The Green view of Higher Education

The Green Party views education as a right and an entitlement that should be free at the point of delivery to people of all ages. Education at all levels represents an investment in the future of the country and we all benefit from that investment. It is reasonable for society to pay for that investment through general taxation.

Higher and continuing education is essential in developing a civilized society. We should continue to treat it as a process and not a product, as this government does. Greens aim to democratise knowledge and skills, making them available to anyone who wants to study, regardless of their age or background.

The ConDems approach assumes that higher education is of value only to the individual, not to society or the economy. They fail to recognise the contributions that our students will make to science, medicine, engineering and the arts and therefore to wider society. To shift the responsibility of funding these widely enjoyed benefits to students and their families is manifestly unfair.

The LibDems, faced with a rebellion in their own ranks, desperately claim the new measures are ‘progressive’. They aren’t, and the key flaw is that a low-income household won’t trust the huge ‘pay later’ package, given the way politicians constantly fiddle with it and break promises. Pressure will mount for the threshold for repayment to be lowered. Also in this country, access to the best-paid jobs remains skewed towards those from privileged backgrounds and the private education sector.

The government’s vision is for our universities to become businesses, offering a product to consumers, a product that only the moneyed elite will be able to afford. It wants to wash its hands of responsibility for the education of our young people, leaving this to market forces and private institutions. It fails to recognise that the talents and abilities of our young people represent our hope for a better society in the future, and that government, acting on behalf of its people, should take a lead in fostering and nurturing this talent.

Commenting on the student demonstration that took place in Westminster, Caroline Lucas, Green Party leader and MP for Brighton Pavilion, said:
“This Government’s assault on education funding and future generations of students seems to know no bounds. The recession has already had a disproportionate effect on young people’s lives, with rapidly disappearing university places and increasing youth unemployment. Now it’s clear that they will be amongst those hardest hit by the ConDem cuts, with the Educational Maintenance Allowance being scrapped, college funding slashed, and the huge hikes in university fees. I fully support the action being taken by our students today.”

The University and College Union, representing many lecturers have voiced their own opposition to the Government proposals. “If implemented, the government’s plans will completely change the landscape of further and higher education. They would represent the final nail in the coffin of affordable university education and the end of genuine choice of a degree for thousands of people.”

And what future for the arts and humanities in this Government’s vision for education? Under government proposals, teaching grants are to be restricted to certain science courses. We can presume that these will be those courses that lead to a quick commercial output and a quick profit for UK plc. Other courses will have to fight for funding from student fees – those designed to foster enquiry, creativity and imagination. Under the new business models that our universities are being required to adopt, many of these will close as ‘unprofitable’, so narrowing educational choice, reducing it to vocational training. The purpose of higher education will be simply to fit its cleaver customers in to the highly paid jobs that they are going to expect from their investment. So we lose the creativity and rigorous analysis of history and society that a wide diversity of courses provides. In the ConDems ‘Brave New World’, our culture becomes poorer and, starved of new ideas and information, our democracy weaker.

[Mike Shipley. 11 November2010]

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