Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The rich get the best, the poor get the rest.

Apologies for two posts in a row on the same subject but this really is unbelievable. We were told only recently that the thing we'd learnt from the banking crisis is that we can't build a future based on debt. Months later and now we're expected to swallow the lie that the only way we can keep our world-class universities is to saddle students with debts of over £30,000. For someone like me on a 5-year medicine course that figure would be much higher.

The idea that Vince Cable has said it's no longer possible to scrap tuition fees (despite claiming at the time it had been fully costed) and that this new system that has been proposed is 'progressive' is frankly laughable. It will create a two-tier system, throw social mobility into reverse and, completely polar to what he's claimed, it will cost more for those on a middle income than those on a higher income. A high flying graduate in finance earning £60,000 would pay £14,500 less for their degree than a middle income civil servant on £25,000. How can that ever be considered fair? It's horrendously regressive. The poor will be supported (although likely to be pushed away from applying to elite universities), the rich can afford to pay back the fees quickly, and it will be left to the middle income families to feel the full force of this avalanche of debt.

When the £3000 cap was introduced, all but one university chose to charge the full amount, why will it be different this time? The difference being that this time there is no cap for those elite universities that will be able to pull in students regardless. They'll charge extortionate amounts, unleashing the forces of the market and leave us with a two-tier system. One for those who had a good start in life, and a cheaper more basic one for those who've had to work hard from a disadvantaged background just to get into a position where they can even think about going to university.

We all agree that the status quo isn't workable, I will even accept the argument that now is not the time to scrap fees altogether, but its a fallacy of reduced options to suggest that because I accept those two things I have to agree with Lord Browne. There are other ways, and he hasn't given them the light of day. What happened to business making more of a contribution to the system from which they so readily reap the rewards?

The winners from all this are the universities, the losers are the students, and I really don't think Lord Browne ever intended on taking the students reservations seriously. He brushed them aside without a second thought. If he really thinks that no students will be put off going to university because they will end up with £30,000 worth of debt and unpromising job prospects in the poor graduate market then he's clearly living on another planet.

A University education will be open to the wealthiest, not the brightest. Those who were born into money will make more, at the expense of those without the great start in life. Yes, a market in universities will create winners, but it'll also create a whole load of losers, and when winning or losing is based on the income of your family, that can never be considered fair or morally right.

Although I don't imagine Cameron (Number 2) has much of a problem with elitism.

We can afford to fund education, we choose not to. As a percent of GDP we don't spend as much as many of other developed country's. The UK punches above its weight in so many ways, and funding a great education system so that we can stay there is not something that should fall solely on the backs of students.

Expect the government to bury this in the mess that will be next week's spending review. Simple idea for them, hit them with all the pain now and they'll forget the individual details, then maybe they'll forget in five years time and vote us back in. We'll see.

I expect this kind of short-term gain seeking for an ideological small state future from the Tory's, but I never expected the Lib Dem's to play a part in an explosion of tuition fees. Vote against it you spineless goodfernothings.

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