The student activist interwebs have been buzzing in the last 24 hours concerning a statement made by Liam Byrne, the Shadow Minister for Universities, who indicated that Labour would scrap university tuition fees and replace them with a graduate tax.
Interestingly, it was Labour party under the control of Tony Blair that instituted tuition fees in 1997. Prior to that, university education, at least for British citizens, was free. Groups like the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) have come out with strong reservations concerning Labour’s tuition fee policy. Hannah Sketchley, NCAFC NC, said: “Labour is clearly just trying to woo the student voters, and this move shows that students can drive the education agenda. However, we can’t let ourselves be wooed by this one promise – Labour are still promoting an austerity agenda and slashing benefits, especially for the under 25s.”
NCAFC came up with this clever meme to drive the point further home.
It seems that Labour is also attempting to drive a wedge between students activists, both British, EU, and non-EU international, who are demanding free education and an end to brutal neoliberal policies that are effecting the quality of higher education in the United Kingdom. Although there will be some that might see Labour’s response as a happy medium, we must not forget that if a graduate tax comes into effect under a Labour Parliament, it will be non-EU international students that will be further used as “cash cows” and see their tuition fees, already now anywhere from £14,000-£25,000 per year, rise to whatever a university dictates in order for them to shoulder the financial burden of Britain’s ailing education system.
Much like asylum seekers, refugees, and non-EU migrants, non-EU international students are suffering under outrageous racist xenophobic policies under this coalition government. As outlined in a statement of 105 academics, activists and students published in Ceasefire Magazine last month, non-EU international students come this May will be charged £200 for using the NHS, in addition to now being under heightened UKBA surveillance on university campuses. Not only do non-EU international students must worry about these matters, but also increased racist abuse that was further witnessed over the weekend at the University of Birmingham with the Islamophobic and antisemitic graffiti spray painted on campus. Nor can we forget about the racist murder of Saudi Essex University PhD student, Nahid Almanea that happened this past summer.
The student movement must not forget that non-EU international students are struggling under both the neoliberal British university system and the oppressive policies of the Home Office. We must not let politicians and their empty promises of tuition fee reform sway us from the goal at hand: free education for all no matter where you come from!