There were colourful banners, huge rhythmic drums, dancing, bassy sound systems rolled along on trollies, green gasses being let off on the air, rows of stern faced police staring into the faces of people of all ages and races enjoying the positive atmosphere. No it isn’t carnival that I’m describing. It’s the student protest as it paced through Holborn towards Aldwych this afternoon. A sight to behold for sure, in fact it near moved me to tears to see all these people united by one common unselfish aim – the desire to save higher education from the Browne proposal’s cuts. It was beautiful, it was colourful, it was passionate, peaceful and creative. Enough to make me want to forget my degree, buy a motorbike and become a full time revolutionary, but that would kind of be contrary to the whole point of the movement wouldn’t it.
I won’t bore you with the details of the proposed cuts as I’m sure you’ll all know by now, after all the student protests, proposed cuts to Higher Education and the reforms to our system which will allow (or force) Universities to charge between £6000 and £9000 per year have been strewn all over newspapers and TV screens day upon day ever since student interest was roused by the doomed announcement.
Suffice to say the government feels that it is a necessary part of its deficit recovery plan to withdraw a significant amount of financial support from higher education, stating that as part of the ‘Big Society’ students should cough up and pay for their own education. Not an entirely unreasonable concept at first glance. However this didn’t arise out of a vacuum. This measure comes at a time when the young people whose access to higher education has been made quite a bit more expensive, have been told their whole lives that they should all aspire to go to university to get a degree and a good job. Then they have sat back and watched news reports about how the government bailed out the thrill seeking banks with relatively few strings attached. Now they are seeing politicians blatantly renege on promises made that the cost of a higher education would remain more or less the same for the next few generations of students at least. Who could blame them for refusing to lie on their backs?
Some economists have argued that the current system is not workable and that making the availability of a degree too widely available actually works to the detriment of individual students and society as a whole. There has been greater diversity in the range of subjects which can be studied at degree level, resulting in high numbers of so called unemployable graduates with ‘useless degrees’ who enter the job market disappointed because they find that the fairy tale of ‘ uni = well paid job and live happily ever after’ was a bit of a myth and they end up becoming a receptionist/PA/sales person/working in Disney land (nothing wrong with those jobs but they don’t require a degree). These Browne supporting thinkers suggest that increased spending on higher education which have seen more funds go to more institutions allowing them to give degrees for just about anything is responsible for the dissatisfactory state of affairs and that the only way to put a stop to it is to withdraw the cash cow and charge the individual more, rather than the tax payer (who is, in case you hadn’t realised also an individual – I hate the way politicians try to split us into two personalities – the ‘tax payer’ and the ‘sponger’ failing to recognise that the user of public services is also the person who pays for them in most cases ).
I disagree with the Browne answer but am wholeheartedly in communion with the Browne fans with regard to the problem with our current system which IS problematic and is not sustainable. The truth is that there are too many people going to university to do things, which do not appear to be of much (if any) benefit to themselves or the society that they live in.
Young people go to university not because they want to but because it is expected of them and they fear people will think they’re dumb/a failure if they don’t. The rhetoric that ‘everyone should be able to go to university (regardless of their family income)’ has somehow become a lot more like ‘everybody should go to university’ which is plainly untrue. I myself have been at widening participation events in which GCSE students have it drummed into them that they have a significantly better chance of being better paid if they go to Uni, and after all everyone wants to be better paid don’t they? The result is that as a nation we have developed an unhealthy obsession with having a degree and have overlooked the true value of education which should not boil down solely to the ability to earn, but should surely be to learn more about the world in which we live to make it work better for each other and ourselves (which will sometimes be well paid and other times not be).
I think the answer is not to withdraw funding from all establishments that offer higher education qualifications but to withdraw from those who have limited practical utility. If this happens there should be no need for such an extreme fee hike and there will be less supply of ‘useless’ degree courses. At the same time we need to stop feeding young people information which makes them demand a degree and focus on celebrating a range of academic and practical qualifications equality rather than having a hierarchy which starts at degree level and leaves those at the bottom too embarrassed to do an NVQ so they start looking for Unis which will give them a degree in how to become a chef.
There is nothing wrong with teaching young people to aspire to be the best that they can be, but we really need to rethink homogenising what ‘best’ means. My message to the Lib-Cons: Don’t scrap fees, just cut the crap.
Submitted by: Miss P