In Conversation With: Natasha Barrett – Free Education

13139159_1326253150723972_7117253424411026207_n Izabela Pawlic

Although the concept of free education may be as foreign to some of us, as the countries where free education systems actually exists (and there are many) – it is important to talk about it and the possibilities that we as young people have to influence how education in this country operates. So what do we mean when we refer to free education? Free education refers to education that is funded through taxation or charitable organizations rather than tuition fees.

Yes, free education exists! Despite having to pay for living costs, text books and other expenses, many young people across the globe have access to free higher education (No Tuition Fees). To some of us, the sheer idea of not having to pay huge debts in our future sounds like a fantasy, and to others (many of my friends) an idea of paying a staggering thousands of pounds for our higher education seems ridiculous.

Events from the recent months, have not given us much hope of becoming debt free – as we have not only witnessed them but many of us have been affected by the cuts to the disability allowance, grants for students from lower income families, raising fee costs (undergraduate fees are raising to £9250 for UK students– this includes Royal Holloway students in 2017) and higher taxation on our loans.

Additionally, we are facing more uncertainties and changes with the possibility of the Higher Education and Research Bill – which it’s at the heart of  ‘’the government’s argument that insufficient competition and lack of informed choice are the primary weaknesses of the higher education system in England, and that opening up the market to new providers will drive improvements in quality. In reality, competition increases the pressure on institutions to spend money on cosmetic improvements and gimmicks rather than front-line delivery’’. (Sally HuntGeneral Secretary, University and College Union) ; and The Teaching Excellence Framework which aims to : ‘’ ensure all students receive an excellent teaching experience that encourages original thinking, drives up engagement and prepares them for the world of work, build a culture where teaching has equal status with research, with great teachers, enjoying the same professional recognition and opportunities for career and pay progression as great researchers, provide students with the information they need to judge teaching quality, recognise institutions that do the most to welcome students from a range of backgrounds and support their retention and progression and include a clear set of outcome-focused criteria and metrics.’’ Allowing the ‘’better performing’’ universities to raise fees accordingly to their results. Fees would be controlled by the universities themselves – without a national cap. (

Even though, many of us have already got used to the idea of repaying our loans, some are still hopefully and believe that education should be free to all.

The Despatch Box, has spoken to the Students’ Union President – Natasha Barrett about the upcoming Students Demo for Free Education, on 19th of November in London. All of SURHUL’s President are attending the Demo this year, alongside students, teachers and campaigners from all around the UK.

1)      Why are we attending the demo?

Our Sabbatical Officer team along with a group of students from various societies will be attending the United for Education Demo on November the 19th because as a Students’ Union we stand against the proposed Higher Education Bill and the Teaching Excellence Framework that the government are currently trying to implement.

2)      Why is the demo important?

The demo provides students across the UK with an opportunity to publicly express concerns for the progression of higher education and actively show the government how passionate we are and how many of us are seriously worried about implications of the HE Bill. To break it down a little bit: the government are proposing a new system whereby universities are graded as Bronze, Silver or Gold, which in itself is an overly simplified way to assess teaching quality. Furthermore, this judgement will be based on unreliable metrics like graduate employment within six months and NSS scores which are rarely representative of a proper range of students, let alone representative of the effectiveness of their teaching.

There is a possibility that unless an institution achieves Gold level, they will be unable to recruit international students which is problematic, particularly in addition to the proposed rise of fees. Fees are set to rise to £9,250 a year with inflation but following that could reach £12,000 very soon. In the third year, after these developments, the government propose making fees even higher and dependant on individual subjects, so some subjects cost a lot more while others stay at £12,000. International students already pay so much to study abroad so this could increase that issue.

We will be demonstrating to fight back against these changes.

3)      How can students get involved and why is this important?

Given the nature of the demo and the topic it represents, it is absolutely crucial that as many students attend as possible. We have distributed flyers and posters across campus that students may have seen but there is also a facebook event here that is specific to Royal Holloway:

We will be gathering at 9am on the morning of the demo and getting the college bus down to the station where we will get at train into London. For organisation and convenience we are creating a group to go from Royal Holloway together and form an RHSU block, we are also collecting names and phone numbers for a Whatsapp group in case students have questions for us on the day.

You can contact me at with any questions and more information.

4)      Will the SU lobby the Principal against the increase of fees?

Unfortunately if TEF and the HE Bill pass, universities will struggle to maintain their existence without adhering to it. The increase of fees is based entirely on the HE Bill proposed by the government and UCU the union for academics are also attending the protest. Most academics and university staff are as concerned as we are so we will be joining forces to make a statement against it. For now our fear and corresponding action are directed at the ignorance of our government and the potentially dangerous outcomes for higher education. We are attempting to encourage our student body to stand with us against their intentions as we would all be immensely effected by this bill.  

With costs of higher education constantly raising and the numerous changes to make education a ‘’product’’ and a university – a ‘’business’’, the future of higher education and the way it will look like, how it will act and perform is most certainly… unclear. One thing that we can be sure of, is that it will have a profound impact on not only us, but future generations, their education, and lives. All created by those who, ironically received their university degrees debt free…

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