Higher education is in crisis according to today’s election manifesto from the Green Party. The party attacks the current state of universities, blaming the Conservative coalition and Labour for the current funding system and criticising vice chancellors for “paying themselves £300,000 a year while cleaners on national minimum wage have to resort to food banks.”
“The fundamental purpose of universities should be to promote critical enquiry, social innovation and cultural renewal. But these aims have been sidelined in an atmosphere of increasing managerialism and commercialisation.” The party blames a focus on research outputs for denigrating the role of lecturers as teachers.
The party attacks the Coalition and the Labour Party for the current system of university funding and finds that UK universities are “now all but privatised”. The Green Party also criticises VCs saying that they are, alongside senior bureaucrats, the “only people to benefit from the current system” and they “award themselves massive pay rises while those on the ground who carry out teaching and research face ever more pushing terms and conditions of employment.”
The manifesto says that zero-hour contracts are commonplace, money is wasted on “copying expensive private sector practices – including ludicrous rebranding exercises” and the future for arts has been endangered by a “systematic denigration by the dominant political parties and university administrations alike”.
The party also mentions mature students calling their situation ‘even more dire’. “Adults wishing to return to education are faced with a situation where short courses and part-time study are considered not cost-effective in market terms.” According to the party “giving people the opportunity to be ‘second chance’ learners should be a crucial part of what universities offer to wider society. Countering the monetisation of higher education across the entire sector is vital to reverse the destructive and wasteful market model of university education.”
The Green Party would address these issues in several ways. Firstly by ending undergraduate tuition fees, which the party costs at £4.5 billion over this parliament and ultimately at £8 billion a year. In the longer-term the party hopes to consider scrapping fees for academic postgraduate courses.
Student debt issued by the Student Loans Company would be cancelled. Taking into account loans that are not expected to be repaid, the value of these loans are estimated at £30 billion or £2.2 billion a year over the next 25 in revenue that the government would not receive.
Student grants would be reintroduced at a cost of £2.2 billion over the parliament with the intention of supporting student living costs through Basic Income in the longer run. The party would also restore access to lifelong learning supporting mature students and their families, reintroduce the block grant to universities, encourage universities and pension funds such as the Universities Superannuation Scheme to divest from fossil fuel companies and support the 10:1 ‘fair play campus’ campaign.
Find the manifesto in full here.