Why I’ll Be Attending the Demonstration Against University Cuts on November 10

7.11.10

On Wednesday November 10, a demonstration against the coalition government’s cuts to university funding, “Fund Our Future: Stop Education Cuts,” organized by the National Union of Students (NUS) and the University and College Union (UCU), is taking place in central London. Assembly is at 11.30 am on Horse Guards Avenue, between Whitehall and Victoria Embankment, London SW1. A map is here, on the UCU website.

Since the coalition government began hypnotizing the British public, persuading us that we are bankrupt (when we are not), and that we must all tighten our belts (although the jowls of David Cameron and George Osborne show no signs of shrinking), it is as if a malignant occupying army has seized control of the UK, treating dialogue and moderation as vices and insisting that only swingeing cuts will cure our economic malaise.

The fact that these reforms are, almost universally, arrogant and ill-conceived does not trouble our new masters, and they are similarly unconcerned that the cure might make the illness worse, stifling growth rather than helping to create it. They are also using some sort of cloak of invisibility to shield the City from scrutiny, levying just £2.5 bn a year on the engineers of the financial crisis that led to the deficit (which will largely be offset by cuts in corporation tax), while cutting £18 bn from the welfare budget, and £2.9 bn from the university teaching budget (a 40 percent cut, from £7.1 bn to £4.2 bn).

To compensate, fees are to rise from £3,290 a year to somewhere between £6,000 and £9.000 a year, which, with maintenance fees of £5,500 a year, means that a university education will leave students between £34,500 and £43,500 in debt when they begin their working lives. It is not all doom and gloom: the threshold at which graduates will be required to repay their loans will rise from £15,000 to £21,000, which is a distinct improvement, and there, is apparently, to be a £150 m pot for poorer students, although it remains to be seen how that will work in practice.

Overall, however, this is another example of the coalition government’s almost pathological determination to take an axe to issues that might be better approached with a skilled surgeon’s hand. Nevertheless, support for this enormous transfer of the cost of a university education from the state to an individual (which ought to sound the death knell for the Liberal Democrats, who strenuously opposed it before Nick Clegg signed his Faustian deal with David Cameron) has been defended in unlikely quarters. In the Guardian, for example, Polly Toynbee wrote, “ In an ideal world all education would be free, but in a world of scrimp and pinch can you make families whose children will never graduate pay in taxes for the ones born to be life’s winners?”

This, to my mind, rather simplistically sweeps away the notion that university education benefits society as a whole, like welfare and health and education and public transport, and might, therefore, be worth subsidizing by pursuing corporate tax evaders and asking the City to pay more for its sins rather than imposing cuts and raising fees by 100 to 200 percent, which will ensure that, as Toynbee conceded, “UK fees will be the highest in the world for state universities.”

As with every other target of the coalition government’s cuts, the Etonian butchers’ success relies on people failing to look at the bigger picture, to ask why such drastic measures are needed and whether they are not ideological rather than strictly necessary, and, to reiterate, also involves people turning a blind eye to those other possible sources of funding: the City and its unfettered robber barons, and the tax evaders of the corporate world.

Note: See here for a report on the demonstration, and for more thoughts on the Con-Dem government’s assault on university education, and see here for all my posts on the “Battle for Britain: Fighting the Coalition Government’s Vile Ideology.”

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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The Battle of the Beanfield

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Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

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Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

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