Tuition Fees

Youth in Revolt


george osborne laugh

My generation are selfish bastards. It’s a well-documented thing.

We’re the “me” generation, I’ve been told more than once. We’ve had everything on a plate, we’ve had it so easy. When our parents had to work, we got awards just for turning up. Our exams got easier every year, not like the O-Levels Mum and Dad did.

It’s background noise, the hum which shapes our daily lives. Ungrateful. Undeserving. Spoilt. It gets to the point that we tune it out and carry on with our lives. Because what else can we do?

The truth from our perspective — from my perspective — however is quite different.

Read on…

This Demonic Youth


Maybe A-Level results getting better year on year is a sign of young people working harder, rather than of academic decline? (Graph from BBC News website, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11012369)

Young people today really are little shits, aren’t they?

I mean, if they aren’t lingering on street corners and mugging old ladies, then they are rioting and looting across the country. And then they all take easy exams and get qualifications which aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, because A-Levels have gotten much easier, and swan off to university to do “non-degrees”.

Surely these little bastards are the sole reason why the country is going downhill, right?

Today is, of course, A-Level results day, which means that all across the country 17-19 year olds have been tearing open brown enveloped and gazing upon the results breakdowns therewithin with either glee or devastation, and crashing the UCAS site with judicious mashing of their F5 keys. And the pundits have probably already begun rolling out the tired, annual accusations that A-Levels are a walk in the park nowadays, not like twenty/thirty/forty/etc years ago when you had to wrestle bears just to come out with a pass, or whatever.

It’s the same story every year, and it gets horrendously tiresome.

And on top of that, it’s not a fun time to be a young person at the moment. If you’re not being blamed for rampant civil unrest and the breakdown of society (when it’s actually more likely that you were involved in the clean-up than the destruction), then you’re a feckless waste of space whose achievements are denigrated, and whose very existence is considered a burden.

The fact is, the government makes a palpable show of not caring about the youth- but to be fair, whilst the Lib Dems courted young people at the General Election and then deserted them, the Tories never really seemed to promise them anything at all (leaving aside Cameron’s ridiculous “hug-a-hoodie” PR moment. Tuition fees have been trebled, education budgets have been cut, youth services are being shut down across the country, and even the EMA which would allow less priviliged children continue their education is being heavily curtailed.

But take a look at our society today. This isn’t the Britain of the fifties, where the majority of kids went to work (mostly in industry) at 16, and only the very gifted few went to university. Today we are a post-industrial, largely service economy, and increasingly an undergraduate degree is essential to get anything more than a menial, minimum-wage job. And this is the message that is sent to young people, that if they don’t go to university then they have failed.

With that in mind, is it any surprise that A-Level results would improve year on year? Young people are put under tremendous pressure, because A-Levels are their gateway to higher education. They are forced by their circumstances to work incredibly hard, and the results (I feel) show that.

So here’s to all those who got their results today. Ignore the media, the pundits, and (occasionally, and embarrassingly) the government, saying that you’re some sort of demonic horde, to whom qualifications have come too easy. You’ve worked damn hard, and done damn well, whether or not you met your university offers (or indeed, whether or not you’re going to go to university). The day will come when we’ll be running the country, and I’m not despairing quite yet.

Youth in Revolt


This is the fate which I, and thousands of other young people across the country, fear will be their long-term future.

(This piece was written for the website of Maidenhead Labour Party, where you can see it at its original home)

These are not terribly enjoyable times to be a young person. Of course, they aren’t exactly fun for everyone else, unless you happen to be an old Etonian politician, or the CEO of a bank. But young people seem to be taking a real hit at the moment.

The recent rise in tuition fees has been a definite headline-grabber, with thousands of students taking to the streets in an apparently futile bid to force the Liberal Democrats to honour the vote-winning promises they made before the election. But beyond that, there are so many other regressive policies which are already devastating the life chances of the young.

The rise in tuition fees is a poorly constructed cover for a massive cut to the budget of higher education institutions. This means that universities will be forced to cut back the facilities and services they offer to students starting from September 2012. So yes, students will be paying a good deal more for a good deal less. Which doesn’t sound like a very good deal to me.

And this, of course, is if they get to university in the first place. The withdrawal of the Education Maintenance Allowance, will hit thousands of sixth form students and prospective students. Introduced in 2004 by the Labour government, it was aimed at encouraging young people to remain in education, by giving them the funds necessary for them to do so. It was a lifeline for the poorest young people in our society, giving them hope of getting a better education, and a better job at the end of it. That lifeline has now been cruelly cut by Michael Gove and his Department of Education.

