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Posts Tagged: Student

The Politics of Blah Blah Blah

Saturday 11th December 2010

You may have noticed that the tuition fees fracas has provoked a certain amount of ire on these pages. Well here comes some more.

I’ve been angered by a lot of the opposition to the increase in fees. Now, that’s not to say that I think that there are no good arguments against them, or even that I completely agree with what the government is doing. What’s annoyed me are the specific arguments that have been used by most of the opposition, led by the NUS and Labour. The repeated misconceptions, half-truths, and downright lies that have been put forward and then regurgitated by – it seems – the majority of the student population. The irrational, unreasonable, illogical attitude that’s been prevalent is the absolute worst kind of politics, yet is sadly the most common.

What am I talking about? Take the argument that fees will make it impossible for poorer students to go to university. Does this actually hold water? Well, as with the present system, the fees will be partnered with student loans. The loans are available to all undergraduate students, and cover the full costs of fees as well as living costs. Students from poorer backgrounds will receive grants to help them with their studies (and lets not forget that it’s these grants that the NUS proposed should be cut, instead of increasing the fees. Make things better for the middle classes, to the detriment of poorer students. And yet they drone on about fairness). There is absolutely no reason why anyone will be financially incapable of going to university, so when they claim this the NUS are either being massively stupid, or deliberately lying.

A further claim is that graduates won’t be able to afford the crippling debt, but that doesn’t really hold much water either. The loans are designed so that this will never be the case. Graduates repay only when they earn over £21,000 (£6k higher than the threshold the NUS propose, by the way). Above this level, the repayments are set at 9% of earnings – the same as the current rate. Additionally, it gets written off after a certain number of years. I absolutely reject the argument that this is unreasonable, especially when it’s actually more generous than what’s proposed by the NUS!

The NUS and Labour both back a graduate tax (here are the proposals favoured by the NUS). If implemented, a graduate tax would actually work in much the same way as the fee & loan system (from the point of view of graduates, anyway). In fact in many ways the government’s system is better, when things like the higher repayment threshold and the benefit of direct payments to universities – rather than to the Treasury’s coffers – are considered. Now, I’m not arguing that this is the best thing to do. In fact it probably isn’t. But to oppose the government whilst supporting a graduate tax is simply the most bizarre and inconsistent position to hold on this issue.

And yet, this does seem to be the position of a lot of people. I’m not entirely surprised at Labour; their lack of principle and their unreasonableness are well documented. But I’m so angry with the NUS, the body which is meant to stick up for students, for absolutely failing to represent their best interests.

I mean, the education system in the UK – not just universities – is broken. For instance, there was an article in the Guardian the other day about the low number of black students accepted to Oxbridge. Now, the paper implied it’s racism. It isn’t, but it does highlight an issue which is arguably even worse. That is, that kids from poorer backgrounds tend to have access to poorer schools. The education they receive is not up to scratch, so they have little chance to earn a place at a prestigious university. Unlike many, I don’t have a problem with inequality of wealth; but I do have a massive problem with inequality of opportunity. I don’t care if there are some people in society who are vastly richer than others, as long as everyone has the opportunity to try to do that.

For all their efforts during their 13 years, Labour utterly failed to improve this situation; in fact by many measures, their actions made things worse. So frankly I have no time for them or their supporters when they unthinkingly oppose all that the coalition does, and I will not abide them pretending that they are the party of “fairness”. It simply isn’t the case. As for the NUS, their opposition to fees seems to be more to do with concern for “the squeezed middle classes” than any real concern for improving access to universities. If they genuinely cared about that, they would’ve been running campaigns to change the perception amongst the worse off that student debt is bad, and they wouldn’t have opposed the grants available for those people.

There’s more to all of this though, when you consider what this debacle tells us about the state of politics in the UK. And yes, this is where I become hugely biased, but hopefully not wrong…

Next year there will be a referendum on the alternative vote, but I would wager that many of those who were present at the protests against the fees would actually support full proportional representation. Which would have the effect of making coalition governments ever more likely.

The thing about coalition governments is that they involve compromise. That means that the parties involved may not always be able to do everything they said they would in their manifesto, and in fact may have to support stuff they oppose in order to get stuff they like. Over the last few months the Liberal Democrats have seen this happen quite often, to the extent that it seems that Nick Clegg has been elevated to the level of a sort of hate figure. The Lib Dems are lambasted for selling out, for backing things they didn’t support in their manifesto, and mostly for propping up Those Bastard Tories (and by the way, the persistent insistence by many that the Conservative party are evil toffs who take great delight in fucking over the poor and who only care for themselves… It’s stupid. Mind-numbingly ignorant, and hugely tedious. It’s so childish to pretend that those you disagree with are in fact out to do bad. Ever thought that they want to make things better too, just that they disagree with how to do it?)

Well guess what? That’s the price of coalition. The Lib Dems are compromising, yes. But so are the Tories. There really is a lot of good stuff being done by the government (and bad stuff that’s not been done!), that’s been influenced by the Liberal Democrat ministers. That’s meant Conservatives and Liberal Democrats reneging on some manifesto commitments.

As it is, people have chosen not to recognise this. Coalition government – especially in an economic climate such as this one – is nuanced. It requires people to look at the detail, to be pragmatic as well as idealistic. It’d be great if we could make university free, charge no taxes to anyone, and give everyone a mansion set in acres of gardens. But sadly we have to live in the real world, to balance conflicting needs to come up with a solution with the best compromise. Unfortunately our political discussion seems to have dissolved into extremes; into black and white, us and them. The forces of good against the forces of evil. This inability or unwillingness to accept compromise is pathetic, divisive, and ultimately damaging. And looking at the student protests, that’s what’s pissed me off so much.

