Thoughts on cuts

I had the opportunity last night to stand outside Oxford’s magnificent Radcliffe Camera.

 

The Radcliffe Camera

Image by DAVID ILIFF

This would be a more marvellous statement if I didn’t live in Oxford.  What bought me there was the student protests that have sparked across the length of the country regarding the cuts to education and the increases to fees.  Some of those protesters have holed up in this building and are making a stand for what they believe in.  Good for them, I say.  We’re far too English in our begrudging acceptance of what comes these days.

It was really interesting being able to talk to both protesters and police.

The policeman who we spoke to most was lamenting about how ineffectual occupations like this actually are, and pointed at Green Peace as a good model for effective complaint.  Intriguingly enough, the guy agreed with the protesters, and thought that education cuts weren’t the best way forward.  It makes you wonder how many riot police actually share the same mind as those who are pelting them with projectiles.  He was also of the opinion that the national debt could be sorted by just chasing down the self-employed – those who have a salary equal to the personal allowance and received the rest of their fat paycheck putting everything on expenses and taking the much less expensive tax applied to business.  The counter argument is that as you start cracking down on the businessmen who evade taxes in such a way they all flee abroad  and we lose the little tax they do pay.

I had a conversation with a couple of protesters who had to leave because they had work to do.  They were disappointed but told some great stories from the inside.  They were the last that were planning on leaving that evening; everyone else had a free next day (or were just ignoring any commitments) and were getting comfy and settling in for the night.  One this I did respect about them is they weren’t in there to inconvenience any of the other students – they had issued a statement welcoming those who wanted to do work, saying there was a whole area of the library that was free for use and stating that if they weren’t allowed in it was the police or the university that had made that decision.

I do wonder if leaving the occupation did weaken their protest.  Does conceding because of work or because they wanted to go home and have dinner, as happened in the case of some other people I was talking to, indicate these people aren’t so passionate about the subject as they would make out.  Certainly the pair who left to get dinner were only there “because its fun,” and knowing that it does strip any value from their opinion.    I feel differently about those who left to work – I think it is good that they respect the education they are trying to protect and still want to make the most of it while still making a stand.

Personally, I’m not opposed to higher fees.  I am think that we are benefiting from fantastic education so we should pay for it.  I only think it will work provided the government can back it up with an appropriate loan (which it is pledging to do) and keeps the existing maintenance support.  Paying back the loans shouldn’t really be an issue as  it is only a small fraction of our income above a high threshold.  The maintenance grants and loans are what are really important as they are what we have to live off while we are here, when we have minimal income.

I am not opposed to paying £6000 for my education.  This is coming from someone taking a four-year course, from someone who doesn’t (and wouldn’t) receive money from their parents in support.  I think I would even begrudgingly accept the £9000 figure.  I am at one of the top education establishments in the world, and I accept that this comes at a price.  I do get a lot of money in grants (i.e. non-repayable money) both from the student loans company and from the government, and this makes me a lot more comfortable.  One of the big counter-arguments is high fees discourage those from a poorer background, but I can’t say being from a poor background has factored into my equations, and I would hazard a guess that if the government stresses how much support is available (and encourages unis to give more support as well) this problem can be avoided.

I can’t say I’d appreciate unlimited fees.  The UK doesn’t have the correct ecosystem for it.  I often hear people claiming  America has much more expensive education and they survive, but they fail to recognise that the US has lower taxes than we do and that US parents save for their kids’ whole lives to pay for their education.  We don’t have parents with tens of thousands of pounds of savings to spend on sending us to the better education establishments.  However, a friend of mine has the theory that the labour government commissioned the Browne Review knowing it would recommend uncapped fees so it could swoop in and charge a more reasonable figure and seem like the good guys.  It sort of backfired by the labour government loosing power, but the tories did a similar thing anyway.  His point is that unlimited fees were never on the cards, and I guess that is reasonable.

Regarding the cuts, I’m not particularly fussed about the 40% cuts to education that is supposed to manifest itself in a near-100% cut in arts subjects.  This is mainly because I’m an engineer, safely protected by the S.T.E.M. umbrella of useful subjects.  Call me narrow-minded, but I do find it hard to justify some of the arts subject funding myself.  I asked an english student friend what she wanted to do with herself and her degree and she really didn’t have a clue, and was considering setting up a bakery.  OK, I don’t think all arts subjects should instantly loose funding, that is extreme, but there is a case for how useful the various subjects are.

There are a lot of subjects that don’t really need to exist in the first places.  Anything with studies in the title, anything that has sprung into existence in the past five years, anything that is the invention of any old polytechnic-turned-university has to really question it’s reason for being.  Lady Gaga Studies anyone?  Most of these are vocational anyway.  I think there should be a better, more accessible system of internships and apprenticeships.  People looking at the more vocational degrees would probably enjoy it more anyway.  And there is something to be said for a prospective film studies student just investing £2000 or so in a decent video camera and just getting out there and making short films.   It’s cheaper than the £18000 for three years of tuition fees and they actually have something of physical value to show for it.  Uni isn’t the best solution for everyone.

I know it’s not as simple as I make out.  I know I’ve probably offended a few people by implying their subject is useless.  I don’t know all the facts, and I do a good job at having really half-baked opinions, so I apologise if that is the case.  And anyway, I’m not a politician, I’m an engineer.  I don’t need to have opinions, I just solve problems.

And that’s enough politics and current affairs for a good long time.

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~ by Dominic on 25 November, 2010.

3 Responses to “Thoughts on cuts”

  1. I have the word “studies” in my course title twice, but I’ll still (theoretically) go onto be more valuable in society than many typically academic students that disappear into admin jobs.

    But I still like and largely agree with the points you make. The big question is who has the right to decide what is a valuable degree?

    :)|-{]=

    • Yeah, ok. I was conscious that I would probably offend a few people with all that. This is a prime example of the dangers of sweeping over-generalisations. Though equally are all admin jobs less valuable than your future career? Yes, there is far too much money and time wasted on bureaucracy, but without some admin infrastructure society as we know it would collapse.

      Nobody can dictate what is valuable or not. I suppose the key indicator is how many people continue to subscribe to a particular course after the fees shoot up. It’ll be almost darwinian, how the best degrees survive.

  2. It doesn’t offend me, I just think it raises interesting questions about the true value of a degree. Well admin jobs are there for a reason, and are important, but how many degrees relate directly to admin and how many people just fall into the role because they don’t know what else to do with their degree?

    I’d like to see more businesses sponsoring students through university, I think that would encourage people to take degrees that would truly be useful in the conventional sense, but also provide more job security for the students.

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