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Editorial: Education is fast becoming a matter of profit and class

WITH Boris Johnson walled up behind a solid Tory majority this parliament will drag on.

Perhaps not as lengthy as the 20-year Long Parliament of 1640-60 and certainly not as radical: that assembly impeached the most powerful minister of Charles I, Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Stafford.

Dragged before the Lords — who proved too ready an audience for the earl’s arguments — an Act that would declare Wentworth a traitor and send him to the executioner without further trial emerged as the best tactic for weakening the king.

Because both Houses proved resistant to this “attainder,” John Pym, the directing force behind the agitation, organised the London crowd to besiege the Palace of Westminster.

Parliament gave in to popular demand and the king was forced to assent to his minister’s execution.

At this moment it is difficult to see a constellation of forces emerging powerful enough to effect such a profound change in the direction of government. It is doubtful that even the next King Charles to take the throne will prove that unpopular.

But then politics is fast moving nowadays and the royal brand, if not as tarnished yet as that of Charles I, is in deep reputational trouble.

The Labour benches in this parliament are somewhat depleted — but among the new members the MP for Coventry South, Zarah Sultana, has proved to be a parliamentary performer of note and a social media star precisely because she broke the convention that maiden speeches are low key and local.

Today she came to her new workplace to highlight the burden of student debt that lays on her generation.

“In 10 years’ time, at the start of the next decade, I want to look teenagers in the eye and say with pride: my generation faced 40 years of Thatcherism, and we ended it,” she said.

Education, and affordable access to it, has become one of the most powerful factors in structuring the deep inequalities in British society.

Today’s students and young people planning to go to university expect to graduate owing up to £50,000 before they even think about finding a job, sorting out a place to live or having children.
This a crippling sum and a powerful disincentive to children of working-class parents and a burden on anyone who has to work in order to live.

The effect of the Thatcherism, or as we call it today, neoliberalism, on education is capitalism’s response to its crises of profitability which has seen a massive shift of wealth from working people to the super-rich based on anti-working class measures to drive down labour costs, the privatisation of public assets and massive tax-funded subsidies to the owners of privatised utilities. Education has been drawn into the logic of this process.

It has unique features in every country but in the English-speaking education world it is known as the Germ, or the Global Education “Reform” Movement.

In this highly directed move to the marketisation and step-by-step privatisation of education systems, education is drawn into the direct realm of commodity production, producing a parody of industrial production methods in which the education process is reducible to that which can be measured.

The human beings who fail to match the malign requirements of the system — the 40 per cent of children deemed not suitable for continuing post-school education — are the first victims.

Those who pass through the first barriers fall victim to a highly stratified, class-based system in which wealth is an invaluable asset to advance. But the life and work of everyone in higher education is now subject to market forces and the drive to profit.

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