Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Glad you voted Liberal?

Tomorrow, the British parliament votes on whether to raise undergraduate fees to up to £9000. As a lecturer at a "top 10 UK" university, I've been following the debate with interest. My university may raise fees to the maximum £9000. This means us lecturers can all rest easy, particularly the Arts and Humanities lecturers, as we are having our funding decimated. This government doesn't like people who do Arts and Humanities because these tend to be subjects that attract Socialists, Marxists and Feminists (stroppy, difficult people in other words) and it thinks that we don't contribute enough money to society - unlike all those people who teach Business, Economics and Management theory (and somehow failed to predict the recession).

I'm against the fee rise because I think it will deter teenagers from poorer families from going to university. Even though they won't have to pay the fees until they start earning a wage, I still think £9000 a year is too high particularly when house prices have gone up so much that most young people won't be able to afford mortgages unless their parents help them out. I think the fee increase will further the rich/poor divide in the country and reduce social mobility, which is already going down. As someone from a council estate who's Dad was a bus driver, going to university in 1990 was difficult enough, and I was lucky not to have to pay any fees, but instead get a grant of £800 a term. Even then I had to work two jobs to pay the rent. But at least when I'd finished, I had no debts and was able to borrow £5000 to do an MSc - which is what helped me get a job during the last recession. I'm a Tory nightmare - the kid from the poor family who broke out of the poverty trap despite having the odds stacked against me, and although now I'm a relatively high earner, I still stubbornly refuse to embrace self-serving Tory (rich person) values. Tax the rich until they bleed. Increase the minimum wage. And if the rich get in a huff and want to go and live somewhere else, then I'll pack their cases for them. Missing you already!

Making the rich richer and the poor poorer is exactly what the Conservative Party want. So it's hardly suprising that so many of their policies will do just that. What's more disappointing is that the Liberal Democrats made an election campaign promise to oppose fee raises. Many people, including first-time voters, voted Liberal precisely for this reason. This sense of betrayal, coming only months after the Liberals managed to gain office through forming a coalition with the Conservatives, is unlikely to ever be overcome. Indeed, the LibDems have gone from being the party of choice for people jaded with the shadiness of New Labour spin and its "end of boom and bust" rhetoric to the party of hypocrisy and lies. I almost fell for Nick Clegg's nicey-nice above-the-sleaze persona that he projected during the election debates in May. When the Tories failed to achieve a majority, I expected that the Liberals would offer to support them on some things, but would draw the line on fees. But after so many decades in the political wilderness, that novel taste of power must be like blood to a starving vampire. They can't risk losing it.

First time voters have had a wonderful lesson in politics - no matter what the party, those in power will lie, sell out and betray you to stay in power. The Liberal Democrats are to be credited for politicising a whole generation of young people - people who will be voters and campaigners for a very long time to come. And who are unlikely to believe a thing that the Liberal Democrats say again. That's a shame, because there are some very decent and honorable Liberal Democrat MPs - like Tim Farron, who won't be voting for the fee increase. And while much of the anger is directed at the Liberal Democrat liars, we miss the point that it is the Tories, who did not gain a majority of votes, are putting forward a series of economic and social changes to this country, which make Maragaret Thatcher look like a socialist. The Liberal Democrats act as a lightening-rod, taking pressure off those who really have the power.

But ultimately, the message from all this is a depressing nihlistic one. There was no "good choice" at the last election. Just a series of increasingly bad choices. None of the three leaders (Brown, Cameron, Clegg) deserved to govern this country. I wish I could have ticked a box saying "Sack all three leaders and hold another election when you've found some better people, or some better parties even."

One thing about left-wing people, is that they seem to have all the criticisms, but rarely seem able to come up with any answers. My answer would be to link fees more closely to ability to pay. Fees should be on a sliding scale, based on the social class and earning power of a teenager's parents or guardians. For the children of bankers, I'd make the fees £300,000 a year. It'd only take a couple of annual bonuses to cover the cost of them. For children of road sweepers - they'd get grants to go to university rather than have to pay fees.

I'd also reduce most undergraduate degrees to two years. As I said, I teach at a university. The first year is mainly a doss. Your results don't count towards your final grade, and on many courses students only have a few hours of teaching a week. The rest of the time is spent hanging around, getting drunk, staying up all night and sleeping in late. They do this because they can. I and almost everyone in my year did it because we could. If students were given a more intensive education, then costs would go down. And students would go to university because they wanted the education, not because they wanted an easy three years or to delay their entry into the real world. It'd also make them much more prepared for the world of work.

And I'd put limits on the numbers of people allowed to study certain subjects. Business, Management and Economics degrees that place emphasis on teaching people to persuade others to buy things, to manipulate people into doing what you want, and into making maximum profit without caring for ecology or human suffering - it's those subjects which got us into the recession mess in the first place. They have no place in universities, just as Nick Clegg has no place in this government.

1 comment:

theguyliner said...

Great article. Interesting that post-election many people thought that LibDems would walk away after a few months in disgust at the Tories and thus cause an early election. Based on some of the recent events, it now looks more likely that they'll cling to government — and the Tories — for as long as possible. And it of course, a great smokescreen for the Tories, leaving them to get on with petrol-bombing the working classes with every new measure and appeasing the paranoid middle-class by whipping up fear about paedophilia by trying to ban T-shirts for children with suggestive slogans on and asking schools to tell parents not to take pictures at school plays. Every day brings a be low for the 'coalition'; they'll be subterranean by Christmas.