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‘Should YUSU support free education?’ debate held

Photo credit: Jack Harvey
Photo credit: Jack Harvey

YUSU put on a debate for students on their upcoming referendum’s motion, ‘Should YUSU support free education?’, in the Roger Kirk Centre this evening. Speaking in favour of free education were Jack Chadwick and Katie Smith, while arguing against the motion were Jordan Hennessey and Cameron Smith.

The moderator informed the audience that at the start of the term, a policy idea in favour of free education was submitted to YUSU; after consultation and review, the support for the policy was deemed to be ambiguous, resulting in a referendum on the matter, in which all students can vote.

Chadwick and K. Smith argued that the current system of education is inappropriate in a time of rising economic inequality. They suggested that the way to fund university education should be through a fair method of taxation, rather than imposing huge debts on the backs of students that would dominate much of the rest of their lives.

In contrast, Hennessey and C. Smith contended that making education free sacrifices university competitiveness and higher standards, making comparisons with other fee-paying nations. They said that the government would have to find billions of pounds to pay for education which would lead to grim times of high taxation, in which members of society, including the poorest, would be paying for an education from which they might not benefit themselves. They also worried that, if the referendum were to succeed, any future candidate for a Sabbatical position (e.g. the union’s President) would have to fight for free education, something that might turn some students away.

The debate soon escalated to a discussion of many broad themes that directly or indirectly affect the University of York as well as other universities in the country. Austerity, taxation, academic freedom, wealth inequality and the Scottish education system were all interesting themes upon which the debaters disagreed.

On two occasions, the debaters against the union’s support of free education referred to the expenditure of YUSU’s money on demonstrations for free education. According to today’s printed edition of York Vision:

A free education referendum from YUSU is set to go to the polls this week following student backlash […] after Ben Leatham, the YUSU President, received angry online comments after sharing a photo of him at a demonstration in London.

Leatham has echoed the statement made by the debate moderator at the beginning of the event.

Hennessey said that the debate boiled down to those in favour of education and those in favour of education and jobs; his co-debater C. Smith added that it was either those who were in favour of education ‘getting people somewhere’ or those who were in favour of education helping people who don’t know where they’re going.

Asked what really made paying fees a bad thing by a member of the audience, Chadwick argued that university education is becoming more and more like a market commodity, with the focus toward job interviews, employment and skills growing yearly. Cameron Smith countered that this is in fact a good thing, citing the Spanish unemployment crisis as evidence of a young labour force entering the job market unprepared for any of the work that they could be doing.

When asked by the author whether he thought university education is a public good or a private gain, Hennessey said that the benefits of a university education may be put toward a public good in the future but it, in itself, is a private gain from which the individual benefits and for which the individual should be contributing.


Voting commences tomorrow at 9:00am and closes at 5:00pm on Friday.