“Education is the most powerful tool you can use to change the world”. One of Nelson Mandela’s most famous quotes and, in my opinion, one of his most relevant. Education is one of the most important, vital and necessary components in any civilised society. Without education we wouldn’t have nurses or presidents or engineers or doctors or actors or authors. It sounds cliché but it’s true. Education has enabled revolutions, given us cures for cancer, created democracy philosophy and art among so many others. Education and learning are the building blocks of society.
So why then do we have to pay for it? Higher education in the United Kingdom now costs £9000. That figure is higher in some places, for example in the US, education and maintenance costs can reach $30,000. It pains me to think how many brilliant minds could have been lost due to tuition fees. University for me was a given. I always knew that I wanted to go and no amount of tuition fees was going to put me off. And it has been so much more than I first imagined. Not only have I grown academically but I have developed deeper understandings of human beings in general. But this amazing learning experience is going to leave me with £45,000 worth of debt (tuition fee loans and maintenance loans). That is an unimaginable amount of money for a naïve 18 year old drama student.
But I don’t want to focus on myself. I want to look at the thousands of brilliant state school kids who have such huge potential to do well but whose potential will not be met because they cannot afford fees. And this isn’t me perpetuating some sort of situation to make you feel bad. I went to a state school in Stevenage for 7 years and when in sixth form I knew some fantastically clever people who were so promising in their chosen field but who didn’t want to go to university because the price of tuition scared them. Obviously there were other factors, but it was primarily tuition fees that put people off. These students were deciding to just go out and find work instead of gaining fantastic qualifications. Now obviously university isn’t for everyone. Some students would rather go and do an apprenticeship or study at college and that, of course, is fine. However for the ones that want to go to university it is a travesty that they are being denied those opportunities.
The rise in tuition fees from 2010 has led to more inequality in an already hugely unequal society. How many cabinet ministers and shadow cabinet ministers come from state schools? How many CEOs of major corporations come from state schools? Tuition fees are leading young people to simply become a reserve force of labour for those few at the top that have no worry of costs and can go on to achieve these qualifications that ensure a bright future. By scrapping tuition fees we enable young people from those disadvantaged backgrounds to go to university and gain the vital qualifications they may need to further their careers. This isn’t a case of social mobility; it’s a case of equality.
However, the politicians don’t want to do this, the chancellors and the vice chancellors won’t fight for it and the lecturers won’t support it so it’s up to us as students and activists to fight for what we know is right for every single working class school kid whose potential will otherwise be lost.