Students coming to London this year face an unprecedented attack on their education. Ever since the Tories and Liberals trebled fees to £9,000 in 2010, we have seen university funding continually rolled back and the costs of student living soar.
For London students in 2013 the cut-backs have reached a critical point. At UCL, the “Bloomsbury Masterplan” – a £500 million sell-off of many of the university’s assets – has been announced. This includes the closure of the university’s medical centre, Gower Place Practice, at the end of this academic year to make way for research funded by big business.
Over the next five years students in several departments will have lecture space reduced, in some cases to make way for one of ten ‘Starbucks’ cafes to be placed on campus. Meanwhile, in a city where the cost of private student halls starts at almost £200 a week and averages over £300, the University of London has handed the lease of three of its largest halls over to a private company for the next 35 years. Europe’s largest student union, ULU (University of London Union), is being shut down due to a lack of “financial sustainability”. All student representation will go, with the future of the London Student newspaper, university societies and services unclear. Privatisation, price hikes in services and student job losses are on the order of the day.
The implications of these cuts to students in London are ominous. Already over 60% of students in the UK have to work to make ends meet alongside their studies, giving them a competitive disadvantage. The cost of living in London is ever-increasing and cannot be covered by the student maintenance loan.
The removal of subsidies and increase in costs means an ever increasing percentage of students in work, to the further detriment of studies. Many will simply be priced out of studying in London. The £18,000 annual fees non-EU students are forced to pay is increasingly bearing the burden of funding London universities.
We can see the future capitalism offers EU students in the way they exploit prospective overseas students. The situation for students in Britain and internationally is that more and more places are going to the highest bidders.
That such a scenario exists today, after half a century of free Higher Education and grants, and little over a decade after Tony Blair promised 50% of young people in affordable Higher Education, demonstrates the dead-end capitalism finds itself in.
Easily accessible healthcare is being closed to UCL students because the lease on the building which houses Gower Place practice is expiring. In the same way the quality of education afforded to students is dependent on the capitalist system: what was given in the time of boom must be taken away again in a crisis.
Our education and future is being sacrificed over the bail-out of the banks five years ago. But students have a right to free education; our potential contribution to society far outweighs the public cost of education. This right should be in the democratic control of students, not owned by a small few seeking to profit from us. To achieve such control we must unite with workers to fight for democratic control of the whole economy – to fight for socialism!