Green Party supporters launched an attack on the coalition government over their treatment of higher education at their conference in Liverpool over the weekend.
In a panel discussion, entitled ‘The Struggle for Higher Education: Poverty Pay, Privatisation and Fighting Back’, supporters accused the government and higher education institutions of bargaining with the lives of their staff and students.
Fiona Edwards, who received the most vocal support from the sparse audience of around 30-40 people who had gathered at St. George’s Hall, spoke of her outrage at the rising cost of tuition fees and questioned why higher education was no longer free.
She said: “Our objective is to unite every single student that opposes the government’s disgraceful austerity drive into one united movement. Just 16 years ago higher education was free in this country, a decade and a half later, we face a system that is being privatised and that is pricing out the many.
“I would like to see a return to free education that is publicly funded. It might appear unrealistic, but every £1 the government invests in higher education, sees a return of £2.60. If Germany can abolish tuition fees, why can’t we?”
The Green Party panel was chaired by Rosie Dammers, from University of Manchester Students Union and featured, Fiona Edwards from the Student Assembly Against Austerity; Jonathan White from the University and College Union; Donna Rowe-Merriman from the Higher Education Unison and Paul Barnes from Defend Education.
One of the most heated topics of discussion was the government’s proposed privatisation of the student loans book, which the panel feared could lead to another hike in tuition fees.
Edwards told JMU Journalism: “The consequences of a student loans sell-off are massive. To put it bluntly, this would represent a retrospective hike in tuition fees. The interest rate will soar and student debt will rise with it. A private company’s main goal is always profit, and they’ll be seeking as much profit off the back of students and graduates.”
Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander MP, confirmed in June 2013 that the student loan book sell-off was part of a £15bn plan to generate income from public assets by 2020. The sale of the loan book is expected to be finalised in 2015.
However, in a letter to the head of the NUS, MP David Willetts assured that interest rates and repayments would see little change.
Jonathan White, Deputy Head of Campaigns at the UCU, expressed his fears about the proposed marking boycott that could potentially cause issues for graduating students, in the coming months.
He told JMU Journalism: “We feel we have no other options left, if there’s no settlement by 28th April the marking boycott will go ahead. Having said that, we are cautiously hopeful that we can come to an agreement.”
The panel urged the audience who didn’t agree with the coalition’s treatment of higher education to stand up and fight.
The Green Party Conference began on Friday 28th February and concludes today.