Earlier this month, following the Higher Education and Research Bill, the University of Nottingham (UoN) confirmed it will be raising its tuition fees to £9250 in the 2017/18 academic year, in line with the new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).
The government will use feedback from the National Student Survey (NSS), DLHE surveys and other data to judge the standard of teaching provided by any university and adjust tuition fees accordingly as they see fit. Under this new framework tuition fees are projected to rise even further to nearly £12,000 over the next 10 years.
A letter published in the Guardian and signed by all the full time officers in UoN’s Student’s Union (SU) voiced the discontent felt by students towards the TEF, citing the most recent UCAS report which found that 18 year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds were 2.4 times less likely to apply for university.
Those of us in UoN Left Society hope that our SU will also be supportive of our statement on the matter, which is the following:
‘In short, this rise in tuition fees has set a dangerous precedent for an increasingly elitist outlook in all areas of education. The abolition of maintenance grants and of NHS bursaries is a continuation of the government’s vile attempt to price poorer students out of university. This is unacceptable.
‘A university should not be a business and students should not be their customers. Every member of society deserves to have access to the fullest education they want or need. Charging ridiculous prices for such an education is an act that forces the working class out of higher education or into a lifetime of debt. This is a blatant act of class warfare.
“The University of Nottingham quietly boasts an annual surplus of over £25 million, and seems set on continuing to over-estimate the value of our degrees”
‘The social divide in education, however, is not exclusive to university, and actually starts far earlier than that. In 2014 the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that children of poorer backgrounds are significantly less likely to go to grammar schools than their more advantaged classmates, even when they achieve equally good results aged 11.
‘Outside the classroom, grammar schools have also been found to facilitate the widening of the income gap in their catchment area. With Theresa May glorifying such institutions, and openly expressing intent to re-establish grammar schools, it is of little surprise that her Conservative government is hiking up tuition fees and abolishing grants.
‘The University of Nottingham quietly boasts an annual surplus of over £25 million, and seems set on continuing to over-estimate the value of our degrees in order to shamelessly profit from our education.
‘In the current economic climate, the value of our degrees has depreciated to the point where it is no longer enough to have a bachelor’s in any subject, regardless of whether it’s in the arts or the sciences; it is now perceived as merely a basic qualification.
‘VC David Greenway’s suggestion that the new fees are “excellent value for money” rings hollow: as someone who did not pay a penny for his own education, it is not only highly hypocritical but also entirely in his own self interest.
“Existing data provides little reason to be optimistic of widening participation.”
‘From our perspective it seems, sadly, that all that matters to those who run this supposedly admirable institution is whether or not students have the money to purchase this disgustingly commodified version of education.
‘Little to no consideration is given to students from socio-economically challenged backgrounds who, in comparison to their wealthier peers, are intellectually more than capable of consuming as well as contributing to their chosen field of study.
‘Whilst it remains to be seen how abolishing maintenance grants will affect the number of applicants to universities from lower income backgrounds, existing data provides little reason to be optimistic of widening participation.
‘The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) gathered data in the 2014/15 academic year which shows that intake from low-income neighbourhoods was 15.5% for UoN specifically. To contextualise this, the same same set of data shows the intake of privately educated students was 22.2%.
‘That’s over 2,000 more privately educated students than students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Bearing in mind the Independent Schools Council found only 6.5% of UK school children are in private education, this seems vastly disproportionate in favour of richer students.
‘The often devastating consequences of tuition fee rises are well-documented. A recent study conducted by the University of Southampton and the Solent NHS Trust found that students with financial difficulties are disproportionately affected with serious mental health issues, such as depression or alcohol dependency.
‘Furthermore, in the “Generation Regret” report which was published earlier this year by insurance company Aviva, 37% of graduates regret going to university given the enormous amount of debt that they have accumulated. The same report also found that, 49% of graduates think they could’ve got to where they are now without their degree.
‘Of course, the government and university executives are indifferent to this, and would rather prioritise the value of the economy over the physical, financial, and emotional well being of students and graduates. They argue that raising tuition fees will save the government money and stimulate the UK’s economy, but is that necessarily true?
‘Another study conducted by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that 73% of graduates are unlikely to repay all of their loan. This is a ticking time bomb on the nation’s purse in years to come; by the study’s estimation £7.4 billion must be written off in 2048 and each year that will follow.
‘From a socio-economic perspective, then, it is clear that the tuition fee system that is in place in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland is as short-sighted as it is punitive. Indeed, we have the highest tuition fees in Europe.
“Throughout this academic year we will continue to challenge university executives in the fight for free education”
‘If you think that bringing back Free Education is a pipe dream, think again. Students in Scotland and Germany challenged their governments and fought to bring back free education in their country, and succeeded. We should do the same.
‘After all with the abolishment of maintenance grants and NHS bursaries, and rising tuition fees, the gap between the richest and poorest in society is set to widen even further; we can no longer afford to sit idly by and allow this to continue.
‘For years now, activists in UoN Left Society, the National Union of Students (NUS), and similar organizations have been fiercely advocating Free Education for all students.
‘We cannot allow this government to continue running the education system as a profit machine that solely educates those that can pay, whilst rendering those who cannot insufficiently qualified to hold well paying jobs and achieve their aspirations, whatever form that may take.
‘Throughout this academic year we will continue to challenge university executives in the fight for free education; we will continue to demand our government stop their gross discrimination of poorer students.
‘On November 19th the NUS and University and Colleges Union are hosting a demonstration in London opposing tuition fees, opposing the cuts of grants and bursaries and opposing the government’s war on students.
‘We expect our own SU to organise transport from Nottingham to facilitate UoN students engaging in the fight for education. Join us there, either physically or online, as well as for a whole host of campaigns for free education throughout the coming years.
‘We do not and will not be forced to accept the government’s attempts to commodify our education and alienate working class students.’
Image: Petras Gagilas via Flickr