And even for those who manage to get into university, life isn’t rosy. I have just finished studying for a Law degree at the University of Sussex. Three years of hard graft, and now I’m finding it incredibly difficult to find a job. The recession has meant that there are less jobs available, but even now that we’re moving out of recession (albeit into stagnation, thanks to George Osborne’s misguided economic policies), there are graduates from the previous few years still fighting for any new jobs.

Youth unemployment in the UK is currently at record levels- something in the region of one million young people are not in employment, education or training. My biggest fear as a young person at the moment is that I will spend the next few years queuing outside the Jobcentre, irreparably setting back my life chances. I know that this is a fear unique to myself.

So what is the way forward for young people, in today’s climate? Well, the best thing that anyone can do is keep trying. The moment you give up is the moment you lose- and they win. But more than that, and I am biased here, I would remind young people that in thirteen years of government, Labour massively expanded education and provision for helping them into jobs. For example, the Future Jobs Fund, which was one of the first casualties of coalition austerity policies.

I’d also remind them that the Labour party is still fighting their corner- and tell them that active, passionate and enthusiastic Labour party branches are to be found all across the country. And if you’re under 27, it costs only £1 to join.

The Fight to Save EMA


EMA is the latest target in the government's ongoing war on the poor and students

As I write this, a debate is going on in the House of Commons. It might not at first seem an important debate in the same way that, say, the debate on raising tuition fees was. But in this writer’s opinion, it absolutely is. The debate I’m referring to is, of course, the debate on the future of EMAs.

EMAs, for the uninitiated, are Education Maintenance Allowances. This is a payment of up to £30  per week given to further education students from poor backgrounds, to encourage and assist them in studying further. A fairly simple measure, I think, and one of the best policies that the last Labour government instigated.

The current issue being debated is the scrapping of that scheme. The government seems to be continuing its war on students. So many of the cuts that have so far been announced are going to hit young people the hardest. From the headline measures such as tuition fee rises and the cancellation of the BSF programme, to more behind the scenes cuts like the closure of the hugely successful Connexions centres. All of this whilst the bankers, who caused the economic woes that we’ve suffered recently and are still feeling the effects of, get off scott free.

I’ve seen a lot of misinformation bandied around lately by Tory supporters about EMAs. The most common seems to be that it bribes 16-18 year olds to go to school. My suspicion is that this comes from relatively well-off people.

I attended the Henley College, in Henley-on-Thames, which sounds a lot posher than it actually is. I myself didn’t qualify for EMA, but plenty of my fellow students did, and for those students it was less about bribery than it was about enabling them to attend. For a college with the wide geographic range of students like Henley College, transport was an issue. At further education level, there is no free provision of transport. And it can get damned expensive (God knows that mine was). For many students, EMAs were a lifeline which enabled them to actually get to college in order to study.

Aside from that, there are other costs in associated with studying beyond GCSE, which are difficult to meet if your family cannot foot the bill. Food, stationary, equipment. All of it costs money, which EMAs were designed to meet and help with. Taking that away, restricting it in order to save money at the expense of the poorest sectors of society, cannot be justified as anything other than a regressive move.

I could write about this all day, but instead I’ll finish with a couple of quotes:

Ed Balls keeps saying that we are committed to scrapping the EMA. I have never said this. We won’t.‘ -Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, in an interview with the Guardian in March 2o10.

I said we don’t have any plans to get rid of them … it’s one of those things the Labour Party keep putting out that we are but we’re not.‘ -David Cameron, Prime Minister, at a “Cameron Direct” event in January 2010.

The Lib Dems betrayed students and broke their pledge on tuition fees. Now the Tories are doing the same with EMAs. There is no difference, it’s just as regressive, just as harmful to the futures of students, and should be resisted just as hard.

An Open Letter to Liberal Democrat MPs


Dear Sirs/Madams

Today, as you are no doubt aware, is a hugely important day. It is also the biggest test of your moral fibre that you will undergo, I suspect, in this Parliament.

This is the pledge, clear and unambiguous, which you all signed. It meant something then. Does it not now?

