By Josh Smith
Durham Students’ Union voted against a motion that proposed to support free education on Thursday 13th November, following a heated debate in Assembly.
The vote came as a debate on ‘This House Supports Free Education’ in the Durham Union Society on Wednesday was rejected by one vote.
Speaking for the proposition, Jamie Penston Raja, a member of Durham Young Greens, said at the Union Society: “A right to education is one of the only rights you have.”
Penston Raja stressed how free education would increase voter turnout, leading to a society “which is happier and healthier to live in.”
One of the most contentious issues in the Free Education debate has been concern for international students’ fees. An increase in international tuition fees, Penston Raja claimed, has led to a 15% drop in the number of international students at university.
Penston Raja continued: “This is detrimental to our society. There is less cultural understanding at university.”
However, in the debate at the Students’ Union on Thursday, a representative for Hatfield JCR maintained that after the introduction of tuition fees, there has been no such fall in the number of students applying to university.
Speaking to Palatinate, Penston Raja said he was “appalled” at the result in the Students’ Union on Thursday, after he presented William Pinkney-Bird’s original motion in his absence.
“The disregard for any of the economic points I put forward showed the prejudice and privilege held by many Durham colleges.”
“No-one seemed to listen to the arguments from the IFS (Institute of Financial Services) that tuition fees are costing more than other systems, and therefore giving universities less money as a result.
“I have never felt less represented by my students’ ‘union’.”
Frans Robyns, a member of Durham University Conservative Association, opposed the proposition in the Union Society on Wednesday.
Robyns spoke of the dangers of over-crowding the market with graduates, which has led to a shortage of vocational skills, and has also de-valued the degrees of those who decide to attend university.
Robyns stressed that the state would not be able to pay for free higher education and argued the quality of education would decline as universities are left to survive off government grants.
“Why are we funding meaningless universities with meaningless degrees?”
Also speaking to Palatinate, Robyns commended the debate: “I’m very pleased with the way the debate went on Wednesday and I view it as further evidence that Durham students are clever enough to not be swayed by vague, self-interested and intellectually shallow arguments and instead listen to reason and practicality.
“We should be investing our time and energy into setting up more vocational courses aimed at bringing skills back to Britain’s labour market.
Robyns added: “I felt that the opposition ultimately failed to address any of these key issues, which is what led students of all people, to agree that free higher education is counter productive.”
In direct opposition to this, Craig Martin, a Durham City Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, argued that tuition fees prevent certain young people from coming to university at the prospect of a student loan.
The vote at Assembly on Thursday called for free education to be a policy of the Durham Students’ Union; for support of student campaigns on campus for free education; for the President and Academic Affairs Officer to lobby the Vice-Chancellor and other figures within the university to support free education; for the Student Officers to push free education as a priority in the upcoming General Election with key decision makers.
It was rejected by 13 votes to 11, with four abstentions.
Photograph: Amber Hodge