£24,000. This is how much you may be required to pay for one year of university education in the UK if you’re international student.

Exorbitant tuition fees are a symptom of what has been done to universities over the past 30 years. Institutions of higher education, once considered to be sacrosanct temples of knowledge, gradually have become more and more commercialised. Universities have become nothing more than businesses, led by boards of directors whose only interest is to rip as much profit out of the business as they possibly can.

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, last year 14% of UK students came from outside the EU. Their tuition fees amounted to 12.7% of total university income. While the other 86% of students bring in just 31.6% of total university income. The remainder of the money comes from other sources. International students are an easy target and they’re getting a terrible deal.

You might ask why investors are looking at universities, and especially international students, as a source of profit. Is there no other way to extract profit from businesses and people? Of course, there are, but the case of commercialisation of universities is slightly different. It might not be the absolutely most profitable investment, but it is a relatively stable one. In this period of capitalist crisis universities have become an attractive prospect for ever-hungry capital, which is constantly on the lookout for new ways to make profit. There are always going to be people who want to study. And when the job market is as bad as it is today, people will be willing to pay the cost.

It’s not like EU students are off the hook either. Many will use the “services” of Student Finance tuition fee loans. Such a service can bring quite a neat profit for the lenders: the basic maths suggests that it can return nearly 50% of the initial investment. If we also add up the relatively low risks of such an investment, we can see why the application of UK rules to EU students is so profitable.

Universities have become a microcosm of the sickness that comes with the thirst for profit that causes capital to spread its tentacles into every section of society. Millions of young people on this planet, wishing to develop their talents and contribute to society, are reduced instead to simply being exploited as part of the capitalist market. Of course, the result is that it isn’t the brightest students that are able to access education, it’s those who can afford the cost. Right now, it stands at £24,000 per year and under capitalism this is only going to go up. We have to fight for free education, and fight capitalism.

by Peter Kwasiborski, SOAS Marxists

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