The Oxford Marxist Society and the Cambridge Marxist Discussion Group are sickened at the suggestion by former Universities Minister David Willets that tuition fees at Oxbridge may rise up to £16k a year in return for the Universities buying the student loans of its alumni. As Marxists we oppose all student fees and campaign for free education for all, as such we condemn this proposal in the strongest possible terms.
It is no secret that, since the Coalition’s hated education cuts were implemented, the hiking of fees to £9,000 a year has not been enough to keep the Oxbridge education system running sustainably. When Andrew Hamilton, the Oxford University Vice Chancellor, called last year for Oxbridge fees to rise to £16k, he cited the ‘chasm’ of Oxford’s £70m annual shortfall. He is clearly correct that this is not a sustainable situation.
Raising fees and selling debt, however, is not an acceptable solution. Willets and Hamilton argue that since Oxbridge students are statistically likely to earn more than those from lower ranking universities, they are more likely to be able to pay back their debts. If these debts are sold to the universities, they claim, they will provide a steady stream of income to fund future courses.
This argument relies on steady prospects for Oxbridge students in the coming period, a dream that is in all likelihood, complete fantasy. The British economy in terminal decline. Just as this statement is being written, reports from the European mainland, to which British prospects are inextricably linked, contain more bad news: Italy is back in recession and German factory orders have taken a significant hit. No wonder there have been recent reports of Oxbridge graduates taking jobs in the most menial parts of the service sector – the ‘elite’, as some like to call themselves, are clearly not safe from crisis and left unable to use the knowledge they have gained to improve society.
In a situation in which students are unable to pay off their debts, the owners of these debts will need to raise interest rates (and lower the repayment threshold, if they can legally do so) in order to keep the profit coming in. Oxbridge will try to justify this attack on graduates by pointing to their shortfall, and the difficulty of sustainably educating the next cohorts of students.
The proposals would also lead to the creation of a de facto two-tier system in British education, as lower-ranking universities would not be so willing to take on the risk of unpaid loans. The plans might also deter female students and those from poorer and minority backgrounds, as their earnings potential would be smaller due to the inherent inequality of the capitalist system.
The Marxist Student Federation, to which both our societies are proudly affiliated, is absolutely in favour of the high quality education that Oxbridge can provide. However we will not shrink from pointing out the absolute unsustainability of this education – as well as other high quality services that rely on decent funding, such as the NHS – in the epoch of capitalist crisis. The only solution is to nationalise under workers’ control the vast amount of productive capital that exists in Britain, but, under the current mode of production, is only currently used when it can make a profit, and instead use it to fund a decent society. Only then will we have a free, high quality education system for all.
Stop the student debt sell off!
No to fees, no to cuts!
For a socialist system of education under workers’ and students’ control!