Rob Henthorn: Why we should be United for Education

Tuesday 08-11-2016 - 09:20

On 19 November, thousands of students from across the UK will be marching together with NUS UK in London under the banner 'United for Education'. A generation seeing its educational opportunities stolen away or priced out of reach will make its voice heard, calling for free, funded and accessible education at every level, and for an education system that is open and international, despite the harshest opposition to this vision we have ever faced before.

It's hard to over-state how bleak the situation for students is in the UK. Nowhere in the western hemisphere is so expensive to study in as England, where the average university graduate leaves education with £44,000 (around €50,000 - today at least!) of debt from tuition fees and living costs. Millions of young workers like me can expect to be paying back the staggering cost of our degrees, plus interest, for decades. Meanwhile, our universities are watching their core funding shrink, whilst being ever more burdened with market-driven measures that puts public education under threat. University students in the UK have a proud history of political action, a tradition we need to re-ignite more now than ever before.

In further education and vocational training, the situation is even worse. Students don't face the same financial burden of tuition fees, but college students lack any viable student support funding, apprentices are paid poverty wages, and communities are seeing their colleges merged, cut, or even vanish altogether. It was the NUS Further Education campaign - representing the vast majority of the UK's 600 students' unions and 7 million students - that called for the demonstration, and for university students to march in solidarity. This route into learning that is a lifeline for whole regions, a vital component of changing people's futures and shaping a fairer society, is facing an existential threat from the government's marketisation agenda and from the crass elitism of their education policy.

And all of this was before Brexit. While our colleges and universities are more international, inclusive and globally aware than ever before, the majority of British voters are turning their backs on Europe and the world. Open xenophobia has become mainstream political content, with the government persecuting international students and ethnic minorities in an attempt to impose society's growing racism on our student communities. If we believe that education has no borders, and in a future for global cooperation, now is the time for our movement to fight for the rights of international students and for the role of education in forging a new internationalism.

When UK students raise their voices to join others across the world in #FundOurFuture, we know that we are doing so with millions of other students across the globe. I joined the USI in Dublin last month for their 'Education Is' demonstration, and saw first hand that students in Ireland are calling for the same rights to fair and funded education as I campaign for in Scotland; the same rights that we will march for in London on #Nov19; the same rights that students from across six continents committed to in the Bergen Declaration in May. Learners, teachers and academics have always had a vision for a truly inclusive and international education system. The difference now - and what the #FundOurFuture campaign represents - is that we're at last working together to win it. 

The national demonstration 'United For Education', on Saturday 19 November (#Nov19) will not secure these things alone. By uniting communities, not just in England or the UK but across the world, in demanding educational opportunities fit for a fair society, we're not just resisting cuts and the narrowing of students' prospects. We are raising a movement that has a generational purpose and a historic goal: a free and inclusive global society that works and learns together, for the benefit of all. If you join us or lend your support on #Nov19, please do so, and know that through #FundOurFuture we will be lending our support to your campaigns as well.

Rob Henthorn, NUS Scotland Vice President


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