Student activists have said that university tuition fees should be scrapped, ahead of a speech by Theresa May on Monday.
May is set to announce an “overhaul” of the tuition fees system—which could include reducing the fee cap to £6,000. Student activists have told Socialist Worker that fees should be abolished altogether.
Birmingham City student Frankie Barrett said, “A reduction would be a start. But £6,000 still means that people will have debt hanging over their heads when they leave university—which is a horrible thing to go into work with”.
And Sophie Squire from Sheffield Hallam University said, “Lowering the fees to six grand could mean that more working class students consider going to university. But it still feels like a false promise.
“How long will the fees stay at £6,000 before they raise them again?”
She added, “I’ve also heard that May is going to promise more funding for Stem subjects—sciences and engineering. But what about nursing?
“Student nurses don’t have a bursary anymore because the Tories scrapped it. So now they have to pay for three or four years of university study and training in a hospital”.
Sophie also said the timing of May’s announcement was “suspicious”. Some 40,000 UCU union members at more than 60 universities are set to strike over pensions starting from this Thursday.
It could be the start of a fight for more concessions on university education than May will deliver.
“It feels like suspicious timing that May is going to make this announcement in the same week as the lecturers’ strike,” said Sophie. “It’s as if they want students to be happier with the government and not support the strike”.
And Frankie said, “I suppose Theresa May is doing this because she’s under pressure. There’s bound to be a general election soon and she wants to appeal to young people”.
Both students spoke of the crushing debt that tuition fee and maintenance loans leave students with.
“I’m going to be something like £50,000 in debt,” said Frankie. “Students just accept that we’re never going to be able to pay it all back. It’s like an impossible number hanging over you.”
And Sophie said, “It’s sad because for students that start university now, they’ve grown up accepting that fees will be like this. That you have to pay maybe more than £9,000 a year and probably not even get the job that you trained for at the end of it.
“It’s put people off coming to university. But it also means that students are demoralised as soon as they start studying. They know they’re going to have this debt hanging over them for a long time.”
Sophie argued that the demand to scrap tuition fees is part of a different vision for education.
Education should be free and open to everyone throughout their lives—not treated as a commodity, or simply training for work.
“Lots of people go to university now because capitalism needs a more educated workforce. So when we go to university we’re training to become part of that,” Sophie said.
“But education should be about fulfilment and choice. University should be free because people should have the right to choose to learn.
“The Tories just see education as a commodity,” she added. “You can’t trust a Tory government to deliver better education”.