Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Kemptown and Peacehaven

Join the fight for Free Education

by Lloyd on 20.02.09
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Now, more than ever, the right to education is important and it’s not just about giving people a fun few years at University. It’s about the “economy, stupid!” (As Bill Clinton once said) and most of all its about giving outcomes that achieve justice and equality.

In this article I will explain why free university education is important. I want to dispel the myth that free education is unachievable, and call on Bradford University to be the leader in moving the debate forward. Apart from the fact that education is a right (under the UN articles of

Human Rights), apart from being something that drives the economy, it is something much more important – it provides a more stable society. As more people achieve higher levels of education our communities become more. I’m not saying that with a University education racism, sexism and homophobia are abolished, but that through greater life and educational experience people have a greater understanding of the world and themselves and are more likely to accept others.

Ignoring that, the question comes down to whether students should themselves “contribute”. After the shambles that was up-front fees, the government changed the system so that either you qualified for free University Education based on your parent’s income or you took out a loan and you paid it back later on. This continued the relience on not only parents but also assumes that everyone receives support from parents.

This whole idea was based on a piece of flawed research, which suggested that your income “potential” was greater after you had gone to University. Infact, it now looks like most people will never pay back the loan which now has higher interest than a high street back loan (most students will pay something like £60 a month just on interest). If everyone benefits through a better society surly everyone should contribute? Many students will leave University with over £20,000 in debt and even if you have stayed at home to reduce your costs you could end up with over £10k to pay back.

How can it be fair? Something that is a human right, something that makes society more peaceful and most of all gives us doctors, nurses, teachers and engineers to name but a few, surely should be available free to everyone.

The system is clearly not working – it needs to change. The government agreed to review the system of fees in 2009 and now the review is about to start. Some Universities are calling for the fees to be increased to whatever level they want, while others are keeping quiet.

Bradford Student Union has a long history of standing for justice, standing for free education. When fees were introduced we supported people who protested and refused to pay; we marched, and by our side was our Vice Chancellor Colin Bell – the then VC – who spoke in the media. He stood up for justice and history will prove him right.

So here’s the challenge to our Vice Chancellor now (Mark Cleary). He says he has his “personal opinions” but wont speak up for free University Education. He says, “the debate is about what level they should rise to” and “a new system isn’t on the table”. Recently I challenged him to set the agenda, put free education on the table. So far he has declined; he doesn’t want to stick his head above anyone else.

The question surely should be ‘what will Bradford lose for speaking out’? The answer is, nothing (apart from keeping the Government and the VC’s chums in other Universities happy). What will Bradford gain? Everything! We would keep our reputation of being a University that leads, that doesn’t just let the big boys boss us around.

In the VC introduction speech to students he says, “it’s the mavericks, the eccentrics that change the world and that’s what we want to foster at Bradford”. Quite right Mark, so lets have a little more of the maverick from you and a little less of the sheep.

On the 25th February students are invited to London for a national demonstration against fees, for grants and for better paid and resourced lectures. That’s free for all students, home, international, well off or not, paid through tax from those who can afford it. Just a small amount that has been given to the banks could pay for it! I will be marching and making a difference, and I invite every student from Bradford to join me. At only £1.50 for a return ticket to London you can’t refuse.

This is a global movement and we are achieving change. Education should be free from the Gaza Strip to the Rocky Mountains. Students are starting the fight back. In France they fought and won against laws that discriminated against student workers. In parts of Germany, Universities, this year, are again free after students took to the streets and fought for free education. In Greece, after student unions battled to get accommodation and food subsidised, victory was declared last year.

So now that we know why education should be free, that it can be free and Bradford University has a history of calling for free education, why don’t you become part of a movement that changes history? Come and join us. Students, lecturers, staff and even Mark Cleary the VC are welcome to make education better.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle

Tickets for the Wednesday 25th National Demonstration can be bought online at www.ubuonline.co.uk/demo or at the Union reception. or for local contacts cheek out http://studentdemo2009.org.uk

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Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Kemptown and Peacehaven

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