Malia Bouattia: University should be free

She says students are learners, not consumers


Newly elected President of the NUS and voice of students nationwide, Malia Bouattia has weighed in on the debate on tuition fees. To her mind, we shouldn’t be paying for a university education.

Malia Bouattia, the new President of the NUS

Malia Bouattia, the new President of the NUS

In an article for The Guardian, Malia says UK graduates finish university with £40,000 of debt – more than anywhere else in the world – but this could increase even further if government reforms to higher education are passed. It was announced yesterday that if universities meet certain standards for quality of teaching and student satisfaction, they could charge more than the already ridiculous £9,000-a-year.

Allowing “the best” universities to increase fees will deepen the divide and entrench a two-tier higher education system – based on wealth and prestige, not learning and opportunity. How can education be a way to create better life opportunities when working-class students are set back from the start?

We want our academics to be tutors not suppliers, and we want to be valued as learners not consumers. I’ve seen first-hand the kind of effect this has on students, struggling to pay the cost of rent, bills and childcare; students whose mental health is severely affected by the isolation, stress and financial burden these cuts create.

Education is a fundamental human right and it should be free – at every level. For me, it is obvious we want to create a system in which everyone can thrive, and our attention has to be on those who fall prey to inequality in education and discrimination in the labour market.

The NUS has already voted to boycott the National Student Survey – that really annoying survey you’re prompted about a dozen times by text, phone call, email, in the street. It’s created a climate whereby the student is seen as the customer, not as the learner, impacting not only on the experience of the student but also on university staff.

Malia also argues the government have turned their back on those it most needs to support, by “the removal of maintenance grants and proposals to cut the NHS bursary, disproportionately impacting black, female and LGBT+ students, and the reduction in Disabled Students’ Allowance.”

Malia ends her tirade by attacking David Cameron and his “cabinet of millionaires”.

They should remember this: every single one of them started university when it was free of charge, and at a time when poorer students had a grant to support them as they studied. As we can see, they are doing very well as a result of the education they received – the same education these proposals will deny to so many others.