Wednesday 13 October 2010

I Wonder if Anyone Asked the Students??

Telegraph View: Students are the ones who will benefit financially from a degree and it is right that they carry the cost.

Are cuts to tuition fees a little off topic? Probably, but hey, cuts are cuts and plenty are going on in the world of Universities just now. 
No, not the proposal to put annual fees up to 7k, I'll come to those, but the proposals not to really fund humanities subjects any more, to cut research, to cut places, in short, to turn our universities into part of the free market.
I was from the first generation of my family to go to university. We were "Working Class" - my Dad worked in a factory, my Mum was a dinner lady, but I worked hard and my Mum and Dad scrimped and saved to send me £10 a week towards my living costs.
Whatever you hear over the coming weeks and months, it is simply undeniable that I would not - could not - have gone to University if I had faced coming out of it 40k+ in debt. Perhaps the people that write the policies don't know what 40K debt actually means if you've never had any money.
So why do I quote the Telegraph at the top of the page? Because it is exactly headlines like that that do the coalition's work for them. Few disagree with such a banal, reasonable comment. 
The vital point is HOW should a student "carry the cost"? 
Paying slightly more tax for the rest of their lives once their income crosses that magic 21K threshold? Or racking up debts of 40K+?
It's really no good anyone answering that question other than those from low income families. Someone from a wealthy family is much less deterred by 40k worth of debt than someone who's family has never seen more than £400 at any one time, never had a mortgage, never known a family member who earned more than 15K. It can never be underestimated how much of our confidence, our ambition and our self-image comes from our upbringing. 
No inverse-snobbery though. I know plenty of wealthy young people who are terrified by the prospect of such enormous debt, it's just a little less likely to deter them. I also know wealthy young people who's parents take the "Pull yourself up by the Bootstraps" approach to extremes and these students (as far as I understand it from the Browne report) will only be able to borrow half of the 7k fees - where will the rest come from if not from Ma and Pa? Poorer students will receive the 2nd half in form of a grant, but the cut off is to be 21k as I understand it - how can a family on 22k find 3.5k a year for each of their children that might like to go to Uni?
Finally, allowing different Unis to charge different fees is just totally beyond my comprehension. It's already much less likely that a poor student will get into Oxford or Cambridge over a wealthy one - why on earth would we want to make that worse? If Cambridge decides to charge 15k a year, but Durham charge 7k, how many poor student do we think will be deterred from taking a shot at the big two?
There are days when I wonder why we don't all just take over government ourselves. I could have done a better job than Browne during a stolen tea break between school runs. 
If you hear this government say these fees are fair do try not to choke as you snort in disbelief.

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