We need an education fit for this century – that’s why I’m marching against fees

In the age of Trump, our education system must provide the leaders we need


2016 seems to be the year of destructive attempts to turn back the clock.

For all their many important differences, both Brexit and Trumpism tapped into a yearning to go back, as well as to take back, promising a darkly nostalgic vision to the powerful and privileged.

This is also what’s happening in education today, with savage attacks on students, courses and institutions threatening to take our education system back to the days of entrenched elitism. As is now depressingly familiar, young people look on in horror as their future gets erased.

But we aren’t just going to sit back and watch. This weekend we’re marching in our thousands — united for education, saying no to cuts, fees and debt. It’ s never been more important to show solidarity as young people, and that’s why I’ll be marching with NUS and UCU this Saturday, proudly representing the millennial generation and the Green Party.

While Labour has introduced fees and been inconsistent on their attitude towards student debt, the Green Party has always had a very firm line. We believe in free education for all. We believe that education is transformative for the individual who receives it, and benefits the whole of society.

Any attempts at marketization must be reversed and resisted. It is not a privilege to be purchased. It is a right for anyone, at any time of life.

Whether it’s a university degree, a college diploma, or an apprenticeship –— we need to ensure our education system is accessible for all, and fit for purpose in the 21st century.

As a millennial myself, I’m painfully aware of the injustice and the sense of betrayal which young people feel over the attacks upon education in the last decade or so, from introducing fees under Labour, to tripling them again under the Tories and Lib Dems in 2010.

And this government looks set to make things a lot worse. They’re trying to lift the cap altogether. Meanwhile, colleges are slashed, courses are scrapped, and marketization migrates from the campus to the home, with profiteering developers charging higher and higher rents for worse and worse housing.

It feels like every aspect of student life is being rigged to front-load young lives with debt they’ll never pay off, and redefine learning as a personal investment rather than a public good.

This is bad enough. But not only are today’s young generation subjected to a financially ruinous experience of education, they’re going to graduate into world riddled with problems which their education will have failed to prepare them for.

Just last week, we learned that we’re on course for up to seven degrees of warming by the end of the century. At the same time, we’re seeing an unprecedented refugee crisis, only set to worsen over the coming decades. And none of this is to mention the normalisation of debt, low wages, poverty and oppression across society.

These deeply interconnected problems need a brand new sort of leadership and a brand new sort of graduate. The last thing we need is an education system regressing to an idea of learning being about nothing more than getting a well-paid job in a particular sort of economy. Learning is far more important than that.

It’s about shaping the leaders of the decades to come, across politics, business and communities, and ensuring that they’re equipped with what we need to negotiate the unthinkable changes we’ve got ahead of us, from increasingly extreme weather, to automation in the workplace. It’s about making sure that our education system prepares young people for the century ahead of us, rather than dooming them to repeat the mistakes of the century behind us.

The first and most crucial step is ensuring that education is free and accessible for all. We won’t tackle inequality in society by further entrenching elitism in education, whether that’s by pricing the poorest out of higher education, or rooting people out by selection at the age of eleven.

We need to reimagine the idea of learning, and what role it plays in our society. Turning our education system into nothing more than a privileged training ground for the workplace isn’t just unfair, it’s stupidly short sighted.

Our students deserve better, and a 21st century society needs more.

Amelia Womack is deputy leader of the Green Party. Follow her on Twitter.

Read more about the United for Education demo, and find out if a coach is going from near where you live.

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