Next week students across the country will be taking part in the NUS day of action against FE fees. Matt Stanley, President of MidKent College and NUS NEC-elect, explains why students should fight the introduction of fees in FE.
The Tory-led government is launching the biggest attack on young people that we have ever seen. From the scrapping of EMA to the trebling of HE tuition fees, our education is under attack. Now, in a move that will price thousands of adult learners out of education, the government is attempting to push through changes that would remove all support from learners aged 24 and over studying at level 3 or above.
From September 2013 adult learners in FE will be expected to cover 100% of the cost of their course. Students will be offered annual loans of up to £4,000 to cover their fees in a model similar to the HE system. The impact of this policy will be huge – around 375,000 current learners would be affected, with the majority of these students being women. In my own college 520 students would have to take out loans, with 61% being women. Women students will also take longer to pay back their loans due to the disgraceful pay gaps that exist in society. Overwhelmingly this is a policy that will hit women hardest.
Many adult learners in college study as a means of access to HE, where fees of up to £9,000 a year are already in place. Forcing these learners to take out loans for their college courses before they even make it to HE would leave them saddled with two separate lots of debt, and would undeniably reduce the numbers of adult learners going into Further and Higher Education. The government’s own figures budget for a 20% reduction in applications, but further research indicates that just 11% of adult learners would ‘definitely’ take out a loan to study at college.
Bringing in an HE style system of fees and loans to FE is a fundamentally unfair and flawed policy. The policy ignores the diversity of learners in FE, which includes apprentices and work-based learners. For every £1 that the government invests in apprenticeships the economy benefits by £40, yet apprentices currently earn a national minimum wage of only £2.60 an hour, giving an annual wage of just £5,000. Course costs of £4,000 would mean that apprentices over the age of 24 would, in effect, receive little over £1,000 for a year’s full-time work. Investing in free education makes economic sense and is the right thing to do.
Fighting for free education should be a priority of our National Union. NUS’ failure to make the case for free education and instead fight for a ‘graduate contribution’ has created an atmosphere where the government feels justified in making these attacks on our Further Education and propagating the spread of rampant consumerism in our education system. The fight against fees in FE will be won by mobilising our activists, with students lobbying MPs, running high profile campaigns and taking part in demonstrations and mass action. This is why FE students and fighting fees must take a central role in the 2012 NUS demo, sending a clear message to the government – no to cuts, no to fees, Further Education is not for sale!
Visit www.no2fefees.org.uk for more information. #no2fefees