Socialist Worker

Government split on its top-up fees plan

Issue No. 1834

THE GOVERNMENT is racked by divisions over university tuition fees. Top universities and Downing Street advisers want colleges to be able to charge students thousands of pounds to study. They want to hit students with a triple whammy-over £1,000 upfront to take up a college place, three years surviving with no grant, and then up to £3,000 in 'top-up' fees when they have finished at college.

It could mean students paying over £20,000 for a degree. Top-up fees would mean some universities charging a fortune. Rich people could study there, while poor students are forced to take up cheaper courses. But the widespread opposition to top-up fees has thrown the government into chaos, causing rows and splits at the heart of New Labour.

Blair wants to push ahead with fees regardless. Chancellor Gordon Brown's camp is terrified of the political fallout if top-up fees are introduced.

Brown wants instead to bring in a graduate tax, so that every student pays an extra tax whatever college they went to. The row is threatening to wreck the white paper due out in a couple of weeks. Many students are already living in poverty, and many have been deterred from going to college at all, thanks to New Labour having already scrapped grants and imposed tuition fees.

Under either Blair's or Brown's plans things would get worse. Some press reports suggest that the government may throw a sop to the opposition by bringing back some grants.

But young people whose parents have a joint income of over £30,000 a year would get no grant and would have to pay full fees. That includes the bulk of working class households where two parents have jobs.

And students from households with lower incomes will only get grants of between £800 and £1,000 a year. That is nowhere near enough to live on.

The government argues that students should pay towards their education because on average they end up with higher incomes than others. That is an argument for taxing people who get higher incomes, whether or not they have been to college.

But that is something the pro-rich New Labour government doesn't want to do. Instead it plans to penalise all students, whatever job they end up with.

Mickey Mouse minister

MINISTERS don't give a damn if their fees plan leads to courses closing. They have a narrow, sterile vision of education. Education minister Margaret Hodge insulted students and lecturers by saying the government's fees plan may signal the end of 'Mickey Mouse' degrees.

The fight to stop top-up fees is a fight to defend the whole idea that education should be about learning and developing people's ideas, and not simply a production line for the needs of business.

The cost of rising debt

A GIANT chemical company paid poverty-stricken students to drink 'highly hazardous' pesticides. The experiment was carried out on students from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

The Bayer CropScience company now faces an inquiry. But the case shows how desperate students can be driven to take extreme measures to survive. Students who graduated last year had debts of at least £10,000-an increase of £6,700 compared to those who graduated in 1999.

Nearly half of all students say being able to pay off their debts after graduation is a major worry. A NatWest bank survey says crippling monthly debt repayments of £200 a month are now the norm for graduates. The survey also found the average starting salary for graduates was now just £13,422.

Hodge doffs cap to posh schools

THE GOVERNMENT has bowed down to private schools. The education department had promised to increase the number of students from ordinary state schools going to university. The 19 top universities took fewer than 20 percent of their students from poorer backgrounds last year.

Education minister Margaret Hodge said, 'I have never witnessed such a class divide as I've seen in higher education.' Hodge's targets for getting state school pupils into university had the fee-paying private schools worried that their privileged position could be threatened.

So now she has simply dropped the targets, after meeting representatives from the top private schools to reassure them they had nothing to worry about. The posh schools were reported to be 'delighted' and 'cock-a-hoop'.

Mask falls from council housing privatisation

THE HOUSING associations lining up to take over council housing want to turn themselves into profit-making, dividend-paying private companies. The plan, revealed in the Inside Housing trade magazine, shatters claims that transferring council homes to housing associations is not privatisation. The government has always denied that transfer is privatisation.

But now the country's biggest housing association, Places for People, wants to drop the veneer of being different to any other private company. Chief executive David Cowans says the company would look to become a 'public limited company'-issuing shares and paying dividends-'if it created better financial strength'.

This makes the 29 January lobby of parliament called by the Defend Council Housing campaign even more important. The lobby is backed by tenants' federations, major trade unions and growing numbers of MPs and councillors. Everyone who can should try and join it.

'Stop privatisation-invest in council housing with no strings attached' Lobby parliament, Wednesday 29 January Rally 1-3pm, Central Hall, Westminster, London More information from Defend Council Housing Phone 020 7987 9989 or go to

Rift with unions looms over two-tier workforce

A HUGE row looks set to erupt between New Labour and the trade unions over the two-tier workforce in the NHS, councils and schools. The government's privatisation drive in the public sector, through PFI and PPP schemes and contracting out, has created huge anger among public sector workers.

As well as often decimating services, thousands of the lowest paid workers have been transferred to profiteering private firms. There is limited protection for some of these workers. But new staff employed by these private firms find themselves on lower pay, fewer holidays and with no pensions and other benefits.

At the last Labour conference Tony Blair was forced to promise to 'work with the unions on the best way of ending the two-tier workforce'. A deal was supposed to be struck between the government and the unions on Thursday of this week.

But it seems that the government has bowed to pressure from bosses' organisations over the deal. The GMB union says, 'Yet again the CBI has been rattling the bars, and yet again Downing Street appears to be running scared.'

The bosses want to sabotage anything which even gives privatised workers 'broadly comparable' pay and conditions to those in the public sector. Private companies know the only way they can make profits from public services is by making people work harder and longer for less pay.

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Sat 18 Jan 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1834
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