By Siobhan Holohan
Thousands of students and lecturers from universities across the country, including Keele, have marched in protest against the cuts in Higher Education. While politicians and media only sat up and took notice once violence had erupted among a handful of protesters, the wider British public could not fail to notice the strength of feeling behind yesterday’s student led demonstration, the largest in the UK since those staged against the introduction of student loans in the mid 1990s. Lord Browne’s controversial plan to raise the cap on tuition fees to £9000 per year has led to much debate on both sides of the classroom as academics and students ponder the impact that such an action might have on the higher education landscape. Many believe that the change will encourage the reintroduction of a two-tier system whereby those that can afford to will pay, while others will think twice before committing to lifelong debt.
In the month since Browne’s report, Internet message boards have been full of conflicting views on the proposals. While some maintain that education is a right not a privilege, many more agree with the plans complaining that they have been funding student’s lackadaisical ways and partying lifestyles for too long. This is an outmoded contention, which fails to recognise the sacrifice that many students currently make in order to attend university and the benefits they make to society once they graduate. Graduates who earn more already pay higher taxes contributing to the education of those to come in the same way that those who went before them paid higher taxes in order to fund their higher education.
While this debate will clearly rage on, what is clear is that by eroding the principles behind an affordable university system, we are at the cusp of dismissing the point of a higher education altogether. The logic of what Browne and the coalition government are proposing is a market driven knowledge industry bent on churning out a skills-based workforce based on an over-prescriptive view of what is ‘useful’ to society, rather than encouraging an intelligent public able to think, debate and, yes, protest.