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Posts from October 2010

Why Thank God?

Sunday 31st October 2010

This weekend, I’ve been down to Reading for a university friend’s wedding, which was all very pleasant indeed. Far too many of my friends are getting married or buying houses, I remarked to one over the weekend that “you’re like a proper grownup now”!

The friend that got married yesterday is very religious, as is her husband, so not surprisingly the wedding was all very religious too. Which is fine. Obviously not how I’d do things, but it’s their wedding so what does it have to do with me, so I can’t really complain. And I’m not, but some of what was said, some of the comments and revealed attitudes, were really intriguing to me.

There were a couple of readings from the Bible, and there was one in particular that I thought was odd. Ephesians 5:21-33 (hope I’ve cited that correctly):

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

I’m certain I don’t have to explain why this irked me! One of the speakers tried to explain this away, and came up with an explanation which to my ears really wasn’t much better. Needless to say that the guidance given in that extract is not how I’d want any relationship of mine to be like. Now, I’m not shocked that this is in the Bible. It’s an old text, it’s reflective of the attitudes at the time, and fair enough. I would question the wisdom of referring to such a text for moral guidance; if we start picking and choosing which bits of it we like, then surely that defeats the point of having such a text? But essentially, if people wish to do that then that’s their business. I can accept that, even if I don’t respect it.

To be honest, I find a lot of the sentiment of religion to be rather offensive. For instance during the course of the wedding there was lots of prayer to give thanks, to show gratitude for the things God has done, acknowledge the ways he has blessed us. And well, bollocks to that. Because it’s not some benevolent deity that meekly delivers good things to us. It’s us, and the people around us. I don’t need to thank some spirit in the sky for the various things I’m blessed with; I have to thank parents, family, friends, and myself for a whole lot of effort to get and do those things. And I find it really offensive to suggest otherwise, because it takes something away from that.

For instance. At the reception, someone said grace before we all started eating. They thanked God for putting the food on the table, and so on. But it wasn’t God; it was down to the efforts of people. Someone worked hard to pay for the food, someone worked hard to make it. Let’s not diminish those achievements by attributing them to God, let’s thank the people who put the effort in.

I guess that really, the whole thing seems incredibly anachronistic. I genuinely don’t understand why people are religious at all, because to my mind it all seems pretty ridiculous really.

Posted In: Rant Tagged: | 1 Comment

Paying My Way

Tuesday 12th October 2010

So, Lord Browne’s report on Higher Education funding was released today. One of his recommendations is for the upper limit on fees to be raised. The government seem to agree this is potentially the best solution, and this seems to have upset people.

As far as I’m aware, there are two sides to the issue of university funding. The first is that universities are saying that they need more money, and the second is that no-one seems to want to pay. Both are understandable. That universities need more money seems to be largely accepted, so all of the discussion seems to focus around who pays for them.

Some say that education should be free, so tuition fees should be scrapped and universities funded out of taxation. I can understand the reasoning, but to my mind it’s pretty unrealistic and even marginally unfair. By getting a decent degree an individual draws certain benefits, be that in higher pay, or in getting a job which they find more enjoyable, or whatever. It therefore seems fair to me that an individual who wants a degree, pays at least something towards the cost of getting that degree. That said, I’d also agree that society as a whole benefits from having graduates – it’s good that we have engineers, doctors, scientists etc around (arts graduates probably less so ;) –  so I also don’t think it’s unreasonable that the state partly subsidises the cost of degrees. Indeed, it’s an investment which almost certainly pays itself back, with interest.

I anticipate that someone might try to throw a curveball by saying that by this logic, I should say that even basic education (and by that I mean up to degree level) shouldn’t be paid for by the state. Exactly the same logic applies though; it’s a massive benefit to us all to have a population with a relatively good education (because it means the workforce is more capable). Additionally, everyone makes use of basic education services, not everyone goes to university. The two things are very different, so it’s easier to justify state financing of “basic” education (although perhaps less easy to justify state provision of that education).

Essentially, I don’t have a problem with fees. But at the same time, I think it’s crucial that the fees charged don’t make it impossible for some people to go to university. It would be tragic if people who would do well at university were stopped because they couldn’t afford it. In that sense, I think that the current loan system is pretty good. You don’t have to pay anything up-front, you only start paying the loan back when you earn over a certain threshold, it tracks inflation so is essentially free, and if you don’t pay it off after a certain period then it gets written off; I wish I could get such generous terms for my postgraduate loan! As far as I can see, the fee and loan system (coupled with the means-tested grants that are available) means that there is no practical financial reason stopping  the vast majority of capable students who want to study a degree, irrespective of their financial background.

To my mind this is fair, even with the possibility of increased fees (in fact increasing the fees makes much sense to me). Especially when compared with the idea of “free” degrees. Because paying out of taxation doesn’t make them free, it just distributes the cost around everyone, and I don’t see why other people should be made to pay (completely) for something which will benefit me.

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For what it’s worth, there are a lot of additional reasons I can think of for not ignoring the recommendations from the report; the argument presented here merely addresses the principle of tuition fees

Posted In: Politics Tagged: | 4 Comments