TODAY tens of thousands of lecturers and students will march through central London to demand free education for all.
The Tory government has pushed plans through parliament with the help of Labour and Liberal MPs to break the £9,000 cap on university fees. Some universities had the cheek to raise their tuition fee to £9,250 even before the new legislation had gone through. Next year, the tuition fee rises again to £9,500 and after that universities will be free to charge what they like, depending on the ‘quality of their education’.
Students are furious at the prospect of graduating with over £50,000 worth of debt. They will have a huge millstone hanging around their necks for the rest of their lives.
Meanwhile, new data have revealed that three-fifths (59%) of lecturers at the Russell Group universities are being superexploited by being forced onto insecure contracts.
The fact that the UCU lecturers’ union has allowed conditions usually associated with the Sports Direct ‘Victorian workhouse’ right into the heart of the UK’s elite universities is an absolute disgrace.
This shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that these union leaders are not serious about fighting for their members. They have allowed a large proportion of lecturers to just about exist on zero-hours contracts. One lecturer has been forced to work at three different institutions and still only brought home £6,000 a year. He is relying on benefits to survive!
The march assembles at Park Lane at 12 noon and makes its way to Westminster. The lecturers’ union UCU said: ‘We have joined up with our sister union the National Union of Students (NUS) for a mass demonstration in defence of free, accessible and quality further and higher education and to demand an end to privatisation and cuts in universities and colleges.’
On the eve of the march, NUS National President Malia Bouattia joined a number of organisations and unions calling on ‘the government to commit to funding for further education and the teaching workforce’ ahead of next week’s Autumn Statement. In a joint letter to Tory chancellor of the exchequer, Phillip Hammond, they called for extra investment.
The letter is co-signed by the NUS, the University and College Union, the Association of Colleges, the Learning and Work Institute, Unison, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Voice, GMB and Unionlearn.
The tens of thousands of students who turn out today, alongside the masses of lecturers, unlike their union leaders, want no truck with this Tory government. They are under no illusion, unlike their leaders, that the Tory government will ‘change course’, ‘re-think’ or ‘invest in education rather than cut’.
The Tory government, rather then ‘listen to reason’ and then U-turn on its savage education cuts is going to do the exact opposite. The Tories are preparing to step up their attacks on education. This means courses cut, departments axed, entire universities closed, lecturers sacked en masse, university fees hiked up, student rents pushed through the roof and a massive drive for the opening of private universities.
This is the Tories’ agenda, and no manner of pleading with the government, protests, marches or demonstrations are going to ‘change the government’s mind’. This is because it is not a question of the ‘force of argument’ but rather the ‘argument of force’.
What is assembling today is a force of students and lecturers ready to take part in the job of bringing down the Tory government. Lecturers must from this demonstration organise a nationwide strike at every university and college. Simultaneously, students must organise to walk out with their lecturers, shutting the universities down and joining them on the picket lines.
Every worker in this country has aspirations to send their children to university and the struggle for free education is one that unites the entire country against the Tory government.
The only way to bring back free state education is for the entire working class to join a lecturers’ and students’ strike – turning it into a general strike to bring down the Tories and bring in a workers government.