Student Campaign Forum
By Faz Velmi
For years the leadership of the National Union of Students argued that free education was an impossible, or even undesirable, goal. Now they oppose tuition fees and call for the restoration of student grants (albeit means-tested ones - oh, and three years too late).
The one thing they won't say is how to pay for it. A dilemma: on one hand, calling for anything other than progressive taxation looks stupid and would undermine public support; on the other, demanding that the government tax the rich isn't going to go down well at Number 10 or do their hopes of a safe parliamentary seat much good.
Student Campaign Forum supporters have been working to make sure that the NUS demo on 4 December sends out a clear message about how to pay for education - for instance, by ensuring that the finally rally includes speakers from the left and the trade union movement, not the selection of student bureaucrats and Lib Dem MPs who usually grace NUS platforms. Look out for us: we'll be with the firefighters, carrying a banner that says "Tax the rich to fund education and public services".
As the Labour leadership debates how best to slash higher education funding and thousands of student activists prepare to demonstrate in London, Amina Saddiq asked three young people what they think about the issues.
The university student
Andy Lunn, 20, is in his second year Leeds Metropolitan University.
The school student
Daniel Randall, 15, is in the second year of his GCSEs at Dayn Court school in Nottingham.
Hannah York, 19, finished her A-Levels last year and now works for Sheffield City Housing.
What do you make of the proposals for top-up fees?
AL: It will mean a two-tiered - no, many-tiered-system of education. Universities like Oxford and Cambridge will be entirely for rich students; people will only get as good an education as they can afford. As far as I can see, that's incredibly unfair.
DR:This is one more nail in the coffin of the idea that this is any sort of "Labour" government - Blair is saying quite openly that he wants higher education to be restricted to the rich. I think that the utterly shameless Parliamentary Labour Party will vote it through without too much trouble - resistance to top-up fees will have to come from students and the labour movement.
HY: When the government scrapped grants, it excluded thousands of people from going to university. Top-up fees, for very obvious reasons, will make that situation worse. As someone who didn't go to university because I wasn't sure about it, I don't see why I should have to make the decision on the basis of money (or lack of it).
Are students really more deserving than pensioners, nurses and firefighters?
AL: Well, we are future nurses, firefighters, workers and I suppose pensioners! The government should find the money for all those things.
DR: Pensioners, nurses and other workers do need more money - but the solution is for all of us, students included, to take a lead from the FBU and start to fight back. Workers can strike; if the government brings in top-up fees, students should simply refuse to pay.
HY: They're certainly more deserving than government ministers and corporate fat cats! Public money should go to public needs, whatever they are - we need to get away from the whole idea of deserving and undeserving.
How would top-up fees have effected you if they'd been brought in a few years ago?
AL: I wouldn't have gone to university - and neither would most of my friends.
DR: I'm pretty sure I'll be able to afford to go university, although top-up fees might affect which one I apply to. But I'm lucky, and access to higher education shouldn't be about luck. Top-up fees, even more than the current set-up, will price the majority out of education. We'll be telling the next Shakespeare not to bother with English because she hasn't got enough money for the fees.
HY: It's made me feel like I may well not be going. The government needs to drop top-up fees and bring back grants it it's going to win over people like me. (Though I still think students are a bunch of day time TV-watching wasters.)
National Union of Students demonstration against top up fees
ULU, Malet St, London