Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Top-up fees. Forking out £3,000

Chances are that the recruits of the past 8 or 9 years have degrees for jobs that in the past would have simply required apprenticeships, GCSEs or A-Levels.

Right when every analyst insists that this country is getting overridden with "virtual money", loans, credit cards and mortgages, the government insures that extra chunks of citizens begin their working life with a mini-mortgage to buy out their "education".

The actual reasons behind tuition fees rising up to £3,000 are a miserable lie. Blair tells us that "the debt will be a good investment as graduates tend to secure better paid jobs"...Yet he doesn’t tell you that his judgement is deliberately based on the pre-1990s situation.

In fact, if we just consider the intake of graduates of the last 10 to 15 years, the percentage of those who end up earning significantly better decreases dramatically. Unlike 20 years ago, a degree no longer automatically guarantees a better start in working life (with a few exceptions, Oxbridge or a select type of courses).

The notion of getting 50% of people into Higher Education sounds great and, as per usual, Blair ensures it follows a misleading narrative. In her book An Honourable Deception, former Cabinet-member Clare Short explains that, since the 90s, the number of people going to University has consistently increased anyway, making the government’s fuss over the 50% target the more inexplicable.

More pressing, instead, is the quality that comes with it. How many graduates from '97 (the year tuition fees were brought in) onwards have been scrambling through casual jobs, low-pay, call centres and the lot? Just look at where you work. Chances are that the recruits of the past 8 or 9 years have degrees for jobs that in the past would have simply required apprenticeships, GCSEs or A-Levels.

So why is it NOT progressive to say that, given the congested state of University and the sharp devaluation of degrees, an apprenticeship system should be reinvented? And that doesn’t mean to say "we need more plumbers", for god's sake.

Many would rather have less people in Higher Education, provided that the selection was much stricter and based on merit – and not ability to pay- so that University would be truly affordable for those who really deserve a place. As it now stands, ridiculously easy access has turned Universities into degree factories.

It is true that for more people within the lowest income bracket University will now be free. Yet the greatest proportion of students will always come from lower-middle class and middle-class families and the burden on them will be too bad, especially those with more children.

Some people object to the idea of paying tax to finance free higher education: "why should people who don't go to University pay for those middle-class spoilt brats who do?"...

But if that becomes the yardstick of society then where do you draw the line? One may argue that they don't have kids and don’t intend to have any...why should their tax go towards childcare or primary schools? Similarly, those who don’t eat sweets may wonder why they should finance dentists’ bills on behalf of the greedy bastards who do. Or how about non-smokers seeing a chunk of their NHS tax wasted on smokers and related diseases? And you can go on forever. Do you honestly fancy a society that works that way?

Whatever your stance on the subject, given that New Labour so blatantly did the opposite of what they had promised in their 2001 manifesto, the next time Blair comes preaching about people getting disillusioned and apathetic, please do blow a raspberry.

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