Student involvement needed to defeat top-up fees
The introduction of top fees by the Labour Government this year has created much unease amongst the student population, particularly for those in first year. The resulting average academic debt of around £9,000 for a three-year degree doesn’t even consider living and transport costs. The 16.7% drop in UCAS applications this year has been attributed to the fact that those from less wealthy backgrounds have been discouraged from entering third level education by the prospect of being burdened with this debt.
On Thursday December 14th, the Socialist Worker Student Society (SWSS) hosted a debate on how to defeat tuition fees. Ben Preston, President of Queen’s Student Union spoke alongside Sean Mitchell from SWSS. Both speakers agreed that tuition fees must be defeated and this can only be done through the involvement of students.
There was a general consensus at the meeting that the only way to engage students was to explore creative ways of mobilising them – a concert was one suggestion. The issue needs to be highlighted and the population made aware of their rights. Some argued that the general public must challenge government claims of a lack of money for education. Surely considering the £12bn which has been spent on the war in Iraq thus far, and the estimated £20bn to be spent on replacing Trident these claims are totally untrue? These proposals were made in the hope that more awareness among students will ensure top-up fees become an election issue and could possibly be defeatd...if Stormont ever becomes active again that is.
Colleen Dowdall, Convenor of NUS-USI, informed the meeting about the national campaign which had an extremely successful rally in London on October 29th, when 15,000 students marched into Trafalgar Square demanding the abolition of Top Up Fees. She discussed the ‘Admission Impossible’ campaign which is calling for ‘No to soaring levels of student debt, No to any attempt to lift the Cap, No to the marketisation of education and Yes to free education and access for all’.
The meeting drew to a close with everyone recognising that communication between the Union and the students here at Queen’s must be improved. It is hoped the executive will concentrate on this issue and students will hear more about the campaign in the New Year.
For additional information on the national campaign against tuition fees log onto the NUS-USI website: www.nistudents.org