Inside the student movement: Education not for sale

Submitted by Anon on 15 January, 2006 - 11:17

By Daniel Randall, NUS National Executive Committee

A recent article in the Times revealed that the number of students
applying to university has, in some places, fallen by 13% on last
year's figures. Overall applications by sixth formers have fallen by
5%.

In other words, it seems that if you force students to pay £3,000 for
the privilege of going to university, less of them are going to want
to do it. Shocker.

According to the same article, there have also been shifts in the
numbers for applications to particular courses. One university
registrar commented, "there could be a misunderstanding among
applicants about which degrees are likely to provide you with a good
career."

This pretty much lays the Blairite perspective on education bare.
It's not something that is worthwhile in and of itself, useful
because it makes you a better and more developed human being capable
of reaching your full creative potential; it's training to become a
worker.

The government flaunts its 50% target (it wants to see at least 50%
participation in Higher Education by 2010), but at the same time it
is ruthlessly going about erecting massive barriers to access and
participation.

The introduction of tuition-fees (1998) and top-up fees (later this
year) can't be seen in isolation. They've got to be viewed as part of
this government's aggressive project of marketising, carving up,
selling-off and public services one-by-one.

PFI and Foundation Hospitals will create a two-tier health-service.
Plans to privatise the Post Office and the Probation Service are
already in the pipeline. In education, as well as privatising Higher
Education, the government plans to effectively privatise almost every
primary and secondary school by encouraging them to become
"self-governing independent state schools" funded by "trusts" run by
business, religious groups or private individuals. Threading all of
this together is the same, clear principle - that the needs of profit
and capital come first, and everything else (human need, quality of
life, health, education, everything) a very poor second.

That anti-human principle cannot be fought simply by squabbling over
figures for access targets, by postponing the fight for free
education until 2010 when the £3,000 top-up fees cap comes up for
review, or by focusing on government-sponsored reviews into, for
example, Further Education or on "Alternative White Papers" produced
by Blairites with cold feet. These, by and large, are the
perspectives held to by most people in the leadership of the National
Union of Students. But they're not good enough.

What's necessary is a fight back based on a completely different
perspective - a perspective that places human need first and
subordinates all other concerns to that. It's a perspective that Karl
Marx called "the political economy of the working-class". By raising
slogans like "tax the rich", and by linking up with workers fighting
privatisation right across Britain's economy, the NUS could embody
and express that perspective.

It doesn't, but Education Not for Sale candidates standing for
election to its National Executive Committee this March are saying
that it should.

It's not unreasonable to ask why, when students face mounting debt
and incessant attacks, activists would waste their time engaging with
the bureaucratic machinery of a national union so disengaged from its
membership that it deems it worthwhile to spend £20,000 on a
campaigns launch but not on delivering demonstrations or activist
training to develop the campaigns it was supposed to be launching.

But NUS is an organisation with immense potential power - it could
connect the struggles and campaigns of millions of students across
Britain. Activists with a vision of an NUS that does that can use its
current servile acquiescence to make their case.

ENS doesn't believe that standing in NUS NEC elections is the be-all
and end-all of organising amongst students. Far from it. But they are
one way in which we can make the case for a student movement anda
national union that is different on every level from the one we have
now.

A good place to start would be looking at the principle that defines
us. The principle of human solidarity needs to be elevated from
rhetoric to the guiding principle of struggle; we need to say that,
compared to the needs of people, the needs of profit don't matter,
and we need to say that our public services - our health service, our
postal service, our education - are not for sale.

Defend the Matthew Boulton Two!

Two students have been expelled from Matthew Boulton College, in
Birmingham, for distributing a political newsletter.

n the Guerrilla, Assed Baig and Darrell Williams discussed issues
including the Iraq war, privatisation in education, and the college
administration's ban on the formation for religious societies. This
apparently, according to the college, was "offensive and
inappropriate"; and after removing the students' ID cards in
December, they informed them of their expulsion on 6 January.

The issue is not merely that the Guerilla is not offensive at all.
The idea that things should be banned because they offend people, or
that college management should be able to prevent students from
organising and expressing themselves politically, is an outrage.

The NEC has passed a motion of support for Baig and Williams, and
there will be a protest on Friday 13 January to demand their
reinstatement. Please send messages of support to NUS Black Students'
Officer Pav Akhtar at pav.akhtar@nus.org.uk and copy to
daniel.randall@nus.org.uk

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