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Fight for free education

Jan 25 2008 11:59
Caroline Clark
Caroline Clark wants ICU to fight for free education.
Caroline Clark

With the suspension of the Union?s policy on Higher Education funding last term, the Council said they wanted to gauge student opinion on the matter. You might ask why the President wanted to conduct a survey instead of having a referendum. After having a look at a draft of the survey last term, I can guess at the reason why ? it asks vague questions about things such as who should be applying to university rather than asking definite questions on how university education should be funded, which should leave the few people pushing for new policy enough room to interpret the results however they wish. Throughout this whole process certain people on Council have stressed the importance of having a debate on this issue, while at the same time doing everything possible to inhibit the debate. At a meeting of the Representation and Welfare Board where the questions in the draft survey were supposed to be debated, the discussion was halted after several minutes and people were asked to voice their opinions by email rather than being able to discuss them with everyone else present. So what are the main points in this debate?

Firstly, our Union should fight for free education because any other policy would only weaken our position as a Student?s Union. If we fight for a cap on top up fees, how do we decide what ?cap? is suitable? In this situation, the Rector?s position in favour become harder to fight against. If we fought for the cap to remain at £3,000 thinking that it?s the best we?re going to get, then we are accepting that the free market should dictate Higher Education. Furthermore, if entrance to universities is dominated by the free market, then Universities will continually compete to increase fees, and it will become harder and harder for people to afford to go to University.

Secondly, the main duty of a Student?s Union is to take a principled stand on issues that affect students. Fighting for free education is not because people ?prefer something free over something you have to now pay for? as the President previously said; it is because people who can?t afford to pay the top up fees are being excluded from going to University out of fear of the resulting debt.

The previous Union policy stated that ?Top-up fees have created a market in Higher Education which hinders the involvement of those students who come from backgrounds with historically low participation rates.? They also said that the Union believed that ?any ?review? by the Government is likely to be a sham, designed to smooth the passage of unrestricted top-up fees.? As I have noted before, I believe that this comment should be applied to the review of this policy by the Council; it has been a sham, aimed at pushing through opinions which aren?t representative of the student population at Imperial. So I urge you to reflect the arguments made in this article in your responses to the Union?s survey.

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Discussion about “Fight for free education”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
Jan 25 2008 12:03
 

"it is because people who can?t afford to pay the top up fees are being excluded from going to University out of fear of the resulting debt."

That is not what the figures say..... Lets see the evidence

Jan 25 2008 12:15
 

a) There is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone will have to foot the bill in the end, which includes the students themselves, at some future date. Either pay now, or pay later.

b)"if entrance to universities is dominated by the free market, then Universities will continually compete to increase fees, and it will become harder and harder for people to afford to go to University."

Such a statement clearly demonstrates a lack of knowledge of "market forces". If universities continually (and presumably, indefinitely) compete for increased fees, then tuition fees will be infinite, in which case, no one would go to university, and universities would earn zero money from tuition fees. Flawed argument.

The market, as in any efficient society, will determine prices effectively, and quickly. Simple solution.

Jan 25 2008 17:26
 

The real issue is twofold

1. Should students be accepted to the top Universities based on their academic abilities alone, irrelevant of their ability to pay.

2. As the government has money allocated for HE why is this not sufficient for the tuition of all HE Students.

There are many sides to the debate and I feel mine holds a kind of centre ground, I'm not saying other opinions are wrong just that what follows is a reasonable compromise.

To attend and excel at a top university many will agree that the vast majority of a students time should be spent studying, whilst in no means denying students time to work and earn money and valuable skills, no student should have to rely on this money for food books rent etc.

Likewise the current system of means testing of the parental income does not adequately look at parental outgoings, creating a situation where the authorities assume the parents can donate a cetrain amount of money to the student and so reduce the amount the student is allocated accordingly.

Now on the question of why there is not enough money for the government to pay tuition fees for all uk students.

There has bee under labour a vast increase in students sgoing on to HE study, however there is not proportionally more money to give to th universities so the money per head is being reduced.

I shall leave it to your own judgement whether the government should allocate more money to insitutions such as Imperial, Oxford, Cambridge, or whether they should continue to value all degrees the same monetarily.

Jan 25 2008 17:52
 

Nice, so you want to tax the poor (via general taxation) to pay for the rich (okay, and the poor) students, who don't pay tax, to go to university for free.

Robin Hood would turn in his grave.

Jan 27 2008 18:23
 

"I would have to pay $52,000 a year without the scholarship" Luckily for my American friend, his university paid for his study.

