Government Wins University Tuition Fees Vote, But So What? Remember the Poll Tax!


After a heated debate in the House of Commons — and an even more heated protest outside the Houses of Parliament  — the coalition government secured Parliamentary approval — by just 21 votes (323 to 302) — for savage cuts to the funding for university teaching, transferring the entire burden for arts, humanities and social sciences teaching onto students (which many people still do not realize), and raising fees from the current rate of £3,290 a year to as much as £9,000 a year.

Ever since the coalition government announced its plans, I have railed against this ideological destruction (under cover of the economic crisis triggered by bankers and corporate tax avoiders), in my articles, 50,000 Students Revolt: A Sign of Much Greater Anger to Come in Neo-Con Britain, Did You Miss This? 100 Percent Funding Cuts to Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Courses at UK Universities, Cameron’s Britain: “Kettling” Children for Protesting Against Savage Cuts to University Funding and Biggest Student Protest on Thursday, as Parliament Votes on Tuition Fees.

Although I was unable to take part in the protest, as I had to attend a Q&A following a screening of the documentary “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” at UCL (the film I co-directed with Polly Nash), I promise that, like many, many other citizens, I will continue to regard this as a fundamental betrayal of young people — and of the principle that a caring State, rather than one based on a particularly callous and indifferent form of self-interest, recognizes that funding university education is good for society as a whole — and I pledge to remain involved in opposition to the implementation of these dangerous and fundamentally unfair plans.

I hope that the momentum of the protests is not lost after the vote, and that people will recall that the Poll Tax was also voted in by Parliament, but was subsequently withdrawn when the people of Britain refused to accept it, and rebelled in vast numbers. The last few weeks have seen the most extraordinary mobilization of schoolchildren, students, lecturers, other university staff, and concerned members of the public — some of whom received a subsidized university education, and who believe that society as a whole should prioritize university education, rather than turning it into an expensive lifestyle choice — and the temptation for determination to turn to despair must be resisted.

My feeling is that this growing movement of dissent will refuse to be quelled, driven, as it appears to be, by schoolchildren, for whom the goverment’s plans, their dubious concessions, and their mealy-mouthed attempts to justify tripling the cost of a degree as somehow “fair,” are completely unacceptable, and by students and other young people who are confronting the failures of the last 31 years of a rigged “free market,” now that the bubble has burst, and are realizing that, instead of making schoolchildren, students, the poor, the unemployed and the disabled pay for the deficit, we should first take aim at those whose greed caused the economic crisis in the first place, and those who, while still profiting enormously, are guilty of systematic tax evasion.

The gap between the rich and the poor in the UK is greater than at any time since the Second World War, and just last month the UN reported that the UK’s wealth gap is one of the highest in “the 30-plus countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, a club for rich nations based in Paris.” Now that protestors have started to notice that the City has been given a free pass by the Tories and their descredited Lib Dem lackeys, and that promises to clamp down on corporate tax evasion are nothing more than soundbites, it shouldn’t be too hard for this new political movement — unaligned to any party — to maintain a focus on how to actually create a fairer society.

It is, I hope, just the start of a genuinely revolutionary time.

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.

17 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Willy Bach wrote:

    Andy, yes, a hollow victory when none of the students are happy and when the coalition has been fractured. David Cameron has much to learn about managing negotiations not by brute force but by consensus. This seems like Conservative ideology, like Thatcherite ideology. It might be their undoing.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    I hope so, Willy. They deserve nothing less. Their ideology, their priorities and their approach are the exact opposite of what we actually need, which is a radical reimagining of the State, and of the role of capitalism and the markets, through, I think, a mixture of socialism, environmentalism and genuine restraints on the excesses of 21st century capitalism that hasn’t even begun to be discussed seriously.

  3. Sharon Tipton says...

    Hi Andy….Like you, I am encouraged to see the young people rising up to fight for their future. We need to support them by educating and organizing with them! I hope the protests haven’t been violent, and am glad the police there don’t have tasers (do they?) or sound canyons, etc. I just watched Battle in Seattle and didn’t even realize that these concerned youth actually shut down the 1999 WTO! We can do great things together! Thank you for working so hard and tell my people (I am a Tipton, you know!) that I am in solidarity with you all!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Sharon. Well, there was violence, because a lot of young people have failed to accept that protest must be toothless and everyone must go home early! The scenes yesterday actually reminded me of the famous “London Mob,” a kind of spontaneous outpouring of massed human dissent which regularly used to rise up against the powers-that-be in centuries past.
    Violence will shake the government, but ultimately it’s numbers that will convince them to change their minds. I’d like to see some massed non-violent direct action next year. People are talking about it …

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Betty Molchany wrote:

    Done, Andy, joined and clicked on Digg, to make it three. I assume that is what you need us to do as well as click on the link to the article.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Willy Bach wrote:

    Andy, as we will probably agree, the first step needs to be investment in the teaching of critical thinking and an end to corporatisation and managerialism in universities. The idea that a university is a business and the students its customers is a ludicrous construct. The privatisation of knowledge stifles innovation (whereas the Thatcherites believe that it incentiates – coz everyone is driven by money init?)

    The academic integrity of the institution is further compromised by securitisation and militarisation which choke off free expression and produce mainly zombie drones.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Paris Honyben-Revesz wrote:

    I have recently removed two of my three children from mainstream education and am now home educating. I could no longer support the way the (primary) school system operates with total disregard toward the needs of the individual in order to achieve better overall test results. I feel this relates to the phrases ‘corporatisation and managerialism’ and also ‘The idea that a university is a business and the students its customers is a ludicrous construct’ as above.
    Streaming abilities in primary school has also made a return with no regard to the psychological development of the pupils.
    I am not surprised at the way education is being slowly removed from the hands of those with less income. We have had to bear appalling school conditions for some years now because those who can afford to send their children to the ‘better’ schools do so by buying a house within the catchment area…not an option for those in council accommodation.
    Fuck the education system.!
    My little free thinkers do not need it … they will learn from the injustices they witness from the outside and if they choose to be a part of institutional education …. perhaps they’ll have to rob the lives of the rich in order to feed the brains of the poor.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Betty, yes, joining Digg and “Digging” articles helps to get them noticed — if enough people do it! Just one of the many networking possibilities … Thanks.
    Thanks also, Willy, for that insight, with which I agree completely, and Paris for that heartfelt response to the machinery of primary education. Believe me, I’ve had this conversation many times, as I have a son who is 11 next week. I could go on …

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Paris Honyben-Revesz wrote:

    My child that IS still in mainstream education went to Myatt Garden Primary, Lewisham ….my younger two were not granted the same ‘privilege’….this leads me to ponder why my eldest is happy to stick with the mainstream…..a decent (although not perfect) primary education methinks?
    As far as university education goes…my mainstream educated child is NOT encouraged by her Secondary school to seek a University education…..the feeling in my gut is that the teachers feel that as a family not from middle/upper class background we do not consider it an option……therefore they do not bother to offer it….
    This was my experience during my education in the 80’s and nothing has changed….

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    I can’t begin to tell you how weird that is, Paris (clue: I live in Lewisham too).

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Paris Honyben-Revesz wrote:

    I know!…you big dafty!….My husband and I plus two of our brood came to see the viewing of The Battle of the Beanfield film at the Broca earlier this year…then I saw you at the summer fair!

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Didn’t realize it was you!

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Paris Honyben-Revesz wrote:

    ha ha!….without the balaclava!

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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