In response to our front page headline, we believe the simple answer is ‘yes’ – education should be free.
The question is an idealistic one: in an ideal world should undergraduate students be made to pay for their degrees? The problem with Sir Steve Smith’s argument is that he does not engage with the word ‘should,’ but seems to think the first word of the question is ‘will’ (education be free for students). The fact that our Vice-Chancellor appears more interested in making sure that education is fully funded than where that funding comes from is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does frame the debate away from the interests of students.
This is exactly what happened at last year’s tuition fee debate, when the President of the NUS was inexplicably unable to convince a room of students that fees should not go up. She was beaten in a debate with our VC, who convinced a majority of Exeter undergrads that they should be paying more. Quite incredible work, Sir Steve.
However, he only won because of his rhetorical abilities and because his argument was that fees will go up – not that they should. A poll of Exeter students this year shows that the majority of our opinions are actually contrary to that result.
In a similar way, we have deliberately framed the question to ask whether education should be free – not whether it should be £9,000 or £3,000. That’s partly because last week’s demonstration called for an abolition of fees, but also because the more contentious issue is whether we should pay anything at all, not about what level bickering politicians think is most appropriate.
This debate should be purely about principle, not shrouded by endless talk of ‘economic reality.’
Let’s not get bogged down in pragmatism and think big: if education is a right, then why shouldn’t it be free for undergraduate students? We are not going to pretend, as editors of a student paper, that we are capable of running the economy, but we are going to suggest that education should be a priority. Call us utopian radicals if you want, but undergrad education is free in numerous countries around the globe, so why not in the seventh richest?
The latest demonstration in London saw some violence, which the national media jumped on with inevitable relish. In reality, the protest was almost universally peaceful and good natured. Where violence occurred, protestors seem to have been angry at tax avoidance and general government policy, not the cause of free education which the vast majority attended for. As such, we have tried to engage with the actual issue, while investigating the economic positions of students at Exeter.
Harrison Jones and Gemma Joyce, Editorsbookmark me