THE education policies imposed by Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government are depriving many young people of the opportunity of going into Higher Education and others are forced out of the university courses by huge debts and poverty.
This was exposed yesterday when figures were published by the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) revealing that the number of applications to English universities dropped by 3.7 per cent between 2005 and 2006, the first time they have decreased for six years. There were 13,000 less applications, with the total falling to 371,683.
There is no secret why this is the case. In September tuition fees will be increased from £1,175 a year to £3,000, as a result of the imposition of top-up fees. In Scotland and Wales, where top-up fees will not be charged this year, applications rose by 1.6 per cent and 0.5 per cent respectively.
The total indebtedness of students on a three-year course is expected to rise from approximately £16,225 to about £21,980.
It is clear that the Labour government is turning the universities into businesses and attempting to put an end to free state education.
Universities are being driven to get funds from large corporations which demand activities which will yield profits. Alongside this they will be charging students more and more so that the students will eventually pay the full cost of their courses.
This twin-track attack on the university system means that funding from the Treasury, out of general taxation, will become negligible.
Labour’s education policies are leading to a situation in which Higher Education, provided as their right to the younger generation, will no longer exist. It will be only for the rich, and working-class and middle-class youth will be excluded by the cost of going to university.
In response to the university applications figures the National Union of Students (NUS) said these were ‘extremely worrying’ because top-up fees and debt were deterring potential students.
NUS President Kat Fletcher said: ‘If figures are going down now, imagine the scenario we could be faced with if universities are given the green light to charge whatever they like per year . . . That’s why we are starting a united campaign now to keep the cap on tuition fees when it comes up for review in 2008.’
This is the set-piece response from the supporters of Labour and ‘left’ protest groups in the leadership of the NUS. They are like the little boy who cried ‘wolf!’
When Blair brought forward plans in 1997 to bring in university tuition fees and scrap grants, they said they would fight this to the end. When it became law, they did nothing and accepted the ending of free university education.
Then the Labour government proposed top-up fees during the last Parliament. Once again, these reformists in the leadership of the NUS said they would stop this at all costs.
Now we see that Fletcher has raised ‘the white flag’ and is accepting top-up fees. She is proposing instead ‘a united campaign now to keep the cap on tuition fees’. On the basis of their track record, it is clear that the NUS leaders are preparing for their next capitulation to the Labour government.
The thousands of students excluded from universities, the hundreds of thousands whose lives are blighted by huge debts and the millions of young people in schools and colleges with aspirations to go to university are demanding a fight so they can go into Higher Education.
That is why it is necessary to build a new leadership in the NUS that will organise a fight to defeat all the Blair government’s measures which stop working-class and middle-class youth going to university. The Young Socialists Students Society (YSSS), the student section of the Workers Revolutionary Party is building such a leadership in the universities and colleges.
The right to free state education, including at the university level, was won through the struggles of the working-class movement in the past, with the trade unions in the forefront, because all working-class families want a decent education for their children.
Students must organise alongside the trade union movement to restore the right to free state education by organising to bring down the Labour government, through mass political strike action. This government must be replaced with a workers’ government that will implement socialist policies, enabling young people to study at university free, as is their right.