How independent is the new ‘Independent’ Review Panel on variable fees?

15 12 2008



Reg Empey, Minister for Employment and Learning, announced the formation of an ‘Independent’ Review Panel on variable fees. This would be the first review of fees since top-up fees were introduced in 2004. But the Socialist Society asks how independent is this new panel on fees and how will it effect students?

The Minster announced that Joanne Stuart would chair the panel. Ms Stuart is presently the chairperson for the Institute of Directors, a support and lobby group for big business. The Institute of Directors states it “has always championed the entrepreneur and seeks to provide an environment conducive to business success.” Will the new ‘independent’ chair of the review panel seek to champion the interests of the ‘entrepreneur’ over ordinary students by opening up higher education even further to big business?


The new panel already is shaping up to be entirely open to the big business agenda of making education profitable so it can be privatised. Students must organise to fight against a barrage of attacks. It looks likely the Westminster review on fees in 2009 will recommend a rise in fees to anywhere between £5-10,000 a year. Already some universities are budgeting for increased fees.


Many university, school and tech students are angry that fees are going up and especially that their students’ unions are doing nothing about it. On Tuesday 2nd December there were supposed to be protests across all university campuses. Instead Queen’s SU and the NUS-USI called off their protests as the Minster has allowed a student representative to sit on the review panel. The majority of students’ union leaders are careerists who do not represent the views of ordinary students. And on water charges and many other issues, we have seen that reviews of this kind are merely a façade, with the government then pushing on with its agenda regardless.


The question on the minds of many students is what can we do now to defeat fees? The recent struggle in the south against the introduction of fees point the way forward. Over 15,000 students took to the streets of Dublin in one day against the doubling of their registration fee and the possibility of fees being introduced. Dozens of large protests have been in all the major university towns in the South. The campaign Free Education for Everyone (FEE) has helped organise these. They have been helped by not being completely dependent on the students union.


The Socialist Society calls for:

         – The Students’ Union to affiliate to the Campaign to Defeat Fees, a broad campaign launched by Socialist Students in Britain.

         – The campaign to be democratically controlled by ordinary students with all decisions being made through open meetings and elected committees, not Union bureaucrats.

         – A mass protest in the new year as part of an ongoing campaign, using all of the resources of the Unions to mobilise students and get the maximum turnout.

         – Any student representative on the review panel to implacably call for the abolition of fees, student debt and the replacement of loans with a living grant.




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