Westminster students enraged by the ConDem government's plans to cut back education spending on an unprecedented scale, and to set fees soaring at the same time, joined over 600 students on an anti-cuts demonstration last Wednesday against the official announcement of budget cuts made in the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR).
Students angered by the prospect of an education system falling into disrepair from universities across London met at the University of London Union, on Malet Street, and fed their protest into a much larger demonstration of over 3, 000 workers and trade unionists for a march to Downing Street. See: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/oct/20/protest-government-department-spending-review (look out for Westminster students involved in The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts in the video too)
This marked only the very beginning of the struggle which now faces students and workers alike. Who are about to embark on a period which - as some more relasticestimates have put it - could see over 3 million people unemployed. This will not only be disastrous for the average worker trying to bring home the beans for the family, but, it also means there will be a dire lack of jobs for graduates too.
Students will have a dual role to play in times ahead: fighting for the right of employment and fighting to protect education.
If the government gets away with what it intends, this will mean the end of education as we know it. The end of social mobility; the end of a decent education for all; the end of the chance for people to live out their potentials.
A quality university education would only be afforded by the rich, the rest of society will be left with two year 'vocational courses'. The enlightening and life transforming chance to spend three years in all sorts of academic enquiry will no longer exist for the vast majority.
This is nothing short of a disaster.
Fight Cuts at Westminster, along with help from the lecturers union UCU, has been rallying students over the past two months and previous academic year at a set of different events including 'ConDem The Cuts To Education', which heard from the likes of left-wing legend Labour MP, John McDonnell and The National Union of Students' Education Officer, Usman Ali.
We held our first protest of the term at Regent Street Campus on Wednesday (before marching to ULU) and are now looking to step up our activity and ramp up student engagement. Together we can beat the cuts! Last year our actions, which included a three day occupation of the Vice Chancellor's Office, managed to save 100 jobs. This year we must save them all.
So, to get involved in the fight to save our education, keep an eye out on facebook for our events and organising meetings. Do come along!
Today, the infamous Browne Review of higher education funding has recommended lifting the cap on fees, leaving universities free to charge students what they like.
This means a switch to a complete free market in Higher Education, with newer institutions charging double what we pay now at £7,000 a year, and in theory, older elite universities charging anywhere up to the sum of £20, 000. Let’s bear in mind the striking fact that fees didn’t even exist just over a decade ago; they were introduced in 1998 at £1, 000, and have been on the steady increase ever since. Those who plan to make this devastating reform had the pleasure of a free education, why can’t we?
What more did we expect from the former chief of BP however, who was commissioned by the government to suggest changes in HE funding and essentially ‘take the slack’ for the unpopular changes they plan to implement. What does he, an ex-multi millionaire, know about being hard-up and looking to education as a root out!?
This is exactly the kind of background many of our students at Westminster come from, and unlimited fees will no doubt put these types of students off for fear of having such a high burden of debt. Not only that, but many will lose out on the chance to go to university in the first place with the ConDem government’s 25 – 40% planned budget cuts in education; let’s not forget that this year alone, 200, 000 applications to university were declined! Browne’s Review calls for an increase in student places by 10 percent over three years, that’s 30,000 extra places; well that’s still 170, 000 from this year alone without a place and we all know that student applications are rising. You do the math! So much for this government’s calls for “fairness”.
Westminster has a very special role to play in this society and Browne’s review seeks to undermine it; we’re part of the widening participation initiative which means we have a higher percentage (44%, 07/08) of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds and provide them with an opportunity to participate in a well-funded, quality education. We also have an above UK average for full time undergraduate students from state schools (96%, 07/08). Yes, our university plays a vital role in educating the working classes!
However, as it stands, that is not to say that students from a similar background might not study at a pre-1992 ‘more prestigious’ university like Leeds, UCL or even Oxford. At the moment the chances to do so are there, albeit that these aren’t always equal chances.
Nevertheless, the implications of what the Browne Review has suggested means that this chance, to study at a world-renowned higher education institute, will dissolve into thin air. With only the richest students being able to afford the astronomical prices, which will see the likes of Cambridge and Oxford set to the tune of 10, 000+. Access into university will be based on bank balances rather than academic ability.
This will only serve to create a two-tier university system whereby the minority in this society - the rich - have access to a high calibre of education and the rest of us will be herded into poorer universities, where we’ll pay what fees we can afford, but they’ll be underfunded and quite frankly miserable!
We’ve already seen post-1992 universities, our own included, losing departments in Languages and teaching staff in Social Sciences, which come under the category of ‘Blue Sky’ (ideas), research type degrees with no barriers.
The government plans to make these ‘Blue Sky’ degrees available in the elitist institutions only and pave the way for nothing more than vocational ‘workers’ degrees in establishments like ours. This is massively in tune with what’s going on now: at Westminster we’ve lost Russian and Greek courses; at London South Bank they’ve just had their entire language department shut; at Middlesex last year their world-renowned, entire Philosophy department was shut to fit with this agenda.
Students must fight back! The government is testing the water with this recommendation and will be looking to see what the reaction from students and the rest of society is. We must take action and make it clear that this will not be tolerated; we’ve got to protect our education from the increasing neo-liberalism higher education has become subject to over the past decade. Education is about people and society, not profits! And that should be our overarching message.
· If you would like to hear more about the Browne Review and what students can do to fight back, join the Fight Cuts at Westminster Campaign next Monday 18th October for a Public rally against higher fees in The old Cinema at Regents Street Campus, 6 pm.