How generation debt is fighting back

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As of 2017/18, universities have the right to increase tuition fees year-on-year in line with inflation above the current £9,000 – provided they have “good quality teaching,” according to the Higher Education Bill.

This is great news for establishments, but not so great news for the students that are already set to take on a debt which could reach more than £50,000 by the end of a typical three year course, and that’s not including interest rates.

Opponents of the Bill claim education is under attack – students are caught in the cross fire between a government that doesn’t value the next generation and unions that have had enough.

The Higher Education and Research Bill says that it aims to “promote social mobility” and put “students and choice at the heart of the system”, but it comes with a hefty price tag.

This quest to privatise the education sector means that yet again students will be the ones that deal with the consequences of a government that is treating them as consumers and education as the latest must-have accessory.

According to the National Union of Students (NUS), if the bill is to go ahead, and if left unchecked, this figure could rise to £12,000 per year in a decades time – that’s an additional £9,000 across a three year course added to the debt.

[pullquote align=”right”]“Power lies with us, not in parliament,” – Sorana Vieru[/pullquote]”You need to know that it’s quite bad and it sets to change the face of higher education,” Sorana Vieru, vice president of higher education at NUS told Artefact, “it removes higher education further and further from being a public good.”

“It’s an ideological bill. It sees students as consumers and believes graduates should bare the entirety of the cost of higher education, as if education isn’t used to change society and that it doesn’t benefit anyone else but the graduate,” she continued.

University of the Arts London has been one of the institutions that has chosen to increase tuition fees for new students, beginning the next academic year.

This rise, the first in five years, is set to increase student debt by 8.1% across three years, according to the NUS.

While current students are safe from the increase for now, the future is uncertain for many prospective home, EU and international students.

Arts Students’ Union launched a “Fix the Fees” campaign to lobby UAL into not increasing tuition fees, at the very least for current students.

“We presented [our case] to the university and made it very clear that students will not accept any fee increases,” Ana Oppenheim, the Arts SU campaigns officer said, “that if that goes on there will be protests, there will be disruption and quite surprisingly UAL turned around and said we are not planning any fee increases for continuing home and EU students.”

“At least if you came here expecting to pay £9,000 you will not suddenly find out in your final year that you might be charged more than that,” she continued.

Prime Minister, Theresa May, can talk all she wants about a country that works for everyone but yet again we have a politician who by “everyone” means people like her.

It’s all well and good to talk about social mobility but it’s hard to move anywhere when debt is weighing you down.

There is a whole generation of young people whose future is being tossed and turned by a group of elites who are out of touch with reality.

“We need to reclaim the narrative of higher education as a public good – something that belongs to us,” says Oppenheim.

It should not be considered the norm that someone in their early twenties has amassed a debt that could be worth a deposit on a home.

Education is a right, not an excuse to exploit young people into selling off their soul.

The message from government essentially is that if you want to move up in the world, that will be £51,000, plus interest.

  • Students protesting and holding placards against government attacks to education
    Students begin the march across London on November 19 in protest of government attacks on education.

Social mobility does not come cheap.

And Vieru points out that just because the number of people applying for university places hasn’t dropped, it does not mean that the government can get away with it forever.

“We will reach a tipping point where people will not see the value in paying £12,000 for a degree and then we’ll see a decline in all of the progress we have made,” she explains.

Another aspect that student unions across the country are campaigning against is the Teaching Excellence Framework, which seeks to rank universities under gold, silver and bronze medals.

Under the slogan of #TEFoff, unions say they do not see the point.

The National Student Survey, which final year undergraduate students complete, will feed into TEF and give the government an excuse to continue the increase of tuition fees.

If you fill in the survey positively, future students will see their fees go up, but if you give low scores, the reputation of your degree and university will be damaged and your course could potentially be shut down.

“We are asking students to not participate [and] to not take part in that process,” says Oppenheim while Vieru adds: “who wants to graduate from a university that gets a bronze medal? No one asked for this to begin with.”

However, should the TEF go through in January, a national conference in April voted to boycott the NSS as a form of protest.

“It’s extremely important to keep building a movement [and] raising awareness about what’s happening in education,” explains Oppenheim.

From campaigns to boycotts to protests, students across the country are not sitting idly and letting politicians dictate their future.

On November 19, NUS and the University and College Union held a national demonstration in protest against government attacks on education.

As they marched through central London, passers-by could hear the crowds chant “education is a right, not a privilege.”

One protester told Artefact that education should be equally dispersed for everybody and not just a particular group of people. “We need work against that,” he said.

As the demonstrators reached the end of the march, Malia Bouattia, president of NUS, told the rally: “Let us see today not an end in itself but as a beginning of a new process, one in which we reinvigorate our movement to offer a better future for our students.”

The unfortunate reality is that when something happens to higher education, nobody cares besides the students that are affected.

[pullquote align=”right”]“We have a world, a future to win,” – Malia Bouattia[/pullquote]”Students are quite easy to attack and it’s easy for the media to build a narrative of these privileged snowflakes whining about fees,” says Oppenheim, “why don’t they just work harder, go get a job? Well that’s not the point. We don’t want education just to be for the privileged middle class students. We want it to be for everyone.”

Critics are quick to call out millennials for complaining that they want a free education and are too weak and coddled to fend for themselves.

But if the protest proved anything, it is that young people are far from weak.

This was a group of people who traveled across all parts of the UK to finally have a platform and express how terrible things really are. They won’t stand for the privatisation of education.

It’s easy for the government to hide behind the walls of parliament, but as they marched in their thousands, students were ready for a fight and not backing down as they strive to protect education and their future.

“We have a world, a future to win and the task is huge, I know,” Bouattia told the rally, “but in the words of James Baldwin, those who say it cannot be done are usually interrupted by those doing it. We have a lot of interrupting to do.”

When you’re 18, you should be thinking about which course or university you want to go, not looking at the price tag.

But with every cut and every increase, students will be at the front lines, holding the government to account.

“We all have a responsibility to stand up to fight for the higher education system that we want to see. There are things that can be done, resistance can be built,” says Vieru, “power lies with us, not in parliament.”





All images by Ieva Asnina.

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