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Grants not fees!

The Government is abolishing university students' maintenance grants and making them pay tuition fees. These changes are an attack on all students and especially working class youth. If they go ahead it will be the death of free education.

Grants have been under attack for years. The Tories scrapped maintenance grants for Further Education students in the '80s. It made working class, black and Asian students, who predominate in FE colleges, financially dependent on families which were suffering the effects of mass unemployment, cuts and a growing gap between rich and poor.

In the '90s the Tories attacked university students, first freezing grants, then making annual 10% cuts and introducing the student loan scheme. Growing numbers of students have ended their courses heavily in debt. The numbers dropping out have increased because of financial problems.

These were among the reasons why millions of people were desperate to get rid of the Tories and overjoyed when Labour won the election last May. Yet within a few months the new government announced that it was going to scrap the remaining grant and impose a contribution of £1000 a year towards tuition fees on university students whose parents' combined annual income is more than £24000.

What these cuts will mean.

Basic maintenance, including rents for university residence or private accommodation, is the largest part of students' expenses. Add on the effect of fees, and large numbers of students are likely to end their courses owing £20,000 - a tunnel of debt that it will take many years to escape from.

In fact it can get worse still, because there is no cap on the figure of £1000. Universities could well put the contribution up higher in future years.

No wonder university applications are 8% down this year. Youth from the poorer sections of society will be rethinking their plans to go into higher education. More students from those backgrounds will drop out. Working class families will have to lower their educational aspirations. This will hit hardest those who suffer the greatest discrimination, the black and Asian communities.

Women will have to think harder about taking on huge debts, when their earning power is still less than men's at every level in the labour market. Working class and less well-off middle class families could return to the days when they only send some children, i.e. their sons, into higher education.

Falling applications will hit university finances. The University of Central England has decided to pay the fees contributions itself for students on some under-subscribed courses, and other universities are considering similar moves, but this won't solve anything. University authorities will be caught in a vicious circle of making cuts, reducing facilities, increasing class sizes, putting up rents and demanding higher tuition charges. This will intensify the tendency to create a 'pecking order' of universities.

And all this is coming from a government that said that 'social justice for all' was at the centre of its policies! - and from a prime minister who said that his priorities were 'education, education and education'!

NUS sell-out.

Before the election neither Labour nor the Conservatives openly declared their policies on grants and fees, but the leadership of the National Union of Students did the Labour leadership's work for it and helped out the Tories at the same time. They tried unsuccessfully to get the 1995 NUS conference to abandon the union's traditional commitment to free education, but finally got the 1996 conference to vote for abolition of grants and moves to a 'graduate tax' as the basis for university finance.

The NUS is controlled by fanatically loyal Blairites bureaucrats with their eyes on their political careers. They didn't care about the effects of their policy on students from poorer backgrounds. They didn't care that their 'graduate tax' ignored reality (graduates pay higher taxes already, to the extent that they get better paid jobs, but many of them are being forced into lower paid employment by financial pressures). The NUS leadership just wanted to ensure in advance that Labour cuts wouldn't face mass student resistance.

Once it had got elected the Labour government 'rewarded' the NUS leaders by introducing student/parental contributions to tuition fees as well as abolishing grants! Of course they have had to cover themselves by condemning these tuition charges, but they are still determined that there should be no serious campaign to reverse this decision. They wouldn't even call a national demonstration.

How we can win.

A growing number of students has shown that they do want an effective campaign to defend grants and free tuition. This was clear on many of the local demonstrations on 1st. November, and on the 26th. November national demonstration called by the Campaign for Free Education. Many student unions have felt they had to do something, whatever the NUS executive says. This is shown by the number of unions sponsoring the 'Grants Not Fees' lobby of Parliament on 26th. February.

Only a campaign of mass action will reverse these attacks. The way that action can be effective was shown by last term's occupation at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, which won the support of lecturers and successfully defended student access to the university library against planned cuts.

Anger at the Government's grants and fees policy goes much wider than current university students. FE and school students are becoming aware of the impact it will have on them. Lecturers and other university workers realise it will effect their jobs and conditions. Activists throughout the labour movement see it as a further betrayal of the working class people who put this government in power. Students can spearhead action that will mobilise wider forces against this attack.

Divisions in the Labour Party over attacks on the welfare state were brought into the open when 47 Labour MPs voted against single parent benefits cuts in December. This gives us the opportunity to step up pressure on the Government and link the struggle for free education with the fight against attacks on the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society.

We must demand that all those Labour MPs who voted against benefit cuts keep up their struggle and vote against the abolition of grants and the introduction of tuition charges. We must demand that those MPs who abstained or voted guiltily for the Government have the courage of their convictions and defend free education and the welfare state. We must take this fight right up to the Government itself. That must be the purpose of the Lobby of Parliament on 26th. February.

We can not rely on any politicians in Parliament to win this fight for us. We have to build action on the ground to win. But we must demand that Labour MPs use their positions, which they owe to working class votes, to help us build our struggle.

Build mass action - kick out NUS bureaucrats.

In Germany universities were occupied during the Autumn and students demonstrated in the streets against cuts and tuition charges. French students have taken to the streets in recent years, won support from teachers, parents and trade unionists, and stopped government education cuts. During December and January unemployed workers in France have occupied benefit offices and the offices of the ruling Socialist Party, and organised mass demonstrations with the trade unions, against the 'Socialist' government's betrayal of the unemployed.

Students need to build on these examples in Britain. The forthcoming Lobby of Parliament must be large and militant. It must be a real step towards a fighting student movement and a wider social movement against the Government's anti-welfare policies.

In the run-up to the Lobby we must organise demonstrations and pickets at MP's surgeries and constituency meetings, hold mass meetings in colleges and universities to mobilise support, and get to union meetings to draw teachers and other workers into our action. Our aim must be a campaign of student/teacher/worker strikes and occupations to stop the current attacks and defend free education by restoring the value of the maintenance grants and FE students grants.

The sell-outs who control the NUS must be kicked out and replaced by leaders who will be accountable to students and fight for free education. We must organise a mass demonstration at the NUS conference in ? to demand that delegates stand up for students' interests, vote for action on grants and fees, and elect a fighting leadership.

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The Immigration and Asylum Act passed by the last government and maintained by the present one was a racist attack on some of the most vulnerable sections of society as a preparation for much deeper attacks on benefits and welfare rights. The Movement for Justice fought for action against this unjust law from the moment it was announced, campaigning for collective non-co-operation.

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The attacks on free education will principally fall on poor and working class youth. Inevitably that means that black, Asian and women students will suffer the most. Racism, sexism and class distinction will increase. That is why it is in the interests of everyone fighting these attacks to build a militant, integrated struggle against racism and sexism.

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