Response to the announcement of £9000 annual fees for undergraduate study at Goldsmiths

We are writing as a group of concerned students and staff in response to the announcement on 9 May 2011 to set undergraduate fees from 2012/13 £9000 per annum.

We are aware that this decision is being taken by Goldsmiths as a consequence of the coalition Government’s policies on Higher Education and sharp cuts to HEFCE funding and understand that it is motivated by the necessity to make up for this funding loss whilst keeping the institution financially viable. We should be clear however that no level of fees offers safety for the principles of access and educational quality to which Goldsmiths is committed.

We agree with Goldsmiths Students Union’s opposition to a rise in fees and its statement that:

‘participation in Higher Education should be based on a student’s ability to benefit from it, rather than their ability to pay. All society benefits from large numbers of graduates (who if they are fortunate enough to earn more will of course pay more in income tax). Public funds spent on Higher Education generate a huge return on investment and forcing the costs onto students through tuition fees is misguided, shortsighted and will deter students from less well-off backgrounds from applying.’

The consequences of the vast majority of universities in the country deciding to charge £9000 fees are going to be disastrous for access to higher education in England, and will dramatically affect prospects for social mobility. With the economic viability of the fee system in shreds (a 70% default is projected) its imposition is manifestly driven by a reckless ideology of privatisation.

We believe that the Coalition’s policies condemn the next generation of students to forbidding levels of debt and that fees of £9000 will make it much more difficult to attract local and working class students. The Coalition’s Higher education policies undermine diversity in Higher Education and will penalise radical thinking. The effect on Goldsmiths will be to act as a deterrent for students to take up those subjects for which Goldsmiths is well-known but that do not automatically offer a high financial return in terms of employability prospects.

Of course we welcome the decision to offer full-fee bursaries to applicants from Lewisham as well as other measures to offset the costs of tuition, increase access and to invest in the student experience. However, such measures can never compensate for the wholesale damage being wrought upon the HE and FE sector as a whole; nor can they be seen as a replacement for adequate public provision in education.

No level of fees – or access plan – will insulate Goldsmiths’ values from market corrosion. A new high fee environment has put our great strengths – our radical educational priorities, our staff, and our student diversity – at great peril. Therefore we call upon management:

1. To make a public statement announcing the 9k fee as an act of necessity not choice, condemning the impact of cuts, the new student fees and the folly of a market driven HE; and to call upon opposition parties to make specific policy commitments to restore public provision for higher education and rescind the hike in student fees when the Coalition government falls.

2. To protect the integrity of educational priorities in course provision at Goldsmiths over the raw logic of recruitment, and to consult with campus unions over any proposed changes likely to affect jobs.

3. To make dedicated nursery facilities a key element of its access strategy

4. To make a transparent, detailed statement setting out the key financial issues involved at setting the fee at 9k.

5. To establish the nature of consultation over decisions involving the measures ‘to improve the student experience and encourage wider access to the College’. All members of the College – management and Unions, staff and students – should be engaged in a clear consultation process.

Goldsmiths UCU Executive, Goldsmiths Students’ Union and Goldsmiths UNISON
11 May 2011

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