If we don't keep universities free from market failure, is there anywhere else in society that is safe?

A student activist responds to this week's #Unishambles reports in The Independent by argunig that free access to higher education benefits all of society

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The Independent Online

If there were ever a time to demand free university education, it would be now.

A report in The Independent this week confirms that the Coalition government’s new £9,000 tuition fee regime “is in danger of costing taxpayers more than the old system.” In other words, a policy allegedly designed to improve public finance is having precisely the opposite effect.

This is a consistent thread in UK social policy since Thatcher. Public services are put on the market to benefit the few, while the broader public are left with the bill.


This same logic applies to the latest economic crisis, when trillions in public funds were granted to the banking sector. The public have been left with the bill, and now basic social services like healthcare, leisure centres, libraries and heating for seniors are being closed and cut.

The state serves at the whim of the banks, rather than the people it supposedly represents.

The latest education report, issued by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), states that the government has “seriously understated” repercussions from its tuition hike. There may now be a £1bn-a-year “black hole” in university funding, which will have to be offset by drastic cuts to student enrolment or higher graduate loan repayments, according to the article.

For those familiar with UK education policy, this was entirely predictable and avoidable. Researcher Andrew McGettigan made this clear in a report published this May titled “False Accounting.” This is failure by design, with the ultimate purpose of introducing market-based higher education to the UK.

Remember that tuition fees were only introduced at the university level in 1998. In a short time, the UK has become one of the most expensive countries for higher education in the “developed” world. There has already been a significant drop in university enrolment as a result, with immeasurable social and cultural losses to local communities. These social losses are mere “externalities” when subject to the dictates of the market.


It should be clear to all that higher education in the UK is fast becoming an elite and privatized privilege rather than a generalized right, with lasting consequences for society. One need only look to the United States to see the rapid social decline brought on by free-market privatization. There is no question that the UK Coalition government is heading in this perilous direction.

It is in this context that strong popular demands can be made. Free access to higher education benefits all of society, much like universal healthcare. Claims that there are not sufficient funds are unsound as the government considers replacing Trident nuclear submarines to the tune of £15bn to £34bn.

But the public know this and have turned against the government, as consecutive opinion polls indicate. At this point, the only thing keeping the Coalition government in power is insufficient strike action and popular street politics. The upcoming National Union of Students demonstration on November 21 is important, but it is just the beginning.