Source: Jess Hurd/Report Digital
Abolishing tuition fees to end the “commercialisation” of universities and limiting the “incredible” salaries of vice-chancellors will be at the top of the Green Party’s election priorities in higher education.
Dave Cocozza, the University of Kent film studies undergraduate named earlier this year as the Greens’ higher and further education spokesman, said that a figure will soon be forthcoming on how much the party’s pledge to scrap fees would cost.
That the Greens, who are enjoying a reported surge in popularity, are making a priority of the student vote was evident on the anti-fees student protest held in Central London in November, when Caroline Lucas – the party’s sole MP – and leader Natalie Bennett mingled with protesters.
Mr Cocozza said that the party’s manifesto would be finalised at its spring conference this week, before being published in mid-March.
The “main headline we’re focused on for higher education is removing tuition fees and really going down a fully funded route for higher education, not saddling students with the £9,000 tuition fee loans”, he said.
However, Mr Cocozza could not provide a figure on the likely cost of scrapping fees. “It is being costed at the moment,” he said, adding that “there are boffins working behind the scenes…It’s all being done and once approved by conference, [will be] shown for everyone to see.”
Last week, Ms Bennett faced ridicule after struggling in a radio interview to explain the costings behind a policy to build more social housing.
Asked if it was possible to say how the abolition of fees would be funded, Mr Cocozza said that revenue-raising measures proposed by the party more widely include the scrapping of Trident – which he said would save £100 billion – “clamping down on companies that are dodging tax” and a “wealth tax”.
Mr Cocozza, a 24-year-old mature student, described himself as being from a working-class background and as having initially been “put off” study “when Labour originally introduced £3,000 fees”.
He added: “It’s about the marketisation of higher education. The current state is there’s a massive inequality between students who work on campuses that earn about £5.13 an hour – minimum wage – and vice-chancellors who are on incredible amounts of money and are continually having increases in their salaries when lecturers and other staff have to fight for a 1 per cent increase.
“All this comes down to the fact that it’s a commercial outlet now…We believe that if you went back to a system of free education, you come to university to learn as opposed to being just a number in the system.”
Another higher education priority for the Greens will be “reducing the inequality in salaries”, said Mr Cocozza. “We’re looking at how we could introduce a ratio limit,” he said, where vice-chancellors would be set a maximum salary calculated “in relation to the lowest-paid member of staff”.
Mr Cocozza said that affordable housing for students was another priority. He added that “the Green Party is the only one that will support mature students”. He said that he had “seen so many people drop out”, adding that mature students often have family and work commitments and that Kent, for example, “isn’t geared up towards that”.
Solutions should include more common rooms where students can meet without having to spend money and on-campus crèches, Mr Cocozza argued.