“If your heart is on the left, don’t carry your (share) portfolio on the right.”
(Updated) graffito from the French student riots of May 1968
One has to admire the chutzpah of that portion of Jeremy Corbyn’s enthusiastic, articulate supporters who are arguing the case for free tuition fees. They are selflessly campaigning for a policy that will, of course, in no way benefit them and their class. Will it not, though?
Tony Blair, in introducing tuition fees for university students, levied a poll tax on middle and higher income earners. He levied a tax on people like himself. ‘Surprisingly’, they did not appreciate that other people were not going to continue subsidising the university education of their offspring (via the tax system). And those ‘principled’ middle and higher income earners have been hacked off ever since.
One has some respect for those middle and higher income earners, including Tories, who have not whinged on and on about the introduction of free university tuition fees. They seem to have been sufficiently self aware in recent years to avoid the trap of being accused of asking lower income taxpayers to subsidise the university education of taxpayers in the brackets above them. The Tories, though, were not quite so savvy back in 2003.
What to do, if one is principled and unhappy about one’s offspring and/or the Bank of Mom and Dad paying for university tuition fees? Of course, one does what the middle class always does in such situations. One prays in aid the plight of the working class. Simple, eh?
It would be simple, if it were not for the fact, that most people in the UK do not go to university and maybe never will. I know what you are thinking. Surely many more students from the poorest fifth of backgrounds would go to university, if they did not have to pay tuition fees? I mean they have them in Scotland, courtesy of the left wing SNP, do they not? And that has been a great success, has it not? That rather depends on your definition of success:
“The SNP’s totemic policy is the abolition of tuition fees. In 2001, the Labour-led government in Edinburgh removed “up-front” fees for Scottish students, introducing a “graduate endowment fee” of £2,000 to be paid after graduation. This fee was abolished by the SNP minority administration in 2008. In England, meanwhile, the higher education reforms of the previous coalition government ensured that annual fees can now reach £9,000 per year.
The cost of Scotland’s fees policy keeps rising. Partly as a result, in 2013, the Scottish government cut bursaries for poorer students, while increasing the amount of debt students can incur. Grants have been cut by half in real terms since 2007; Scotland now has the lowest rate of bursaries in western Europe. As research by Lucy Hunter Blackburn, a former senior civil servant responsible for higher education, has shown, young students from families earning less than about £30,000 have lost out under the SNP: grant cuts since 2007 have more than outweighed any benefit from the abolition of the graduate endowment.”
Two months before last May’s General Election, Nicola Sturgeon in a speech at the London School of Economics “spoke of how student debt would have stopped her from going to university; but because the SNP government has prioritised funding universal free tuition over targeted grants, Scotland is the only nation in the UK where poorer students will borrow more than richer students. The student grant system is the only welfare policy that the Scottish government directly controls, so one might also consider it indicative of where the party’s true priorities lie when it comes to choosing between helping poor Scots or appealing to the middle classes. Tellingly, when challenged about these effects, the party has been evasive or even denied them, appearing unable to recognise, much less admit, when its decisions will be damaging to the less affluent.
At the same time, the end of tuition fees has had no impact on the number of poorer Scots going to university, according to” Sheila Riddell, Director of the Centre for Research in Education Inclusion and Diversity at the University of Edinburgh. “Students from the poorest fifth of backgrounds made up only 8 per cent of entrants to Scotland’s ancient universities in 2008/9; in 2012/13, the share was also 8 per cent. The same pattern is clear among entrants to newer universities: 11 per cent came from the most deprived fifth in 2008/9 and 2012/13.” “
I would have more time for those backing Corbyn, who have cited free university tuition fees as a major reason for their support, if they were calling for targeted support to give a hand up, not a hand out, to working class youths wanting to go to university. Of course, such support would need to be about more than just money. And past experience suggests that such targeted interventions are quite often not popular with middle class cuckoos, those people who not only know their rights, but who make sure everyone else knows they do too!
Personally, I thought it was presumptuous, if not arrogant of a member of the Labour Party, even if he has been a Member of Parliament since 1983, “to apologise on behalf of the Labour party to the last generation of students for the imposition of fees, top-up fees and the replacement of grants with loans by previous Labour governments.”
The Guardian did observe, when reporting Corbyn’s mea culpa on behalf of others, that the “move is also designed to strengthen the already strong support his campaign is gaining among younger Labour members.” Support from people like Matt Monk who wrote an article, in The Guardian of Friday 24th July, entitled “Corbyn has given young people like me new hope in politics.”
Matt is 19 and starts university in October 2015, studying politics and sociology. I wish him well, but forgive me for thinking he is not representative of the majority of today’s youth. “Tuition fees, graduate employment, housing, gender equality and climate change: these are the issues that young people care about, not the short-term deficit, which is fairly irrelevant to achieving these ends,” says Matt. I think it rather significant that the cost of his university education and the type of employment that he thinks he has a right to expect, if he graduates, are points one and two in that list.
I do agree with Matt that housing is an issue for all young people, but it is not an issue just for them. I believe, wholeheartedly, that access to rights or opportunities should be unaffected by gender, but I also think that rights should be enjoyed by and opportunities open to all, regardless of their class. Matt does not use the word class anywhere in his comment piece.
As for climate change, I think if we stopped talking about the measures needed to address it as, well, addressing it and instead focused on those measures as being a way of creating a wide variety of jobs, improving energy security as well as lowering both energy prices and (harmful) energy consumption then we would, ‘accidentally’, produce the outputs and outcomes needed to address the problem. I confess that such an approach lacks the sturm und drang of popular campaigning, demonstrations and going toe to toe with climate change deniers, but I guarantee it would resonate with the average voter.
