The government’s white paper outlines the proposed changes to the structure of higher education. Currently there is a quota of 406,000 university places. Under the proposed changes, 85,000 of these places will be opened up to competition. Of these 85,000 20,000 places will be competed for by universities charging £7,500, 65,000 will be for students who achieved AAB or above at A-level. This will lead to a two-tiered system, with a small number of elite universities and a lower pool of universities offering poorly funded, badly taught programs. These will be mainly provided by for-profit companies who’ll be given access to government-backed loans.
The government has asserted that this is to provide students with more choice and to ‘put students at the heart of the system’. However, the actions of students in the last year, as well as our presence here today, shows that students have chosen to have a public education system.
What the white paper really means is giving the private sector almost complete control over higher education and knowledge production. In the case of universities, it’s essential that we have independent, reflective institutions that aren’t tethered to the short-term interests of profit but genuinely seek to safeguard human welfare. It has been shown time and time and time again that the interests of private companies conflict with the long term interests of the public at large. Companies like Enron, News Corp and RBS cannot be allowed to dictate what is studied and researched at universities.
The white paper will not save the government money either in the short or long term. By 2015 the debt from student loans will have more than tripled from 24 billion to 75 billion. By 2047 conservative estimates predict that student loan debt will have reached £192 billion. Currently student loans increase only with inflation. Under the new system loans will increase at market rates meaning that students will be doubly screwed by an average of £40,000 personal debt plus the higher taxes implicated by the £192 billion of public debt.
Private for-profit companies are being helped into the higher education system. When the white paper goes through non-teaching bodies-like edexcel- and further education colleges will be given degree awarding powers. The entrance of these new providers combined with the cap on student numbers mean that many traditional universities will go bust. These will be given free of charge to the private sector in return for assuming their liabilities. In effect the government is deliberately giving away its infrastructure free to the rich. At present all the surplus from universities is reinvested into the system. The government’s extension of the student loan system to private companies means that huge amounts of public money will be creamed off as profit.
This creates a system like what happens in the US. A small number of elite universities that are totally closed to 95% of the population combined with a large number of badly funded expensive sub-prime institutions. American Universities spend a ridiculous 35% of their budget on advertising. This is not a system we want to emulate.
Our generation is being completely fucked over by a generation that were paid for going to University. We will have to pay back the cost of subsidising the rich, pay off our huge personal debts and deal with the social costs of a University system for the benefit of the elite. Once the white paper goes through and the wolves are through the door there is no turning back. We need to act now before it’s too late. Students need to get out in support of their lecturers on November 30th, unions on campus are fighting hard to defend against threats posed by the white paper proposals.