The government's education policy is regressive, punitive and unnecessary – join the march to protect our future.Today will see tens of thousands of people concerned about the future of education marching from Horse Guards Avenue, past Westminster, to Millbank. Organised by the National Union of Students and the University and College Union under the banner "Fund our Future: Stop Education Cuts", the protest serves as an indication of the enormous anger generated by the government's proposals to cut funding, massively increase fees and force those not rich enough to pay for their courses up front (ie most people) and sign up for a life of debt – or avoid university altogether.
Many have pointed to the shortsightedness of cutting university provision at a time when the economy is stuttering. Across Europe, very few countries have opted to cut funding to universities, believing that the future of their economy depends, in part, on producing high-quality graduates. Britain is already spending less on the sector than many other countries (0.9% compared with Sweden's 1.6% and the US's 2.9%), but now the government is effectively proposing to transfer the entire responsibility for future funding of teaching to students and graduates.
Ministers who paid nothing for their university education, who received grants and full fees, are telling everyone else that they must sign up for decades of debt. It is very clear that those who start with least will be less inclined to borrow the most: furthermore, the introduction of differential fees (possibly up to £9,000) will create a divided sector in which those institutions that tend to attract richer students will charge as much as they can.
Students will be forced to make an economic calculation regarding the worth of their intellect: as arts, humanities and social sciences face a total withdrawal of government funding, these subjects are likely to disappear at post-92 universities, leaving classics, history, philosophy and art to those who can afford to "indulge" in such pursuits. Everyone else will have to choose something "useful", despite the fact that there are likely to be even fewer jobs for them due to the government's response to the economic crisis. Britain's appalling lack of social mobility and class division will only be reinforced by the proposed cuts.
The march is not simply about students protesting their own situation – in fact, most current students won't yet be affected by the proposals, although they, too, are already facing a future structured by debt. People will be marching for those who are not yet at university: those who will see their education maintenance allowance (EMA) cut as they attempt the A-levels they hope will get them into university in the first place; those who will be put off university altogether by the fear of debt; those who believe that higher education doesn't simply belong to the rich. The government's plans for universities are regressive, punitive and unnecessary. The protesters today will be making this very clear. British universities are institutions to be proud of, not punished. Join the protesters today, if you can.