Open Letter to QUBSU Executive in Wake of Browne Report

13 10 2010


Fight for free education


– Scrap the Browne Report! FOR FREE EDUCATION!

– Build a demonstration on 10th November!

– For a democratic campaign of students and workers!

Dear Executive,
If implemented, the proposals made by the millionaire Lord Browne in his review of higher education will make university inaccessible to many students, particularly from working-class backgrounds, by massively increasing the debt which young people will be shackled with upon graduation. Allowing universities to vary fees for different courses will also make the most attractive courses the most expensive.

Increasing fees will not increase the quality of education, especially since huge cuts to the service will be announced later this month- the politicians want students to pay for the economic crisis created by the bankers and speculators. Ultimately, the agenda is to privatise education and to turn universities into mere training camps for big business, which Queen’s University’s management is committed to.

It is clear that the Northern Ireland Executive are determined to move in the same direction, since Reg Empey has now called for the report by Joanne Stuart – of the Institute of Directors – to be re-examined in the light of Browne’s findings. Students have no friends among the main parties, who are all wedded to cuts and privatisation.

Rather than lobbying the politicians, the Union should mobilise students and assist them in organising to fight in their own interests and put pressure on the politicians. The meeting called next Tuesday by the Executive is a very welcome step-forward, as is the protest to be held afterwards. However, this can’t just be a one-off, but should be the beginning of a real campaign- not just against Browne’s proposals, but for free education and against all cuts to services.

Many current students may feel that these proposals don’t directly affect them and, while opposing the plans, may not see the need to get active on the issue. Of course, the argument must be made that we should fight to defend access to higher education for future students, but a fight for free education with a living grant and the abolition of student debt is something which students will see as directly in their benefit. This is not impossible.

Opposing the cuts to jobs and services which are on the way – as well as being in the interests of students – can lay the basis for linking up with workers in the university. The UCU has come out openly against the Browne report. Involving workers in the campaign would massively strengthen it, because of their ability to take industrial action. The unions on campus should be invited to call their members to the meeting next Tuesday. From there, a committee of students’ and workers’ representatives should be democratically elected to run the campaign, building for a demonstration on 10th November to coincide with that taking place in London.

What is the alternative to cuts? How can you pay to scrap debt and provide free education with a living grant? For one, the government could shut down tax-havens and aggressively pursue the £123 billion which the super-rich and big business avoid paying every year. The banks which have been bailed out by the general public could be fully nationalised, with their profits invested into public services, rather than going into the pockets of fat-cat shareholders. Privatisation projects such as PPP/PFI, which allow big business to run services with huge profits, could be scrapped and the services brought ‘in-house’. The planned replacement for Trident could be scrapped, saving £34 billion.

Yes, these are radical demands. But the reality is that the Con-Dem coalition is determined to mortgage young people’s futures in order to pay for the crisis created by those they represent. They will meet no real opposition from the parties in the Assembly Executive. A campaign which is not militant in both its demands and its tactics cannot win significant concessions on this issue and defend access to higher education.

Chris Loughlin.

On behalf of QUB Socialist Society




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