The Students’ Union is launching a campaign this week to encourage the government to prevent above inflation increases in top-up fees.
Over the coming weeks, sabbatical officers and Union street team volunteers will conduct kitchen tours across campus to raise awareness and encourage students to contact their local MP regarding the issue.
This comes after a Warwick delegation, led by Education Office Mohammed Surve met with four MPs in Westminster on 18 March to discuss higher education funding.
They aimed to try and persuade the politicians to support Early Day Motion 1085, which calls on the government to involve the NUS fully during the review on top-up fees, and to use the NUS’ Five Foundations as a basis for policy.
The Five Foundations include the assertion that students should be “provided for according to their true needs while they study,” and that “unmanageable levels of debt are bad for both the borrower and lender, and should be avoided wherever possible.”
The latest campaign differs from the SU’s previous policy of opposing top-up fees altogether. Surve argues that while the new position has led to criticism as “some students feel that the campaign abandons the fight for free education”, it is also “more realistic”.
“The reason why NUS and many other Unions have moved from opposing fees to opposing any increases in fees is not a matter of principle,” he said, “but practicality”.
He believes that lobbying MPs for free education would be ineffective because “very few would be willing to listen to that voice”.
The Liberal Democrats are the only major party currently committed to free higher education.
Sanjay Rishi, who joined Surve at Westminster to lobby MPs, told the Boar that while he saw top-up fees as a “relatively preferable scheme”, leaving university with a large amount of debt was “far from ideal”.
He stated that he believed as the current generation of students have been the first to experience top-up fees, their voices are essential for highlighting the issue.
“There’s a unique spirit amongst students our age”, he said, “I think there’s a certain ‘student culture’ which fights for the best for students, be they past, present or future”.
“There is no better voice to oppose [fee increases] than the current batch of students”.
He added that he hoped that as a result of the campaign, “politicians will realise that the student body as a whole is concerned about the issue, and the high cost of university life really does act as a barrier to entry for both current and future students”.
The Government Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills projects that the total level of student debt will reach £46 billion by 2013.
Surve pointed out that “students may begin to question whether higher education is a worthwhile investment if the returns from their degree are not much greater than those without degrees”.
This reiterates the findings of a study by Warwick economists that was reported in the Boar last week that showed that graduates earned on average 17.5 per cent more than non-graduates.
The researchers said that even slight increases in the costs of tuition would make the financial return of a degree considerably less.
Matthew Dimic, a second year English Literature student, said that while he saw top-up fees as an annoyance, he accepted that “funding has to come from somewhere”.
A first year History student who did not wish to be named disagreed, arguing that “a university education should be free.”
“Free education should be a fundamental right,” she said, “the amount of debt I will have when I graduate is obscene”. The review of tuition fees is expected to take place later this year.