The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 23rd February 2018

May surprised at Britain’s high student fees!

by New Worker correspondent

THE PRIME Minister Theresa May surprised thousands of students last week when she seemed suddenly aware that students in Britain face “one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world,” and announced an independent review of fees and student finance. Yet she and the members of her government have been responsible for student university fees being over £9,000. Over a three-year course this means most student loans, which include money for the student’s subsistence, will total around £50,000 and the interest rate on them is now six per cent.

The National Union of Students (NUS) reacted cautiously to the announcement of the review on Monday. NUS general secretary Shakira Martin said: “We welcome the long-overdue review into post-18 education and funding announced by the Prime Minister today and are glad to see that Theresa May has finally recognised that the current system is not fit for purpose. However, we are concerned that the terms of the review appear to rule out the possibility of a serious overhaul of the current system, instead opting to propose a narrow remit that can only lead to small piece reform. “Theresa May is choosing to move the deckchairs around a ship she already acknowledges to be sinking.

“The Prime Minister spoke at great length about the challenges to accessing education. To truly make education fair and accessible, the government must acknowledge that [the] education system is completely broken and therefore keep all options for change on the table. “Evidence clearly shows that the only way to meet those aspirations is to be willing to pull the system down and start again with a completely open mind. This means challenging many of the outdated principles beyond recent reforms and recognising that we all benefit from a well-educated society — the Government must be seriously willing to invest in education to provide the skills that our young people and economy needs.

“We fear that tinkering around the edges without major commitments to supporting students into and through universities and colleges will do more harm than good. It is concerning that further investment appears to already have been ruled [out] and the Education Minister has suggested that institutions will not be forced to make courses more affordable.

“This limits the review to a highly restricted remit, yet leaves the door open to the spectre of further competition through, for example, variable fees, which will likely only damage the sector in the long run.

“Today was a missed opportunity for the Government to address the real issues facing students up and down the country — and we hope the review process ensures that these issues are suitably engaged with and addressed. Support for students through maintenance grants and other financial support needs to be a fundamental part of the year-long review.

“It is concerning to see no student representation yet and we urge the Government to ensure there is meaningful engagement with students and student representatives throughout the process. This review must be totally independent and have students’ interests at its core — only then will it be able to reform the system in a way that benefits learners.

“This review is a huge opportunity to do tertiary education and funding differently in this country. However, if Theresa May is going to narrow the scope before it has even begun it will not be able to repair the damage caused by misjudged policy decisions. We must keep the door firmly open on options for a properly funded tertiary education system and outcomes of the review must not leave holes or funding gaps that the Government are not prepared to fill.”

Many suspect that the review is a way of postponing dealing with the issue in the knowledge that Theresa May is unlikely still to be Prime Minister by the time it is finished.

Labour’s shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, has called for services in further and higher education to be free at the point of delivery. She called the tuition fee system “unsustainable” and called for fees to be scrapped and maintenance grants brought back. The Institute for fiscal Studies says that students in England face more than £5,000 in interest charges before they have even left university — contributing to average graduate debts of more than £50,000.