10 Nov 2010

Students protest against tuition fees

As thousands of students demonstrate against tuition fees we hear from one graduate who says this is the beginning of the backlash. Natasha Wynarczyk studied history at King’s College London.

University tuition fees are set to rise

Thousands of people are expected to march through London today to rally against the proposed recent cuts to education and rise in tuition fees as outlined in the Browne Review.

The demonstration is likely to be the biggest education-related demo in years, attracting students and university staff from all types of institutions, as well as school-level and further education students looking to study in the future.

After months of speculation, it was announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review that there would be cuts to higher education of £2.4 billion by 2014.

As well as these sweeping and devastating cuts to HE as a whole, the Government also declared that funding would be given only to subjects deemed ‘vital’ to the economy – the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics related subjects – leaving arts and humanities subjects such as History, English and Classics in the cold.

Without going to university I would have been immensely disadvantaged. Natasha Wynarczyk, King’s College London graduate

This is the firing shot to ‘education for education’s sake’ – studying a subject simply because you have a marked interest in it. I studied History for my undergraduate degree, and I honestly believe that as well as its inherent value, it taught me skills that are necessary to jobs that I’m interested in.

Without going to university I would have been immensely disadvantaged. But if my degree had cost £27,000 I would have had to make serious concessions – living at home, not moving to London, perhaps not even studying a humanities subject despite that being where my strengths and interests lie.

University fees are also set to increase dramatically – currently home undergraduates pay £3,290 a year – but the Coalition Government seeks to introduce a ‘double cap’ on fees for 2012 entry – a basic level of £6,000 a year and an upper limit of £9,000.

Russell Group universities such as my home institution, King’s College London, are expected to charge the upper limit – grants would be introduced but only for those whose households have a combined income of less than £60,000.

This will put pressure on the ‘squeezed middle’, and there is no doubt that this marketisation of the education system will price out the brightest students – students who deserve to study at the top level institutions, but simply won’t be able to afford such large fees.

The national demo is simply the beginning of a backlash. Natasha Wynarczyk

Institutions that are primarily arts-focussed or don’t have the world-class prestige that can be used by seats of learning to ‘justify’ the higher fees could be faced with closure – leading to job losses and less student choice, as well as the removal of widening participation.

Some may argue that students are an elite, privileged group, and that higher education actually isn’t important to society.

But answer these questions: why should young people be denied the basic right to higher education, a route to social mobility? Why should they be forced to stay at home or choose an institution or subject they have no interest in because it’ll be cheaper? Why should they have to start their lives post graduation with a crippling level of debt when they are looking at climbing the rungs of the career ladder, getting married, taking out mortgages, having children? And why should they be denied chances to improve their future and grow as people by a group who went to university for free, and who aren’t terrified of having to make choices like choosing between which of their children to actually send to university, who aren’t afraid of having to remortgage their house to pay for their son or daughters’ fees, who aren’t worried about the enormous debt they’ll incur by studying for three years or more – real-life debt, not only student debt, because it’s just so expensive?

The National Demo is not the means to an end; it’s simply the beginning of a backlash against the harsh destruction of higher education. UK higher education is amongst the best in the world, and it’s something that we should be proud of. But its current treatment is in no way deserving of its importance to wider society. The pillars of our society – teachers, nurses, doctors, the majority of them went to university – pricing young people out will have repercussions everywhere.

Instead of marginalising young people the general public should stand side by side with us as we lobby the Government for a fairer higher education system. The people who always went to university – the elite, upper classes – will still go to university.

The greatest social tragedy will be those students that had their chance to go wrongfully seized from them, creating a further gap between rich and poor.

Natasha Wynarczyk studied history at King’s College London and is Vice President Student Media and Engagement.