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Monthly Archives: December 2014

We recently received an email from the Labour Club at the University of Sheffield, letting us know that they have passed the following motion:

Free Education
Sheffield Labour Students notes:

1. Education is a right not a privilege that benefits society, the individual, and the economy

2. Any increases in fees coupled with huge cuts to teaching grants place the responsibility to fund the system with the individual and not the state, which fails to reflect higher educations’ public benefit

3. This government’s “reforms” have also done little to tackle issues of access, cost and support for post-graduate students, who are often forced to pay thousands of pounds without financial support.

Sheffield Labour Students believes:

1. The government’s decision to lift the cap on tuition fees to £9000 has created a market in higher education where choices will be made based on cost and not ability.

2. The increased debt burden has made the cost of a degree seem unaffordable to many, dissuading prospective students from entering university

Sheffield Labour Students resolves:

1. To campaign against all forms of tuition fees, and the marketisation of the higher
education system
2. To campaign for the introduction of financial support for postgraduate students
3. To campaign against cuts to teaching budgets and education funding
4. To campaign for the reinstatement of public investment in education, emphasising education as a social good.

Well done, comrades! Keep your motions coming in and we’ll continue to publicise the growing support for free education throughout all levels of the Labour Party.

Ed Miliband was recently grilled by young people on ITV’s political Q&A show ‘Bite the Ballot’. Asked about tuition fees, Miliband reportedly said:

On tuition fees, Miliband says he will “lower” them but has “learnt from Nick Clegg” and will ensure the party has a properly “costed” policy before announcement.

“Before announcement”? Hold on, I hear you ask; didn’t Miliband already announce a policy on tuition fees in 2011? Yes, he did. According to the BBC:

If the party was in power now it would reduce the cap from £9,000 to £6,000 to ease the debt burden on students, the Labour leader told Andrew Marr.

There was also a flurry of speculation about £6,000 fees (that is, the already announced policy) in March 2014 and again in September. What happened to that? According to the Times Higher Education:

The Labour Party appears to have shelved plans to unveil a policy to lower tuition fees to £6,000 at its conference during a speech by leader Ed Miliband.

The delay has come because Ed Balls, the Labour chancellor, wants to thoroughly scrutinise the funding plan behind the policy, which the party believes will cost about £2 billion a year.

It added:

A £6,000 fee pledge remains the “direction of travel” for Labour but the policy is now more likely to be announced in October or November, Times Higher Education understands.

But it wasn’t to be. As we head into the General Election year, the higher education funding blackhole increases, and the student movement adopts free education as its rallying cry, the Labour Party has no policy on tuition fees.

At the Labour Campaign for Free Education, we want all fees to be scrapped and replaced with direct public funding from general taxation, a funding arrangement which would ensure that the wealthiest graduates and the bosses who benefit from our skills and education pay most. We definitely cannot imagine students and young people marching behind a banner demanding “£6k fees! £6k fees!”.

Nevertheless, the casual way in which policies are seemingly announced, reversed, forgotten about and then trailed in the press without being re-announced speaks to the stark democratic deficit in the party. Policy is made, not by conference, not even by the National Policy Forum, but on the hoof by the leadership, to catch whatever wind happens to be blowing towards this week’s PMQs.

This is no way to operate a political party, far less one supposed to be accountable to the labour movement. Labour need a bold policy which will inspire people, and we need to stick to it, win the arguments and see it through. If we don’t even make the case for the social value of education then how can we expect society to accept it?

On 14 December at the London Young Labour AGM, members voted overwhelmingly to pass the following motion submitted by the Labour Campaign for Free Education:

This Conference believes…

1) The National Union of Students (NUS) holds policy for free education to be paid for by taxing the rich, and 10,000 students marched in London for this demand on 19 November 2014.
2) Education funding is a particular issue for London, for it is where the majority of students and higher education institutions in the UK are based.
3) That the introduction of tuition fees was designed to undermine universalism, turn education into a commodity, and precipitate the marketisation of the higher education sector.
4) It emerged in March 2014 that the current system of tuition fees and student loans is likely to cost more than the policy it replaced.
5) That education is, above all, a public good which benefits society and not just individual graduates.
6) Higher education should be free to access, and funded through general taxation – with the richest in our society paying the most.
7) That although a degree is likely to a lead to higher lifetime earnings, this is not guaranteed, and the same can be said about post-16 education and many other services provided by the welfare state.
8) Wealthier graduates should therefore contribute more in income tax without an additional blanket tax on all graduates regardless of income or situation.
9) That Ed Miliband and the Labour Party should enter the 2015 General Election supporting the principle of free education paid for by taxing the rich.

London Young Labour mandates the committee:

1) To issue a statement of support for free education and for the Labour Campaign for Free Education
2) To ask Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidates in London whether they support free education and to publicise the results to London Young Labour members before February 2015.

LCFE LYL 2014

The motion passed despite attempts by London Region officials to bureaucratically rule it out of order. According to the London Young Labour rules, our motion was perfectly in order – it was about an issue that affected London and it mandated the incoming Committee. Region had clearly made up its mind to exclude the motions first for political reasons and then settle on a reason why – the problem was, their “reasons” were inconsistent and illogical, and London Young Labour members were angry at being treated like idiots.

Luckily, because of reforms introduced by the left in previous years, the motions section of the AGM was well-chaired and had proper standing orders (though these should have been made more readily available to members). We printed out our motions and distributed them to delegates, arguing that it should be the conference and not the Region that decides which motions are discussed. The conference overwhelmingly agreed, and we forced the motions on free education and immigration back on to the agenda. Both were passed!

On the night of Saturday 13, we held a successful fringe meeting at the conference. We distributed our model motion so that we can get it passed in as many Labour Clubs, Young Labour groups and other labour movement bodies as possible.

In the new year, we are planning to call a one-day event on Labour’s education policy, to discuss free education and gather activists together to fight for the policy in the labour movement.

After the 19 November demonstration, the student movement has built a momentum not seen since 2011. This dynamism is making itself felt inside the Labour Party too, and the Labour Campaign for Free Education exists as a vehicle to organise all those in the party who wish to fight for an expanded, publicly-run and freely accessible education system.

See also this extensive report from campaign supporter James McAsh.

To get involved, contact us at: labourfreeeducation@gmail.com