Root Out The Rot Of Tuition Fees
At every stage of the destruction of our free education system we have been lied to
REPORTS that the Tories are planning to scrap the cap on tuition fees for higher education are a wake-up call to the profound damage successive governments have done to an essential public service.
And news that elite universities are concocting a plot to find another source of student loans in order to ramp charges up to £16,000 a year or more confirms the slide towards a two-tier education system.
The government will doubtless deny it has specific plans to raise or abolish the cap.
But at every stage of the destruction of our free higher education system we have been lied to.
Tony Blair’s government brought fees in in 1998, just a year after Labour said it had no plans to do any such thing.
The abolition of maintenance grants for living expenses in 1999-2000 forced students to take out loans of far more than the initial £1,000-a-year fees, miring a generation in debt.
A 2001 election pledge not to introduce “top-up fees” was soon abandoned and fees rose to over £3,000 a year in short order.
Labour weren’t the only liars, of course. Remember the Lib Dem commitment to abolishing fees or Nick Clegg’s infamous “read my lips” moment pledging not to vote for raising them even in coalition?
Clegg then led his party to back billing students up to £9,000 a year to go to university.
Graduates entering the jobs market are now weighed down by tens of thousands of pounds in debt before their first day of work.
And Tory policies that are creating a low-skill, low-wage economy mean paying these colossal debts back is proving difficult.
That’s why the government faced embarrassment last week when forced to confront figures showing how shortfalls and defaults mean the fee hike may actually cost more than it saves.
Enter the warped logic of the neoliberal Establishment. People can’t pay back fees of £9,000 a year? Better make them higher then.
A former Treasury adviser explains the crisis by saying the government “got its maths wrong.”
That’s likely enough. Neither Chancellor George Osborne nor his Lib Dem flunky Danny Alexander has shown a brilliant grasp of the national finances.
But they may not have paid much attention to the maths in the first place. Tuition fees were always about more than saving money for the public purse.
They are part and parcel of a drive to destroy the concept of our collective responsibility to pay for services which benefit us all.
Instead the Tories offer us an atomised system. Individuals who can afford it will fork out for their studies in the hope of bagging a lucrative career.
Any social obligation disappears. So does funding for training in vital but underpaid professions.
Until we root out the rot of fees altogether they will keep rising. We need to go back to first principles and fight for free education.