STUDENTS AGAINST FEES
a report from SchNEWS 199, 29 Jan 1999
"I think it's very reasonable. It's a fair market price"
Well rad LSE student, on tuition fees
It certainly ain't Greece (where there have been mass demos against education cuts recently). It's a far cry from Danny the Red and the Sorbonne occupations of Paris '68. Shit, it's not even Grange Hill. Yes, it's '90s Britain, and the only ones doing something are the students at Oxford Uni, including such 'avin' it 'ardcore frontliners as the ex head girl of Roedean - who've instigated what so far has been the only real resistance to the imposition of the governments' latest nail in the coffin of education for all: tuition fees (See SchNEWS185 for full crack).
Last Friday, a national demo attracted a pitiful 1000 studes to Oxford to be bullied by SWP'ers and the university's own bowler-hatted soft cops, then Monday saw 140 students occupy the exam hall for 20 hours.
The demonstrations, supported by the Union and by Students Against Fees In Education (SAFE), were solidarity actions for five students who face suspension for refusing to pay the £1000 fees. Two others, who didn't want to risk being 'sent down' (kicked out), gave in and coughed up, feeling they'd publicised the cause as much as possible without harming their careers.
The students claim that the government deliberately pushed through fee legislation during uni holidays to avoid confrontation; the introduction of fees has already led to an 11% decrease in university applications for 1998/9. The action has received solidarity from many quarters, including the Campaign For Free Education who stated:
"Students at Oxford university are showing the lead... building the sort of campaign that if replicated nationally could sling tuition fees into the history books"
Although as sexy as old womens' pants in comparison to the Greek actions, it is of course imperative that such campaigns are repeated- and built upon. A turnout of 1000 for a national student demo-when even the smallest uni's have 8-10000 students- is totally pitiful. Subtract the Socialist Wankers and there'd be even less. Learn from the Greeks and educate, agitate and organise!
a report from SchNEWS 185, 2 October 1998
So - you've just started at college, and are looking forward to some of the most exciting years of your life - endless parties, plotting the downfall of the state, debating the more esoteric passages of 'Das Capital', and generally spending all day in bed and all night drinking enough alcohol and taking enough drugs to incapacitate an elephant, all at the taxpayers'expense.
WAKE UP!!! Welcome to the grim reality - in debt from the word go, having to work in McDonalds for a couple of quid an hour, fighting off 50 other students for the one copy of the book in the library you need for the essay you have to do by tomorrow morning, all the while being told how privileged you are to be in higher education, and that it's only fair that you spend the next 10 - 15 years of your life paying for it. Ever get the feeling you've been cheated...?
'Student bashing' has always been a favourite Tory occupation, but New Labour has decided to really stick the boot in by ending the idea of free education for all - this year students have to contribute up to £1000 towards their tuition fees, the grant has been savagely cut, and from next year the grant will disappear entirely, to be completely replaced by loans.
Since the 80's the government have been reducing students' financial support - by gradually removing their entitlements to social security benefits and reducing the grant year on year. In 1990 the goverment removed the vast majority of students from the benefits system entirely, froze the grant and introduced student loans - this really was the beginning of the end for students. They then reduced the grant by 30% over 3 years
Whilst increasing the student loan, clearly with the intention to eventually abolish the grant. However, even the Tories thought this might be a bit too politically unpalatable - no such worries for New Labour though.
For students starting at college this year they can expect to get a maximum basic grant of around £800 a year, and a maximum student loan of £2735, and may have to contribute up to £1000 towards their fees. From the 1999/00 academic year, the grant will disappear entirely for most students to be completely replaced by loans.
Certain students like single parents and those with dependants or disabilities can receive extra allowances - and whilst they will still be able to get these extra allowances next year the basic grant will still be abolished for them too. This means that students will finish their courses with debts of at least £12,000, and the implications of this aren't too hard to spot. Whilst it is too early to get any concrete evidence, students from poor backgrounds and mature students are obviously going to have to think long and hard as to whether they can afford to enter higher education; inevitably many won't bother.
In a University of Brighton survey from 1996 it was found that more than double the number of students aged 21 and over were over £1000 in debt compared to 18-20 year olds, and this situation is obviously going to worsen under the new funding arrangements. As one final year mature student told SchNEWS "The older you get the more financial responsibilites you take on - the cost of having kids, a mortgage, pre-existing debts - and I simply wouldn't be able to afford to go to university under the new rules.
It makes me sick that Labour are doing this, as it discriminates against students who don't have rich mummies and daddies, and those students like me who were always told we were thick at school or weren't encouraged to aim for higher education so didn't think of going to university until we were older and realised we were actually good enough to go for it."
So what can you do about all this? Well, don't expect the National Union of Students to be much use - they actually support the abolition of the grant, although they do disagree with students having to contribute towards their fees. There's also the Campaign for Free Education, which the NUS don't support. The silence within most Students' Unions about the introduction of fees and abolition of the grant is deafening - within many SUs politics in whatever form has become a dirty word, whilst others are run by New Labour clones or by students from rich enough backgrounds not to care.
It's a particularly savage irony - although no great surprise - that New Labour are doing more to exclude the poor and 'economically disadvantaged' from higher education than the Tories ever did.
Or are we just sneering cynics?
Campaign for Free Education PO Box 22615 London N4 Tel 0958 556756