Recently, the UK has seen the rise of a mass student movement in opposition to huge increases in course fees across British universities, combined with cuts to research and other aspects of the tertiary education system. Below is an interview with Dan, a former member of the Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement who is now living in the UK, and was involved in a 2 day long occupation at his own university in London.
Can you give us a little background on the attacks on students that have led to this upsurge in struggle?
Having spent billions of pounds bailing-out banks, Europe’s state finances are being abandoned by the markets they propped up. The politicians and economists (and unsurprisingly bankers and their chums) are united in the consensus that the only way forward is to take a hatchet to state budgets, the only arguments being over how fast and exactly where the hatchet shall fall. The new government in Britain has thrown itself at the task with seeming abandon. 25% of the public finances are to be cut over the next four years. Every public service is to be affected and amongst the most savage cuts are those to University funding. 80% of the university teaching budget from government is to be hacked away; funding for research is to be trimmed down so that only research projects deemed “commercially useful” will receive money i.e. only things that can be sold.
To plug the funding gap, the government proposes to triple tuition fees for students from ~£3500 to £9000 (from NZ$7230 to NZ$18,590) per year. Once loans for living allowances are added to this, students in Britain will be leaving university in 5 years time with upwards of £40,000 (NZ$82,620) worth of debt to their name. For many graduates, this will rule out mortgages and home owning for much of their adult life.
Young people can see the writing on the wall. For those without the safety net of a privileged background, the increase in tuition fees will end their dreams of a university education. In a hostile job-market where 1 in 5 graduates with degrees are already struggling to find a job, the undertaking of such massive debt is a huge risk. The first generation in this country with substantial student debt is currently graduating from university. We understand the pressures of such debt better than anyone else and certainly better than a government that consists of 18 millionaires in its cabinet. We understand it and we balk at increasing this pressure by 200%.