The meaning of NUS demonstrations
Life for many has got worse as the government has used the opportunity presented by the global financial crisis to push through reforms to restructure the UK economy. Part of that restructuring has been to change the function of higher education.
Tuition fees have trebled and the Educational Maintenance Allowance was scrapped, restricting access to universities despite students unleashing a wave of social unrest in the winter of 2010. Today London will see the first demonstration called by the National Union of Students since the day that sparked that unrest.
Over the last two years, little has improved for students as funding for courses has been cut and finding work after graduating is becoming increasingly difficult. Youth unemployment continues to hover around a million, while according to a recent survey, 40 per cent of recent graduates have been unable to get jobs that have traditionally recruited graduates within two years of leaving university, nearly double the number only a decade ago.
The fee increase is believed to be one of the reasons for the number of students applying to university falling by 50,000 this autumn and was one of the causes of the recent inflation rise. Larger fees mean that the amount of debt students will be in by the time they graduate is set to rise. Average debt for UK students is predicted to shoot past £50,000, almost double the national average of just over £28,000.
Once students graduate, finding themselves burdened with debt and entering a highly competitive job market, those who are unable to find work will not have the opportunity to claim housing benefit after April if they are under-25 - meaning many will be forced to move back in with their parents. Graduates who turn to the benefit system could find themselves forced onto one of the various government workfare schemes.
Over a fifth of the recent increase in employment figures was down to a rise in the number of young people on workfare schemes. Naomi, 20, studying at the University of Edinburgh is attending today to the NUS demonstration, she said: “[the schemes] mean graduates are limited in their job seeking time and the contributions that they can make to society through their education are completely disregarded. They’re forced to work in areas where they’re not specialised, which not only makes their education a huge financial burden, but a waste of time.”
Alex, 24, studying at Newcastle University, plans to attend the demonstration and he is concerned about student living conditions and the lack of support given to students in difficult circumstances: “It’s the little things that eat away at you, that don’t get the headlines, that make the difference when you pass or fail; and that’s what makes the fees such a risk – it is an enormous price to pay for the chance to get a qualification, and no support if you screw up when it is not your fault.”
The risk of failure and debt are not the only things putting people off applying to university. The sheer cost of moving away from home to expensive cities is becoming off putting according to Anna, 17, from Liverpool, who participated in the 2010 student movement and hopes to go to university next year. She said: “Things aren’t getting better for students, they’re getting worse and the NUS has done little to halt that. The slogan for this demo is ‘Educate, Empower, Employ’. It’s completely tokenistic as post-university employment isn’t going to help a person if they can’t afford it in the first place.”
Poorer students are already being priced out of attending university, reducing social mobility and student numbers are likely to continue to fall while the government desperately try to rebalance the economy. Over the last forty years the UK economy has shifted from being driven by primary and secondary industries such as mining and manufacturing to services being responsible for nearly 70 per cent of GDP today.
While service industries were growing, the number of students attending university significantly increased with the last government aiming for 50 per cent of school leavers to enter higher education. Our current government is trying to reverse both trends, but with modern industry requiring fewer workers, it is hard to see where jobs for young people denied access to university will come from.Tagged in: 2012, demo, demonstration, House of Parliaments, NUS, Students, university fees
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