Coalition forcing in education commodity market

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THE University and College Union (UCU) yesterday warned that the government was organising an ‘NHS-style crash’ pushing through ‘reforms’ to create an education commodity market.

The comparison with the NHS is more than appropriate.

The essence of the Tory-led coalition’s Health and Social Care Bill is in fact a huge drive to privatise the NHS and introduce a US-style health commodity market, where if you have the cash, you can get the required medical care.

Now it is busy introducing a US-style education market, complete with £9,000 annual fees, and a drive to produce private universities which will have their own ‘star’ lecturers, but with access depending on your ability to purchase the commodity.

The coalition government yesterday announced in its higher education white paper plans to accelerate the introduction of the education market through intensifying competition amongst universities in a way that will force down the quality of education for the vast majority of students.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, commented on the issue of market competition, saying ‘Trying to force down the cost of a degree after the government got its sums wrong will not solve the funding crisis it created. The only thing the government is likely to force down is quality.’

She added that ‘The siren voices calling for more for-profit universities here are the same as those who have immersed higher education in the US in a series of mis-selling scandals where poor students have lost out.’

She concluded that ‘Our universities need stable funding for high quality courses, and a government prepared to support them, not the dead end of privatisation.’

Even the right-wing president of the NUS, Aaron Porter, commented ‘To use proposals for more information as a justification for lifting the cap on fees to £9,000 is outrageous and will not fool students and their families. It’s the price rather than educational standards, that will have tripled.’

He continued, saying that ‘Ministers are at risk of creating stability for the perceived best but complete chaos for the rest. The vast majority of university entrants, who don’t get the very best grades, will be treated to complete market chaos and real uncertainty about their universities and courses.’

The UCU in its warning against the ‘privatisation push’ in the higher education white paper pointed to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) report. This warned of the damage for-profit education companies will do to education standards.

The report said that:

• for-profits’ short and long-term goals may not match the national interest and could lead, as in the case of Australia, to international reputational damage

• for-profits are subject to much lighter regulation than mainstream universities and provide less public information about the service they provide to students

• for-profits and private providers offer qualifications which may not be widely recognised

l for-profits may cherry pick profitable courses and put public universities in financial danger.

The union says the report’s warnings are backed up by the experience of for-profits in America. Scandals around the selling of courses to students have prompted an investigation by the US Senate into companies such as Apollo and have seen for-profits described as ‘sub-prime education’.

It is the duty of the trade unions to fight to defend and fully restore free state education, alongside the battle to put an end to the Tory-led drive to completely privatise the NHS.

The only answer to these ferocious attacks on education and health care is a general strike to remove the coalition and bring in a workers government, not a Labour government, and socialism.