Cuts lead third level education down the path of the privileged

Eugene Tinnelly is a founder member of the Student Poverty Alliance Group. He writes for us about the cuts in higher education

Education should be free. Whether it be primary level or third level, your access to education should not be determined by what’s in your wallet but instead, by what’s in your brain. People will say that’s an idealistic way of looking at it but tell that to the people of Denmark who receive universally free education. Unfortunately the reality here, is that education is not free and will remain something which must be paid for for the foreseeable future. We are lucky in one sense in that we have our student fees covered by a loan and, depending on your home income level, a maintenance grant to help cover living expenses. At least that’s how it currently is.

George Osborne’s latest budget has scrapped the maintenance grant in the UK and replaced it with a further loan. That would mean potentially £15000 of debt accumulated each year of study for a student in England. Of course it being a devolved issue it will not effect students here but with a rise in tuition fees on the agenda within the next year, one would fear that it won’t be long before our maintenance grant is targeted too. This would drive potential students from working-class backgrounds away from university education. The worrying prospect of upwards of £60,000 of debt when leaving university is enough to make anyone question is it really worth it? Is the standard of education suddenly going to rise along with the fees? The simple and obvious answer is no.

Add in the cost of text books, social life, accommodation and food, students’ pockets will start to feel a lot lighter after this budget and with the current impasse over the Stormont House Agreement. Over the last five years we’ve seen the number of people using food banks in the UK rise from around 40,000 to over 1,080,000 and that number is continuing to grow as the levels of public expenditure decreases. How many of those using food banks are students who have been driven into poverty by continuous cuts to the education sector and simultaneous rises in fees? It’s not difficult to imagine that the answer would be considerably high. The last rise in tuition fees in England saw an almost 20% drop in applications for universities. Already we have seen people becoming disillusioned with the prospect of being saddled with debt for all their working life.

What’s makes these cuts even more hard to stomach is the context in which these cuts have been implemented. Queen’s University has, like any third level institution, had to endure tough cuts in the last couple of years. However they must not have gotten the Tory “we’re all in this together” memo. As vital student services such as free counselling, student bursaries (worth £500 a year) and union officer positions amongst other services have been cut, the lifestyle of those at the top remains untouched and seemingly untouchable. The Vice-Chancellor receives a salary of £250,000 a year. And a house of residence. And a chauffeur. And a personal chef. And a wine budget. We could go on and on. The VC of the University of Ulster is on a salary of £1000 more after a recent wage hike and is the highest paid official in Northern Ireland. While some students go without a meal some days and struggle to keep up with the financial burden of studying, those right at the top of these institutions live the life of King and in times of austerity, seem to think a pay rise is acceptable.

The obvious question is why are students not taking action? We saw how students gathered in massive numbers to protest tuition fees rising during the first term of government for the Conservatives, so why are not doing the same now? It’s like most protests or demonstrations, it won’t actually happen until the cuts and fee rises have been made and come into effect and by then, its too late. Students need a strong voice. An often politically disengaged group need the issues that they will be facing made clear to them before they’re faced with an even harsher reality. They need their unions and to bring them the message. The responsibility also must fall on the parties at Stormont to ensure all is done to protect our education services. Students need be united in opposition to more cuts, more fees and more debt. While Iain Duncan Smith may sit happy cheering the new living wage, himself and fellow Tory ministers need their lives made uncomfortable by students. With there being little use in protesting when the changes have been made, time is running out for students to stop education becoming a product for the privileged.

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  • chrisjones2

    “Education should be free. ”

    Up to what point? If I want to study until I am 60 should the state just smile and pay?

    And what education should it pay for? For example we only need so many dental hygienists or dance instructors and we may actually need more plumbers or engineers. So it isnt as simple as you suggest

    “Of course it being a devolved issue it will not effect students here” – probably not but the block grant will be cut and in the end someone will pay – so is it to be the student studying media studies or granny s hearing aid or hip operation? Which do you choose? More important which do the public choose?

    “Over the last five years we’ve seen the number of people using food banks in the UK rise from around 40,000 to over 1,080,000”

    Careless propagandist tripe

    “It’s not difficult to imagine” – yeah …imagine away

    “Already we have seen people becoming disillusioned with the prospect of being saddled with debt for all their working life.” …or starting to make a realistic assessment of what they really want to do in their lives and is that degree in classic Saxon studies really going to be a boon for them

    “vital student services such as free counselling, student bursaries (worth £500 a year) and union officer positions ……….have been cut” I have to say that in my years at University the last thing I would have cut is the Union officer posts. After all there were so vital to my education!!!

    “The obvious question is why are students not taking action?” Perhaps because they recognize that these are the decisions of an elected majority Government and they have lost the argument

    “The responsibility also must fall on the parties at Stormont to ensure all is done to protect our education services”

    ….perhaps they should cut welfare spending to fund it. You may wish to lobby SF on this

    “While Iain Duncan Smith may sit happy cheering the new living wage, himself and fellow Tory ministers need their lives made uncomfortable by students.” This might actually seem a personal threat were it not so ludicrous

    Overall Eugene this Agit Prop nonsense will get you nowhere. You have lost the argument politically. Times are changing. The UK will have a Conservative Government for perhaps the next 20 years. Labour has failed and collapsed into infighting. Stormont will simply have less to spend Above all your politics has lost the argument with the electorate.