You have been considered the “party of students” since the Blair government introduced tuition fees in 1998 (Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998, c.30), and since then you have campaigned relentlessly on this. I’d point out that in elections following this, you gained 17 seats (before the 2010) election, something in which I posit your student-friendly stance played a large part in.

 

And at the election in May, you took it one step further. Every one of your Prospective Parliamentary Candidates signed the NUS’ “vote for students” pledge. Maybe I should remind you what it said:

“I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative”

It’s a remarkably clear political promise, don’t you think? And for every one of your party’s candidates to sign it sent a powerful message to students: ‘Vote for us, and we will fight for you. We will oppose any attempt to raise fees as our principle concern’ And it worked. You might have lost seats at the 2010 election, but I can assure you that you were viewed by students as the best choice, and they voted for you en mass, precisely because of your pledge.

Now, I understand that coalition means compromise. I understand that you weren’t going to be able to get all of your policies. But what sticks in the craw is that despite the fact that you were elected on this promise (I’ll be honest with you, only the real hardcore of Lib Dem supporters, and people with an active interest in politics care about electoral reform- most of the general public just don’t care) you didn’t press for it.

Your party has meekly and quietly accepted the rise in tuition fees, and I would highlight this passage in the coalition agreement:

If the response of the Government to  Lord Browne’s report is one that Liberal  Democrats cannot accept, then arrangements  will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs  to abstain in any vote.

I honestly don’t see how this is a victory. What it says, is if the government decided that they were going to raise tuition fees, Lib Dems would still have to break their promise, only through abstention rather than actually expressing their views. You have been, in other words, gagged. The agreement you signed was not to not vote for an increase, but to vote against an increase.

The end result of this will be that prospective students will be dissuaded from university by the prospects of massive debts. It makes no odds that you’re giving token gestures to make the repayment less harsh, people will still look at £27,000 worth of debt and think “No thank you”. Hence a great many capable, brilliant, but poor students will be put off the higher education that could be the gateway to their future success, and the country will lose out as a result. We benefit nothing from higher education becoming the purview of the rich and privileged.

If you look outside Parliament this afternoon, you will see thousands of people there protesting. If you go to any of the major university towns and cities, you will find their centres besieged by protesters. They aren’t there because “they don’t understand” the measures. They aren’t there because the NUS has misled them. They are there because these measures are massively unpopular, and yet you who promised to oppose them are lining up behind the Conservatives on this. Motions have been proposed to delay the vote, in order to give time for a proper investigation into the impacts, and the possible alternatives. You have even voted against those.

Today, as I said above, is a hugely important day, for you especially. This day, and your response to it, will be long remembered. Some of you will vote for the increase, and be remembered as turncoats and spineless opportunists. Some of you will abstain, and be remembered as cowards who let others walk all over the promises they had made. Some of you will vote against the measures, and be remembered as heroes.

It’s not often that a chance to be a political hero comes along. I hope that you will make the correct choice.

 

Yours faithfully

 

Matthew S. Dent

Student

An Open Letter to Students


My fellow students,

 

Those who attacked Millbank Tower were thugs and cowards, who took advantage of students' anger, and who have damaged the cause that they claim to believe in.

Yesterday I marched with you in London, protesting against the Coalition plans to cut the Higher Education budget by 40%, treble tuition fees, abolish EMA, and a host of other ill-advised and regressive policies. For the most part it was a pleasure to be a part of. We marched from LSE down towards Parliament, shouting slogans (and general verbal abuse of Lib Dems/Conservatives) and waving placards (some of which were a bit mental, but hey, it’s a protest- you’re allowed to be a little mental).

Then, after about 2pm, it all went wrong. The attack on Millbank Tower (regardless of whether it was or wasn’t Tory HQ) was a stupid move. It turned what was a respectful, peaceful demonstration, into a riot. And maybe some of you are looking at today’s headlines and realising what a mistake it really was.

The fact is, that most of the 50,000 students gathered behaved completely respectably, and didn’t engage in stupid acts of aggression and violence. The ones who attacked Millbank Tower and tried to occupy it were a minority, hailing from certain factions of the left and of the student community. I won’t specify who, but I’m sure that all of you who know anything about this are aware of who I mean. And I suspect that a good deal of that minority went to the demonstration spoiling for a fight.

I can understand the anger and frustration that led to it. Everyone there was passionately against the unfair moves being taken by the government, and in particular at the broken promises of the Liberal Democrats. I’m sure that if Lib Dem HQ wasn’t hidden down an anonymous sidestreet they would have seen much more aggression than they actually did. In the end, students were angry about policies that would disproportionately hit the poor, and that anger both boiled over and was taken advantage of by certain elements.

