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The Browne Review is a historic attack on education

Workers Power
In the aftermath of the massive demonstration against education cuts and the rise in fees, we reprint an article from Workers Power magazine by John Bowman summarising the proposed cuts.

John Bowman, a member of Workers Power and Revolution Socialist Youth, has been a leading member of the Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, the main organisers of the 10th November student protest.  Workers Power and Revolution Socialist Youth have been in the forefront of the recent student movement. He writes:

“The final nail in the coffin”. That was the judgement of teaching union UCU on the vicious Browne Review into higher education funding. The ‘Independent Review’, chaired by the ex-boss of oil giant BP has set out the most drastic market-driven attack on university education ever seen in Britain.

It proposed:
• The complete abolition of the cap on tuition fees, now to be raised from £3,290 to £9,000
• Using these variable fees to create competition between different universities and courses
• Diverting all sources of funding away from arts, humanities and social sciences towards “priority subjects” preferred by the jobs market and big business such as pharmaceutical and engineering related courses.
• Using the market to bolster the position of a few “priority courses” at elite UK universities on the global education market, at the expense of other courses at other institutions.

Announced only a few days before chancellor George Osborne’s Comprehensive Spending Review made the decision to slash university teaching budgets from £7.1bn to £4.2bn a cut of 40 per cent by 2014, the Browne Review project is to let the market rip through higher education, letting new universities go to the wall.

In the words of the report, “there needs to be a closer fit between what is taught in higher education and the skills needed in the economy…There are clinical and priority courses such as medicine, science and engineering that are important to the well-being of our society and to our economy…In our proposals there will be scope for Government to withdraw public investment through HEFCE from many courses to contribute to wider reductions in public spending” (Browne, 2010, p.23-25)

The proposals if implemented would turn university into nothing more than a recruitment ground for big business – to the detriment of knowledge, culture and the betterment of society as a whole.

Debt as a weapon
The Review is clear and unrepentant on how this is to be achieved. A massive increase of tuition fees, through a system of loans and far higher costs, Browne aims to use debt as a weapon, making students take up courses that will allow them to pay off huge debts they will incur after graduation.

A study by the University of Leicester found that if arts and humanities fees rose to £7,000 per year, then there would be a 116 per cent rise in those deterred from taking up courses, compared to 31 per cent who would be deterred from medicine, a course that is perceived to lead to well paid jobs.

New universities
But the threat is not just to courses, it is to entire universities. Those which successfully gear themselves towards profit driven courses and “deliver improved employability” will be able to charge far higher fees, whereas “those that make false promises will disappear.” (Browne 2010, p.31)

In practice, this puts new universities, looked upon less favourably by employers, at an enormous disadvantage. Their intake of less affluent students are more likely to be discouraged by higher fees. They rely more heavily on state funding as opposed to the property, donations and sponsorship benefiting more established Russell Group institutions.

The University of Greenwich estimates a loss of 80 per cent of it’s teaching grant income.

Million+, an organisation representing new universities say the bulk of their members would have to charge £8,000 per year just to maintain current levels of funding – fees so high that they would be simply unable to compete with Russell Group institutions.

Sally Hunt, General Secretary of the UCU said: “As a result of this creation of a market for student places, we would see departments and universities close and a devastating effect on the curriculum as only so-called priority courses survive. It would become almost impossible to develop courses in new areas of knowledge without directly perceived economic benefit.”
Unemployment as a weapon
What is not mentioned in the Browne Review, is that it relies on the intense pressure on young people to find a decent job, or indeed any work when they finish education – at a time when there is a crisis of youth unemployment.

No wonder university applications are rising, despite the threat of debt in later life, with disappointment for more than 200,000 applicants, or three-in-ten who could not get a place this year. Next year it is likely to be even worse, with universities cutting places to prepare for shrunken budgets, and students wanting to put themselves ahead in a jobs market with even fewer opportunities.

Students will do almost anything to get a higher education in this environment, but the scale of the fees suggested by Browne means many will be simply unable – depriving less affluent students of an education.

Attack on culture
With new universities looking set to close, unable to supplement enormous teaching grant reductions with fees, and with arts and humanities subjects looking set to become viable only for the rich, Browne’s review is a historic attack on the access of working class people to culture that must be fought with every means at our disposal – up to and including joint national strike action by both students and staff.
Guildford Against Fees & Cuts
Workers Power
Revolution Socialist Youth
National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts
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