25 November 2010

The students are revolting

I didn’t intend to write about politics here, but the students’ protests on 24 November in London and elsewhere made me reconsider.
But first a couple of disclaimers. When I went to university, the course fees were paid, and we all got a grant — the size of which was ‘means tested’. This was in the salad days of the baby boomers, free education, a job more or less for life, and a guaranteed pension. And secondly, my daughter went to Trinity College, Dublin only a few years ago. Her fees were paid — by a funding organisation in N Ireland. I did have to pay part of her fees — €8 for the Students’ Union. She however had a student loan. Her education now means that she is either under-qualified for jobs in economics (her course of study) or under-experienced for almost anything else. She’s now the manageress of a coffee bar — which sounds impressive, but it’s only because she is the longest employed barista. She has to think of doing a master’s degree to get anywhere in her speciality — a form of ‘grade inflation’.
I really don’t see how any government can consider raising the school leaving age to 18, and pay for the tuition, and then say that higher education must be paid for. Many of the kids will be living away from home — as they should — and as parents have paid for their living costs while they were at school, I don’t have a problem with a parental contribution to living costs at university. But I do have a big problem with the course fees, now potentially up to £9000 per annum. The government may well say that these don’t have to be repaid until the student earns more than £21000 or whatever the figure is. But I thought that one of the ideas behind university education was to get a well-paid job, not to work for the minimum wage. So, unless people disappear or emigrate, I’d expect most of them to have to repay for years. And repay while they are trying to get a mortgage, and trying to pay for a decent pension, and paying for the ‘deficit’.
It sticks in my craw that the Liberal Democrats whose proposals for free university education were laudable made a total volte-face as soon as they entered government. It’s a peculiarity of politics in N Ireland that there are no candidates from the big three ‘mainland’ parties here that I could vote for.
Yes, I’m in the generation that ‘never had it so good’ and I’m embarrassed by what is now happening. And very saddened.

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