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Liam O'Connor: "I'm simply asking that I not be discriminated against"

A few years ago at a Labour Party fundraiser dinner I found myself sitting next to a senior cabinet minister.

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Given that I was about to choose where I was going to go to university I thought it would be criminal to pass up the chance to raise the issue of tuition fees with a member of the Government. He politely reminded me that there was no interest on the fees, and that I would not pay anything back until I started making £15,000 per year.

Legal challenge over fees for English students fails

I tried to explain to the minister that for those of us who are opposed to tuition fees the issue is not the money itself, or the structure of the repayments. The issues at stake for those of us opposed to any form of for-profit education are the principles of equality and opportunity.

When I heard that Public Interest Lawyers was bringing a case against the Scottish Government, I called to offer any help that I could. When they told me that they needed a client, I didn't have to think about it before I agreed.

I was never interested in causing trouble for the Scottish Government. Nor do I resent them for providing free education to Scottish and EU students, something which in a democratic society should be a given. I was simply asking that I not be discriminated against, and not made to feel like a second-class student who has to pay for the right to higher education because of an accident of birth.

If a person born in Warsaw or Paris has the right to go to university for free in Scotland, then surely a student born just across the border in Carlisle, or in Manchester has the right to go to university for free in Scotland.

I am extremely disappointed that the legal challenge has failed before it even really started. However I am confident that the many thousands of students in Britain who oppose tuition fees will keep this issue alive for as long as is necessary. All we lack at the moment is a political party with a leader brave enough to recognise that the fees were a mistake to begin with, and that abolishing them is not only the smart thing to do, but the right thing to do.

We are enjoined by the current government to embrace the politics of austerity, to understand that we must "tighten our belts" and "get our house in order". We are constantly reminded of the immorality and irresponsibility of burdening the next generation with a mountain of debt that they did not accrue.

How nice it would be if the Governments of both Scotland and Britain could show some consistency over this, and not burden thousands of students with tens of thousands of pounds of debt for wanting to further their education and go on to make a meaningful contribution to society through working hard and paying our fair share of taxes.

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Education

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