  • Reader

    Eugene Tinnelly: George Osborne’s latest budget has scrapped the maintenance grant in the UK and replaced it with a further loan.
    Well, to be precise, it has been scrapped for some students, putting them on an equal basis with their contemporaries who only ever had access to a loan.
    Eugene Tinnelly: This would drive potential students from working-class backgrounds away from university education.
    These are our best and brightest. Hopefully they will replicate the calculations made by their contemporaries when deciding what to do with their lives from the age of 18, and reach just as sensible a conclusion. That might be to go for 3rd level education, or not. Their parents’ income doesn’t come into it.

  • Dan

    Why no mention of this bloke’s links with Sinn Fein?

  • chrisjones2

    What links? I might have guessed from his politics

    I see he’s doing Spanish and Politics at Queens where he is a journalist and blogger for SF and seems to help run Student Radio.

    Good luck to him but perhaps he might find time to fit in a part time job to earn money and pay off his loan that the jackboot of British Imperialism is forcing him to take out

  • Eugene Tinnelly

    Hi Chris,

    Yes I believe that the state should be investing in educating people regardless of age or what degree they want. Of course there is a cut off point but people should be able to attain a degree if they have the ability regardless of their financial means. If the government can justify investing over £100bn on renewing trident, then they have no justification for pricing people out of gaining third level education.

    On it being a devolved issue, I did point out that although it’s not effecting us now, it is sure to be on the storming agenda soon. The block grant will be cut and we will all suffer and all of our services will suffer. Health, welfare, education. I’m not saying lets cut health to keep education low cost, I’m making the point that we should be opposing such severe austerity that means having these cuts in the first place.

    Regarding the food bank statistic, it’s far from “careless propagandist tripe”. Just see here: http://www.trusselltrust.org/stats.

    And yes, I am a Sinn Féin member and republican. This however, is not a party issue. Regardless of political persuasion, students should be united in opposing rises to their fees and cuts to their grants.

  • barnshee

    Let me explain it

    NI pays insufficient tax to fund the services it receives

    (if you doubt this I further suggest simple arithmetic The pop of NI is 2.8% of the UK pop — Apply 2.8% to the total tax take of the UK– then remind yourself of the low wages and state dependency of the pop in NI and consider what AT A MAXIMUM the NI taxpayers contribute)

    The Brits (foolishly in my view) via the Barnett formula ( another good reference for you to look up) return more to NI in funding than thy collect in tax The local cabal of religious zealots/convicted murderers/ murder gang members/apologists for thuggery get to divide the money out.If you are unhappy with the way the money is doled out well- the local cabal already favour NI students they might keep grants at the expense of other services– if not -tough -that`s the way the cookie crumbles in NI

    The bank of UK will not give out any more and the sooner NI lives within its means the better (you might also examine the reasons for the current state NI finds itself in)

    You could also consider that the aforementioned cabal could apply to have

    1 more tax raising powers
    2 raise taxes where the power exists locally (rates? water charges??)

    Or perhaps not -.you could continue the struggle to remove NI from under the jackboot of er the (British taxpayer) funded welfare system

  • chrisjones2

    “I’m making the point that we should be opposing such severe austerity that means having these cuts in the first place.”

    That’ s like saying that you are in favour of world peace and giving everyone in the world a salary of $20000 a year – hey great but it cannot happen.

    As for the Trussel Trust figures you simply dont understand the statistics. They say that 1,080,000 people received 3 days food. They make it clear that these are NOT UNIQUE USERS. So that equates to say 8876 people supported 365 days a year. That is 0.01% of the UK population. So you maths is poor and your point nonsense

    I will leave Banshee to help you with the UK National Politics and just say that your party is so fixated on paying DLA to one person in 6 in some of its constituencies that its robbing you of the possibility of a free education. Try asking Gerry why.

  • The Student Poverty Alliance Group?

    And who are they when they’re at home?

    Oh, that would be Eugene… But with a twitter account and a facebook page you, too, can be a “pressure group” dedicated “to abolish student poverty, fees, education cuts, and class division”.

    Power to the People, Comrade Wolfie! Is that still the preferred term of address for a member of Sinn Fein? I lose track so easily…

    But I look forward to see you ‘putting pressure’ on both the parties within OFMDFM. They decide the “cuts to the education sector and simultaneous rises in fees” here, you know.

    Btw, I can tutor you in adding links to a post. For a fee.

  • chrisjones2

    They are a Student Group in Queens. The way it works is that you create a Student Society and the Union gives you a grant for your ‘work’. You then organise a series of events with copious quantities of alcohol to help lubricate the debate. If you are clever you time these to be in strategic locations at the right time ie Dublin for either the Rugby (Prods) or GAA (Catholics)

  • chrisjones2

    Mercenary!!

  • Reader

    I don’t think that either the TT or yourself has the right spin on the figures – no-one eats all year from a food bank, but they do get a lot of repeat business. So, a non-spinny way of describing the situation is that one meal in every 6,759 was sourced via a foodbank last year.