Incidentally, I do not believe in climate change. I accept the evidence for it. No climate change denier, to date, has presented any factual arguments to change my opinion on climate change. Even if they did, the sound economic and social arguments for de-carbonising our economy would still stand. I know that, because I have sat in meetings with hard faced men and women of business, no hippies them, who see de-carbonisation as making good business sense. On any other day, I might have been very opposed to their points of view, but in those meetings we were as one and that, Matt and Jeremy, is how you achieve real, sustainable change.
Like Matt, I want a Labour Party “that stands up for its values of fairness, equality and social justice.” Alas, for Matt and Jeremy Corbyn, I do not think “the cutting of tuition fees” is about fairness, equality and social justice. I do think it is about those, already well off in our society, seeking to further entrench their position and reduce even further social mobility. A socialist, who believes that Labour is for the many not the few, not the advantaged, but the disadvantaged, should surely have started his bid for our party’s leadership with a policy for the many and not the few?
I do not think that Corbin’s National Education Service in any way balances his stance on university tuition fees. The NES is a back of a cigarette pack idea which noticeably does not incorporate university education. It is university education, with all the benefits that accrue from it, for Matt and the NES for AN Other Youth. Corbyn is, I assume, ignorant of concerns about the perpetuation of an uneven playing field between academic qualifications on the one hand and vocational on the other? Calling it the NES does not address that point, in fact, it underlines it!
I fear that I am sounding like an Old Labour Class Warrior, but then I was AN Other Youth. I did not go to university. I did work with people like me to get jobs, some of them through education and training. I think their needs, their life opportunities should come before those of Matt, who seems to be doing more than ok already. Arguably, if he were a real socialist, he would be writing articles in support of improving the condition of all young people and not just the privileged few. After all, how many AN Other Youths are invited to write a Comment is Free (but facts are so sacred, we think them best not exposed to the light of day) piece?
Every generation goes through an Angry Young Man phase and I imagine Matt is no different from his forebears in that, but, by now, one would have thought that Corbyn would have got past his, at least in the matter of who really benefits from university education, regardless of the party in power. If he is sincere in what he is saying, that university tuition fee cuts will be a bold plan to bring us in line with other European nations which do not charge tuition fees for university education, and he may be sincere in saying that, then he is too stupid to be leader of the Labour Party and a future Prime Minister (with due apologies to Aneurin Bevan).
Countries like Germany pay more than lip service to the idea that academic and vocational qualifications are of equal value as Peter Chivers discovered when he tried to claim unemployment benefit in Berlin. The 41-year-old, from Bradford, “who speaks fluent German and has a language degree, said: “At the Jobcentre, they said to me: ‘You must have learned a trade?’ I told them that an apprenticeship wasn’t crucial to start a job in the UK – you could get a job just with a degree. But they struggled with that concept,” he said. When Chivers asked if it could assist with job training, the Jobcentre refused. “To be honest, I found the authorities incredibly obstructive … They put every obstacle in my way that they could.” ”
I must confess to having experienced a degree of schadenfreude when reading of Mr Chivers’ experience, but then you do not have to go to a Jobcentre in Berlin to meet graduates with a well developed sense of entitlement. You may even come across them in an inner city Jobcentre in Birmingham.
As an aside, Mr Chivers’ “experience with benefit claims stood in stark contrast to that in Britain: “When I had to apply for benefit in the UK, I just turned up at the benefit office and had to fill out one form. Later, someone came around to check whether I really lived at my address. That was it. In Germany, I needed to certify everything from what kind of car I drove down to how I heated my flat. At times it felt like I was doing paperwork for paperwork’s sake. I found it a very demeaning experience, but then that may have been the point.” ” Actually, those detailed questions about heating may have been part of a process of awarding benefit supplements to reflect differing levels of cost. Once upon a time, UK Supplementary Benefit included payment supplements to help those with high fuel bills. Food for thought there, Matt and Jeremy?
Who needs a degree in politics and sociology, Matt, to get on in politics, elected or unelected? One may fail to graduate and still get a good, well paid job at taxpayer’s expense. I did it as did Jeremy Corbyn. He failed to complete his course at North London Polytechnic, because he was already embarking on a life long career in politics. I suspect graduating might actually have proved to be a drag factor back in those heady days of student sit ins, demos and the like. Incidentally, those were the days, Matt, when students demonstrated about issues without one eye on the main chance. I think, Matt, Jeremy also remembers those days when he says, “Education is not about personal advancement but is a collective good that benefits our society and our economy.” Do you agree with that statement?
Finally, Matt, if you have aspirations to be a Special Adviser (SPAD) or an elected politician then reflect on the fact that voters say that politicians (and by implication the media and others) are out of touch with them. In part they must be out of touch, because they have had different life experiences, in particular most have gone to university and graduated. Are you part of that problem, that disconnection, or are you part of the solution?
The personal is still the political, ask Jeremy, and what suits you politically suits you personally. Free university tuition fees, on their own, do not guarantee equality of opportunity for all young people, but they would be in your best interest. If you want to emulate Jeremy, be “clear and explicit” in your views, genuine too, then please have the decency to admit you and middle and higher income earners would be the major beneficiaries of the end of university tuition fees.
PS Whilst I may have got past my angry young man phase some while ago, I am still fighting the fire.