In the wake of recent protests about rent rises and tuition fee rises I feel it is the need for the silent majority of the student body to stand up for what they really think; that some of the student body need to wake up to the real world. Higher education in this country has been a massive success, 29 universities make up the world’s top 200, and with an estimated 40% of all young people up to 19 in 2013 attending university are just two statistics which show the strength of our Universities and the system in which they operate. Other statistics could mention the kind of financial benefit that they bring to us however I feel that while these are useful statistics they are not relevant for this kind of debate; that University cannot be free for students any longer.
The tuition fee rises led to a plethora of student groups denouncing political parties as evil, out of touch and taking on a group so large that they could lead them to electoral oblivion. One influential protester Clare Solomon claimed that you would see Greece-like scenes of demonstrations, this simply hasn’t happened. Indeed the NUS alternative plan to charge people 1% of their income down to £15,000 salary would be more punitive than the current measure where you have to earn £21,000 a year to pay anything back, the alternative some students claimed they had simply didn’t exist. What has happened, as the understanding of the mechanism has increased people have become calmer about the fees, however recently new protests have emerged.
These protests have been created due to a rise in post graduate fees of 5% and of rents of 2.5%. This has created almost the same disgust they felt in 2010 which has only recently been forgotten. The same day a building was occupied at Lancaster University, George Osborne announced in his Autumn Statement long overdue post-graduate support, taken from think-tank Bright Blue’s Tory Modernisation 2.0, which will now make it affordable to gain a post-graduate education. I asked their group for a view, they didn’t respond, I doubt they even knew it was happening. Some of these protests have had a ridiculous edge to them, such as the one in my university at Lancaster. Signs suggesting the dismantling of borders and the international system and demanding no future rise in fees or rents ever. These protests haven’t been large and there is no suggestion that they represent all student opinion. These occupations often number in the tens not even hundreds let alone thousands.
I feel it is time for normal students to stand up and speak; one side of the argument often the most ludicrous and illiterate is being produced and is being branded as ‘the student opinion’. It is time for the argument that sustaining the university system through a gradual repayments system is fair, that the money given to students from the poorest backgrounds means they don’t have to rely on parents is something we can fully support, and that now even post graduate students are funded. This is a system we can be proud of, that no-one is financially unable to attend a university, and even when near half the population now attends an institution is a remarkable achievement, matched by few if any countries in the world today. The quixotic notion of free education needs to be forgotten, it simply isn’t affordable or practical.
The system is not perfect, the government is looking down a black hole of finance which they need to magic themselves out of. Universities need more money and need to spend it in better areas. We also need more alternatives to University as it is increasingly seen as the next step. These are not small problems, and maybe students should be busier engaging in these issues than small rent and
fee rises which are already going to be covered by a new loans system. If the same energy and action was directed at finding solutions as to occupying buildings maybe us the students ourselves could find our way through the problems and pitfalls which face us.
By Sam Mace, Junior Writer at Daily Political View