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I Know I’ve Done This To Death, But…

Tuesday 30th November 2010

More student protests? Seriously?

By my count, these are the third round of protests about the proposed student fees increases. I would argue that this only really serves to undermine the credibility (hah!) of those students opposed to the rise, but whatever.

It’s really annoying that there still seems to be very little intelligent discussion about it. It all seems to be based upon bloody-minded opposition to fees, and a complete unwillingness to be pragmatic or to face reality. Students are involved, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this…

Having read around and listened to some of the arguments, it seems to boil down to “students won’t be able to afford it” (see this, for a particularly bad example). I don’t see how that’s the case, given the loans and stuff that are available. No upfront fees and you repay when you earn over £21k… What position do you need to be in to be unable to afford that? In practice, it’s a capped graduate tax (which would probably be supported if it were labelled as such… go figure).

To put forward the “can’t afford it” argument is either wilfully misleading, or stupid. Frankly it pisses me off that it can get so much traction and lead to repeated protests. Hence the rants…

More positive blogging with resume shortly (well, I say shortly; with my record it’ll probably be next June).

Update: Here’s Aaron Porter – president of the NUS – speaking about graduate taxes. Oh dear. Here’s a letter to Porter from Nick Clegg, which is infinitely more sensible.

Posted In: PoliticsRant Tagged: | 4 Comments

Just a Thought

Tuesday 16th November 2010

I’ve already written down some of my thoughts about the university fee proposals, on this blog and in comments elsewhere. I have little else to offer on the rights or wrongs of the policy, because frankly I’m fed up of reading impassioned critiques which are at best self-contradictory, or at worse seem to me to have little bearing on reality.

Anyway. Something that people often say is that fees prevent poorer people from going to university. As an aside, perhaps the correlation is more to do with the inequality in lower education; parents’ wealth apparently correlates with how well kids do at GCSEs. Which would imply that students from poorer backgrounds are at a disadvantage because they are less likely to be academically able enough to go to university. Perhaps.

Let’s assume that fees genuinely do deter poorer students from university. It’s probably a fair assumption actually, or at least part of the problem. But I would argue that there’s actually no real barrier to those people going to university, what with the generous terms of the loan, the bursaries that are available, and so on.

So why does that happen? I’ve read that it’s down to perception. That people just don’t like the idea of taking on debt, even though it’s the nicest form of debt you could possibly have, and you should never have problems paying for it.

If this is the case – and to me it seems the most plausible explanation – was it really wise for 50,000 students (or however many it was) to have a jolly to London last week, advertising how expensive university is and how people won’t be able to afford it? Is that really going to do anything to persuade those who are less well off that, actually, they can afford to study; or is it instead just going to reinforce that false perception that it’s too expensive? Hmm.

Posted In: PoliticsRantSleep Tagged: | 1 Comment

It’s Gonna Be The Future Soon

Wednesday 26th March 2008

So yeh, saw Jonathan Coulton in London last week (thanks again to Andy for the use of his sofa, and more importantly for the use of his spare Xbox controller…) and it was pretty awesome. I’ve basically had his music stuck in my head ever since the gig (not a bad thing), and its basically all I’ve been listening to. I burned up some Explosions in the Sky earlier so I can listen to it in bed when I eventually try to go to sleep (sidebar: thing I hate the most about coming home is that I have to leave my CD collection in Cardiff. Grr) just for variety’s sake, but I bet I’ll still wake up with Skullcrusher Mountain in my head.

Anyway, I’m straying from the point before I’ve even started… Theres a bunch of things I’ve wanted to write about on here lately, but frankly I’ve been far too lazy to write them out. So I haven’t. Of course, by the time I can be bothered to write some of them out I will have forgotten what I wanted to say, but meh.

I’ve probably written before on here about time, how it goes quickly, blah blah blah. I know it’s not an entirely original idea, so I’m not going to elaborate too much on it now. Anyway, it’s almost the end of the University year (I think I’ve got just over 2 months yet) and it leaves me thinking “crap, where has that gone?”. I’m almost at the end of the second year, and when I think back to when I was still a in school (or even in 6th form, looking round places) and how uni students looked to me back then, that’s not how I feel about myself now.

Lately I’ve been thinking back though over the last year and a half-ish I’ve been at uni, and thinking about how I’ve changed. Outwardly, I’m not sure if I have massively (other people can judge that better), but inwardly I think I have quite a bit. Not just as a result of going to university, but as a result of certain things that have happened and the way I’ve coped with them (I’m mostly thinking of a specific thing, but I’m not elaborating on a public website. If you wanna know what thing, ask me elsewhere :-p).

Argh, I have this idea floating around in my head, but I’m not sure how to transfer it to words. Annoying to the extreme…

Basically, I realised the other day that I’ve turned into an adult. I’m not sure when it happened, or how it happened, but it has. And in some ways it’s scary, but in others less so.

We’re grown-ups now, and it’s our turn to decide what that means…

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As an aside, I was pressing the “I” key often enough whilst writing this that it reminded me of this… Thanks Hannah, made me all self-conscious :-P

Anyway, I’ll try to write something more good soon.

Posted In: MusicStuff Tagged: | 14 Comments