Open debate on support

October 20, 1995

This week The THES is publishing in full a document drawn up by a group of student union officers on the funding of higher education (pages 8 and 9).

The THES has long argued that students must be part of the debate about how post-compulsory education is to be paid for and how students are to be enabled to support themselves. Without their participation there will be little chance of devising policies which work. By publishing this document both in the paper and on our Internet Service THESIS we hope to help open up this crucial debate and in particular to help students have a part in it. Answers to the questions raised by New Solutions can be sent in to them by snail mail or electronic mail.

Student participation in the debate has been hampered by the rigid adherence of the National Union of Students leaders (mandated year after year) to a policy of fighting for a return to the status quo of 1979 - conveniently just a couple of years after means-testing of fees was abolished for full-time home students and before grants began to be eroded and loans introduced.

Efforts by the NUS under Lorna Fitzsimons and Jim Murphy to inject some reality in to the way students approach this issue have repeatedly foundered on the 1979 rock. This has left unaddressed for too long the blatant unfairness of a system which denies support to part-timers and further education students and leaves full-time higher education students in a chaotic structure of grants, loans and parental subsidies.

New Solutions' initiative is different in that it comes from student unions locally and is an open consultation outside the rigidities of the NUS policy-making processes. It may help the NUS escape its straitjacket so that its leaders can pull their chairs up to the negotiating table. Given the long lead time on NUS decisions, and the urgency of reform, there is no time to lose.

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