Student loans being privatised. A threat to cut grants by 40 percent. Discussion of even higher fees. All this is the predictable result of NUS’s failure to fight earlier attacks on students. Every time fees have risen, it has not only helped push forward the marketisation of higher education, but embolded the Government and university bosses to brew up fresh attacks. It’s time to draw a line in the sand.
The starting point is to launch a serious, urgent campaign against the Tories’ plans. That’s what student activists including NCAFC and unions including ULU are doing, and we must shout louder to demand NUS gets on board. Calling a national demonstration in the first term, and a sustained program of campaigning for the rest of the year, would help.
Beyond that, NUS should stop advocating tinkering around the edges. The student movement should denounce the whole system of paying for education, demand free education in both HE and FE, as well as student grants which are universal and enough to live on. It should oppose not only the invasion of HE by private providers, but the whole system of universities being run as giant corporations. They should be publicly owned, publicly funded and run as a public service.
The choice of fewer students or higher fees is no choice at all. We should demand that public funding is made available so that everyone can go to university if they want – for free.
In FE, NUS’s demands are even less serious than in HE, but it gets away with it more because, to be brutally honest, the student left has very little base in FE (obviously there are exceptions). If universities are being transformed according to the demands of profit, FE as a sector is being devastated, with huge cuts. We need a major fight against this, starting with unambiguous support for FE workers fight against the destruction of their conditions and rights – like the upcoming all-out strike at Lambeth College in South London.
I support free education for international students too.