In response to the derisory £50 million extra funding announced by the government to alleviate ‘student hardship’, the NUS has reminded us that students are currently being required to pay for accommodation they can neither access nor, with casual employment dried up, afford. The NUS is calling for a return to maintenance grants, more funding and an end to extortionate housing costs. In the longer term it wants a move towards ‘fully funded education’.
Communist would agree and go much further. The purposes of universities and colleges of further education are, as we see them, to provide free, open access, lifetime education to UK citizens and to conduct research that benefits the whole of society. This is best achieved when they are embedded in the local community and maintain an open door to local people. Universities should not act as businesses selling degrees in an international market. It is this mistaken aim that results in them being run by over-paid Chief Executives. Our vision of a university would be run democratically by workers, especially academics who work in the university, and other representatives from the wider community, including those from trade unions.
New Labour bears a heavy responsibility for promoting the disastrous business model for universities and treating degrees as commodities against which purchasers need to borrow. As in other areas, New Labour set the ball rolling which subsequent Tory and Tory/Lib Dem coalition governments continue to keep kicking down the road.
What can be done? It will be a hard struggle to achieve the free, open access, lifetime education we need. This is part of the wider political struggle in which the Communist Party is engaged. The Communist University in South London (CUiSL) does, however, demonstrate, on a very small scale and without any state backing or resources beyond those provided by the Communist Party, a viable, alternative model for university level education based on open and free access. It is for this reason that the Croydon Branch of the CP decided at its AGM this month to re-activate CUiSL as soon as classes at Ruskin House can safely resume. It was also decided that CUiSL would be returning to class discussions of topics and classic Marxist texts rather than committing itself to further extensive research projects such as global warming paper and (until it passed it over to the CP Economics Commission) banking.
I will post up specific proposals and plans for CUiSL as soon as we have them.