The New Worker
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Week commencing 2nd April 2004
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FIGHT AGAINST FEES CONTINUES
by Daphne Liddle
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
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
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?”
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
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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