Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Education is a right, not a privilege - or obligation?

So back in 2002 we were protesting against top up fees.

Now, eight years later we're protesting against further increases in fees.

The arguments are essentially the same. Higher costs price lower income students out of an education they have a right to.

"Education is a right, not a privilege", that’s what we were chanting back in 2002. I still believe this, but it has taken me a while to get behind the current round of protests.

To begin with, I had a Tory boy moment and decided that, as long as the extra money did find its way back to the students in the form of better facilities and increased amounts of contact time, and then it was probably going to be a good thing in the long term.

Students and parents of the current university bound generation would struggle, yes, but the following generations would just have to accept that they would have to save over a longer period and grants need be provided to help the lowest income families.

Spiralling student debt would be offset by higher repayment thresholds and variable interest rates, it all seemed to make a vague amount of sense to me.

Sarah Teather MP addressing a Liberal Democrat...Image via Wikipedia
So, maybe this is the rationale for Sarah Teather and co abandoning their belief that "All the evidence suggests that fear of debt will deter those from lower income families and ethnic minority communities", (from her maiden speech to the house of commons).

But seeing as this appears to be quite an epic swing, it would be nice if we could get some clarification on why they changed their positions, Teather in particular. Does Teather believe that there will be enough support systems in place that 'lower income families' will not be excluded? Or has she just abandoned them? I don't think the latter is true, but then I've been called naive more than once.

Unfortunately, we don't have an answer yet, and if this clip is anything to go by, we're going to have to wait until she's had adequate time to prepare a well composed, perfectly spun piece to camera to clarify her position.

Again with the naivety, I voted Lib Dem because I thought, ha, that it might mean a different kind of politics, but it appears that getting into bed with the Tories means you start playing the bedroom games their way. Kinky.

After seeing the demonstrations, the occupations and reading blogs and articles a-plenty, my opinion has been somewhat swayed. Not because I think that an increase in fees is itself a bad idea, but because I have very little confidence that the money will find its way to the students in any kind of real beneficial way.

I have never been a supporter of target based policies; 50% of school leavers going to University was always, in my opinion, a poor vision. I would support a policy that sees the people who are going to benefit from a degree going to university, supported financially, socially and where necessary, educationally, to do so.

I don't think that university should be for 'smart' people. I think it should be for those that want to learn, whatever their ability level.

I don't think that university should only be for those that can afford it, whatever the institution they want to go to. All students should have equal opportunity to access the best resources, with entry requirements being merit based, not financial.

I don't think that university should be the assumed natural next step after school. Most students would benefit greatly from working first, finding out whether a degree is actually going to be of benefit to them, before investing the time and money only to end up in a job that they could have worked their way into, earning along the way rather than accruing debt.

I was 21 when I went into university. Not a mature student really, but that extra two years, working in a call centre, cemented in my mind that if I wanted to achieve the things I had planned for myself, University was the way forward.

Now, many years later, after getting my degree, working in a bar for a year, I'm studying for a masters. My debt is spiralling, but I am still confident that it is a good investment.

Maybe the levels of debt proposed by the coalition government might put people off going to University, but for those who need to and for those that really want to I don’t think it will deter them.

I worry about a class based education system, but then do we not have one of those now anyway? Look at the Oxford and Cambridge students. Look at the top ten universities. Tell me we don't have a class based system.

Look at the schools these students come from, their parent’s socio-economic status, their cultural capital. Tell me we don't have a class based system.

I don't want to be an apologiser for the Lib Dem sell outs; I do think they have sold out on fundamental values, but maybe if they would talk to us, explain why they've changed their position, justify the increases, give us some sort of assurance that the support will be there and the funds will reach the students, we might be a bit happier to sell out too.
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