Students Under Attack–Restore Free State Education!

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THE NUS has just published its Poverty Commission Report which shows how education costs are rising, condemning students to live in poverty and blighting their lives. It has gathered evidence on the experiences of students from the age of 16.

In fact student fees and living costs are driving many students into a poverty trap, from which there is no escape, until they have paid off their alleged ‘debt to society’. Shakira Martin, NUS president, commented: ‘I believe the system as it currently stands is totally unfair.

‘Students that are coming from working class and disadvantaged families, end up leaving university with more debt than those from middle class families.’ In fact economists at the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies estimate that university students from the poorest backgrounds end up borrowing around £57,000.

NUS President Martin comments that poorer students face a huge impact from incidental costs. ‘The cost of travel is high, the accessibility of travel is really low. In addition to childcare costs, council taxes and equipment, these indirect costs are hugely affecting student experience, and ultimately affect the grades they can come out with.’

The NUS is demanding the government regularly update its estimates of how much students have to spend and the actual cost of living and studying. It’s calling for the government to restore maintenance grants for university students and improve support for those at college.

The report also calls for institutions to do more to reduce costs, particularly accommodation, where students from poorer families get into debt to pay rent deposits. In fact, costs are rising fast. Students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will face interest rates on their loans of up to 6.3%. The rise from 6.1% currently will take effect from September for students and graduates under the 2012 fee scheme.

Those starting or continuing at university this autumn will be charged interest of 6.3% – RPI at 3.3% plus 3% – from when they start studying, until the April after they graduate. The result of rising fees and other rising costs is that the suicide rate among UK students is higher than among the general population of their age group, a study by researchers claims.

The study, to be presented in May at the International Suicide Prevention Conference in New Zealand, has analysed figures for student suicides between 2007 and 2016. Male students have consistently had higher suicide rates, but the research says there has been a particular increase among female students.

Dr Raymond Kwok, of the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, at Hong Kong University, said: ‘Between 2012 and 2016, there is a significant trend in rising suicides for UK female students, with the exception of those in Scotland.’ Researchers say that between 2007 and 2016, student suicide rates increased by 56% – from 6.6 to 10.3 per 100,000 of the population. The 2016 figures showed 146 student suicides, the highest in records going back to 2001. Between 2001 and 2007, there had been a pattern of falling numbers, but since then numbers have tended to rise.

Meanwhile, in 2016 half of all ambulance callouts to the University of York were for incidents of self-harm or suicide attempts. Between 1 January and 8 February 2016, there were 12 emergency callouts for self-harm or suicide attempts, 50% of all callouts. Getting rid of student fees, abolishing student debt and restoring student grants and free state education is clearly a matter of life and death.

The NUS must demand that the TUC call a general strike to bring down the May government and bring in a workers government that will carry out these socialist policies to better the lives of students for whom a university education is proving to be a Tory-imposed ordeal!