Thursday, 9 December 2010

Tuition Fees and the Education Thatcher (thanks Sophie)

And so it has been passed that higher education fees will be rocketed up into the night sky like a huge dollar sign on a big roller coaster train made of paper money and mid-grade cocaine. All the parades and signs and letters to MPs didn't do much to stop the inevitable, but it was not entirely futile. It gives the future researchers of the "I love the 2000s" series some nice poignant pictures to show during a monologue by a 70 year old David Quantick about how awful the Tories are, and also it gave us all a chance to let off steam. Even I, the poster girl for "I care, but not enough" sent an email to a Lib Dem MP I felt betrayed by (Greg Mulholland to name names, a man who has sent me a signed letter in the past stating his categorical resentment of tuition fees). It has been a time of anger and confusion, of bitterness and long drawn-out sighs of hopelessness. Now, as the dust begins to settle, and the students trudge back to their individual Jarrows, we can all see that voting for this future simply because it was different, was definitely a bad decision. We should have stayed with the Vogon. At least he was good with figures and didn't just cut things off willy nilly when he accidentally caught sight of the country's debt in a mirror on his way to the bathroom.

What do these tuition fees actually mean though? Well to me, a recent graduate and total narcissist, they mean very little. The money I owe (pushing the £15,000 mark) piles on £20 a month, and will do until I pay it off, sometime between the birth of my second child and the day I leave work on a sabbatical for nervous breakdowning all over a conference hall. To others it has a heavier meaning; my sister for example, who begins her course next year, will be looking at tuition fees of up to £7000 a year - this is solely tuition fees, of course. On top of this she will be looking at paying for accommodation, child care, and general living. This is of course why there has been such outrage over the new charges. Why should the price of higher education be so high? Why should students now pay more than their parents or even older siblings for the same degree of education? Why should professors and lecturers be laid off in order for universities to make up monetary costs brought by cuts?

One of the points being argued emphatically in the press at the moment is the effect higher university costs are going to have on the ability of poorer people to enter higher education. On Channel 4 news tonight, MP David Hynes claimed that far from suffering from "bad debt", thresholds and payback schemes would prevent future graduates from actually feeling that they were paying anything back at all. The threshold will be £21,000 a year. Currently, it is £25,000. To put this in perspective, if you earn £7 an hour, you will be liable to pay back your allocated £21000 debt, for as long as it takes. Taking anything out of a nearly minimum wage pay packet is noticeable, and to claim that it would go almost unnoticed is not only unbelievably whimsical, it seriously undermines the real problems a lot of households face on a regular basis. Struggling with money is now a British pastime. Many more people than you'd imagine come from families where £1 own-clothes-days at school were dreaded, because £1 meant potential bus or lunch money being spent to simply wear old jeans and a t-shirt. Simply brushing off debt repayments with a casual "ahh, you'll never notice" is patronising, and it is wrong.

I think about my debts every day, but they mean nothing to me. It seems such a preposterously large number that I'm almost sure it has been invented. This is how future debts will appear to future students. The idea that poorer classes will be put off higher education may have a founding in truth, but really, if a person wants to go to university, they will, and their debts will remain unpaid for decades after their graduation. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the university participation rates of poorer people were among the highest for the past twenty years. Participation rates have grown, but funds have shrunk, leaving the prospect of incoming students the only means of a steady income for higher education institutes. No wonder university was tube-fed to me all the way through high school. Universities are businesses now, and the more students they have, the quicker they can knock down those old halls and build a new sports centre. Will higher costs mean less students? Of course it will. Professor Nicola Miller who spoke with Jon Snow about the issue said rather heroically concisely of her concerns that in the very near future she will be forced to decide which of her staff to lay off, being that teaching staff are the only steady outgoings a university has to make. Less renowned professionals, less full-time dedicated staff, less highly-regarded experts to come in from the outside and do talks. She foresees a future of overstuffed lecture theatres and part-time lecturers, just qualified and paid much less than those previously dominating their role. University won't be a staggering world of creaky varnished wood and  learning, it will be plain rooms filled with disillusioned people making sparse notes about the bare minimum that will be required for them to achieve a grade.

Who needs university anyway? Eight months after recieving my 2:1 in the post I am still working in retail. Don't bother. Just get that sun-drenched bar job in Australia and get the hell out of the UK before nurses and accountants take to the streets in protests more violent than a Rambo sequel, and the life outside your front door becomes Kidulthood world. Somebody get me a visa and a gin.


danjam said...

Debt is debt. This blase attitude towards forcing people into debt, which creates a bebt culture (something that began in the eighties) is immoral.

And yes, university isn't for everybody. It certainly doesn't make sense for upwards of 30% of the population to go.

Anonymous said...

I think the thing that worries me the most is that the only people who will consider going to uni will be the rich, leaving a massive class divide, how on earth is that "progressive" as Nick Clegg keeps suggesting?

Also the study of anything that doesn't directly pertain to getting a job will never be an option, no one is going to study music or art or history, we will end up a nation bereft of culture and knowledge of the past.

I read a quote the other day that I very much agree with:

"If the State is going to demand 40% of your income, the State can damn well pay for you to acquire the skills. If the State is not going to pay for your education, then the State has no right to the fruits of that education and you should be exempt from income tax."

Mcgingerbiscuit said...

Ooooh, my name in the title, what joy.
I wholeheartedly agree with you.
except that if I had gone done a blog about it, I'd have swore cusswords and stuff and gone incited violence etc.

well done for not throwing your own poo.

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