University

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 End is Nigh


Almost there...

And, like a cat in a box, as soon as there’s concrete evidence as to their status my exams suddenly feel very real. And very close.

After nearly three years of study, endgame is almost upon me. I’m on the cusp of making the transition from Law student to Law graduate, which actually sounds grander than it is, and a lot less scary than it is. I started university in the full knowledge that at the end of the third year I’d take exams which would count for the vast majority of my final grade, so why does it feel like they’ve snuck up on me?

I think part of it is just how quickly the time has gone. It still feels like the other week that I pitched up on the South Downs, fresh faced (and clean shaven) and eager to get started learning the law. And now I’m twenty, and about to finish this stage of my life. An in between has been a whole lot of reading textbooks and articles, writing essays, listening to lectures and debating the finer points of the law.

It’s not so much the exams that are terrifying, but the sheer concept of graduation. No longer is life going to be laid out before me, neatly mapped like an ordinance survey. I hadn’t really appreciated how simple it makes life, having a set plan before me. Being about to finish that plan feels like standing on the edge of an unknown void.

Still, it’s not over yet. In just over three months it will be, but I have to get their first. Wish me luck

Hi Ho, Hi Ho


…it’s back to work I go.

Approaching the final push...

I’m now back in Brighton, ready to kick off the penultimate term of my undergraduate law degree. Which, from my perspective, is scary stuff indeed. It’s an odd feeling, being so close to the end, but having such a mountain to climb before I get there. It’s certainly going to be a busy term.

Aside from my dissertation (10,000 words), which is coming along slowly but surely, there are another three 4,000 word essays to write (one in each remaining subject- Evidence, Family and Law & Politics). As well as the usual lectures, seminars, reading, research, etc, etc.

Yeah, a fair bit to achieve this term academically. Then there’s all the extra-curricular. Namely, my writing and politics. On the writing front, I’ve been doing less since I started my third year, really. I still pump out the occasional short story, but not at anything like the rate I did in my second year and over the summer. And now I’m trying to edit this novel by March, it might be a bit of a dry spell as far as short fiction is concerned.

Politically? Well, I’ll still be involving myself actively in that, both in the Labour Society at university, and the local party (as much as I can). I’m not sure how much I’ll be doing, but I’m eager for a big push (particularly in regards to the 1p membership for under 27s scheme) in the run up to the local elections in May. So I’ll be doing my share- or at least trying to.

But mostly, I’m just a little bemused that the end seems to have sneaked up on me so effectively. There’s a bridge ahead of me, and I really have no idea what’s on the other side. Post-graduation, I’ll need either to find a job, or find some way of studying a masters. If anyone has any job offers for a left-leaning, rather-literate, soon-to-be graduate, I’m all ears.

So here goes. One more term of learning, and then another of examining. This is what the last two and a bit years have been leading to. Time to take it head on, and see how I fare.

Distractions


The amount of writing I’ve been able to do lately has been distressingly negligible. I think it shows from the fact that it’s been over a week since I’ve updated this blog.

It all comes down to distraction really. This time of year is always busy academically, but in the final year of a law degree it reaches the point of truly mental, I’ve discovered. I don’t make things easy on myself, I know. I have a tendency to procrastinate, and to bite of much more than I can swallow.

The last few weeks I’ve had to knuckle down though. I’ve had 7,000 words worth of work to submit, as well as a presentation to do. To date I’ve done 3,500 words, and no presentation. Added to that, I’m hard at work researching and writing my dissertation (on the contemporary relevance of the Law of Treason, in case anyone’s interested), ever more deeply involved in Labour, and the Labour society at uni, and of course trying to keep up my writing. All under the shadow of “What am I going to do come June when I graduate?”

Perhaps if I was snowed in, I'd have more time to devote to writing...

I am still writing though, even if it is more slowly. I’ve recently finished the first drafts of a longish sci-fi short about dimensional rifts and military recruitment, and a short story about unicorns. No, I’m not joking. I’ve also been listening to a lot of fiction podcasts. There are so many great ones out there, but in particular I have to recommend Cast Macabre. It’s a relative newcomer, but has some very good little horror stories, and is lovingly produced by Barry Northern to a top quality standard. You should really take a look.

So there’s a snapshot of my life at present. Plenty of distractions, little in the way of tangible productivity. I’ll be fighting with uni work until term finishes for Christmas (and then probably over Christmas too), but I have a few itching projects just waiting for a time window. Windows I intend to make over the Christmas.

Of course, it could massively snow (again), and I could end up housebound in Brighton, with nothing but time to write. And thinking on it I’m not sure that would be a bad thing.

 

The Fire In Which We Burn


All in favour of putting a few more hours in the day?

I never seem to have enough time these days. I could do with a few more hours in the day really, just to get everything done that I need to and still have time for myself. By which, I of course mean writing.

Since getting back to uni, the workload has been breathtaking. I have spent more time in the library than ever before, and I have spent pretty much every evening reading, answering questions, hunting down the articles, and so on. The upshot of this is that I have less and less time to write. I’ve been back for almost four weeks now, and in that time I’ve only completed a single story. Way down on the quota.

And I have a good one (or at least, I think it’s good) bubbling away at the moment. I’m about halfway through writing it, but I’m struggling to find time to work on it, and now I’m worrying that it’s going to go stale sitting in my imagination. That I’ll lose my interest in it, my passion for it, and it will have been wasted.

