“What’s the point in education, if you have to pay for the privilege”? asked the Manic Street Preachers in their song, Socialist Serenade. The neo-liberal plan for education is to make it inaccessible to those without the funds. It is even worse in postgraduate education where, if you can’t find the money to support yourself, you’re stuffed. There is little help available to postgraduate students bar research funding…and the competition for support is high. Undergraduates can apply for hardship grants, as well as the Access for Learning Fund (AfL), they even have access to Student Loans.
If you are postgraduate student, regardless of how academically promising you are, you have to find the money to support yourself. The state believes that an undergraduate qualification is sufficient and anything beyond that is a luxury reserved for the middle and upper classes. Anyone else is simply shirking their duty to the national economy; they are not, as many right wing economists might put it, economically productive and deserve the same contempt reserved for the work-shy and serial benefit claimants, who are the fodder of tabloid hate-stories.
The Education Reform Act (1989) forced students to take out loans (a product) by abolishing maintenance grants. They stopped students from claiming housing and social security benefits during the holidays which prompted many to abandon their courses. The New Labour Party under Tony Blair declared that more working class people would take up higher education. The reality is that currently there is little social mobility and working class students have decreased sharply. The average student debt at the end of one’s course is around £20,000 and it could be higher.
When this government announced its package of cuts – after spending billions on bailing out their chums in the banking sector- their sights were firmly fixed on HE. Their rationale appears to be predicated on the notion that such education is, as I mentioned before, a luxury. But what the government don’t realise or want to understand is that, if one looks at HE in purely economic terms then students are an investment. Academics are also under threat; job cuts are expected to be announced and many academics will leave this country for other shores. Is this really what the State wants? It seems that way.
I have just had to suspend my PhD studies because I was made redundant from a badly-paid job. I have no income and I am forced into doing something that I didn’t want to do. Now the dole queue awaits me and with it, a world of mind-numbing tedium.