Tuition fees must go!

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STUDENTS going to university this autumn will face £3,000 a year tuition fees for the second year. But the trebling of fees – originally £1,000 a year when they were imposed by the Labour government – is just a beginning.

In 2009, MPs will vote to lift the ‘£3,000 cap’ on fees, when the Brown government – if it is still in office – will undoubtedly move to give the major universities what they are currently demanding – fees of up to £18,000 a year. Higher education will be turned into a full-blown American-style system, in which parents will be forced to start saving for college before their children are even born!

The effect of 10 years of tuition fees, coupled with the abolition of student grants, has been to force millions of students to work in up to three part-time jobs at a time to pay for their studies, as well as to force them into chronic levels of debt in order to cover their rent and other living expenses.

These students have certainly ‘done their bit’ for the UK personal debt that now totals well over £1 trillion – making fortunes for the banks in interest payments.

The debt burden is now so great that students are trying everything they can to avoid borrowing even more money.

Students are now leaving university with a debt of at least £12,363, a slight decrease on 2006, according to the latest survey of student finance by NatWest. The survey shows that students about to start university now expect it will cost them in the region of £34,700 to get through a three-year degree course – up from £33,512. Only 18 per cent believed they could get through university without doing part-time work to support themselves.

Current students supplement their income with work worth an average of £84.70 per week, according to the survey, and at least a third (34 per cent) have skipped lectures in order to go to work.

Parents are trying to ease the burden on their children by giving them money, whilst their children are trying their best to cut down on the amount of money they spend, and are trying to live with their parents.

The National Union of Students President Gemma Tumelty, commenting on the NatWest survey, said much higher fees were wielding a massive, negative influence on students’ ‘psyche and their expectations’.

But Tumelty did not call for the outright scrapping of tuition fees and restoration of students’ grants – the demand of her union’s members and what was always NUS policy, until the NUS leaders decided to give up fighting for free state education and lobby for the fees to be ‘capped’ instead.

Tumelty said the NUS welcomed the ‘adjustments’ the government had made to the ‘student-funding package’, claiming that this meant ‘more’ students would be able ‘to access grants in the future’.

The UCU, the university teachers’ union, noted that 10 per cent of UK science and maths courses have been scrapped in the last decade since tuition fees were introduced.

This is the reward students have got from the government for paying billions in fees and providing an army of cheap labour for the employers!

On top of that, the old polytechnics that were given university status over a decade ago are now attempting to make mass redundancies and sell-off sites, with some facing closure altogether.

UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt said: ‘University is more expensive than ever and students who choose to study near home to keep the costs down may find themselves unable to study their degree of choice due to recent cuts.’

This is the real pay-off for the NUS leaders’ refusal to organise a struggle to smash tuition fees and restore free state education up to and including university level.

They have only encouraged government ministers – many of them former NUS leaders themselves – to go down the American route and force those young people who want to better themselves to pay a king’s ransom and turn education from a right into a ‘privilege’ for increasingly fewer numbers of young people.

The only way to stop the destruction of state education and preserve the Welfare State is to build a new, revolutionary leadership amongst students and workers that will unite them in a general strike to bring down this government and go forwards to a workers government and a socialist society.

We urge all students to join the Young Socialists Students Society and build this leadership today.