We **** Need ** Education

Thousands of students marched to protest education cuts

10,000 students marched to protest against education cuts

Healthcare and education. 99% of people would agree that both are services of vital importance. As a nation, the NHS is one of our best assets and the very right of every single citizen of the United Kingdom to free medical treatment is one which many take for granted. Is that wrong? In a word, no. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services. It is perfectly possible to both expect the state to provide healthcare, whilst appreciating that we in this country are fortunate enough to live in a land where it is our right to have access to such services and that we are in the global minority with this.

Free education is a right too. Our right. The right of every person in this country. At least, for those between the ages of 4 and 18 it is. This week’s student protests in London dragged the ever-present issue of student fees back to the fore-front of the nation’s collective mind and highlighted the problems of graduate employment as well as the staggering financial implications which arise from university and higher education courses. I know someone who marched and I know how passionate they were, and still are, about the need to shine a light on the mess that is education finance in the UK. I saw them apply to uni, I saw the nerves the weekend before they left and I saw them return after their first term having the time of their life. But today I saw a photo of them marching over Westminster Bridge – student union banner in hand – and I was proud. It’s disappointing that the students campaigning this week are unlikely to still be students if and when any legislation is introduced to combat the dramatic rise in fees which was introduced in December 2010, but this in itself proves the commitment of many to a cause which effects everyone. Earlier this month, students from Oxford University, Oxford Brookes and other local schools and colleges protested against David Willetts, the Minister of State for Science and Education, giving a talk in St Peter’s College to the point where the proceedings inside were forced to be suspended as the chants from outside may it impossible to continue.

Pinning down exactly whose “fault” tuition fees as an entity are is difficult, predominantly because they have been introduced gradually. In 1960, fewer than 200,000 British students attended university. This figure had doubled by 1980 and risen to 650,000 by 1990. In 1997, New Labour decided that the state could no longer provide for the 1.15 million students studying beyond secondary educational level and so introduced an annual fee of £1000 for university courses. Fees were required to be paid upfront and maintenance grants were ousted. In 2003 this system was revised; £3000 per annum but with loans and some maintenance grants available specifically for students. Returning to the General Election of May 2010, it is clear that student fees wasn’t a campaign issue parties wanted to push; though when the NUS launched a campaign aiming to achieve the support of every MP by encouraging them to sign a pledge which read “I pledge to vote against any increase in fees”, many MPs (the majority, Lib Dems) jumped at the opportunity. Perhaps not so coincidentally, every Lib Dem MP who got elected in the election had signed this pledge.

As you and I both know, these promises, if not intentionally empty, were broken. Really quite dramatically and with new, extortionate fees. £9000 per year is the highest amount a university is allowed to charge and all but a very small number are doing just that. The upshot of this is that, for the average three-year-course student, around £35,000 worth of debt will be accumulated during their studies and £27,00 of that will be for their education. Depressingly, at the same time the UK has seen a 40% cut in the teaching budget which begs the question of where our fees are going if not to raising teaching standards? The line fed out by government that “increasing fees will cut the deficit” is a simplistic statement and one which doesn’t quite add up. It is costing the government more than ever to keep students at universities as the trebling of fees has had the knock on effect of causing student loans and their cost to soar. It is now crystal clear that the argument needs to be made that university education is just as important and integral a public service to and for this country that the National Health Service is. Preferably, sooner rather than later.

Why? Because we don’t need no education.

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2 thoughts on “We **** Need ** Education

  1. I am shamefully behind on comments – I do hope that you forgive me. However, I have read the last four posts with care and appreciated each in turn. What I particularly valued here was your very clear, very incisive exploration of the student fees debacle. As someone facing the prospect of these huge debts soon I am filled with anxiety. Despite the promises that the fees do not require repayment until one is earning above a certain income bracket, it still seems intrinsically wrong for a whole generation to start their adult life with that quantity of money already owed. To embark on a job with that much debt is now not a surprise, but will increasingly become the norm. And yet, as it has been noted, those MP’s who voted in favour all enjoyed the benefits of a free university education. None of them seem to be volunteering to reimburse the state as a sign of solidarity with what students are facing today, despite the fact that many could easily afford it. Many members of government, it seems, have little empathy or desire to understand what it is like for the average person in britain today – for the MP’s are often cushioned by a wealth and privilege known only to few.
    It particularly disheartens me that to have to study something I love, something I am passionate about in the true sense (rather than the personal statement ‘english is my passion’ way), I have to accept that I will emerge £35,000 poorer with no solid prospect of a job. That is why I am writing and working as much as possible now, while I don’t have to support myself financially. I fully support those who marched, but unfortunately due to the very peaceful nature of the protest, it received little coverage. Correct me if I am wrong, but I have heard hardly anything about it.
    Anyway, a great piece. Thank you Alexandra.

  2. This infuriates me so much. Whilst I don’t think *everyone* needs to go to university, I think everyone should have the oppurtunity. And with the rising fees, that’s just not going to happen. My brother is the first in our family to go to university, which has given him some extra bursaries and grants and so on, and he started uni at the last year of the lower fees too, which we are so grateful for. But me? I’ll probably end up working like crazy through out sixth form — I have applied for around twenty jobs so far but none have hired me yet because of my age — and saving as much as I can to get to university. Right now, I’m considering studying in Europe because it’s so much more affordable, but with the way things are going I don’t know if we’ll even still be in the EU by then! (Well, I don’t think we’d leave in barely three years, but you know what I mean…)
    Before, I had never even thought about the idea of MPs paying now for their education, but that would be wonderful! Like Roz said, the majority of them can clearly afford it now. What if each MP who voted against tuition fees could pay for some teenagers in their constituency to go to a university? I don’t know how much an MP earns, but so many seem to come from monied backgrounds, and I am sure they could at least put something towards helping the people who they pledged NOT to hurt.

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