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Information for Social Change

Information for Social Change

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ISC 19. Terminator of Educational Dreams and Aspirations?

Glenn Rikowski

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's approach to funding the state of California's public universities shows all the hallmark of Terminator. (Margaret Kubicek, I'll be broke, 2004)

When Arnold Schwarzenegger took over as Governor of California last year he was faced with a state budget deficit of £7.8billion ($14billion) (see Kubicek, 2004, p.18). As part of his budget reduction strategy, Schwarzenegger moved quickly to slash higher education funding. This paved the way for university administrators to impose fees hikes, increases in student accommodation charges and other 'campus-based miscellaneous fees' which the University of California (UC) and the California State University (CSU) felt compelled to bring in (Silicon Valley & San Jose Business Journal, 2003). Administrators at CSU put up their student fees by 30 per cent last academic year, and the UC by 25 per cent 'because of cuts in state funding' (Ibid.).

However, although Arnie might appear to be at the forefront as Terminator of educational dreams and aspirations, he is not alone and is merely following the herd. As a number of commentators on the higher education scene in the US have noted, many other states have pursued similar strategies for higher education to California's (see Marcus, 2003a and 2003b). As Jon Marcus notes, 'more than 1,300 of the 1,800 US universities and colleges have raised their prices by at least twice the rate of inflation in the past three years' (Marcus, 2003b). Furthermore, most US higher education institutions have been raising their fees above the inflation rate for many years.

The outcomes of this fees trend are no surprise: increased student indebtedness, the creation of a vicious market in higher education based on ability to pay, and the hardening of social class and ethnic divides. As Jamie Merisotis (2003) has pointed out, where US student fees vary from $1,000 to $30,000 a year student 'choice' of course and institution is significantly determined by ability to pay and ability to finance debt. Merisotis notes that 'US students are indebted at levels unthinkable on an international scale: they borrow more than $50 billion a year' (Ibid.). The UK government's introduction of top-up or variable fees for 2006 is but a stepping stone towards the full development of a higher education fees free-for-all. The US higher education fees experience is therefore most instructive in relation to what is happening in England in particular, and increasingly for other European Union countries that are starting up a higher education fees regime.

Jon Marcus (2003b) notes that the US Congress is seriously concerned about the consequences of states attempting to shift ever-higher burdens of higher education financing onto students and their families. Republicans in the House of Representatives started working on a Bill that would limit the powers of universities to draw on Federal higher education aid funds if they increased their fees more than twice the level of inflation (Marcus, 2003b). The Senate is also working on legislation to curb higher education fees increases over double the inflation rate (Ibid.). What this shows is that when the law of money is let loose into a public service, as with US higher education, it becomes increasingly marketised, commodified and capitalised, and then crises of various kinds develop. Higher education in the US, and increasingly England, is faced by a crisis of student debt and increasing resistance to pay the cost of higher education amongst students and their families. One student response is to work ever longer hours during term time to minimise loans and debt and to finance everyday life and study needs (see G. Rikowski, 2000). Some UK higher education students resort to drug dealing, stripping and prostitution to stave off debt and complete their studies, whilst others move onto depression and Prozac (see examples from G. Rikowski, 2000).

The UK Conservative Party's policy is to limit higher education provision in absolute terms with fewer places available for entrants, which is another way of limiting educational dreams and aspirations.

The higher education fees and student debt situation in the Land of the Terminator is therefore part of a much wider, and global picture of students drawing on their own labour-power to finance their courses, both while on course and post-course when paying back loans. They are subordinated to, yet struggle against, capital in its money form for many, many years.

The dramatic student fees increase in 2003/04 in Californian public universities has been widely reported in the pages of the Times Higher Education Supplement , The Chronicle of Higher Education (USA), the Guardian Higher Education and the Financial Times . However, what has received much less reporting in the educational press in the UK is what effects the Terminator's budget cuts are having on high schools and libraries. Thus, Htun Lin's (2004) article (the next article in this issue) on what is happening in these public services is instructive and disturbing. It is also heartening, as Lin points towards resistance to high school and library closures in Contra Costa County in California that heralds a future where information and education exist within a realm of freedom outside the orbit of capital.

Htun Lin's article first appeared in the April 2004 edition of News & Letters (Lin, 2004).                


Kubicek, Margaret (2004) I'll be broke, Guardian Higher Education , 20 January, pp.18-19.

Lin, Htun (2004) Where education is a luxury option, Workshop Talks, News & Letters , April, Vol.49 No.3, ps.1&3. Also at:

Marcus, Jon (2003a) US tuition fee rises spark threat to aid, Times Higher Education Supplement , 19 September, p.14.

Marcus, Jon (2003b) US politicians take aim at soaring fees, Times Higher Education Supplement , 7 November, p.10.

Merisotis, Jamie (2003) Top-up fees are neither our saviour nor Satan, Times Higher Education Supplement , 19/26 December, p.16.

Rikowski, Glenn (2000) The Rise of the Student-Worker, in: K. Moti Gokulsing and C. DaCosta (Eds.) A Compact for Higher Education, Aldershot: Ashgate.

Silicon Valley & San Jose Business Journal (2003) Fees jump for California students , 17 July, available from

Glenn Rikowski is a Senior Lecturer in Education Studies in the School of Education at University College Northampton. His latest book, an edited collection with Dave Hill, Mike Cole and Peter McLaren, is Marxism Against Postmodernism in Educational Theory (2002, Lexington Books).


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