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Jilted generation wakes up in a bad mood

Cat Smith on why the student protests are not just about tuition fees

We have woken up we've taken to the streets, marching, demonstrating, petitioning, blogging, tweeting and campaigning against the rise in higher education fees. We are also angry about the shift of our education system from public goods toward private goods.

The marketisation of schools and universities started in the 1980s and has never been stopped even by the Labour Government. We look at the possibility of variable fees leading to profit coming before people and the 'bargain basement' universities keeping less well off students separate from the well off in the 'luxury' universities and reinforcing class barriers.

Success, as the new common sense would have it, could only be achieved through competition, between institutions for the best scholars and students and between students themselves. The pressure becomes almost unbearable - the right nursery begets the right primary, which paves the way for the right secondary and then the right university - leading ultimately to the right, that is best paid, job. Along the way those who can't stand the pace are weeded out and those who can are tutored, coaxed and coached by parents who are only doing their duty as they help burn out those who they love the most. Mental illness amongst our young people reaches inexorable heights.

Students are showing maturity beyond their years. They know this is not just about them and they cannot win any lone concessions on fees without wider support and consensus. Why would they want to 'win' and see others lose out still further? They understand what solidarity means. That is why campaigns like UK Uncut which links corporate tax avoidance to the rebalancing of our depleted public finances is critical both morally and practically. If one company, Arcadia, paid its tax return in full, then HE could be securely funded. But they are allowed to escape their responsibility to society. It means knowing that Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) is critical for hundreds thousands of youngsters who may never get to university and that cleaners on their campuses should be paid a living wage. 

We want to help create an educational sphere where it is the value of learning that matters not its price. It is about the protection and extension of a precious public realm where we know each other not as consumers and competitors but as citizens and co-operators. The driving force of education should be creating the capacity for self-organisation. We want society to enjoy the annual harvest of enquiring, critical and free minds - not the production of hard, cold, calculating machines.

Many of our parents' generation recoil at the horror of passing on a world to our generation that is worse than the one handed to them. What is happening is wrong and we all must say so in every legal and peaceful way we can - in parliament, in the media, in the all sites of education and on the streets.

My generation in England was told if we spent tens of thousands of pounds on our education we would have access to a globalised workplace with opportunities like no other generation before us. All that happens is we graduate with tens of thousands of pounds of debt and go into a jobs market where the earnings gap is wider between young and old than it ever has been. We are expected to work for free as interns for long periods. It's harder for us to find work than it was for our parents - much harder. And that was before the credit crunch. The work we do find is likely to be temporary, part time, and badly paid. That is assuming we get jobs. The credit crunch has disproportionately impacted the young more than any previous recession. Youth unemployment is at the highest for a generation. With a lack of jobs for young people and with 19.3% youth unemployment we graduate with few employment prospects. Between August and November 2010, employment among 16-24 year olds fell 0.8%, while it increased for all other age groups. Our generation are the poor, the in-debt and the jobless. We were sold a lie about our future, that lie continues.

When it comes to fees the flow towards university privatisation becomes inexorable. But Scotland and Wales that something different is not just desirable but feasible.

Young people believed Nick Clegg when he said he would abolish tuition fees. The result of the u-turn and the massive increase in fees has shattered the little faith we placed in politicians. We expected it from the Tories, but we had no idea Nick Clegg would sell out our future faster than Ticketmaster sold out of Justin Bieber tickets.

With a tiny majority of just 21, the Coalition government got its new fees policy through the Commons. This wasn't without impassioned speeches from members of all political parties and ministers' resignations. The feeling amongst the students and young people has been one naturally of disappointment but also of a call "what next?". We are looking for leadership from the National Union of Students but there has been a lack of that in recent weeks with NUS President, Aaron Porter u-turning on his support for student occupations and direct action more than the Liberal Democrat MPs have on their position on student fees.

Our only hope for a fairer education funding system now lies with the Bill being stopped by the House of Lords or a future Labour government under Ed Miliband introducing a graduate tax. All these things will take time and I worry will not come soon enough for the angry and upset young people I met on today's protest. This combination of cuts to public services and higher tuition fees have been catalysts for a young generation, who are angry about our way of doing politics and won't forgive Nick Clegg and his Liberal Democrats for selling them out. With the right leadership my generation can be a force for good, and a strong force for resistance against the cuts agenda.