Wednesday, June 23, 2010

United for Education – Investment not Cuts!

A broad coalition of education unions have united to defend education against the brutal assault the coalition government is carrying out.

The National Union of Students has taken the welcomed step to join forces with the ATL, EIS, GMB, UCU, UNITE and UNISON in the United for Education coalition.

United for Education has launched a petition which has thousands of signatures:

We the undersigned note that the new government is planning further cuts to public spending at a time when the sector has suffered cuts of hundreds of millions of pounds leading to the loss of thousands of jobs and placing tens of thousands more at risk.

We further note that for the first time in decades our education sector is shrinking and a generation will be locked out of the education system.

We believe that education is a gateway to aspiration and a condition of future prosperity, and we urge the government to emulate those countries who are investing in education to combat the recession.

We therefore support the United for Education coalition's call to stop the cuts in colleges and universities and to return to proper investment in the interests of our communities and our future prosperity.”

You can sign the petition here:

The coalition has also tabled an Early Day Motion which rejects the idea of lifting the cap on student top-up fees and points out that investment in education, rather than cuts, will ensure a skilled workforce to aid economic recovery. You can read the EDM, including which MPs have signed it here:

47 MPs have signed up so far – now is the time to lobby our MPs asking them to sign up too.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Open letter to Aaron Porter, NUS President-Elect, from the Free Education Campaign

Dear NUS President Aaron Porter,

The forthcoming year will be absolutely critical for students.

The new government has already set out its stall: £200 million of cuts to the higher education budget and 10,000 university places slashed.

These cuts come in the wake of the £1 billion cuts made to university budgets earlier this year.

At the same time the Tories seem to be lining up, alongside Vice Chancellors and big business, to back even higher tuition fees.

The Lib Dems MPs have formally agreed to abstain on any vote in Parliament if proposals to increase tuition fees are brought forward.

At NUS National Conference, delegates voted to support your Blueprint ‘Funding Our Future’ which argues that students should pay more for higher education than they already do, by replacing tuition fees with a graduate tax.

Delegates also voted against a motion to “oppose all education cuts” and instead backed your motion which insisted that “any cuts proposed to higher education finance must be carefully thought through, and must not come at the expense of students.”

In ‘Invest in Education – Not to Cuts: The case for greater state investment in higher education’ we set out a clear alternative. Using the government’s own figures we show how investing in free education would not only pay for itself, but would help to raise growth across the economy into the future. We believe that without investment in free education Britain will face relative economic decline.

This perspective is shared by Nobel prize-winning economist and former head of the World Bank, Professor Joseph E. Stiglitz who has said “{We need} investments in technology, education and infrastructure… such spending will stimulate the economy and create jobs in the short run and promote growth and debt reduction in the long run.”

Unfortunately, at National Conference instead of engaging in a serious debate about what position NUS should take in this critical year, you and your predecessor chose to rubbish our arguments as “pub economics.”

The debate at Conference also suffered from the fact that only a handful of 60 one minute speeches were allocated for each side.

Students need a proper, open debate on education funding policy, where both sides have equal opportunity to put forward their case and response - something which did not happen at this year’s NUS National Conference.

The Free Education Campaign, therefore, challenges you to a debate at the HE Cuts Conference (29th June) where you can defend NUS’ policy on education cuts and proposals for a graduate tax that you outline in ‘Funding Our Future.’

We look forward to your response.


Free Education Campaign

Evidence from Lancaster University shows that investment is vital for a successful higher education system

By Mary Robertson, SOAS

Lancaster University has soared up the Times Good University Guide league tables this year following a huge investment programme. Lancaster increased its ranking from 23rd last year to 10th this year, joining the likes of Oxford, Cambridge and University College London in the prestigious top ten.

The improvement follows a £300 million investment programme, which saw over £300 per student being spent on improving university facilities last year.

Lancaster University showed improvements in seven of the eight measures used in compiling the league tables. These include student satisfaction, research quality and degree results. Particularly notable is the increase in the proportion of graduates finding employment or starting on other courses. Lancaster’s rate increased from 64% last year to 78% this year – an improvement that is all the more remarkable for occurring in the midst of a recession when overall graduate unemployment is rising.

These figures provide clear evidence of the contribution that investment in education makes to students and the wider economy. Investment of £300 per student reduced the graduate unemployment rate for students at Lancaster University by 14%. Nationally, the government would recoup the cost of this investment in saved dole money alone, not to mention the increased tax take resulting from higher numbers in employment – which includes both students and those employed to carry out the investment.

The message is clear: investment in education pays, and yet this government’s first announcement on higher education is that it intends to cut 10,000 places. This is an economically illiterate policy that will harm students and the economy in the short and long run.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

David Willetts says students are “a burden on the taxpayer” - Free Education Campaign response

David Willetts has claimed that students studying in higher education are “a burden on the taxpayer that has to be tackled.”

Willetts further remarked that whilst he was not “assuming that fees should rise”, he did suggest that university fees should be viewed as more of “an obligation to pay higher income tax” than debt.

The NUS President-Elect, Aaron Porter, has made a welcome statement criticising Willetts’ attempt to “rebrand” student debt as tax, stating that the government should focus on reducing student debt, in line with the expectations of voters. Aaron Porter also attacked Willetts’ claim that students are a burden on the taxpayer as “dangerously undervaluing the benefit of higher education to society.”

Kanja Sesay, NUS Black Students’ Officer-Elect, said:

“Willetts’ suggestion that university students are a burden on the tax payer is completely absurd. The government’s own figures show that the £23bn currently being spent on higher education each year produces an economic return of £60bn. The facts speak for themselves – students are making a massive contribution towards simulating and reviving our economy.

The current system of higher education funding is a disaster – because of the burden it places on students. Students face soaring debts of £23,000 which takes decades to pay back.

The government’s figures confirm that the whole of society benefits from a highly educated workforce. Therefore the government should increase state investment in higher education, in order to end student debt and fund an expansion of the sector which will ensure Britain that has the highly skilled workforce we need to revive our economy and be internationally competitive into the future.”

Commenting on whether tuition fees should be increased, Kanja said:

“Students should not be burdened with more debt, whether that is higher tuition fees or any other methods of charging students more including NUS’ proposed graduate tax. We should be discussing how to create a free system of higher education, including the scrapping of tuition fees.”

David Willetts also said “the NUS have called consistently for a graduate tax. My argument is that if you really look at the current system it is closer to a graduate tax, a 9% tax, which is capped when you have paid off the costs of university education.” We do not need a debate discussing how much or by what methods students should pay for their education. Instead we should we discussing how to abolish student debt.

The Free Education Campaign will be putting forward the arguments on how government investment in higher education contributes to increased growth and productivity and exploring ways in which the widest possible access to education can be attained.

To contact the Free Education Campaign please email: