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Week commencing 2nd April 2004



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FIGHT AGAINST FEES CONTINUES

by Daphne Liddle

A THOUSAND delegates to the National Union of Students annual conference last Wednesday adjourned the conference to Parliament Square to make sure that MPs were well aware of their opposition to variable tuition top-up fees.

 The students are totally opposed to top-up fees in any form. But that option was not on the agenda in the House of Commons.
 The crucial vote the students were trying to influence was an amendment to the Education Bill that would have removed the right of universities to set their own levels of top-up fees.

 This amendment was defeated by 28 votes – not as close as the vote on the Bill in January which passed by only five votes. But it is still a narrow majority for the Government taking into account the size of the Labour majority.

 Around 56 Labour rebels voted against their own leadership but it was not enough to worry Tony Blair or Education Secretary Charles Clarke.

 They had been exerting enormous pressure on Labour MPs, claiming that to vote against it would play into the hands of the Tories. In fact the opposite is true. Raising student tuition fees is likely to lose Labour even more votes in coming elections because it affects the pockets of so many families.

Clarke had made some concessions to win the rebels around. But when looked a closely, these concessions are next to worthless.

 The new fees system will come into force – if the Bill is not defeated in its later stages through Parliament – at the beginning of 2006. Then students will not have to pay fees up front but they will be added to their student loan debt to be paid back after graduation.

 One of Clarke’s main arguments was that if the rise in tuition fees were lost, it would be impossible to reintroduce student grants.

 This is very misleading. The “grants” will amount to just £1,500 a year and be paid only to the poorest on a mean-tested basis. This is only a small fraction of their subsistence needs and will not stop them getting deeply in debt and forcing them to work part-time or full-time during their courses to survive.

 One of Clarke’s concessions was to cap the rise in variable fees to £,3000 a year – a sum that will still see students with total debts of  over £20,000 by graduation when both fees and subsistence costs are taken into account.

 But there are fears that this cap will not last long. Some of the more prestigious universities are already putting pressure for its removal.

 The universities certainly need the money. In nearly all there will be pressure to raise the fees to the level of the cap as soon as possible.

 Those courses most in need of the extra funding are mostly science-based that require a lot of expensive equipment. If fees for these courses are raised above others, fewer students will choose them. Yet industry and education in this country are desperately short of science graduates.

 Ironically the Government has considered the idea of giving greater help to students on physics courses to induce more to take them. Yet these are likely to be the most expensive courses.

 The newer universities – the old polytechnics – are opposed to variable tuition fees because, they claim, the elite universities will raise their fees to levels where only wealthy students will go, leaving them with greater numbers of poorer students and less funding.

 It will create a two-tier education service.

 When these new universities were polytechnics they provided a much broader rage of courses, covering technical, mechanical and engineering skills, the applied sciences and more practical skills.

 These are the very skills that are now very much lacking in Britain today and why the Government is glad to give a backhanded welcome to many immigrants from Africa, Asia and eastern Europe who have these skills.

 Raising tuition fees will not help students nor society in general. It will discourage young people from low and middle income families going into higher education at all for fear of building up impossible debts.

 And it will not solve this country’s shortage of doctors, nurses, scientists, technicians, engineers and so on.

 The universities must have more funding but this could easily be achieved by proper taxation of the seriously rich.
 The Bill still has a long way to go before it becomes law and many backbenchers will continue to fight it.

 Backbencher Helen Clark, MP for Peterborough, said: “I am not wimping out. My daughter, who is at university in London, can stay with me in the capital but otherwise couldn't afford to be a student – let alone if fees went up even higher. If you have lots of money it’s fine but if not you can just go whistle.”

 Former Labour Health Secretary Frank Dobson said: “I will always be against raising fees. The Government says it is thinking about dropping fees for physics students because we need more of them. If they’re going to drop fees for them, they should do it for all students.”

 Jim Dobbin, MP for Heywood and Middleton, said: “I know would-be medical students who have been advised by the BMA they could be landed with debts in excess of £40,000 under the Government's plans.

 “It will create a market in education and I am against that. What’s the point of landing key workers with huge debts in a place like London where they are already struggling to get a mortgage?” 

 *************
Editorial

Nato marches east

Seven Eastern European countries joined Nato on Monday. An event so earth-shattering that it was barely noticed by the bourgeois media. Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the three former Soviet republics of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are now full members of the Anglo-American military machine. Like the Czechs, Poles and Hungarians that went before them these seven states are ruled by former émigrés and dissidents succoured by imperialism during the Cold War or by venal ex-communist turn-coats of the type we know so well in Britain and western Europe.

Nato was established in August 1949 to legitimise America’s hold over a western Europe shattered by the Second World War and governed by weak bourgeois coalitions that looked to the might of American imperialism to protect them from a supposed “Soviet threat”.

British troops had already been shamefully used to crush the Greek revolution and put the worthless king back on the throne in Athens while working with the Americans to prolong the division of Germany by unilaterally creating the West German state in 1949.

Of course there was no real Soviet “threat”. The Soviet Union worked tirelessly for peace after the defeat of fascism in 1945. It called for the peaceful re-unification of Germany along the lines that led to the restoration of Austrian independence in 1955. Six years after the establishment of Nato the Soviet Union and the socialist countries of Europe reluctantly set up the Warsaw Pact. The Warsaw Treaty Organisation was established to counter a very real threat from US-led imperialism that sometimes talked about a “limited nuclear war in Europe”.  And throughout its existence the Soviet Union and its allies continued to offer to dissolve the Warsaw Pact if Nato went as well.

The Soviet Union went over ten years ago but Nato is still with us. And Anglo-American imperialism isn’t just content to maintain its existence – it is pushing its sphere of operations further and further east while resisting all attempts by other European powers led by France and Germany to create purely European defence mechanisms. Why?

Well we’ll never get a straight answer from Blair and his cronies. We’re told it’s to strengthen “democracy” in these former socialist states and to build trans-Atlantic solidarity. We’re told it’s an alliance of equals but no one seriously believes that these new members are anything but puppets of Washington and London.

But George W Bush himself gave the game away at the welcoming ceremony in the White House on Monday. He told the premiers of these seven states that “as witness to some of the great crimes of the last century, our new members bring moral clarity to the purposes of our alliance”. Lest anyone should think Bush was referring to the crimes of the Nazis, the American president went on to say “they understand our cause in Afghanistan and in Iraq…because tyranny for them is still a fresh memory…and so now as members of Nato they are stepping forward to secure the lives and freedoms of others”.

No the purpose of Nato is still the same. It’s an anti-communist alliance designed to preserve and extend Anglo-American imperialism’s control over Europe. It’s an alliance that threats Russia and the peace and security of the Caucasian republics. It’s a pact led by Britain and the United States that ignores major members like France and Germany when it suits them while using weaker countries in the east to supply the cannon-fodder for imperialist aggression in other parts of the world.
 
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