Friday, 10 December 2010

Dear Future Students, we're sorry.

I wanted to write this last night, but it would have ended up being 95% rant and 5% mashing the keyboard with my face, so thought it best to wait until today.

As a side note, a question to anyone reading. Which of these two scenarios would you consider more news worthy? A man being driven through the protest having his car kicked and pelted with paint or, a protester in the crowds doing nothing more than try and get out of the area, being hit so hard over the head by a policemen that he suffers a brain haemorrhage? The BBC, Sky and seemingly every other news outlet decided to go with the former. Purely because the man in the car happened to be born from the womb of a nice lady called Elizabeth. But I digress, the real news is the demolition of higher education voted in by all the Tories bar eight, and 28 Lib Dems.

Last night, after a mere 3 hours of allowed debating time, 11 MPs condemned future students to a tripling of fees and many of the poorest to a future without the hope of higher education. That's what it comes down to, 11 MPs switching sides would have defeated the vote.

It seems that no matter how much you protest, how much the general population agrees with your cause, how much you are willing to put yourself in front of a charging horse, or even suffer brain damage from a policeman's truncheon, David Cameron and Nick Clegg can simply put their fingers in their ears and pretend we're all stupid. We keep hearing that people don't agree with the new proposals because students are 'peddling myths' about what they'll actually mean. In light of this, let's have a look at a few myths.

- This increased funding means our universities can compete against the best in the world.

No, the increased money coming from tuition fees merely fills the gaping hole left by the pull out of government funding from higher education. Our fees will be the highest to attend public university in the developed world, and all David Cameron could offer was 'they're not as high as in America' (which are privately run, so completely misses the point). How that counts as an argument in favour I'm unsure, would 'Our human rights aren't as bad as China's.' be a valid argument point in that case? It is fair that graduates make a contribution to their education, but it is wholly wrong that the state should abdicate its own responsibility for funding, after all, it benefits massively from the wealth creation of graduates.

- The system is progressive because people pay less than they do now.

Not the case, not even nearly true. The IFS showed that 25% of graduates would pay less than now, which of course 75% pay more. And besides that point, the argument is between a new system and the status quo, it's between the system proposed and other alternatives, such as the graduate tax, which could be far more progressive. In fact, further analysis by the IFS actually showed that people from every background will be worse off after these proposals.

More than that, we have to look at whether people from the poorest backgrounds would even bother applying in the first place. (The massive issue over the scrapping of EMA has rather been sidelined, but that will come another day) People from poorer backgrounds are far more debt averse (with good reason) and a massive 70% of students would be put off applying at all.  Its no good if people could end up paying less (which they won't be) if the poorest never get to go to university in the first place, social mobility it seems is old-fashioned talk.

(Interestingly, Michael Gove said in his time as Shadow Education Secretary that large amounts of debt putting the poorest off the idea of university would be a good thing!)

- The fact you have to start repaying at £21,000 makes the whole thing progressive.

First off, you don't have to treble fees to bring this measure in, so to try and use it as an argument for the 80% cut and trebling of fees is completely ridiculous. But even accepting that it's part of the package, the jump in the threshold really isn't as large as you might think. This threshold comes into place in 2016, by which time that £21,000 will be worth just shy of £18,000. An increase yes, but hardly enough to undo the damage from the rest of the package.

- People would like it if only they understood you don't have to pay up front.

The general populus isn't stupid, Messrs Cameron and Clegg, we get it. You don't pay up front, but you conveniently skirt over the issue of the massively increased debt. Whilst they talk of the government debt in apocalyptic terms (which is comparatively low when viewed within historical trends), they seem to think personal debt is something to be championed. Just because payment is postponed doesn't mean it disappears, it just means that it will cripple people for years to come.

One of the biggest problems I have with this whole debacle is that confidence in politics has hit rock bottom, lower now than at the height of the expenses scandal. A lot of people are apathetic about political matters, one reason behind our low turnouts at election, and I've always tried to argue that politics matters. How can I, or anyone else, now argue that people should ever trust a word that comes out of a politicians mouth? At the election we had three main parties, two didn't tell us where they stood, and the one that did tell us went completely against there word the moment they got a sniff of power. Nobody trusts politics any more, and I can no longer blame them.

Before the vote took place the best policy was to target Lib Dems, as they were the ones most likely to switch sides and possibly defeat the government. Now that it's happened we can switch the narrative, yes Lib Dems who voted for the proposals are spineless nothings, but we should focus more at the 299 Tory MPs who also voted it through. For them, Nick Clegg is a handy human shield, but they were the ones responsible for pushing this through. They should be punished just as viciously as Nick Clegg is being targeted right now.

Students won't stop protesting just because the vote has passed, and they won't forget come next election.

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