The end result is that the protest has been sullied. The focus is on the minority of violent individuals who acted unacceptably, not the overwhelming majority who behaved more reasonably. I think it’s exemplified by the fact that David Cameron was able to give a statement on the performance of the police and the unacceptability of rioting, and completely ignore the issues that we were protesting against.

And the worst part, for me, was that we had the moral high ground. For the most part, we weren’t protesting for ourselves. The impact of these cuts and policies on present students will be minimal. It’s the future generations who will be disadvantaged, and it was for them who we were marching for.

Please understand that my criticisms were aimed at those who perpetrated the attacks on Millbank Tower, and not to the rest of the students. In particular, those who broke windows, tried to occupy the building, and unbelievably dropped things off the top of the building. I am a student. I am a left winger. But I like to think I’m not an idiot. This hasn’t helped anyone, and has hurt our movement and our aims.

Those who gave in to violence, vandalism and thuggery make me ashamed to have been there. However, all of you who didn’t disgrace yourselves, who peacefully demonstrated to make our voices heard. All of you make me proud to be a student, and to have been on the march which will unfortunately be remembered for the idiocy of a few.

 

Sincerely

Matthew S. Dent

(3rd year LLB student, University of Sussex)

This Day…We March!


Marching for the rights of future students

Tomorrow, we march on the capital.

Tomorrow, thousands of angry students will descend on Parliament to protest the crippling cuts and fee rises proposed by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government. Thousands of voices will be heard crying out for our politicians to hear our voices and listen to them. And for the Lib Dems especially, to remember what they promised in the election.

I will be there. So will over three hundred students from the University of Sussex. I have no idea how many people will be there from other universities, but I know this is going to be something spectacular.

I’d like to point out something in particular: we are not doing this for us. The tuition fee rise will not affect present students. The cuts to the Higher Education budget will, for some of us. But not for me, and not for thousands of other final year students who will be there. We are not marching for ourselves. We’re marching for the generations of students who will bear the brunt of this.

The rises are not progressive. They will dissuade the very poorest members of society from going to university, and transform Higher Education into something reserved for a rich elite. And the massive cuts to the Higher Education budget will decimate universities, resulting in students paying massively more for massively less.

This is why I’m going to London tomorrow. This is why thousands of others are doing the same. This is why I’m asking you to come.

Whether you’re a student or not doesn’t matter. You could be someone who will be applying to university in the next couple of years. You could be the parent of someone who will be applying. Or you could just care about the state of education in this country. Whoever you are, come along and show your support. If you’re interested, take a look at the NUS website for details, and get involved.

Thank you

Tuition Fees and Broken Promises


"We will scrap unfair university tuition fees so that everyone has the chance to get a degree, regardless of their parents' income" The Liberal Democrat Manifesto 2010, p32

Does anyone else remember the Lib Dem manifesto?  I know hardly anyone read it, but presumably most of you were aware of it’s existence? Well, even if you weren’t, you won’t be surprised to hear that it contained this particular gem on page 32: “We will scrap unfair university tuition fees so that everyone has the chance to get a degree, regardless of their parents’ income”.

This has been a staple of Liberal Democrat policy for years. They have built their voter base on it, attracting idealistic students who don’t want to graduate university in mountains of debt. Everyone knows this, just as everyone knows that the Conservatives attracts the rich, and the working classes vote Labour.

It seems, however, that the Lib Dems themselves have forgotten this. In anticipation of the Browne Review publishing its findings tomorrow, speculation is rife that it will recommend that tuition fees be dramatically raised. The current figure that seems to be being batted around at the moment is somewhere in the region of £7,000. Now, I realise that whilst I may be many things (a law student, a writer, a lay political ranter and Labour Party member), I am not a mathematician. So if I’m wrong on this, someone please correct me, but I don’t think that raising them to £7,000 constitutes “scrapping unfair university tuition fees”.

The obvious ramifications on this are those for the Lib Dems. It was their one policy that won serious support. Students are a massive voting sector, who on mass tend to swing towards the Lib Dems. And now they have, as part of the coalition, agreed to allow those people to take a massive hit.

