University tuition fee rises may end up taxpayers more than scheme it replaced

The Coalition’s £9,000-a-year tuition fee hike could cost taxpayers more than the scheme it replaced, a think-tank has warned. A £1bn-a-year “black hole” in university funding shows that the rushed tuition fee reforms are coming back to haunt both the Lib Dems and the Tories, despite all their claims that the reforms would save the country money.

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) says that the government “seriously understated” the cost of its higher education reforms and will either have to implement drastic cuts to student numbers or ask graduates to make higher repayments – a result that will deeply embarrass the Lib Dems.

So as well as having an impact on social mobility, lumping a lifetime of debt on future graduates and deterring future students from attending higher education, the drastic cuts to higher education will actually end up costing taxpayers more in the long run. However, this was clear from the start, and it has often been said that you do not cut public spending in a recession. This government’s policies may reduce debt in the short run, but in the longer-term the “austerity” programs may lead to irreparable damage to the public sector, to education, and to the UK as a whole.

None of this is new, however. A report published in 2010 stated that with state funding for University teaching being cut by a monumental 80% by 2014-15, the government will have to borrow more to fund the higher loans and pick up a bigger bill for those debts “written off” after 30 years; The report argued this will leave taxpayers worse off.

This is what happens when austerity reforms are pushed through as legislation before MP’s have had a chance to properly review and debate the proposals. The student protests of 2010 fell on deaf ears. It’s clear that either the Coalition MP’s who passed this legislation were either so short-sighted, they could not see the implications of their reforms, or the reforms themselves were ideologically-driven. But the Tories are anything but ideologically-driven, right?

Talbot Campus on #dayx3*

The cold cuts deep despite the sun’s subtle warmth. A young girl pulls her coat tight around her, shivering in the bitter air as she makes her way to the warmth of Poole House. Shelter.

Inside, the canteen marks a departure from the desolate barrens of the outside world – conversations compete for attention as students sit nursing hot drinks, discussing the ebbs and flows of existence. Despite the chatter, however, many seats are empty; the abandoned tables contrast with the hub of activity that the canteen usually brings. The cashiers wear Christmas hats, trying to invoke some festive spirit. A tiny Christmas tree sits atop a counter, looking forlorn. Today, we mourn.

Today is the day that Parliament votes on the proposals for the rise in tuition fees; today is the day that our government votes to condemn future generations to a lifetime of debt. Perhaps this is the reason Talbot Campus is so empty, so unwelcoming – a taste of things to come. I head out of Poole House and make my way to the AUCB campus, to see if the atmosphere is any different. As I step onto AUCB soil, the rays of the sun hit me in the face, blinding me. The campus, however, is also deserted. A stack of abandoned goods lay strewn on the side of the path – chairs, desks, planks of wood, a TV. As I make a right and head down the path towards the courtyard, I see a few students wandering aimlessly, some sitting on benches smoking cigarettes in the bitter cold as a bulldozer makes its way towards a construction site, scattering a few students who look lost. The atmosphere here is no different from Talbot Campus; it is empty, uninviting and desolate. Today the whole of Bournemouth University appears to be in mourning, the outcome already pre-empted by the few who walk the twin campuses with no real purpose. I depart. A small procession of students passes, some carrying placards, making their way to the SUBU coaches bound for the London protest. Some have not given up yet, imbued with a fighting spirit and a sense of optimism. They are chatting amongst themselves, laughing. It inspires hope in me.

In the circle courtyard outside Poole House, a banner reads: “Bournemouth University against Education Cuts”. The courtyard itself is empty. Work is still commencing on the newest “state-of-the-art” lecture theatre, the construction site fenced off. Who knows whether it will ever be filled once the cuts start to bite? I head back into Poole House, into the warmth. Grabbing a coffee, I sit down and mull over the scene before me. Suddenly, Christmas music pipes up, lifting the bleak mood. BU language society members stand in a line, enacting the songs in sign language for those who sit attentively. People clap. I chuck a few pence into the donation pot and make my way out, hands in pockets, deep in thought.

*#dayx3 is the twitter hashtag for the third day of student demonstrations which took place on the actual day that Parliament voted on the proposals to raise tuition fees. I wrote this feature on dayx3, as I walked around Bournemouth University’s Talbot Campus. It was a cold winter morning, and the campus was fairly quiet, perhaps an indicator of things to come, I wondered. I filed this under Comment as well as Fiction>Stories, as it is also a piece of creative, journalistic writing.

“Now is the winter of our discontent…”

Sitting on the Police van - London students pr...

Image by chrisjohnbeckett via Flickr

– Richard III, William Shakespeare. 1594

So on Thursday 9th December, 2010, Parliament voted to raise the cap on tuition fees and condemn future generations to a lifetime of debt. All the protests, marches, demonstrations and petitions thus far have clearly had no impact on the government, which begs the question – how do people get the government to listen to their pleas?

This is our winter of discontent. The winter that has begun with London burning – images of fires and smoke trailing into the night sky as Big Ben watches over the chaos. Winston Churchill standing hunched over his cane, hand in pocket, as metal fences litter the pavements and graffiti is sprayed on stone monuments. Shattered windows and broken buildings highlight the less-obvious damages  – the damage done to the people, an electorate who believed in the lies they were fed, the false promises and pledges from a party that wanted “an end to broken promises”.

The cuts have not even started to bite yet, but already mass movements have been generated from the ground-up – bringing sympathisers from various movements under one shared cause.  Trade unionists, socialists, anti-war protestors, UK uncut demonstrators, students, sixth formers, school kids, teachers, lecturers, anarchists… all  have shown their faces at recent demonstrations.

