International Socialist Archives

International Socialist was the journal produced by our tendency until January 2001, when we left the Committee for a Workers International. We now produce the journal Frontline.

Anger after victory over fees

The victory over tuition fees in Scotland has been soured by the Scottish Executives proposals to levy a £2,000 graduate tax, to be paid back by all graduates who go into employment on £10,000 a year or more after leaving university.

If this is accepted by Scotland's MSP's, it would mean more students facing a bill for tuition costs than is the case at present- where 40% of students are currently exempted from up-front fees.

This kick in the teeth from the New Labour/Liberal executive was drafted to save money- £20 million cheaper than the Cubie proposals- and the political face of New Labour in order to limit the fall out in England, Wales and Northern Ireland where the call for the same package to be introduced is gaining widespread support. Education minister David Blunkett has already announced a £68 million cash injection to allow the poorest students a non-repayable bursary, the abolition of tuition fees across Britain could well be next.

The Scottish Executive have carried out radical surgery on the Cubie inquiry's recommendations-which proposed no graduate tax be paid until an income of £25,000 a year was reached. Under the current proposals both the £2,000 cost of tuition and the thousands of pounds in loans that most students will still incur will be paid back from £10,000 a year. This would leave low paid workers in Scotland- the average wage in Scotland is £18,000 a year- facing a huge bill for the privilege of going to university. No wonder students responded to the executive's proposals with the cry of "sell out". The president of Edinburgh University Students Union summed up the mood of many students; "The governments recommendations add another £2,000 of debt to what could be a further £16,000 of student loans. That will make a sum of £18,000 to be paid back on an income of £10,000. That is totally unacceptable. We will fight this tooth and nail."
Adding insult to injury, the executive has proposed that Scottish students studying in England would be exempted from those changes.

Cubie report

The findings of the Cubie inquiry, after a six month consultation process, reflected the mass opposition to the abolition of free education in Scotland. The report itself says, " there was widespread discontentment with the existing system, regarding means testing, hardship, fees and loans." In all the public meetings and the hundreds of submissions one clear message was repeated time and again-fees have to go and a decent grant introduced to tackle student poverty.

Some of the main recommendations of the report included:

  1. The abolition of up-front tuition fees from October 2001
  2. The introduction of a graduate Endowment Scheme which means students would have to pay back £3,075 (exactly three years fees) after graduating and getting a job that pays over £25,000 a year.
  3. Students in Scotland would be entitled to an income of £4,100 if living away from home, £3,240 if living at home of which half, £2,050 (£1,620), would be available in the form of a grant or bursary for students whose parents or spouses had an income of less than £23,000 a year. For other students the full £4,100 would be available in the form of a pay back loan. If parents earn over £47,000 a year no loan would be available at all.
The Scottish executive proposed;
  1. The abolition of tuition fees from August 2000
  2. A pay back scheme of £2,050 on gaining employment with an income of £10,000
  3. A maximum grant or bursary of £2,000. No one whose parents earn more than £23,000 would be entitled to a grant.
  4. No proposals to ask Westminster to allow students to sign on during the holidays.

New Labour defeated

The likely death of tuition fees in Scotland and the introduction of a limited grant are a body blow to the government who within weeks of taking power in 1997 had levied fees on students and abolished the remaining grant entitlement.
This should be seen as a victory for all those who have fought for the principal of free education and who have been prepared to campaign, demonstrate and protest to defeat the government on this issue. If fees are abolished in Scotland and a grant re-introduced this will give a massive boost to the campaign in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to demand that New Labour follow the example of Scotland, non-payment of tuition fees should be set to increase as a result.

Student Poverty

The number of students in Scotland in full time higher education has rocketed to over 140,000 an increase of 92% in the last decade. Now 47% of all 18-24 year olds attend HE. If you add in the 36,000 who are in full time Further Education and the 306,000 who enrolled last year in part time FE courses (including New Deal, Work related courses) it can be clearly seen that the overwhelming majority of young people will go to University or College at some stage.
It should be noted that for the last three years applications to universities have fallen as a direct result of the introduction of fees and the abolition of the grant.

Most students are living in poverty at the present time. Studies have shown that in 1998/1999 the average student in higher education was spending £5,920 a year on their education, accomodation, food, books etc. NOTE Cubie is recommending a maximum income of £4,100 for students.

This is at a time when the maximum loan available is currently £3,635 if living away from home. No wonder therefore that 66% of student's work at some time during term time and 83% work during the summer when no financial support is available.

Overwhelmingly students work in part time low paid work mainly in retail, catering and bar work. Pizza Hut employs 11,000 people 60% of whom are students. Kwik Save employs 8,300 students 41% of their workforce. Many other examples could be given. The enormous increase in part-time work generally in society is in no small measure due to students who have to work in order to survive.

Even more worrying is the number of hours many students have to work to bridge the income gap from what they receive in loans and what they need to pay for housing, fuel, books etc. A recent study in Glasgow showed that students at Glasgow Caledonian worked on average over 15 hours a week, over 14 hours a week at Strathclyde Uni. and over 13 hours at Glasgow Uni. Incredibly one quarter of students were working more than 20 hours a week with over 5% working 30 hours a week. (Hardship, Stress and Work-The Experience of the Student Worker. Taylor, Smith and Cooper)

It is absolutely clear that neither the Cubie proposals nor those from the Scottish Executive, which would allow students to receive an extra £12 a week on current loan entitlement, would most definitely NOT allow students to cut their working week to a maximum of 10 hours. Quite the opposite. Long hours of work to allow students to cover basic living costs will continue until a decent living grant and a decent minimum wage are introduced.

A socialist policy for higher education would include:

Whatever the final package agreed by the Scottish Parliament the fight for free education goes on. The abolition of up front fees and the return of a limited grant represent a first step, the key issue is now to begin to organise a national campaign to win the return of genuine free education.

The limited powers of the Scottish Parliament, and the cost of implementing such a programme, would mean there could be no prospect of achieving these necessary demands without a massive transfer of funds to the Scottish parliament. It would also require extending the powers of the parliament to include control over taxation, social security and the economy.
It poses the question of the need for a complete overturn of the economic, political and constitutional arrangements-in particular a socialist reorganisation of society.