If you’ve wandered across campus recently, the chances are you will have seen a poster proclaiming “Cuts? SURHUL says No,” been encouraged to attend a lobby of College Council or told come on the November 9th National Demo. You may have found your Facebook notifications flooded with invites to Education Assemblies, sub-committee meetings or alternative nights out. It’s equally feasible that you’ve been wondering why: why does SURHUL bother?
The world of education is about to change – dramatically. You’d be forgiven for thinking the only change we’re about to see is the tripling of fees, as the media coverage of the November 9th march and the weeks leading up to seemed wholeheartedly focused on telling the country that future students just didn’t want to pay more money, so they were planning to get a bit arsey in London.
No, come 2012 the university system will be unrecognisable and incomprehensible to everyone who has already arrived at the university of their choice. A series of announcements, culminating in the Government’s White Paper, laughably called “Students at the Heart of the System,” has radically changed Higher Education. You will no longer be a “student,” but a “consumer” and a degree is a commodity to be bought and sold. Academic standing and student experience relegated to the bottom of a list of demands, behind value for money.
A series of small defeats have taken us from free education to fees, to “top-up” fees and now to this: a situation if not soon reversed, will see the average student entering into £27,000 worth of debt for just their fees. At a time where the cost of living is getting ever higher, it is simply naive to suggest that this won’t put talented young people off from coming to university. Equally, cuts in funding to universities are being made because of the economic crisis, apparently. It strikes me as rather odd that the new fees regime will actually require a generation of young people to borrow more money from the cash-strapped government than ever before. In the short term, surely this is counter productive? Suggestions that the coalition government are making are not economically founded policies but ideologically based ones are becoming more and more frequent.
Spending cuts will hit the humanities first and they will hit hard. Departments will have the entirety of their funding cut as big business enters the sector – something our university has already allowed, with publishing giants Pearson validating a Royal Holloway degree from 2012. These private providers will be able to undercut our institutions, and undermine Higher Education as we know it.
And that is why we marched, that is why SURHUL has an education campaign, it’s why there are forums and debates and flyers. It’s why we booked coaches and it’s why we’ll be taking part in the next day of action on the 23rd November.
Education as we know it is disappearing, but it’s not gone yet. Before long, the damage done to education will be irreversible. I have a degree and I am proud of it, but sitting back and letting the opportunities we were given to even get this far be taken away from the next generation of students is unthinkable.
Education is a gift and we should protect it, whether it means sitting in meetings, or walking on marches. One of the main arguments for not going was the aftermath of last year’s demo. I am surprised we saw anyone on the streets on London on the 9th, as the population of the entire country were drip fed a diet of stories about how violence was inevitable. “Just look at last year,” public opinion appeared to scream, “it’ll be Millbank all over again!”
Except it wasn’t. This year, we sent a message but it has yet to be received.