Bee's picture
Fri, 11/19/2010 - 21:00 -- Bee

I am so shocked by the reckless, destructive actions of the UK coalition government it is difficult to articulate exactly what is most disturbing.

Of course the cuts to arts funding and the changes in immigration policy are infuriating, but those issues have quickly been subsumed under the tidal wave caused by "reform" of the education system.

We don't know what precisely will happen, but do not be confused. This is not about money. This is about ideology.

On a very basic level the government has decided that it cannot afford to fully support the number of people currently enrolled in continuing education. In the UK that means anyone over the age of sixteen, since A levels (the nominal equivalent of American high school) are not required by law.

Currently, low income students pursuing A levels are given a grant of £30 per week to help with transportation and other costs of attending school. While that might sound generous, the rate barely covers a bus pass let alone books - and the amount is in fact a critical factor for not only lower class kids but a large number of the middle class kids I know. Life in the UK is expensive. Taking that money away is, to me, the most reprehensible of all the new policies - actually cruel.

Beyond those kids, not yet admitted to university, we have the scores of talented youth who already made it through, earned their grades, achieved placement.

Around six years ago the government started charging a "top-up" fee of about £3,000 per year for higher education, regardless of which school you attend. I'm not sure what the rationale was, as I did not live here during that debate. This figure did cause some furore, but was widely perceived to be, well, fair enough. Even those families that did not manage to save for education can afford the fee, and young people can work to cover the difference.

Now the government proposes to raise that fee to £9,000 per student per year. While cutting education budgets by up to 40%.

There has been some backchat about 'tiered' funding schemes, making the higher earning graduates pay higher rates than peers earning less. Ignoring everything known or observed about human nature, how does this policy in any way benefit society as a whole? We could phrase it differently - offering scholarships to those entering certain protected fields and serving for specific times (nursing, teaching, social work, other helping professions, etc. would seem appropriate for such a scheme). But no. We'll just make a vague and unenforceable statement, and watch our aspirational grads flee to other countries with their skills!

Other tremendously cynical aspects of the proposal include a clause stating that if you attempt to pay off your student loans early you face a disproportionally stiff penalty fee. So, even if you work hard and try to get out from under usurious debt - or inherit money, or whatever - you are essentially forced under duress to continue servicing a high interest rate loan held by your very own elected government.

Huh. Interesting. Call me picky, but I've bought and sold several houses, and I would never accept a mortgage with an early pay penalty. The terms are not amenable.

But back to the core of the issue: £9,000 might be a fair amount of money to pay for, say, Oxford or Cambridge, especially since those institutions will not be effected by the budget cuts. They have private endowments, and a world-class reputation.

At a stretch you could almost believe the same about Leeds, Queen Mary, a handful of others. But could you say that for, oh, Anglia Ruskin? Countless institutions that provide a decent and honourable education to worthy students? Calculating the tuition fee increase matched with budget cuts? In a word: no.

Regardless of what the politicians claim, they are rolling back several decades of reform to re-instate the old preference system. In fact, they might as well be honest; it would save so much time and outrage.

Bring back the grammar schools! Restore the polytechnics! Rid the world of secondary moderns! Deny equal access to education! Allocate education strictly based on merit!


If the problem is that the government cannot afford to fund the system (which is a specious claim, but whatever) then make that the policy.

Twenty or thirty years of expanding the higher education system, leading youngsters to believe university is important or 'necessary,' raising a generation or two to believe that they not only can but must achieve a degree or several? Then displacing the cost of said education, without even allowing the individuals to negotiate fair repayment?

If this were a credit card scheme, you know what words we would use to describe it? Scam. Swindle.