But this runs deeper than that. Very few people at the moment are arguing that free university education is possible. But what is clear is that the increasing debt that graduates are leaving university with are not a good thing. More than doubling that debt is going to radically alter the educational landscape, and be a serious dissuading factor for those from poorer backgrounds, against going to university.

The rich will still be able to attend, and get their degrees. They can afford to shoulder the debt, if not the hiked tuition fees themselves. And when you add to this the speculation that universities will be able to charge over that amount, for those who can pay it.

Which is just brilliant, don’t you think? All the progress we’ve made towards equality, away from elitism, away from the idea that those with money deserve better than those without. All the progress we’ve made towards a fairer society, and the Lib Dems get into government at it’s immediately started to be unpicked.

So here it is. This is what we’re faced with. If students thought that they were going to be immune from the cuts and chaos that’s going around at the moment, we were wrong. We need to find our voices and stand up. We need to tell the world that, no, we’re not just a drain on society, we’re going to be contributing to the economy by paying higher rate tax after we graduate and get jobs. We need to say that education shouldn’t be the purview of the rich, it shouldn’t be exclusive to the privileged.

And to Clegg, Cable, and the other Lib Dems who sold their souls for seats at the Cabinet table, know this: the British electorate will not be forgetting your broken promises any time soon. You keep justifying your cooperation with the Tories as “liberalising” what would otherwise be a harsh conservative government. So do some goddamn liberalising.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back


 

Vince Cable's suggestions of a graduate tax to replace tuition fees, are somewhat damaged by other more regressive suggestions.

 

The Coalition government has today proposed introducing a graduate tax to fund higher education in this country, rather than the current system of loans that sees graduates leaving university with crippling amounts of debt. If this sounds at all familiar, it’s because it’s something that has been suggested many times, by many people- most recently by shadow secretary for education, Ed Balls.

But let’s not dwell on that. After all, it’s surely a good thing if the government accepts it when the opposition has a good idea? Anyway, that’s not my point here. My point is the compromise that is inherent in any coalition, and in particular a coalition between such polar opposites as the Tories and the Lib Dems. Every achievement that one side makes is tempered by an achievement of the other. Or rather, every concession the Lib Dems manage is tempered by some crazy rubbish that I sincerely hope comes from the other side.

Take the student finance, for example. Along with the graduate tax idea (which I welcome, as I did when Mr Balls suggested it), the announcement contains suggestions of all manner of things, including shortening degrees to two years. I’m not sure how many degrees this would actually apply to, but I can’t think of many where it would be a good idea. I’m a law student, about to go into my second year. Now, I know I didn’t really shout too much about it, but I had my exams a few months ago. And they were hard.

The stress that I went through this year, and last year, is largely due to the massive quantity of “stuff” I have to learn and remember. It might not seem like it, but there really is a lot to learn in Law. And I’m not nearly arrogant enough to assume that other courses aren’t the same. My point is that the stress levels, and the amount of material covered is at the limits of what is manageable. If you reduce course duration to two years, one of two things will happen: either the rate of stress-related breakdowns will increase, or the standard of graduates will fall. Neither of which seems desirable.

And that’s not to mention the potential for forming a two tiered education system, which seems to be something the Tories quite like the idea of. If both two and three-year courses are offered, at different prices, you’ll end up with those whose families happen to be rich enough to afford it getting the higher standard three-year education, and those whose families aren’t so well off having to settle for two-year “basics” degrees.

Now, there’s already a divide between the education that the rich and the poor receive, under the current system. A graduate tax would do a lot to allieviate that, as money wouldn’t be the primary obstacle for students from a poorer background, but rather they would be judged on academic ability.

A double standard of education based on wealth would destroy any benefit there, however. And it’s not just that it’s against the interests of social justice. It’s quite clearly against the interests of the country as a whole. What the public seems to misunderstand, and certain politicians are keen to encourage them to, is that students are not a drain on the taxpayer. They are an investment, by the country. Yes, it requires money from the taxpayers to educate them, but who gets the benefits? Who gets treated by the doctors trained at our universities? Who is defended by the lawyers? Who is going to rely on the graduates of the future?

I’m not even going to answer that for you. It’s just galling that I’m forced to watch every sensible, liberal, progressive suggestion that is made by this coalition of contradictions, be checked by some conservative, reactionary nonsense. What our economy is going to need as it crawls out of recession is not less jobs, nor smart and capable people excluded from the education which would benefit them and the country, simply because they weren’t lucky enough to be born into money.