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Students march in London for free education (photo: Joe Jenner).

Students march in London for free education (photo: Joe Jenner).

Hastings’ battle for free education

As the general election approaches, students are raising their voices in protest against government policies of high tuition fees and the commercialisation of education. Joe Jenner fills in the background.

The free education movement sweeping across university campuses and towns in the run-up to this year’s general election is far from defeated. The student movement has left no doubt about its rejection of the neo-liberal politics of the coalition government.

The movement stands not only for the scrapping of fees, but also for keeping access to education free and open to all, ensuring equal and fair opportunity for students, maintaining good teaching relationships between staff and students and gaining a better educational experience for all.

The recent news that ARK academies will be making as many as 64 redundancies across its academies in Hastings has stirred up anger across the Hastings and St Leonards community. As a former pupil of Parkwood Sixth Form, I can remember the strain that was put on students and staff as cuts and redundancies were made. This situation forced teachers to leave their posts, causing disruption and extra work not only for staff but students too.

Since the marketisation of the education system and the increase in ‘for-profit’ academies, we are seeing students and staff being pitted against one another. While teachers will find it hard to cope with the reduction in their numbers and the ensuing extra work at ARK William Parker and ARK Helenswood, so too will the students. Excessive workloads have become a common issue among teachers. Recently 44,000 have complained about their unmanageable workloads to education secretary Nicky Morgan.

The increased marketisation and commercialisation of the education system is having deep psychological effects not only on teachers but students too. By entering schools into a state-subsidised free market, students are treated as customers, poorer schools plummet and richer schools excel as wealthier parents move their children out of schools to ‘better’ ones that subsequently receive greater funding. The marketisation of our education system is not working.

It’s time to fight back! Or at least that is what Vijay Jackson – founder of Hastings Anti-Cuts – is saying. After the wave of student protests across the country, and the large student demonstrations on my own university campus in Warwick, I spoke to Vijay.

He represents the growing discontent among young voters who are not only against tuition fees but the coalition’s programme of austerity. In November 10,000 students and protesters marched through London arguing for free education, greater taxing of the rich and an end to austerity.

In a statement Vijay displayed the anger and hope that the student movement epitomises.

“I reject cuts to the education sector and tuition fees because it is a principle worth fighting for – and a struggle easily winnable, as shown by Germany earlier this year. People see university as only benefiting the individual, which they should pay for, but free education is a right because it is something which benefits all of society equally, such as having more doctors, teachers and engineers.”

He also attacked the marketisation policies of our education system, but remained optimistic. “Unfortunately all the secondary schools in my area have been turned into for-profit academies.”

But he went on to say: “It is an interesting time to be an activist because people are rejecting both Thatcherite and Blairite ideas in favour of a return to nationalised industries and public services owned and run by the people. The initial betrayal of the Lib Dems may have caused apathy, and even anger among young voters; but the student movement is newly revitalised, as evidenced by recent protests, marches and occupations”.

Affiliated with the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), Hastings Anti-Cuts have already organised two demonstrations in Hastings (see HIP, 19-12-14, page 3). As the Conservatives declare that if they are elected next year, education funding will drop in real terms by 7-10%, will we see greater activism within Hastings, and indeed across the UK?

 

Posted 12:40 Tuesday, Feb 10, 2015 In: Home Ground

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