Green Party education policy states: “education is a right and an entitlement and should be free at the point of delivery to people of all ages”. Education does not just benefit the student; by developing skills and knowledge, it benefits society. It is reasonable that society should enable all its members to receive a good education. It is not reasonable to limit good education to those who can afford it. Education is an investment in the future. If that investment is limited, the future will be poorer. Making higher education once again a privilege for the affluent is socially divisive; it will also exclude many people from careers that require graduate training. Inequalities within society will increase which will affect everyone’s quality of life. This will be the outcome of the ConDem Governments policy on financing higher education.
Speaking after the House of Commons vote on tuition fees, Caroline Lucas said: “This is a dark day for the future of higher education in this country. The huge hikes in tuition fees, together with the scrapping of Educational Maintenance Allowance and proposed cuts in college funding, amount to nothing less than a Government assault on our young people – and an attack on the principles of universal education. Many people may be priced out of going to university as a result of today’s vote – and those who do go are likely to be saddled with massive debt. This is unacceptable for a society which values social mobility and inclusiveness.”
There are alternative ways to fund education, including a more progressive taxation system. For example, raising UK corporation tax to the G7 average would generate the funds needed to abolish tuition fees and still leave our main corporation tax below that of the USA. A business education tax levied on the top 4% of UK companies, as proposed by the University and Colleges Union, would require business to pay its fair share for the substantial benefits it receives from higher education and would allow us to raise investment in our Universities to the average for a developed country.
The Conservative Party is aggressively pursuing a policy of privatization, aiming to disconnect Government at all levels, from the supply of services to the public. They have both health and education clearly in their sights and the Liberal Democrats are not opposing them. The withdrawal of funding to arts and social science courses, and the hike in fees is part of this policy. Our Universities are to be run as businesses, selling their product – education, at a profit. Courses offered will be those that run at a profit as required by their corporate sponsors and investors. Their customers will buy their product with the principle intention of getting a well-paid job. Education will no longer be about developing the mind, or about intellectual challenge. Students will no longer experience the excitement of discovery, the joy of learning, the profound satisfaction of understanding new and challenging concepts. In the sterile learning factories of the ConDem world, they probably will not even be much interested in their fellow students beyond simple sensual gratification.
Greens believe that Higher Education is essential in developing a civilized society. Education is a process, not a product. It should be available to anyone who wants to study for a degree regardless of his or her age or background. Its purpose is to challenge ignorance and prejudice, to raise and answer questions and indeed if necessary, to challenge orthodoxy and authority. This will prevent the fossilization of society and the emergence of a new dark age.
Mike Shipley 14 December 2010