wafic Said, or the corporation that "de facto" rules Cambridge with the Shell Chair in Chemical Engineering, Unilever Chair in Molecular Science, etc. The root of the problem is how this wealth is shared in society, or more correctly how the ruling class gets its profits from the workers' sweat.
What we need is a real campaign organised by the NUS, all teachers unions (they are also under threat from privatisation) and the MPs who have been speaking against fees since 1997 to finish all this nonsense. The Cambridge MP Anne Campbell, said : "If you end up with a system where poor kids go to the ex-polytechnics and the rich kids go to Cambridge it will be a disaster." Newcastle under Lyme MP Paul Farrelly and Ian Gibson from Norwich believe differential fees could be the first step to privatisation. "Once the principle is established, they will be able to do what they like", Mr Gibson said. (Guardian, January 20)
A REAL campaign, not just a demo here and there, once a year and a couple of public statements, is what is required now. The mood is there. Cambridge students refused to pay in 1998, Goldsmiths' students did it in 1999, East London students occupied in 2000, Sussex students in 2001. There have been many demos. It is time now to mobilise students against the government's plans, not just complain about the low level of expenditure on alcohol by students and the state of NUS bank balance.
This is one of the issues that can split the Labour Party right down the middle. And not only the Labour Party, students face a major debt of up to $21,000 at the end of their degree. This clearly will discourage many working class students from attending University. We need to oppose these new attacks and to offer a clear fighting alternative for all university students, school students, teachers, lecturers and education workers.
No to top-up charges! Scrap Fees! Free Education For All!
No student loans! Scrap the debt!
For a decent living grant for all over 16.
A guaranteed job, apprenticeship or place in further/higher education for all young people.