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It's Time Britain Scrapped Tuition Fees - Let's Follow Germany's Example

17/11/2014 16:48 GMT | Updated 17/01/2015 10:59 GMT

A month after Germany scrapped tuition fees, London on Wednesday is going to see the biggest national student demonstration since the trebling of UK tuition fees in 2010.

In our thousands we will be marching on Parliament to demand the scrapping of tuition fees, the restoration of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and for an end to education cuts. Our alternative to the Tories' neo-liberal vision of education is summed up in a student manifesto that we are urging all parties to support ahead of the General Election: we are calling for state investment to provide free education for all.

We know that student protest does work. Earlier this year, after a nationwide outcry, the Student Assembly Against Austerity led a campaign to stop the government's plans to privatise the student loan book. Through co-ordinating protests, stunts and actions on over 50 campuses, we managed to defeat this disastrous proposal which would have seen interest rates rise retrospectively on our student loans and our mountains of debt grow with it.

We are angry. Tuition fees are £9,000. Student debt on graduation now averages over £40,000. A generation of young people are starting life with debts far larger than those deemed unacceptable in Germany's experiment. Our debts are on a scale unthinkable even a decade ago. Life-shaping debts. Debts so large that they determine what jobs we look for, where we live and even whether to start a family.

With debts on this scale, it is not just students themselves who are impacted - middle income families that previously shouldered some of the burden transferred to students from progressive taxation are finding that supporting their children is beyond their means. This crisis is not isolated to students.

We need an education system capable of drawing on all the talents in society. Women and Black people, who still face discrimination in employment, will carry this debt for longest and we will have our life-chances disproportionately compromised. Is this the society we want to build?

The student funding crisis is a problem that all of society has a stake in being solved. A modern economy capable of competing in a globalised world can only function with a highly educated workforce. According to the government's own figures, education pays for itself - for every £1 invested in higher education the economy itself expands by £2.60.

Germany, an economy also teetering on the brink of recession, shows that even in times of economic challenge, choices are possible. That there is an alternative.

If the British government increased tax of the wealthiest in society, scrapped Trident nuclear weapons or reduced military spending, billions of pounds would be made available to fund free education and other vital public services.

The scale of this week's protest will show that the British government has once again found itself on the wrong end of public opinion - as did the German government. The question is whether our government will wake up and learn the same lesson as Germany before it faces students at the ballot box.

It was a New Labour government that introduced tuition fees and scrapped maintenance grants. Now Ed Miliband's Labour Party could, and should, set the political agenda by giving voice to students' legitimate concerns and committing to reverse the attacks on students and their families.

With large swathes of middle-income families now affected, and key marginal seats in campus constituencies, it is time politicians realised that student funding will be one of the battle grounds of the general election. In the Scottish referendum, young people disaffected with the hand dealt them by the Westminster parties turned out in unprecedented numbers. Do not expect students and their families to be electorally silent victims.

Wednesday's national demonstration - organised by the Student Assembly Against Austerity, alongside the Young Greens and the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts - marks the start of a major wave of action between now and the General Election with the aim of putting our demand for free, accessible, public education back onto the political agenda. Join us.

For more information visit www.thestudentassembly.org.uk.