Defend state university education against the coalition barbarians!

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LORD Browne’s review of university funding is to recommend a threefold increase in tuition fees.

Lord Browne (former head of BP) is proposing to raise the cap on the fees universities can set to £10,000 a year, a move that is in line with the Tory-led coalition’s stated aim of slashing state funding of higher education by a third, with universities to make up the shortfall through charging students more.

To try to head off criticisms that he and the government are turning the clock back to a time when higher education was the sole preserve of the rich, Browne talks of means testing student loans.

The loans would be targeted at the ‘poor’ while any student with parents lucky enough to be in work would not be eligible for cheap loans.

Not that Browne intends cheap loans to stay in existence, another part of his proposals calls for the government subsidies on student loans to be scrapped.

This would force the interest repayments on such loans up by at least two per cent. On top of this Browne is to call for a graduate tax, whereby any student lucky enough to get a job after graduating could face the prospect of paying back more than they borrowed.

Already, with fees capped at £3,290, students are leaving university with debts that average £25,000.

This has already deterred poorer students from higher education. His new proposals are aimed at mopping up the remaining children of workers and middle class families and returning universities to elite institutions for the wealthy.

Government ministers are also enthusiastically talking of cutting all government spending on the arts and humanities studies, such as history and philosophy, concentrating what little money they are prepared to spend on science and technology, subjects which employers reckon are essential to capitalism.

The slash and burn policies towards higher education will become official when next month’s package of higher education reforms is announced.

Included in this will be plans to end completely all state support for universities that find themselves in financial difficulties, forcing them to close.

Already three universities – London Metropolitan, Cumbria and Gloucestershire – have been earmarked as candidates for the chop.

London Metropolitan University alone has 30,000 students, what the Tories and Lib Dems propose to do with them is unknown at present – presumably they will be just dumped into the huge reserve army of labour that crisis-ridden capitalism is creating.

Alongside the plans to close down state-run universities, the government is planning to aid the establishment of private universities so that the commodity, education, can be bought and sold in the market place.

Private companies will establish their own universities, and set up their own courses, complete with price tariffs.

Faced with these plans to turn the clock back to the 19th century and beyond, the response from the leadership of the trade union movement is pathetic. Unite, the largest union in the country, is organising a demonstration and lobby of the Tory party conference, to what end nobody knows, given that the Tories will never change their policies because of a lobby.

The strategy of the Unite leaders is to tell the working class to hang on for five years of this government and hope that a Labour government will be elected.

It is in these five years that the coalition intends to lay waste to education, the NHS, social housing, pensions and the entire welfare state. The working class does not have five years to waste marching up and down the hill.

The only way to defend university education is to bring down the coalition with a general strike, and the sooner the better.