5 reasons to march for Free Education on November 19th
On November 19th, at midday in Central London, thousands of people from across the country will join the march for free education, organised by a coalition of student organisations.
Here are 5 reasons why you should get involved:
1. Fees cost us all, not just students.
The IFS recently published a report that stated: “The government’s 2012 reforms to higher education (HE) funding in England now look like they will do little to reduce the total taxpayer contribution per student”. Burdening students with intolerable debt and thrusting them out into an economy with worrying youth unemployment is not saving anyone any money.
There is an alarming link between both mental and physical health and student debt, set only to get worse under higher fees. Not only is this terrible for the graduates struggling under the debt, but disastrous for the NHS and the economy at large. Tuition fee rises have also become a significant barrier to mature students applying to university, with applications down more than 15%. Being able to retrain and expand your skill set throughout life is vital for personal development and a robust and vibrant economy, and the fees are clearly becoming a barrier to attaining these goals.
When asked what are the game changers for deciding to invest in an area, companies surprisingly don’t mention taxation levels or labour laws: a highly educated community is one of the top things they’re really after. Education is what is termed a ‘fiscal multiplier’- it more than pays for itself further down the line. By burdening those that pursue higher education with enormous debt, we’re placing a straight-jacket on the economy.
2. Education is a great leveller.
Education has, in the words of Nelson Mandela, the potential to be: “the most powerful tool you can use to change the world”. It can level the playing field, cutting through patriarchy, class privilege, racism, and bigotry. It not only aids us all in bypassing our prejudices, but increases social mobility and cohesion.
All of this is put in jeopardy by effectively pricing sections of the population out of an education, dragging us back into a rigid social hierarchy of days gone past, rather than moving us towards a progressive, vibrant future. As the figures for the years following the fee increases show, there has been a significant decline in applications for undergraduate courses, particularly amongst part-time students who are substantially more likely to come from deprived backgrounds.
3. We’re churning out passive ‘consumers’ of knowledge and skills, rather than engaged, critical thinkers.
As Noam Chomsky puts it: “Students who acquire large debts putting themselves through school are unlikely to think about changing society. When you trap people in a system of debt they can’t afford the time to think.”
We’ve all seen the ‘Least Employable Degree’s’ blogs online, scoffing at Philosophy and Drama undergrads, as if getting a job was the only purpose to university. Whatever happened to immersing yourself in a passionate quest for knowledge? Of exploring the richness and complexity of the cosmos? Of learning to question and critique and innovate? It all went down the drain the moment student’s had to start worrying about paying off gigantic debt, in a fiercely competitive job market tilted in the employers favour.
4. A shifting agenda is creeping into Higher Education.
The pursuit of ‘profit’ can mean slashing courses, sacrificing staff jobs, and opting for ‘distance learning’ rather than personal contact. Those staff that do stay, in many places, are overworked and underpaid, and the student’s whose courses do remain, often receive inadequate contact hours and lengthy feedback times.
Lecturers talk of student’s expecting to be handed things on a platter, rather than go through the intellect-building struggles to discover more independently because ‘we’re paying £9000 a year’. Universities increasingly ‘compete’ for a share of the ‘market’, rather than collaborate with one another in a search for knowledge and truth. And the agenda of ‘employability’ pervades through all of this, with student’s too busy jumping through hoops to care about anything more.
Quite simply, the marketization of the sector is killing education.
5. We have a chance to revitalise youth politics.
Nowhere is the appalling neglect of young people by politicians more evident, and the subsequent disconnect by the former more justified, than in the issue of tuition fees. Labour introduced them, the Conservatives tripled them, and the Lib Dems sat silent, despite winning an election largely off a pledge to scrap them: no wonder young people want nothing to do with mainstream politics.
This disconnect, most evident in disproportionately low election turn-out, has led to young people being the forgotten demographic of the main parties, bearing the brunt of austerity, and neglected in policy. But, as I have argued before, the number of 18-24 year olds that didn’t turn out to vote in the last election was just under double the number needed for Labour to have closed the gap between them and the Conservatives. Put simply, the day young people turn out to vote in force, they’ll hold the balance of power.
Now is the time for young people to seize this empowerment and start to demand things of the political system, rather than shying away from it. As Heydon Prowse puts it, the most radical thing an 18-34 year old can do now is vote: so let’s do that and then some. This march is a chance to begin a movement that dispels myths about apathetic students and demands a new direction for education that is inclusive, progressive, and exciting.
Education is too precious to be left to the brutality of the market, and the march on November 19th is an excellent place to launch a new wave of youth engagement in politics. Let’s make the Establishment sit up and listen.