I don’t know if other writers find this, but my ability to write always has an affect on my mood and disposition. It’s the same when I have writers’ block. My mood is always worse when I can’t (for whatever reason) write. I guess writing is my stress and frustration vent, the tap that I turn to release the pressure of daily life onto a blank page.

But at the moment, I’m not getting the time to do that. And it’s starting to take its toll.

I think I need to take a step back, and do something which I’ve always avoided doing before. I think I need to schedule a daily slot in which to do some writing. That idea has never appealed to me much, because as an essentially amateur writer I have other drains on my time (such as my law degree), and I’ve worried that it would stunt my creative energies. Except now I have plenty of creative energies, and no time to use them.

So I’m going to devote at least an hour each day to writing. Writing whatever, not necessarily this half completed story I mentioned. Just to keep my brain ticking over until the Christmas break, when I can mad and write my memoirs in blood on the wallpaper. Or maybe something less drastic, I don’t know yet.

But the fact of it is that I’m a writer. I can’t get away from that, it’s who I am, it’s when I feel complete. I’m not a law student who writes, I’m a write who’s studying law. And if I don’t write, then I’m not really anything, am I?

So what do we think? Scheduled writing, a good idea or not?

Oh, and bonus points to anyone who gets the reference in the title.

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.

Back to the Grindstone


It's good to be back!

It’s that time again. As of today, I’m back in the lovely city of Brighton, and back to work at the University of Sussex.

This is my third and final year, so it actually counts. Meaning I have to really put the effort in, right up to the end. This is not going to be easy. Right now, I’ve had my first lecture of the year (Law of Evidence), and have near-bankrupted myself buying books for the year. But I feel energised and ready to learn.

It probably won’t last long. This same feeling has struck at the beginning of the previous two years. I start off all wide-eyed, ready to debate and learn and participate. It wears off after I end up mired in the endless reading lists, my vow that this year I’ll keep up with it receding into the distance behind me.

But still, I’m going to give it my best shot. This year the choice of subjects was my own, rather than the universities, and unlike most of my fellow students, I chose subjects I thought would be enjoyable. It’ll probably come back and bite me in the arse when I come to be looking for jobs, but at the moment I’m just revelling in the prospect of a year studying Law of Evidence, Family Law, and Law and Politics in the UK and US. And writing a dissertation on the Law of Treason.

The real panic will come in a few months, when I realise that I have no clue what I want to do when I leave university. But that’s a problem for later. For now, I’m enjoying my course, I’m enjoying my writing, and I’m really enjoying having been welcomed so warmly into the Labour Party. Life, at the moment, is looking up.

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.

Motivation is a bitch


As I mention in my “About” spiel, I’m a law student, by day. I’m not entirely sure why, at the moment. This easter I’ve had four weeks vacation, which sounds wonderful, but I feel the word “vacation” in this context is a little misleading. My term-time week includes a minimum of ten hours of lecture/seminar, about five hours prep work for said lecture/seminar bollocks, and the rest of my time being taken up by reading law texts, and writing fiction when I stray too close to suicidal tendencies.

In my “vacation”, I have had to write two essays (two thousand words, and three thousand words) on stupid subjects (implied easements, and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights), which count towards my final grades (25%, and 30%). Oh, and I was supposed to start revision. Except “had to” is probably a bit misleading too. It implies I’ve already done it. I have, in fact, done one of the essays. The shorter one, naturally.

Now, I could sit here and blame my lack of progress on all manner of things. The questions are awful, and need about four weeks each to figure out what they’re actually asking for by way of an answer. There is pretty much no academic commentary on either implied easments or the EU Charter of Human Rights. The journal ELRev apparantly doesn’t exist anywhere (actually, if anyone can point me towards it, I’d be eternally grateful; I’d offer to sacrifice my firstborn child to you, but after what happened with Peter Watts, that probably isn’t so wise).

But what it comes down to in the end, is that I haven’t done it. For whatever reason I want to offer up as an excuse, the second essay remains unwritten, less than five days from the deadline. The time spent writing it feels, to me, almost wasted. It’s time that could be spent writing all the story ideas that have predictably flooded me now that I can’t devote the time to write them (if I ever meet an avatar of my imagination, that guy is getting a punch in the face for this bollocks- every fucking time I have an essay to write!). Then again, maybe I’m just being petty. I’ve wasted hours the last two weeks, just playing free online tetris. It’s scarily addictive (though it has spawned a story idea about using tetris to predict the future, which could be fun, once these damn essays are out of the way- I’ll keep you updated on that one).

I realise that my Law degree will be a lot more helpful in the future than tetris, and probably even my writing. The odds of me actually being able to make a career of my writing are insignificant enough to be discounted. So why is it so difficult to focus on actually getting this buggering work done? I know how important it is, and that even though it’s unbelievably uninteresting, it will be worth it in the end, so why can’t I just knuckle down and get it done? I’ve always had this problem, but I’ve always gotten the work done in time. I’m beginning to think it’s made me cocky and arrogant about the whole thing. Maybe it would do some good to have to panic for once. It might make me actually get it done without so much whining and distraction.

Anyway, I’ll have to end it there. I need to go get started procrastinating.