Most of you will no doubt be aware that 9 11 2010 will see the arrival of “Day X”, the day that the UK government will vote on whether to raise the cap on tuition fees to £9,000 per annum.
The Condems claim that cuts have to be made due to the economic crisis and that students will be better off under the proposed system.
I say Bollocks.
OK well as strong an argument as that is, allow me to elaborate . . .
Let us first take their claims at face value. We can all appreciate that we don’t have unlimited supplies of money and we have to decide where we can spend it, so that surely sounds fair enough.
Well actually no, the economy directly benefits from higher education. Therefore in a time of economic difficulty is is wise to spend more on a proven investment to help boost the economy.
Let us remember that in the post war financial crisis of the 40’s we managed to create the NHS with some loose change we found down the back of the UK sofa. In the recession of the 80’s not only did students pay no tuition fees at all, they also claimed grants not loans and were able to sign on and claim benefits during the period of their study. (This is the system under which many of those now proposing cuts for future generations were educated). Quite simply there is no valid economic justification for the level of proposed cuts and fee increases.
Students will not be better off under the proposed system, this is a much longer argument with a good bit of maths, you can take my word for it or just can read a good summary of the financial stuff here: http://boffyblog.blogspot.com/2010/12/paying-off-student-debt.html
Secondly we should look at why we don’t have more money in the pot to fund education. In the UK we have a financial system which allows the country’s top earners to avoid billions of pounds of tax. Just one example is Philip Green, owner of the Arcadia group, alone has avoided in excess of 300 million pounds. If we removed the legal loopholes and enforced taxation for the highest earners this would easily fund higher education, and a few new hospitals, libraries etc.
But we just can’t afford education, we can however afford billions of pounds to bail out the banks, to engage in illegal warfare and replace trident. Clearly we aren’t that skint.
They suggest that as it is the students who will earn more as a result of their degrees then surely it only fair that they should foot the bill, why should those without degrees fund others to go to university.
Because clearly that is the way our society works. I haven’t been ill so I won’t be paying the bit of my tax that goes to the NHS for those people selfish enough to require medical care, my house hasn’t burnt down recently so I’ll be claiming back that bit that has gone to the fire service as well, you get the point.
And don’t forget for those of us who having not been to university do not benefit at all from higher education, we will never use the services of a doctor, lawyer, teacher, engineer, architect etc. . . .
For many of the reasons I have listed above, and many more besides, the Lib Dems had the issue of tuition fees high on their agenda during the election. So high in fact that many Lib Dem MPs publicly signed pledges that they would oppose ANY rise in tuition fees and would work to remove them completely within the next couple of years. This was successful and the elections saw an unprecedented turn out in a society which over recent years has been largely apathetic. The turn out was so great that many polling stations where unable to cope, with queues round the block, running out of ballot slips and ultimately turning people away. In the city of Sheffield, home town of Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems, hundreds of students turned up to an impromptu demonstration outside Nicks home complaining that they had tried to vote for him and had been turned away. Fast forward a few months and in the greatest political u-turn imaginable not only have the plans to scrap tuition fees disappeared but they plan to vote unanimously in favour of a 300% increase.
OK well Cl egg’s argument is that the Lib Dems are not the ruling party, they are in a coalition with the Tories. Now for Cl egg’s benefit let me explain the concept of a coalition. You agree to work together on the issues with you (largely) agree on, while still being able to hold opposing positions on key issues. The issue of tuition fees on which you campaigned throughout the election and arguably was the sole issue which won your seats would be one of these key issues. If you choose a complete u-turn and 100% agreement with the party you previously completely opposed you are not a Condem coalition, you are simply a Conservative government.
Fortunately one thing the government did not count on was how much this generation value their education. Student activism went out of fashion with tie-dye flares, long gone are the days when occupying your university library or marching through the streets for the issue of the day was a right of passage, of course a small demo and a few angry letters to the guardian were expected but not the reaction they have been faced with. For the past couple of months there have been continuous demonstrations in cities across the country, universities have been occupied for weeks (or more), high street stores have been closed and as I type fencing is being erected around parliament in preparation for the thousands of students who plan to descend upon the city on the day of the vote.
The future of of education may be uncertain, but with a generation of young people so passionate about safeguarding higher education and public services I am positive about years to come.
Always Thinking on Wednesday, December 8, 2010.