University Top-up Fees

We are publishing a leaflet which was distributed at a number of universities in November last year. The proposed increases in top-up fees, will hit students hard and most will have 5 figure debts before they even start their first job. When New Labour said in the 1997 election that they believed in “education, education, education” they forgot to mention that they also intended to make students pay for it. The increased charges for education are clearly preventing poorer students, namely those from the working class, from going to university.

The system of charging £3000 top-up fees only came into force last autumn and already they are softening us up for increasing it. A recent survey of the heads of universities, including the elite Russell group which comprises the top 20 universities, said top-up fees would need to be increased to between £6000 and £10 000. It has also been stated that the treasury is going to charge interest on the loans as well as the present inflation charge. Apparently, since 1991, students have borrowed £22 bn but the state has only managed to claw £5 bn back. The situation of university students is, therefore, going to get a lot worse than it is at present.

The leaflet points to two issues which we wish to re-emphasise. The first of these is the link between the numbers of university graduates and the needs of British capitalism. In the 1960’s, only about 5% of 18 year-olds went to university, but now the figure is nearer 50%. As the industrial base of Britain collapsed and the economy became predominantly a service one, more graduates were needed to do skilled jobs. However, they were required to do these jobs at the wages of manual workers. The second is that this attack on university students is part of a more general process of eroding the entire social settlement which followed the Second World War. Benefits provided by the state through taxation, such as social security, health care, pensions, etc., are all under attack throughout Europe and the US. This is a result of the general problems of the capitalist system and the attempt by the ruling class to reduce the costs of labour. This shows how the problems of university students are not an isolated assault by our rulers; they are a symptom of the problems of the entire capitalist system.

The leaflet has been reproduced on our web site and we encourage anyone who wants to give it out to reproduce and distribute it. Alternatively write to the group address and we will send a bundle of leaflets.

No to Top-up Fees - No To Paying for Education

The proposal to remove the cap from top up fees is likely to increase them from the present level of £3000 per year to anything up to £10 000 per year. This is likely to increase the debt students are saddled with when they leave university from the present average of around £15 000 to about £25 000. This proposal is only the latest of a long series of attacks on students which have been going on for the last 25 years. Whereas in the decades after the Second World War, higher education tuition was free and maintenance largely grant funded, today all students are forced to pay for both tuition and maintenance themselves. Today our rulers tell us that these massive charges, which in the 1960’s and 1970’s would have been regarded as an outrage, are inevitable, are part of 21st century reality etc. Why is this?

The ending of free education is part of a more general attack on the entire post war social settlement. All state benefits, such as welfare, health, pensions together with education are being eroded. The reason for this is to be found in the declining profitability of the capitalist economy. Capitalists must find ways to counter this decline in profitability or capitalism will collapse. Two key ways of doing this, which are being put into practice in all the metropolitan countries, are:

  • Cutting back on state expenditures. For education this means that instead of the state providing free education students must foot the bill.
  • Reducing the costs of labour power. i.e. cutting wages and salaries.

British capitalism now needs more skilled workers and hence more university graduates. This is one of the consequences of the collapse of Britain’s industrial base and the increase in the number of service industry jobs. However, it needs to train these skilled workers as cheaply as possible and so it’s making them pay for their own education. Students are being forced to accept this by being threatened with an alternative of stacking supermarket shelves or answering the telephone in a call centre, or unemployment. If the capitalist class can force students to pay for their education on credit there is the added advantage that, as skilled workers, they will start work with massive debts. This produces not only a skilled, cheap workforce but also a subservient one. In addition, since students do not start repaying their loans until they earn £15 000, they have an incentive to take low paid jobs.

The clear aim of these measures is to lower wages and so restore the global competitiveness of the UK capitalism.

Universities are today capitalist enterprises. They generate income by charging students for education, by fleecing foreign students, by charging industry for research and study work and by screwing down lecturers’ and staff wages. Education under capitalism is at root education for a life of wage labour. Young people are taught the skills capitalism requires and trained to submit themselves to exploitation through the system of wage labour, for the rest of their lives. Education is presented as a commodity which, like all commodities in capitalist society, has a cost and it is only natural that students must pay for it. In reality this is not natural any more than capitalism itself is natural. Education should be to develop an individual’s real potential, to develop independent and critical thinking, to develop a true understanding of the world. However under capitalism education is equivalent to “breaking the colt to the whip”. Its real objective is to make the next generation of workers submit to a system which is in direct contradiction to human nature.

The forces driving the Government’s attacks on students are rooted in capitalism’s economic needs. The fight by students to resist these attacks can produce a temporary pause but cannot reverse the process underway. This is because these attacks are symptoms of deeper and more general problems within the capitalist system. The only effective way to fight these attacks in the longer term is to link resistance to the wider struggle against capitalism itself. This is the struggle to replace capitalism with a more advanced system of production. Instead of a system based on wage labour and producing for profit, we need to create a system which abolishes wage labour and produces for human needs. This system, which we call communism, but which has no connection with the system of state capitalism which existed in Russia before 1991, is the only solution to the crises of capitalist society and its resulting problems such as those of education. It is the only way to avoid the catastrophe into which capitalism is dragging humanity. The revolutionary struggle is the only route to a better world!

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