by Lucy Auger
We are being scammed again. The Higher Education White Paper, whilst deliberately wordy and confusing, is the latest attack on our right to a free and fair education system. Quite poignantly, our government’s HE White Paper is titled ‘Success as a Knowledge Economy.’ As the name suggests, it is a blueprint for the further marketisation of education. It is a model deliberately constructed to strangle universities of funding so that they can never improve when they fail to meet new Teaching Excellence Framework standards, and it is a further attempt to rank and commercialise universities where education is seen as a commodity to be bought and sold, and students are taught that they exist only as consumers.
Higher education is not a ‘knowledge economy.’ We must resist the urge to internalise the ‘providers’ and ‘consumers’ model of our relationship with higher education, and instead, use this attack to fuel our ongoing fight for free education and feed our determination to resist the chipping away of our education system.
Amidst this disheartening procession of fresh attacks on our education, the first glimmer of hope came in the form of vocal resistance from the leader of the opposition. Jeremy Corbyn was quick to dub the prospect of rising fees ‘an insult to the aspirations of young people wanting an education’, and kick-started the hashtag #ToryPriceTag, after his amusing call-back to George Osbourne’s own description of tuition fees as a ‘tax on learning’.
fights like these are never won through the generosity of those at the top, which is why we must focus our energy on growing the grassroots campaign for free education
For as long as students keep up the pressure on Corbyn and the Labour Party to aggressively oppose these proposals, we can take some comfort in this support. But of course, fights like these are never won through the generosity of those at the top, which is why we must focus our energy on growing the grassroots campaign for free education and not simply waiting around for a change of heart or a change in government.
As far as the student movement is concerned, we’ve already seen a robust rebuttal of the white paper by NUS President Malia Bouattia. In her recent article in The Guardian she passionately condemns the ‘competition’ culture of marketised higher education and makes it clear that NUS absolutely opposes the white paper’s agenda. The HE white paper only serves to further entrench a culture in which ‘working-class students are set back from the start’ and the complete rejection of this from NUS gives us at least some hope that together we have the power to continue to oppose it.
However, on its own, support from NUS is not enough. When the white paper was released, The Independent called it an ‘opportunity for mass disruption’, and they’re right. By fighting with NUS, and working with groups like NCAFC, or even by independently demonstrating on the streets, we can turn this assault on free education into a chance to drag the conversation back to the heart of everything that’s wrong with our education system. Universities are shapeshifting into private competitors to the detriment of students drowning in debt, and we cannot accept it.
Of course, the resistance of the marketisation of education naturally ties in to the NUS decision last month to sabotage the National Students Survey. This will be a vital part of our fightback against the marketisation of education because it is a symbolic rejection of the ‘getting your money’s worth’ attitude that we are being increasingly forced to internalise. Students’ unions have already begun to vote to join the sabotage and with the outrage that the White Paper will inevitably cause when its effects begin to sink in, many more will surely follow. Though some may see it as a purely symbolic gesture, sabotaging the NSS is a vitally important step if we are to reject the ever closer union of education and market forces, and the prospect of yet another rise in fees. Yes it’s symbolic, but it is also another method by which we can cause the massive disruptions that will be key to derailing this act of violence against students and our education.
The HE White Paper is an attack on our rights and a reminder that we must resist vicious Tory policy at every turn. If ever there was excuse to reinvigorate the fight for free education, this is it. If this sounds like a rallying cry, that’s because it is. We must not let this assault on education go unchallenged and it is our responsibility to defend our crumbling education system at all costs. Defend education loudly and unashamedly, because with every rise in fees our movement can only grow stronger.