Aaron Porter – President of the National Union of Students
Today we learn of the Ministers response to Lord Browne’s report on funding for Higher Education. They are rejecting his plan to lift the £3,290-a-year cap on tuition fees altogether and instead opting for a two-tier system – under which universities can charge between £6,000 and around £9,000 a year.
Aaron Porter, President of the National Union of Students, has been very vocal in his opposition to any increases in tuition fees. I therefore thought it might be quite interesting to meet with him so I learn exactly what he believes the government should be doing.
In this Facebook thread the Students Against Tuition Fees group told me, “Higher Education is getting increasingly more expensive in negative correlation to the benefit (career wise) and quality of the provision due to the widening of participation”. Posting the question ‘do you feel your university course is value for money?’ on my wall then sparked off an interesting discussion on the fiscal aspect of education so I seemed like as good a place as any to start with Aaron. He said;
– the annual student survey shows that students rate their courses no higher than when fees were £1,000.
– contact hours have only seen a ‘negligible improvement’ over this time.
So, I asked, where has this extra cash from students been going? Aaron said;
– university accounts are very opaque so he would like to see greater transparency.
– he believes 60% of the extra money has gone into staff salaries.
– and ‘the bulk of the rest’ has gone towards new buildings.
* an interesting stat passed on to me by Elliot Jebreel states that only 18% of students at Leeds University would ‘recommend their course if fees were raised to £7,000’
On this thread Sam Murray voiced his concerns over the lack of contact hours and raised the idea of some courses being condensed down to two-years – being taught over 45 weeks over the year rather than the standard 30. I wanted to get Aaron’s views on these two idea – he said;
– he wants universities to be ‘clear and upfront at the point of application,’ so students know when they apply what exactly they will be getting from the course.
– two-year courses are ‘not a solution that should be pursued with any great volume.’
– two-year courses may actually be more expensive to operate.
Aaron wants the government to replace tuition fees with a graduate tax (a tax which would be levied on graduates for 20 years following their graduation, ranging from 0.3% to 2.5% of their income). However, Vince Cable, who flirted with the idea during the summer has now said that such a tax would be “superficially attractive, this additional tax on graduates would fail both the tests of fairness and deficit reduction.” Why then does Aaron believe it will work? What does he know that Vince Cable doesn’t? Aaron said;
– Vince Cable’s assessment of a graduate tax is ‘misguided and misinformed’ – he has been looking at a different kind of graduate tax and has been ‘devious and underhand in suggesting it would be unfair.’
*I’m interested to know how many students agree with Aaron’s vision for a graduate tax – please comment below or drop me a message on Facebook. So far most people have been telling me the NUS should be pushing much harder against any change whatsoever in funding – the NCAFC for example.
On the 10th November, the NUS and UCU (University and College Union) will be leading a national demonstration against the plans to increase tuition fees. Students and staff are even getting buses down from Belfast to attend and they have expectations/hopes of around 20,000 people marching through Westminster. But, as Keith Halstead asked, can this demo really have any affect on those MPs voting on the Bill? Aaron said;
– students must have a national event so they can stand up and say what they think about future cuts in Higher Education.
– the government does not have a mandate for what it is doing and the Lib Dems (who are the key party in terms of the vote on tuition fees) stood in May’s general election on a manifesto that said they would abolish fees – ‘they cannot vote for higher fees or we will chase down around the country and I will make it my mission to ensure as many of them lose their seats as possible.’
Many (about 40 of the 57) Lib Dem MPs represent constituencies with high student ratios. Greg Mulholland MP from Leeds North West for example is largely believed to have won in 2005 thanks to the student vote (I put this idea to him in this interview). Mulholland has though said he will vote against any increase in fees – so it definitely seems like many Lib Dems won’t side with the coalition in this. Should be an interesting debate keep track off.
UPDATE – Just been sent a response to today’s announcement by Caroline Lucas MP
“Today is a dark day for the students of the future – and for Lib Dem voters who have seen, yet again, their Party’s leader make a shameful u-turn on a key election pledge. The Greens are now the only main political party that support free education for all. A cap of £9,000 is simply unacceptable for a country that values social mobility and inclusiveness. This announcement will mean our public degrees will be among the most costly in the world. Many people will be priced out of going to university – and those who do go will be saddled with huge debt. All this at a time when our young people are facing increasing unemployment and anxiety about the future.
“A more progressive policy to address the challenge of funding our higher education would be a business education tax levied on the top 4% of UK companies, which would generate enough annually to abolish tuition fees and take our public investment in higher education up to the average in other comparable countries. As MP for Brighton Pavilion, I am determined to work hard to protect students and staff at Sussex University from creeping privatisation and devastating cuts.”
As always, I really do welcome any comments, criticism or ideas you may have about my work. You can see what my idea behind this ‘social journalism’ is here – basically it’s a way of using social media as a platform for non-traditional engagement and a new kind of political literacy that seeks to open-up, explain and explore issues that relevant and a little bit interesting.