By Daniel Waldron
The Socialist Society in Queen’s University held a protest demanding free education on 22 February, as part of a national day of action by the Campaign to Defeat Fees. Protests led by Socialist Students, our sister organisation, were held across England and Wales, with thousands taking part.
At the protest in Belfast, speakers from the Socialist Society pointed to the huge burden that fees have created for students from working class backgrounds. The average student today will leave university with over £22,000 in crippling debt. This is already putting young people off entering higher education, with a 17% drop in applications to universities in Northern Ireland for this academic year.
Contrary to New Labour’s spin, fees have not led to better services for students. Across the country, cuts, privatisation and job losses are the reality.
Blair’s government want more “partnership” between the private sector and universities. The CBI (federation representing big business) has said it wants to see private interests being given direct control over how money is invested in education, allowing them to slash funding from courses which they don’t deem to be useful! This would mean education only for the rich, run in the interests of the fat cats.
Meanwhile, some university Vice Chancellors, many receiving salaries of almost £150,000, are pushing for top-up fees to be raised to £10,000 a year! This proposal would completely push working-class people out of higher education. The Vice Chancellors themselves got their degrees for free, with a grant rather than a loan.
The Queen’s University management has fully supported the introduction of tuition and top-up fees, and has been complicit in New Labour’s privatisation agenda. In protest, the QUB Socialist Society plans to present Vice Chancellor, Peter Gregson, with a bill for what he would have paid for his education if he were a student today. However, we doubt he will dig into his pockets and pay up the way he expects us to!