TODAY’S joint strike by two unions at Middlesex University must be the start of action to defend jobs and the very existence of a state education in England.
The unions, Unison and the UCU, represent both academic and support staff at the university who face a massive loss of 300 jobs in a cost-cutting exercise being carried out by an institution that is demanding one of the highest levels of tuition fees from students – £8,602 a year.
These job losses can only be achieved through cutting back on courses and drastically increasing the workloads of remaining staff.
This attack on both staff and students is not confined to Middlesex but is part and parcel of the government’s all-out drive to privatise higher education.
The lid has just this week been lifted on the murky world of these private companies that have been central to this plan.
Information secured by the BBC reveals that the Tory universities minister, David Willetts, had twelve separate meetings with for-profit education firms prior to the publication of the plans for university ‘reform’ in England.
The thrust of these reforms is to open up higher education to private companies on the grounds that this is the only way to increase the number of university places.
The fact that student numbers are decreasing, of course, is a direct result of government cuts in educational expenditure.
What they intend with this policy is replacing high quality university education with cheap on-line courses based on students learning remotely via the internet.
This does away with the necessity to employ lecturers or maintain expensive university buildings.
In addition, by offering cut-price, sub-standard education they hope to entice students who are unable to afford the massive tuition fees being charged in traditional universities.
It was to this end that Willetts met with, and obviously took his cue from, these private American-based companies.
Two of twelve companies who have been giving advice to Willetts have a rather colourful history to say the least.
The Education Management Corporation, who met him in July 2010, are currently being sued by the US government for $11 billion over allegations that they used Federal funds given for educational purposes to pay bonuses to their ‘student recruiters’.
The EMC deny this fraudulent use of Federal money.
Another firm, Apollo, has paid out millions of dollars recently to settle claims that it improperly recruited students to the University of Phoenix. The company denies these payments admit any liability.
Apollo already has its foot in the door of the English educational system as the parent company of BPP University College of Professional Studies.
This college was granted university status by the government last year and became the first private sector institution to gain such a status in more than thirty years.
Willetts’ plans are transparent, what he is striving for is a situation where the bulk of existing universities are replaced with these get-rich-quick outfits providing vastly inferior education for a price, leaving the elite universities intact but charging sky-high tuition fees affordable only by the children of the rich.
Free education is a right that the working class won as part of the welfare state, it cannot be left up to students and college staff to defend it.
UCU and Unison members faced with these attacks must join with students in demanding that the entire trade union movement come out to defend state education through a general strike to remove this coalition and replace it with a workers government.
A workers government will end all tuition fees and guarantee a free universal education system.