THIS September, students in universities across the country are set to erupt in anger when they return after the £9,000 cap on university tuition fees has been removed.
Exeter University has been condemned both by its students’ guild and lecturers’ union after announcing that tuition fees are to increase to £9,250 from Autumn 2017. All students, whether freshers, second or third year students will have to pay the new rate, despite the fact that parliament is yet to vote on the proposal to remove the £9,000 cap.
Compounding this crisis is the abolition of the maintenance grant leaving hundreds of thousands of poorer students with a stark choice: either spend the rest of your life in debt, or drop out of education completely. Until August 1, students living away from home, whose families take home less than £42,620 a year, were eligible to apply for the grant to help contribute to their living costs and student rent.
The size of the grant increased as the annual earnings decreased – reaching a maximum of £3,387 if their household income was below £25,000. This system has now been scrapped.
Grants are now replaced by loans, so that on top of the £9,250 tuition fee loan, students are now forced to take out a further £8,000 maintenance allowance loan – a total of £17,250 per year, meaning students after graduating from a three year course will be facing debts of well over £50,000.
Even with the full maintenance loan, students are struggling to pay for their student accommodation. It is in this situation that the National Union of Students (NUS) has joined calls for a nationwide student rent strike. The NUS said: ‘This year, thousands are likely to go on rent strikes in protest; NUS will be mobilising students to take action. Rent strikes are a proven and effective method of collective action.’
As a result of the combination of the abolition of the grants, rising fees and spiralling rents, students have hit such a financial crisis that they are driven to do one, two or even three jobs, part time, while they study. More often than not these are zero-hours contract jobs like Deliveroo, Sports Direct, burger bars or evening work in bars and clubs.
It is not just the cap on fees which the government wants to lift. The cap on the amount of students that each university can cram in has already been lifted. A record number of university places has been offered to students this year. The Ucas admissions service says 424,000 places have been offered, up by 3%, with a further 64,300 students finding university places through clearance. Universities use the terminology of big business stating that this year could be a ‘buyers’ market’.
So it is no longer about grades and academic achievement, but simply about a student’s willingness to pay, or more to the point a student’s willingness to accept a lifetime of debt. University was made free for all students in 1962 following the nationalisation of the NHS and the creation of British rail in 1948, along with a mass council housing building project to ensure that workers and their children had free health and education, affordable transport and a home to live in.
The Tories are attempting to smash education up, privatise it and drive university education back to the days when it was just a preserve of the rich. However, it was the Labour government under Prime Minister Blair who introduced tuition fees in 1997, abolishing free education.
Today, Labour leader Corbyn, despite commanding the support of millions of workers, students and youth, will not call for the abolition of all university fees and the restoration of the full maintenance grant.
The mass spontaneous movement that has defended Corbyn as Labour leader has gone far beyond just tinkering about with a few partial reforms. The great gains won by the working class in the late 1940s, 50s and 60s, can now only be defended by revolution.
The mass movement of workers, students and youth that is emerging requires the revolutionary leadership of the Workers Revolutionary Party!
We urge all students, workers and youth to join us and build this leadership without delay!