Theo Sharieff, Socialist Students national organiser
Theresa May on Thursday admitted that herself and the Tories got it wrong on tuition fees and higher education funding.
The headline proposal contained in the long delayed Auger report is to give students from disadvantaged backgrounds a £3000 a year maintenance grant, admitting that the Tories in 2015 got it wrong. This will come as welcome news to students who have been forced to take out loans and accrue debt just for choosing to pursue studies in higher education. It’s a reflection of the massive pressure the Tories are under, terrified of the huge anger their policies of cuts and austerity measures has created.
Other suggestions in the report are completely woeful. Even the suggestion to cut fees by a small amount to £7,500 is cover for vicious attacks on students and low paid graduates in debt.
The plan suggests extending the period over which former students would repay their loans from 30 to 40 years. Moreover, the report suggests lowering the income threshold for loan repayments to begin, meaning that even lower paid young workers will be forced to give up their wages towards paying off loans and extortionate interest, simply for going to university.
Clearly these changes are intended so that the government has more time to claw back money from the currently huge and growing pile of national student debt. The debt currently stands at £118 billion, and is predicted by the government to reach £450 billion by 2050 without inflation. Three-quarters of students will not pay back their loan in full by the time it is wiped, and the state will be footing the bill.
The Tories are aware that they are presiding over an economic time bomb. Desperately, they are attempting to remedy that by fighting to further shackle former students, as we age into retirement, with a lifetime of debt.
But even the proposal to reduce tuition fees is a poisoned chalice. When the Tory-Lib Dem coalition trebled tuition fees back in 2012, the government cut its funding to universities, meaning universities were forced to rely on student’s tuition fees for funding.
With the report suggesting a decrease of tuition fees to a still ludicrous £7500 a year, and no proposal for the government to plug the funding gap, universities would face a huge cut to funding – resulting in cuts to courses, redundancies, and closures.
Scandalously, bosses of the Russell Group came out in March to rally against reducing tuition fees for this reason, pretending that there would be no alternative. This however isn’t true.A mass struggle of students united with workers to end austerity could provide free, fully funded university education. Jeremy Corbyn raised in the 2017 general election abolishing tuition fees, but Socialist Students says he should go further – to not only scrap tuition fees entirely and to introduce living grants for all students, but also to cancel all the outstanding student debt.
With Theresa May gone, now is the time to launch that fightback. A campaign to fight for free education which mobilised students and workers in demonstrations and strike actions could spell the end of the Tory government which is tearing itself apart with yet another leadership contest – and fight for an anti-austerity Corbyn led government to power on a socialist programme.