‘THE FINAL NAIL IN THE COFFIN!’ Coalition’s unlimited fees plan condemned

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Birmingham students yesterday demonstrated against the coalition government’s decision to bring in unlimited university fees
Birmingham students yesterday demonstrated against the coalition government’s decision to bring in unlimited university fees

Student, lecturers and university staff unions yesterday angrily condemned former BP boss Lord Browne’s recommendation that universities in England should be able to charge unlimited fees.

His review of university funding calls for the current £3,290 cap on fees to be scrapped and replaced by a free market in fees – setting out models of charges up to £12,000 a year for a degree course.

Hundreds of students at the Guild of Students, University of Birmingham, made their response clear to the recommendations published yesterday morning in the Browne Review into higher education funding.

Joining together to ‘say no’ to the removal of a cap on fees, students gathered in protest, outside the University Library, Edgbaston Campus, to make their voice heard.

Hundreds of students turned out to tell the government NOT to take Browne’s proposals forward.

Proposals that they said they believe would create a barrier to higher education.

Dora Meredith, President at the Guild of Students, University of Birmingham said: ‘Today’s numbers show how passionate students feel about the issues raised from the Browne Review.

‘This was a great vehicle for students at Birmingham to have a voice and respond to Browne and his recommendations.’

The National Union of Students (NUS) said students would be left with ‘crippling levels of debt and many universities face utter devastation as a result of horrific cuts’.

Aaron Porter, the NUS president said: ‘If adopted, Lord Browne’s review would hand universities a blank cheque and force the next generation to pick up the tab for devastating cuts to higher education.

‘The only thing students and their families would stand to gain from higher fees would be higher debts.

‘A market in course prices between universities would increasingly pressure students to make decisions based on cost rather than academic ability or ambition.

‘Those already feeling the pinch will clearly be unwilling to take such a gamble and face being priced out of the universities that would opt to charge sky-high fees.’

He added: ‘Any graduate contributions to universities should be determined by earnings in the real world after graduation, not fixed prices based on unreliable and misleading guesswork about average salaries.’

The University and College Union (UCU), the lecturers’ union, said the plan was ‘the final nail in the coffin for affordable higher education’.

It warned that the average family would face a bill of between £76,000 and £136,000 to put two kids through university.

It added that Browne’s recommendations for higher education ‘would have a devastating effect, seeing some universities forced to close and the curriculum dangerously narrowed, as the cost of university is effectively transferred from the state to the family.’

UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt said: ‘This is a savage attack on what a university is and what it can offer to all students, not just those with deep pockets, as it effectively privatises.

‘Browne’s proposals would make our public degrees the most expensive in the world. At an enormous cost of between £40,000 and £70,000 for one child’s education, it would be the final nail in the coffin for an affordable university degree for many ordinary families.’

UCU believes big business should be taxed for the substantial benefits it gains from a plentiful supply of graduates and has proposed a modest Business Education Tax for the top four per cent of companies, those who make profits of over £1.5m a year.

Dave Prentis, UNISON general secretary, said: ‘Removing the cap, and putting the cost of tuition fees up, will price many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds out of going to university.

‘Others will be put off by the prospect of being saddled with thousands of pounds worth of debt.

‘Many students already struggle to make ends meet during their course. The knock-on effects could be disastrous, for example in 2013 the nursing profession turns all graduate.

‘We are calling on the government to reject these proposals, and for the Liberals in the coalition to remember their pre-election promises.’

Young Socialists National Secretary Joshua Ogunleye commented: ‘Scrap fees andloans and restore grants is the issue.

‘It’s a disgrace that the NUS and TUC leaders refuse to fight for this.

‘We call on all workers and youth to back our march from Manchester to London, starting on October 30, to restore free education and jobs for all by bringing down the coalition with a general strike, to go forward to a workers government and socialism.’