This is only the beginning. Rather than discouraging demonstrators, the recent protests have actually inspired a generation who has found their voice – and found that they are not alone in their anger. The police violence of late has only served to fuel the cause, to promote solidarity amongst the groups, to educate the uninformed. These young protestors have had a crash-course in demonstrating – Protesting 101. They have had to learn quickly, and the results are beginning to be seen: protestors kettling the police, protestors breaking through the containments in small groups instead of large masses, bringing supplies and learning to hide their faces. There are those who show up just to cause trouble – from full-fledged anarchists to groups like the EDL who show up to cause trouble. Some “gang” members mugged several people on Thursday – stealing their phones or belongings whilst the police watched on, laughing or simply not giving a damn. But the protestors are learning. They do not stand for the violence, and ostracise those who incite it. Just like at Millbank when the fire extinguisher was thrown, the crowd turned on the culprits shouting: “Stop throwing shit!”. But what do you do when the ones instigating the violence are the police? Continue reading

The Police: The Arm of the State?

The police have come under fire lately for their handling of the recent student protests – the tactics that they have used and the level of force utilised. There are at least two sides to every story, we are told, and two differing sides have clearly been portrayed in the protests of late.

On the one side we have the view that the student protests have been mainly violent affairs, with the majority creating havoc and destruction and damaging their own cause. Supporters of this view praise the police for their actions and for showing “restraint” against the rampant “mobs”. On the other side, we have the view that the police have over-reacted and they have been the ones who instigated the violence, with supporters of this view claiming that it is the police who have been acting violently and over-extending their powers, detaining or “kettling” protestors for many hours on end with no access to food, water, toilers or shelter – effectively removing their civil liberties. What doesn’t help either side is the biased media shows that are played out, with many only showing the most sensationalist aspects of the protest, whilst ignoring the peaceful majority.

It is times like these when the people must ask the question: “who do the police really work for?” Are they there to facilitate peaceful protest and work for the people? Or are they there to support the government, with the people coming second? At the Whitehall protest, I asked one officer who was refusing to let us leave: “Do you work for the government, or the people?” He replied: “Well, the government pays me”. In that case, who pays the government? Continue reading

The Marketisation of Education: The Untold Story

Photo taken by Louis Sidwell, Nov. 2010

As the government plans to cut higher education funding whilst pushing up the cost of tuition fees, many are left reeling in the wake of the Liberal Democrats’ complete U-Turn on their own manifesto and the worries for the future of higher education itself.

The coalition proposes to cut teaching grants by 80%  and to raise tuition fees by nearly triple the current asking price as a “replacement” for the massive cut in education funding. This will leave Universities with around a 40% drop in their guaranteed incomes. But what will be the real repercussions of these proposals?

It essentially means that the funding of university teaching will shift from the taxpayer to the student, thus creating a free market in Uni courses. Continue reading

NUS Leader Responds to Clegg’s Letter

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Image by The CBI via Flickr

NUS president Aaron Porter responds to Nick Clegg. You can read the full letter here: NUS response to Nick Clegg PDF. Some extracts from the letter are noted below:

“I am pleased that you have clarified that your recall proposals were to apply to serious wrongdoing. But you should know that we would regard the breaking of signed, individual pledges to vote against higher fees as both serious and wrong. This is not as simple as coalition parties having to compromise.” [pg.1]

“You herald bringing part-time students into the scheme as a success – we agreed on the day Browne was published – but only those studying at 33% or more will benefit from a loan.” [pg.1]

“You trumpet the change in the post-graduation repayment threshold – convenientlyignoring that the £21k level won’t be introduced until 2016, or increased until 2021. If inflation is higher than 2.2%, the £21,000 earnings repayment threshold will not offer any real advantages to graduates by 2015/16.” [pg.1]

“You argue progressivity through the example of a nurse Continue reading

“Progressive” tuition fees hike progressing the wrong way

Portrait of Nick Clegg.

Image via Wikipedia

Despite claims that the proposed cuts in University funding and the hike in tuition fees are “progressive”, a recent analysis of the proposals, published today, argues that the “reform” of funding will limit social mobility and leave around two-thirds of all graduates paying far more for a degree.

The government’s proposals will see tuition fees as high as £9,000 a year, whilst introducing real interest rates for the loans as well as a longer period before the debt it “written off”. Million+, a university lobby group, states that these changes will hit middle-income earners the hardest, running contrary to the numerous claims by the coalition that “we are in this together”, and the statements that those with the broadest shoulders will carry the brunt.

The report also argues that pupils from poorer backgrounds will be deterred from applying to Uni, which is interesting as Nick Clegg is arguing that it is the DEBATE about reform that will put off poorer students. Clegg wrote to the NUS leader, Aaron Porter, urging students not to “distort” the debate over fees, saying that many wrongly believe they will have to pay the fees immediately. I think Clegg is missing the point here.

The report also warns that many women will be ending up in debt for the most part of their working lives, whilst mature students will also be deterred. With state funding for University teaching being cut by a monumental 80% by 2014-15, the government will have to borrow more to fund the higher loans and pick up a bigger bill for those debts “written off” after 30 years. The report argues this will leave taxpayers worse off.

“It is difficult to see how the proposals provide a long-term, sustainable framework for the funding of higher education and universities in England,” the report says. It also accuses the government of using simplistic measures to define social mobility, such as the number of students on free school meals who go to Oxford, rather than assessing whether a having degree helps those from deprived backgrounds get better jobs, the Guardian states.

Some have also claimed that the coalition is trying to push through the legislation before MP’s have had a chance to properly review and debate the proposals. It appears as if the opinions held by Clegg that the proposals are “fair” and “progressive” may be empty rhetoric. Meanwhile, protests are continuing up and down the country on an almost weekly basis, with students clashing with police and occupations of buildings taking place even as you read this. Stay tuned.