Jeremy Corbyn has proposed the abolition of student fees and the reintroduction of maintenance grants for all students. Harry Bark, of the Leeds Marxists and Marxist Students for Corbyn, provides a socialist perspective on the question of free education and equality.
Jeremy Corbyn has proposed the abolition of student fees and the reintroduction of maintenance grants for all students. Striking back hard at the Tory plans to remove grants for the poorest students at university, the Labour leadership candidate has defended the rights of all to education. Having opposed the introduction of tuition fees and loans under previous Labour governments, Corbyn has continued to stand against a policy that promotes inequality and disproportionately attacks the youngest in society.
Even before Osbourne’s most recent budget, many young people found themselves having to make economic decisions regarding their education. The most recent education policies have deepened the burden of debt on the poorest students. Corbyn’s stance reflects a large scale rejection of both student fees and maintenance loans. Education should not be a question of affordability, and his assertion that "education is not about personal advancement but is a collective good that benefits our society and our economy" places education as the basis for a successful society which balances the cost of educating with the benefits received through those who go to university.
The battle for free education comes amid a wider struggle against austerity and unemployment. It is excellent that Corbyn is promoting free education, but there must be an economy where the skills developed at university can be applied in society for the benefit of all. As part of his campaign to become Labour leader, Corbyn has set out his economic plans to encourage "public participation in developing industries". This idea must be a coherent policy for socialism if his plans are to succeed. Openness, equality and democracy within a planned economy would allow the benefits of free higher education to be most efficiently maximised, contributing towards meeting society's needs as opposed to boosting the profits of the rich.
The abolition of fees and provision of grants opens up education to the poorest; but on its own this is not a complete solution to inequality. A more fundamental question of social inequality must be raised alongside any question of education.
Jeremy Corbyn’s focus on the education debate in Britain is important, but a more fundamental and international perspective on educational access must also be taken up. The limited, or complete lack of, education opportunities for millions of young people in many countries should be addressed alongside debates on the costs of higher education in this country. In other words, our socialism must be international, and Corbyn's internationalist credentials mean that he is well placed to make this kind of argument.
Corbyn offers a genuinely exciting future for the Labour Party. His arguments for the scrapping of fees and providing grants are an important step towards equality. Yet this must be extended towards challenging the nature of capitalism, of austerity, and of unemployment. These must all be addressed together; only through socialism can education provide the basis for a society in which skills and interests can be developed and applied within a sustainable economy.