Wednesday, November 09, 2005

quick tony, stop 'em learning

Revealing stuff from yesterday's Guardian which I forgot to post. Cherie Booth has revealed that, as a student from a poor background, she was only able to go to University because of the local authority grant which she received. "The truth is", Booth says, "if I hadn't had the funding from the state to go to university I would have worked in a shop." Obviously given that New Labour abolished free university education in 1998, the temptation is to say, "lucky you!".

Edward Davey, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on education, said:

"I warmly welcome Cherie Blair's recognition that a free university education was vital for her and, by implication, vital for tens of thousands like her.

"It's a terrible tragedy that her husband has decided to pull up the ladder of opportunity behind him".

Granted, it's fairly predictable that everyone jumps on a statement like Booth's as an opportunity to give Blair a kicking, and I'm doing it too, but the facts are irrefutable. The govt. have brought out the usual nonsense about how the new system would still have allowed Booth the same opportunities, but of course that is blatantly untrue, as if she were a current student who received financial help commensurate with her poor background then, she would still amass a prospective debt, taking into account fees and living costs, of £28,540 by the time she qualified. Which would have certainly put me off, and I'm sure it would her too.

The president of the National Union of Students, Kat Fletcher, said: "Like many people of her generation, Cherie Blair had the chance to access education and change her life because of a free and fully-funded education system. Unfortunately her husband's government have decided to take that opportunity away."

Ho hum.


Mark Holland said...


What exactly is free about money extracted from others upon threat of imprisonment?

jonathan said...

True, but are you going to argue against all state funding via taxation?

In actual fact I am fairly sympathetic to the idea of universities charging fees to students who are genuinely capable of paying them. But the government claims that it has hit on a system which is fair when that is clearly untrue. The concept of people coming from poor backgrounds becoming saddled with debts of well upward of 20k which they won't pay off until they're well into their 30s is really grim.

Mark Holland said...

I wouldn't say any person at 18 is likely to be able to pay for their courses up front. There's pretty much always going to have to be a loan somewhere but taking one on is a rational choice to make if they assume that even after paying it off they're going to be better off with their degree than without.

The present scheme is a typical Labour bodge. It's daft to say that all degrees are going to be worth the same when they're plainly not.

Bloggers4Labour said...

Vastly more people in University than ever before, with fees paid for the poorest students - how does that represent the ladder being pulled up? I wonder how many grants Cherie's LEA had to give out, 30+ years ago.

Of course we, as taxpayers, could pay for everyone who wants to to go to University, as well as for all the new investment the Universities need - and want - but then we, some of whom have already paid for their own courses, and others who have never had the chance to go at all, have to pay for it. I don't see how that's fair or sustainable. If these new students can reasonably pay, they ought to do so. Why should it be a breeze? If the course is of particular value to society, that's different, but for people going to Uni because they feel they need a degree to get a job, a future pay rise, or just because it's the next stage after College, we're hardly reducing "learning" by asking them to start paying back the course fees once their salary goes over the threshold, and after the course has completed.

Everyone should be aware that not all degrees are worth the same, and not just because of the reputation of the institution. That being the case, it would make a lot of sense for some people to go elsewhere, or delay university until they have an income and/or can make a better choice, rather than drifting in, and coming out with an unredeemable debt.

Of course it's in the NUS' interest to push the "free education" line, jumping on the anti-Cherie bandwagon to play the envy card, as it makes them appear relevant to students. What I don't hear is powerful, well-connected pressure groups campaigning for disadvantaged or poorer kids whose education doesn't last anything like up to the age of 18. That's what Labour should be reminding people about. It doesn't surprise me at all that the Lib Dems would sooner dig into the student vote than give a fig for the genuinely disadvantaged.

Emma said...

what a load of right wing bullshit. The simple fact is that this government has landed 'unredeemable debt' on almost all new students. I'm 32 and earning £17.5k with a university degree in Geography. If I had debts of 28k I'd still be paying them back. In fact I'd have barely started.

Bloggers4Labour said...

Well, either you pay the plucked-from-thin-air figure of 28K as and when you can afford it, or the taxpayer pays it upfront (or in three or four big bits). Isn't that the choice?

If the salary threshold for repayment is so low that the payments are painful, or are stopping people carrying on their career in the early years, that's a totally different matter: it shouldn't be allowed. If people can bear the debt, however, they're freeing up money from the education budget to be spent elsewhere, and allowing Universities to develop their facilities.

jonathan said...

Yep, Andrew is right - it's just that the amounts we're talking about are far too huge; it's irresponsible for the government to be advocating 18 year olds getting themselves into a debt which will take them 15 years to pay off. My concern about the way things are going is that people aren't able to do anything about the debt.

Indeed, I'd bet a lot of them, knowing the amount is so huge, put off paying it back as long as possible. And probably accrue more debts yet as the years progress. That is shocking.

In an ideal world the student would pay a reasonable sum back at a later date. However, if we have a choice between young people with astronomical debt or taxation-funded education I obviously prefer the latter - or at least a fairer system than the one we currently have.