Posted by: Paul | December 10, 2010

Student Protests

We were in London yesterday afternoon to take Adam to see the Christmas lights, and narrowly avoided getting caught up in the protests about the rise in University tuition fees, on the day Parliament was due to vote on the bill. After looking at the big tree in Trafalgar Square, we were crossing Charing Cross Road just as the march was on its way down. Lucky escape!

I stayed up in town for two separate Christmas parties, where the days events were discussed between several different groups of people, and perspectives seemed to differ depending mostly on one thing – their age. The older the person, the more likely they were to be sympathetic towards the students cause, with the younger end of the spectrum believing more that since they themselves had to pay for their education, why should it be free for anyone else?

For my part, since I was lucky enough to benefit from a University education shortly before the first wave of ‘top up fees’ were introduced, I feel that higher education should be free and available to all who wish to pursue it – as long as they can demonstrate the aptitude and commitment to make it work. Society as a whole benefits from higher education, and just because you yourself don’t go it doesn’t mean that you’re not benefitting from it and shouldn’t have to pay for it in some form, since it produces all the qualified people who affect your daily life – from the architects who design and build the places you work in, to the doctors who treat your children in hospital. Someone has to make the country work, and I’m totally happy as a taxpayer to fund it through my taxes, which is how I believe it should be done.

I think the sector would benefit from a few carefully chosen restrictions though, and perhaps here is where any necessary cuts could be made. There are an increasing amount of courses seen as frivolous (Golf Course Management?) so subjects could be restricted to either the more traditional or the more directly vocational, leading in turn to better employment opportunities. I don’t believe a degree level education to be a right – I think it should be worked for, to cut out those taking a free ride – but I believe in people’s right to make a good life for themselves. Anyone can accomplish whatever they want to as long as they dedicate themselves to it.

The fact that future students could leave with debts in excess of £27000 from course fees alone, not including three years worth of subsistence costs financed by loans and further debt, absolutely terrifies me. To think that Adam could grow up wanting to go to University and then still be paying for it in his fifties is, I think, deplorable. Just as deplorable is the headline-grabbing troublemaking by the select noisy few stirrers which directs attention away from the majority making an entirely valid, peaceful protest.

But the vote was lost, by a very narrow margin, which means the plans are certain to be introduced. I support the students in their protest, but it looks like it’s fallen on deaf ears. Or not deaf exactly, but ears stuffed with papers marked ‘defecit reduction’.

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