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New Labour retreats on promises to students
New university places to be capped
When Gordon Brown took over as prime minister in July 2007 his promises to help students were met with a fanfare. But that was then. Now the government has capped new university places to 10,000 from autumn 2009, 5,000 less than expected, due to a budgeting crisis and the cost of borrowing to bail out the banks.
Matt Dobson, Socialist Students national organiser
An expansion of grants came into effect with this year's intake of students. Students from families with incomes of up to £25,000 are entitled to the maximum grant of £2,825 a year. But in reality bureaucratic, unfair means testing, results in many students missing out on money. The previous threshold was a family income of £17,500.
Showing what a low wage economy we live in, this year a third of students were entitled to the full grant. A further third of students with family incomes up to £60,000 a year receive a partial grant on a sliding scale, although this will be reduced to £50,020 from autumn 2009.
It appears New Labour drastically underestimated the number of poorer students who need to claim grants. The money made available for these grants isn't enough to meet the demand of rising admissions, which were up by 9.7% this year, though for the first time this year UCAS figures included nursing students. The government claims it is short of £100 million and that, with a national debt piled up to £685 billion, it can't borrow any more for public spending.
The admissions rise clearly reflects the aspirations of young people from poorer backgrounds to have the benefits of higher education.
Socialist Students has consistently warned that, while we support any increase in grants for students, limited reforms are not enough to meet the demand that exists. We also pointed out that whatever New Labour promises in order to gain popularity for election purposes, is likely to be taken away.
Cutting the number of new university places and denying students financial assistance they were promised will not go unnoticed. The government should expect huge anger.
Students will be asking what right the government has to take away the money that it promised them. They will wonder why the government is preventing them going to their university of choice because rich bankers have been bailed out.
John Denham, the universities minister, has devoted whole sections of his department's website to lecturing students about managing their finances, perhaps he should take a look at it.
The National Union of Students leadership has merely stated its concern about any cuts in grants or university places. This is a disgrace. Let's have some action!
The NUS should follow the example of students and pensioners in Dublin who met the Irish government's budget cuts with a national demonstration. We need to build a broad campaign to defend the right to free quality education for all. See www.socialiststudents.org.uk/cdf for information about the Campaign to Defeat Fees, initiated by Socialist Students.
Socialist Students says:
- No to cuts in student grants and new university places.
- For an immediate increase in public spending to meet the levels of demand.
- Scrap all university fees and write off all student debt.
- Introduce a living grant for all.
- Free, publicly funded good quality education system.
In The Socialist 5 November 2008:
Socialist Party campaigns
Marxist analysis: history
Socialist Party workplace news