Can the model used by the US elite universities work in the UK? I think so. This is what some high power Imperialites in the Blue Cube is working towards, raising ?207million for various projects, including a substantial Student Opportunity Fund... I think.

Having graduated from Imperial, one of the World's best universities, I expect to earn a "decent" salary and pay some serious tax every year end. If the government is going keep funding the increasing expensive HE sector, the tax rates are likely to rise and I am likely to have to foot the bill at the end of the day.

"Pay now, or pay later" - so true.

I for one wouldn't want to pay now, but have we got any other options? Yes. Free education for all, paid for by the government! - the NUS loves this! and what a great idea. The government and the NUS also want these universities to remain globally competitive whilst widen the participation rate! So... to do this, we need to pump more money into the system... But does anyone want to pay more tax?? I don't think so!

University by definition is "elitist" surely, or else why bother going? Able students, rich or poor, deserve to go to universities. I personally don't believe anyone should be rejected for a place at Imperial or other good universities on the bases of affordability. Nor should paying be part of the students' consideration during their application at the first place.

This issue should be turned on its head. What does widening participation mean? Does it mean more people in the population to go to universities? Or is it allowing poorer, yet capable students to attend good and proper universities? In the end of the day? someone must pay!

6. Hmmm   
Jan 27 2008 21:07
 

If you read the minutes of RWB the original intention was to get 25% of Home and EU students participating in this survey and to have the results by early January.

Given the lack of any publicity apart from a page or so in felix, a mention in the weekly email from the president and a Live! article or two, is this likely to be realistic? What happened to grand plans of panel debates with Gemma Tumelty, the current Rector and his successor?

If you really believe that higher education should be paid for by students now. Do you think those leading the debate have considered what we will revise our HE policy to? Or are we to simply adopt the NUS policy without question (the ruthless vigor of council aside)?

7. RWB   
Jan 28 2008 10:24
 

"You might ask why the President wanted to conduct a survey instead of having a referendum."

Because a referendum requires a Yes/No answer to a single question. Hardly a policy informing exercise.

"It (the survey) asks vague questions about things such as who should be applying to university rather than asking definite questions on how university education should be funded"

The first section asks questions delving into the background and purpose of Higher Education.

The next THREE sections ask questions only related to funding. Proportionally there are far more funding related questions than 'vague' ones looking for direction and opinion to back up our eventual policy. There is no point in having a policy that says 'We want free education' if it collapses when someone asks 'why?'.

"At a meeting of the Representation and Welfare Board where the questions in the draft survey were supposed to be debated, the discussion was halted after several minutes and people were asked to voice their opinions by email rather than being able to discuss them with everyone else present."

Because noone could come up with anything to do with the content of the questions. We were discussing spelling and grammar problems and nothing related to how important it was that we get the questions right. The questions were altered from one of Caroline's comments to maintain consistency. Every member of the Board and additional invited members (Caroline Clark as one of them) were encouraged to email further suggestions, changes, improvements, ANYTHING to the DPEW. The fact that nobody made any comments, despite having taken a copy of the draft questions home, until after the Survey was released is very disappointing.

8. Seb   
Jan 28 2008 12:40
 

Simply running a campaign based on "free education for all" is not going to work, not while the total number of people in education are rising.

You need to look at tuition fees in the wider context of the shortfall in funding.

This is a very real problem for places like Imperial, as science and engineering courses make a loss overall (about ?3k a year getting on for 8 years ago, larger now) for the university.

This is why places like Kings are having to close science departments. In practice, for Imperial this means declining quality of teaching and facilities. I belive also (though I may be wrong) a lot of Imperials infrastructure was built on borrowing against the increased income from fees... that puts our institution on a very fine knife.

The simple, hard response for a campaign for free education to all is "tough, we can't afford it", because the current funding formula mean that an extra ?1000 spent by the government teaching a maths student at Imperial is equivalent to somewhat more goping to every other student in the country, including people doing degrees in media studies somewhere else.

You either need to campaign for variable HEFCE funding for different courses/ institutions, variable fees per institution. Indeed, it is very easy to dismiss a political argument of flat funding for all on the basis of "subsidy for the middle classes", that requires the idea of students as poor individuals independent of their parents.

All in all, this is an incredibly complex issue, and if you are campaigning with the serious intention of making change, rather than for the sake of feeling good, any campaign has to be practicaly possible, politicaly acceptable. And finally, the Union isn't just another module of the student movement, first and foremost it should be campaigning for our needs as students of Imperial. Campaigning on a platform that will, if applied across the HE sector, deteriment the quality of our teaching, as some funding models do, would be flat our wrong.

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