From education to employment

Unions join forces to pressure government

The University and College Union (UCU) has backed thousands of students from across the UK in a call to abolish university tuition fees.

Speaking at a demonstration held on Sunday 29th October 2006, Paul Mackney, UCU joint general secretary, addressed the mass demonstration in London’s Trafalgar Square in support of the National Union of Students (NUS) campaign highlighting rising student debt levels.

He said: “It was students and lecturers who said that increasing tuition fees would turn certain people off university and it was us who warned that a market in higher education would lead to students choosing courses based on cost not suitability. I very much doubt it is just students and lecturers who are surprised that we were right”.

“Anyone who believes that charging more for degrees is the way to encourage the most able candidates to apply to, or even consider, university is living in a dream world. The government only sneaked this punitive legislation through the last Parliament because of its huge majority”.

“We are the fourth largest economy in the world. Ministers constantly warn us that we need to raise the skills base to keep up with the rest of the world and to compete with the large number of graduates coming out of the emerging economies. Yet, the government still refuses to properly fund higher education”.

The rally has come on the back of continued pressure by the NUS to remove the restrictive tuition fees, and follows a recent ICM poll commissioned by the union that indicates 74% of the general public believe rising tuition fees are putting students off applying to university.

Over 1,000 people were polled and asked if £33,000 for a three-year degree would discourage students from going into higher education. The overwhelming majority (74%) agreed that the cost was too high.

A statement released last week indicated that the 74% figure “was consistent through all social groups and across most age ranges”.

Four-fifths of the “baby boomer” generation, the first to benefit from free higher education, agreed that the cost would act as a major deterrent. The figures come just one week after the University and College Admissions Service (UCAS) announced a drop in university applications.

NUS president Gemma Tumelty said: “This poll shows that the public is saying what we are saying: that top-up fees will deter students, students who have the ability and aspiration to go to university but cannot afford the price tag”.

“15,000 less students arrived on campuses this autumn – the equivalent of the entire population of Coventry University. This demonstration is about showing the government and the public what students really think about the top-up fees regime. Students are angry, and calls for the £3,000 cap to be lifted are making them angrier. It is time that the Government stopped spinning this policy and started listening to us, to the students, to those paying the price”.

And Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Secretary, Sarah Teather, commented on the furore: “Ministers need a reality check if they think top-up fees don”t deter people from going to university. This poll goes some way to explaining recent statistics showing less people applied to university last year”.

“The Government must reconsider this damaging policy that is clearly distorting the educational decisions young people have to make. Concern about incurring tens of thousands of pounds of debt unsurprisingly puts young people, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, from further study”.

She added: “School leavers opting to study for a degree face an unprecedented burden of debt affecting their ability to buy homes, start families and save for old age.”

Vijay Pattni.

What do you think about university fees?

Have your say ““ email the Editor: [email protected].

Related FE News articles:

Students to Rally Against Tuition Fees ““ 19/10/06

“Admission:Impossible” ““ 08/09/06

Unions Join to Curb Student Exploitation ““ 01/09/06

Related Articles