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Writing in advance of Lancaster University setting its fee level this Friday, I remain extremely troubled by the disturbing landscape in Higher Education which is developing as a result of the government’s decision to slash university funding and replace it with a monstrously high student fee. Lancaster students should be rightly proud of the role they played in fighting these changes last year, with our campaign engaging more students than at any other campus in the North West. You fought hard and selflessly for the next generation of students. But ultimately, together, we were not successful in stopping the cap from being raised. Already, a broad range of universities have declared a fee level of £9,000. Only one has set their bar lower.
As a Students’ Union LUSU remains, as we always have been, fundamentally opposed to cuts to education which directly disadvantage students. Education is not only a public good but also a fundamental driver of society. A shift of responsibility for this, financially, from the state to the student directly ignores this established fact. As a mechanism for personal development and broadening one’s horizons, education should be available to all who are able and who aspire. Other governments recognise this fact. They are wisely investing record amounts in Higher Education to secure the future for their countries and their citizens. Our government’s policy, in blatant disregard for the evident benefits of Higher Education, has dramatically severed the time honoured link between public funding and universities, cutting the investment in teaching by as much as 100% for most subjects. These figures speak for themselves.
Figures show that, for Lancaster to even stand still they will require £8,200 per undergraduate, £5,000 more than is currently paid in tuition fees. Other universities will need even more. If Lancaster University follows the current trend amongst institutions and charges £9,000 a year, forcing the responsibility abdicated by the government onto students, LUSU will have to work tirelessly to ensure that education is centred on the student experience more than it ever has been before. We need to be satisfied that the University is capable, and willing, to deliver an educational experience that is both worthwhile for society and provides tangible benefits for students who study here, both in terms of employability and personal development.
However, we will not accept the new status quo to continue for long. On a national level, LUSU will continue to lead the way, seeking a fairer alternative to unnecessary government cuts. It is vital that our country returns swiftly to a position in which the state actively demonstrates through investment that it values the benefits that universities can offer. At present, no political party has developed a viable system for Higher Education. The Liberal Democrats, long perceived to be the mouthpiece for student anguish, have turned their back on the ideals that saw them elected. And, even in opposition, the Labour Party has not been vocal enough in its criticism of the current shafting of students across the country. We need to see a new discourse on education develop rapidly if we are to avoid losing perspective on the values that really matter.
This is LUSU’s mission. This is a cause that all students can unite behind. We will not allow a market based on perceived reputation to determine who can and cannot receive an education that they deserve. Together, we can do all of these things and we will not let you down.