Higher education becoming again a privilege of the wealthy?

The culture and education committee of the European Parliament on Tuesday 27 November 2012 adopted the new YES EUROPE.

The culture and education committee of the European Parliament on Tuesday 27 November 2012 adopted the new YES EUROPE.

Over the past few years higher education tuition fees have skyrocketed all over the European Union. Last year thousands of British university students took it to the streets of London and the other major cities protesting against the planned increases of tuition fees. Incidentally, this really huge protest movement gave Scotland Yard the opportunity to show off its new techniques and expensive gadgets of controlling street rallies.Tuition fees for higher/university education degrees have been increasing continuously in Britain and in some other EU countries even from the 1980s. But let’s briefly examine education policies in Europe during the past decades.

After WWII, university education tuition fees became nominal all over Europe and families had only to bear the student’s maintenance cost. On top of that governments and local authorities started subsidising poor families with children in higher education.

Education for growth

Those policies helped produce huge quantities of well qualified European scientists, who staffed the exponential expansion of secondary and tertiary education during the 1960s and 1970s, even exporting scientists to the United States. As a matter of fact higher education became a strong instrument of not only helping children from low income families to ascend in the social ladder, but also greatly helped European economies modernise, acquire dynamism, rebuilt the devastated from the war Old Continent and hugely strengthen technological development in Europe. Family income had ceased being a major impediment to children’s education. Medicine, sciences, law, economics and engineering became accessible to all and this helped reduce overall income inequalities.

Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Ronald Reagan in the US however didn’t like this. Neo-liberalism became again the ruling political ideology and government spending on higher education was demonized and started to be trimmed down. This policy gained momentum during the 1990s and 2000s. As a result tuition fees in higher education have become again a major impediment for children of low income families.

In view of all that, the culture and education committee of the European Parliament on Tuesday 27 November adopted “the new YES EUROPE programme for youth, education and sport, merging all the EU programmes for education, training and sport and Erasmus for higher education…MEPs amended the Commission proposal to facilitate guarantee loans taken out by master’s students and simplifying the administration of grants….Students wishing to take a master’s degree in a different EU country will be able to apply for a loan which will be guaranteed from a new facility under the YES Europe programme. To qualify, the student must study abroad for one to two years. The committee voted for loans of up to €12 000 for a one-year master’s programme and up to €18 000 for a two-year master’s course”.

Universities for the few

The European Parliament however doesn’t say anything about students who wish to take up master’s degrees in their own country. In many EU countries there are no supportive policies in favour of their own nationals wanting to inscribe for a masters course or even to enrol for a first degree. In short the European Parliament doesn’t question the now established practice all over the EU, of imposing extravagant tuition fees on all higher education degrees, even in public institutions. In reality the huge reductions of government spending on higher education has transformed the entire tertiary sector into a private operation. Universities are being encouraged to secure more income from the business sector, by undertaking not basic researche the results of which could benefit equally the entire productive apparatus, but custom made R&D as if they were the innovation department of certain big private firms. In reality, the amounts that governments are still spending to support public universities do not subsidise their students but mainly the big business, which use for free the historical infrastructure of those institutions to promote their own proprietary technological interests.

The subject matter of the currently applied education policies is that governments should not cover the full cost of higher education with taxpayers’ money, and rather spent it on armaments or security or whatever. In any case they don’t not pave the way to higher education for children from low income families. Again, higher education is gradually becoming a prerogative of wealthy families, while the historical infrastructure of universities is been exploited for free by the big multinational companies. They pay only for the current cost of the research conducted to support their proprietary technologies. As a result general purpose research is overly underfinanced in universities, if at all.

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