Tories plan full university marketization and open door to unlimited fees

  • Save public education before it’s murdered by the market!
  • Fees to increase, ministers to get powers to raise fees at will
  • Universities will be forced to compete for quality ratings set by business interests
  • Government will let public universities collapse and help private businesses to replace them
  • Organise to stop the attacks! Protest at UCL 1pm 26 November – meet in front of Portico
Thousands marched on November 4 calling for #grantsnotdebt and free education. (Image: Gemma Short //
Thousands marched on November 4 calling for #grantsnotdebt and free education. (Image: Gemma Short //

As if hiking our loan repayments, and cutting maintenance grants and Disabled Students’ Allowance, wasn’t enough for the Tory government, now they’ve unveiled plans for the worst attacks on education in decades. If we let them get away with it, it will mean the death of public education as we know it.

The power to raise the undergrad fee cap – already at £9000 – will be handed to ministers without even needing Parliament to vote. The Tories have learned from the massive protests in 2010 when Parliament voted to triple fees and students hit the streets and occupied campuses, coming dangerously close to getting enough MPs to rebel and stop the policy – now they want to do it behind closed doors.

Even more sinister are the plans for marketization. After multiple failed attempts to make higher education a competitive market, the Conservatives are going to hammer universities into an artificial market serving business. Jo Johnson, the minister responsible, described his vision of universities as no more than a “pipeline of graduates” supplying industry. Universities will be factories, where students are just raw material, to be moulded into ready-made workers for the benefit of employers.

Universities will be made to compete in a “Teaching Excellence Framework”, which will value teaching against metrics and tickboxes like graduate destination statistics and flawed “consumer satisfaction” surveys. The government wants education to serve the interests of employers and big business, rather than being a place for critical thinking, challenges to power and intellectual and artistic exploration. This will be reinforced by an even more narrow-minded assessment exercise in research, restricting academic freedom. Arts, humanities, social sciences and blue-sky science – anything that doesn’t serve short-term profits – face yet more pressure.

Universities that score well will be allowed to raise their fees above £9,000, worsening inequality in a divided system. Meanwhile the plans include preparations for worse-scoring public universities to be allowed to shut, collapsing under the weight of years of attacks. Simultaneously, further and life-long education face cuts that could shut 40% of further education and sixth form colleges.

In public universities’ place will rise private institutions prioritising shareholder profits over students: the reforms will give unfair assistance to these new providers, such as looser regulation of student numbers, and easier access to the right to call themselves “universities” and to public money.

Teaching quality won’t be improved by a competitive market. It depends instead on the resources available and teaching staff working conditions. We need to reverse years of squeezed funding, and the underpayment, overstretching and demoralisation of staff – especially precarious casualised academics like postgrad teaching assistants. Instead of using these metrics to intensify the pressure, exhaustion and insecurity of our staff, we want decent funding for teaching, and good pay and secure jobs for our teachers. These shouldn’t be funded by boosting fees – education should be free – but by taxing the rich and their businesses, and putting the banks we bailed out and their investments under democratic control. Our society has huge resources – we should put them to better use redistributing wealth and serving education, healthcare and public services.

Finally, even our ability to defend ourselves and education is under threat. The new trade union law places incredibly undemocratic restrictions on our staff’s ability to take action, and our student unions – already bureaucratised and tied down by regulations – face a similar threat as part of the reforms.

The outlook is bleak but we can beat these changes. We need to spread awareness, organise together, and use protest and direct action to force the government to drop the plans. UCL Defend Education, as part of the National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts, will be doing our bit here at UCL and we need you to get involved too. The battle starts with a protest, meeting 1pm 26 November at the main Quad. See you there!


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