Thursday, 20 November 2014

Lighting the Spark: The Battle for Free Education


I am in Belfast representing Ruskin at the invitation of Trish Lavelle (Head of Education) at the annual Communication Workers' Union (CWU) Union Learning Rep (ULR) networking event in Belfast.

Although I am here under the umbrella of Ruskin's partnership agreement with the CWU, and to promote Ruskin's BA in international labour and trade union studies (ILTUS), I am really proud to have been asked to work alongside several CWU activists in running the workshop title Lighting the Spark, which focuses on the development of workplace strategy to encourage members into activism through educational activity.

It struck me yesterday that, as students took over central London in the fight for free education, how important is the parallel work of unions like the CWU in advocating that position in the workplace. The CWU's ULRs have pioneered some of the most innovative approaches to engaging their members in educational activity, and they can proudly claim the credit for working solidly to have ensured that 60,000 working class adults have engaged in some form of educational activity as a result.

Trish Lavelle: Leading the fight for free adult education yesterday in Belfast.
Same day, same fight: Students in central London yesterday.
As the countdown begins for the general election next year there couldn't be a more important time to remind politicians of the central role of free education in ensuring that adults engage in political activity and vote. Of course, there are those on the right who also understand that an educated working class is not in their interests: Thatcher and Gove knew this and pursued education policy form this ideological basis.

Even if free education is fought from that perspective, at least the right should acknowledge that it is in everyone's interests to understand the link between poor educational status and ill health, criminal activity, recidivism etc., and that it is ultimately in this country's long-term political, social and economic interests to ensure that education is not just free, but that it forms the central plank in social policy that generates the kind of living standards common across most northern European countries.

As Trish commened yesterday when kicking off the ULR event, Germany has taken the principled position of ending tuition fees in higher education, and done so in basic economic grounds, which found that the fees were disrupting not just educational engagement and attainment, but that ultimately the Germany economy, was suffering too.

Whilst I am not an advocate of the kind of supercharged capitalist economies like Germany, I am not so stupid as to not clap when even the arch conservatives like Angela Merkel realise that free education makes sound business sense. If only the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour Party could come to the same conclusion

In Solidarity


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