We suggest a reform of university funding to take account of who ultimately profits from it – university education should be free, and we should be waged throughout the time we are studying. We suggest corporation tax alone is used to fully fund the university system and to provide a living wage to all students. The university must also become freed from market demands and redesigned to meet the multifarious needs of society, not the single demand of the market.
The average UK student that started studying in 2010 can expect to graduate with £25,000 of debt. The recent Comprehensive Spending Review, which implemented a 40% cut to the universities teaching budget, will see the average more than double – making England the most expensive country in the world to study in. Students in the humanities are likely to see this debt be substantially higher as a result of a near-complete withdrawal of state support. Whilst this is a lot of money, taking on this kind of debt seems to make sense whilst we believe that we are ‘investing in ourselves’ – it’s worth it in the long run, right?
Contra ‘common-sense’, we understand that the purpose of the university is to train us for work. This is sometimes referred to as an investment in ‘human capital’ – in other words, as a result of developing new skills and new ideas, we are considered as more ‘effective’ or ‘creative’ individuals. Our increased capacities are highly valued by employers, who understand that we are able to work more efficiently or more ingeniously, therefore producing an ever increasing amount of profit in return for the wages they ‘invest’ in us. So the logic goes – the better educated we are, the more ‘ideas’ we come up with, the more effectively we can produce profit for our employers.
There is no question that our time at university has the potential to lead us to being more creative or effective – education is certainly a good thing. However as it currently stands, we are having to finance our own education so that someone else can make money from it! As a result, that ‘£25,000’ debt is like a huge wage cut, offset onto our future earnings. Or to look at it another way, every one of us that goes to university is subsidizing the (increased!) profits of our future bosses to the tune of £25,000!
Ah – but doesn’t an increase in profits mean an increase in wages? On the contrary, real wages (how much bang-you-get-for-your-buck) have stagnated for all but the richest since 1975, despite the fact that the UK’s GDP has grown by 1131% in real terms. This is reflected in the fact that income inequality is at its highest since the end of the WW2 – the household wealth of the top 10% of the population is now over 100 times higher than the wealth of the poorest 10%. Furthermore, the current economic crisis means there is immense competition for every available job, forcing wages down even further. We all take on debt in the belief that ‘we will be the lucky ones’, but only one person ever gets the job whilst the rest find themselves burdened with an eye-watering amount of debt and with limited or no means to pay it.
As we become ever more indebted (the universities aren’t the only institutions in need of reform!), we find we have ever less choice over our own lives, working in whatever McJob is going irrespective of whether we care or approve of the work we are doing – as the saying goes, you don’t work in a poison factory for your love of poison. To stay alive, we are forced to increasingly relinquish control over our own decision making, until we find ourselves feeling powerless to change anything about the world around us.
We must shift away from this system. The universities should be fully funded by those who stand to profit from it – but that doesn’t mean we are selling the university. Funded solely through corporation tax, the university must be redesigned by its participants so as to benefit the whole of society, not just those who can afford it.