Fighting the Browne review means making the case for investment in our Universities

The UCU are entirely correct to say that the recommendations of the Browne review of higher education amount to a privatisation of the British HE sector. Were these recommendations implemented, it would radically change the face of tertiary education in this country –three year degrees could cost as much as £68,000, the market in fees could mean a return to a two-tier HE system, parents may have to take the monstrous decision of choosing which of their children to send to University. The coalition government, whilst seeming to have hysterical concern for the public deficit, appears to have a callous disregard for private, household debt. Far from being distinct, the two issues are intimately interlinked.

The dividing line in this debate is simple and best described with a question – do you believe that students should pay more for their degree? I have argued elsewhere that, in the current context, proposals to charge students more for their education are highly iniquitous. In Britain, students already contribute far more to their education than in the rest of Europe. This comparatively high levy on students has taken its toll on participation rates – in the last ten years, our rates of participation have slipped from third in the list of OECD nations, to fifteenth.

From a moralistic perspective, this is itself alarming. But we need more than a sense of moral outrage to win the fight against the Browne review. From an economic perspective, the statistic is also a cause for concern. To survive as a highly skilled economy, Britain needs highly skilled workers.

Cuts to the teaching budgets of universities of up to 80% will exacerbate this comparative decline in university graduates. As a result of this cut, the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimate that tuition fees will have to rise to £7000 simply to maintain the same levels of investment in teaching as before. Cuts in the provision of public money to Universities necessarily translate into tuition fee hikes.

The million dollar question is whether these cuts are necessary. The Free Education Campaign has recently posted an article on the foremost Left-of-centre blog in Britain, Left Foot Forward, on how investment in higher education yields economic returns. Drawing on evidence from the OECD and the Treasury’s own figures, they show that for every £1 invested in the HE system, the economy expands by £2.60, around £1.30 of which comes back in tax revenues. Of course, Higher Education is also vital for high level research. As the economist, Mick Burke, points out, investment in scientific research also reaps massive rewards for the public finances. In short, investment in HE actually makes the government money. It’s therefore part and parcel of closing the deficit in the public finances.

Vince Cable’s stated reason for embracing the Browne review – the state of the public finances necessitates a greater student contribution – is revealed as nothing but Thatcherite rhetoric. As my friend and colleague in the Free Education Campaign, Fiona Edwards, writes:

Missing from his argument has been the central role higher education could play both in reviving the economy now and in promoting long term prosperity and growth in the future.

We need to make sure this point isn’t also missing from our arguments against Browne’s proposals. Uniting and mobilising the broadest possible alliance to reject the review is hugely important. But to make the strong political alliances we need, we also have to make the robust economic case for greater investment in our Higher Education system.

Coup Attempt in Ecuador Defeated

I recieved this update from VSC on the situation in Ecuador last night:

Initial reports today inform that sections of the Ecuadorean Police are staging street demonstrations, ostensibly for economic demands but in reality trying to subvert the legal order, including through trying to occupy the National Parliament. Additionally, in open revolt against the government, some police officers have taken illegal control over their police stations.

There are also reports that members of the Quito army barracks in the capital city occupied these barracks in open mutiny against the government. In response, President Rafael Correa went to the barracks to talk to the rebels and was attacked by CS gas which exploded near his face. The President is now in the hospital of the Quito Regiment, with minor concussions but well. The armed forces have him under their control in the Quito barracks.

In a clearly orchestrated action of open rebellion, members of the armed forces also took control and closed the Mariscal Antonio José de Sucre airport.

In response to these developments, on live TV through TELESUR at about 18 hrs (GMT) President Rafael Correa said: “It’s a coup d’etat, a conspiracy organised by the opposition.” President Correa hinted that UNASUR was likely to hold an emergency meeting to defend the democratic order that is under threat in Ecuador and also said that police officers supportive of the revolt were trying to get to his hospital room to attack him. He added that he was standing firm in the defence of the democratic order in Ecuador and there was no way he would capitulate, and that he could only lose his life.

The Foreign Affairs minister has called upon people to march to the hospital to protect the life of the President. Mass demonstrations are now taking place in the whole of Ecuador in support of the legitimate and democratically-elected government of President Correa. People are currently congregating around the Quito barracks hospital to protect the President.

President Correa and his government have won every single democratic election since his election in 2006. The government has expanded democracy and implemented policies to redistribute income to the poor, benefiting millions of people hitherto socially excluded. The country has also had a new constitution overwhelmingly approved at a national referendum, which is deemed to be one of the greenest and most progressive constitutions in the world.

Venezuela Solidarity Campaign
http://www.venezuelasolidarity.co.uk

Thankfully, the coup has since been defeated:

The military has freed Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa and the attempted coup in Ecaudor against the elected government is over. Troops loyal to Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa have freed him from the military hospital where he was previously held hostage by right-wing coup police. Five troops were injured during the rescue operation but no soldier was killed.

Thousands of people gathered in Quito in support of the president and against the coup. Once released, Correa addressed a large number of triumphant supporters gathered at the Plaza of Independence in Quito chanting: “El pueblo unido jamás… será vencido!” (“The people united will never be defeated!”).

“What loyalty, what support! This will serve as an example for those who want to stop the revolution not through the ballot box but with weapons,” said President Correa.

Additionally, Ecuador’s police commander General Freddy Martinez has now resigned. About 50 people, including Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, were injured on Thursday during clashes between the rebel police and supporters of the Ecuadoran president.

Support for Correa has been strong internationally and regionally, with the Organization of American States making a strong statement and heads of state of members of UNASUR had planned on travelling to Ecuador if necessary. Hugo Chavez, the Venezulean president, described the unrest as “an effort to overthrow President Correa,” adding that “together with the people of Latin America and the Caribbean we will be vigilant and standing in solidarity [with Correa] in this historic moment.”

Venezuela Solidarity Campaign

http://www.venezuelasolidarity.co.uk

The defeat of the coup should be celebrated. However, it’s also an alarming reminder that the social progress made in Latin America by the tide of Leftist governments needs our solidarity.