I’m going vaguely off-topic today but I want to write about the vote to raise tuition fees at English Universities today and why I feel so strongly about it.
I have an undergraduate degree and a postgraduate degree. I have not paid a penny in tuition fees for either. I did have a loan to pay some of the living expenses for my first degree but that was paid off relatively quickly. Incidentally, the thought of the loan so distressed me at the time that I continued to choose to pay it back even though I was earning way below the ‘threshold’ to pay back. I was working as a volunteer and a care assistant when I paid back my now seemingly meagre student loan.
And that’s one of the issues I want to raise that I haven’t seen discussed in the press much.
Yes, Nick Clegg can argue till he’s blue in the face that logically having a threshold of not paying back anything until one is earning £21,000 means that these payments will be delayed makes this a ‘fair’ system but there is one element he and the cabinet (and government) of millionaires have failed to appreciate – but then, I wouldn’t expect them to.
That logic appeals perfectly to the confident middle class mentality and attitude towards debt. That is the comfortable logic that grows up with someone who has grown up with an attitude of never having to really struggle to put food on the table.
There is a different mentality to debt when you grow up and you really don’t know what the next day will bring, whether you will ever have the security of work and have been taught from a young age that debt is bad. In that world, it doesn’t matter that you won’t pay back until you are earning £21,000 – you feel an obligation – yes, a moral obligation to pay back money that you owe.
I continued paying my student loan debt when I was earning £11,000 pa in London, simply because I hated the idea of debt and felt guilty having it.
The interest rates increasing is another nefarious touch but mostly my opposition comes with both the reduction of general funding towards higher education and laying the burden of debt onto a younger generation assuming the middle-class sensibilities exist regarding owing money and logical debt management.
As for the cost of university education, I favour additional income tax, both for future, current and past students. I am more than happy to subsidise todays and tomorrows students and pay back for what I was able to study when I needed it most. I would pay increased percentage points of income tax tomorrow to ensure that todays and tomorrows students gain the same opportunities that I had. Education is a right.
I am a Philosophy graduate as well. I loved (and continue) to love to learn. Even if I had gone to university, I doubt very much I would have chosen a subject like philosophy. It’s hardly well-known for the production of immediately economically viable graduates. But I am enormously proud of my undergraduate degree and feel so fortunate in having been able to undertake it. I see its value now, far more than I did at the time because it taught me a way of thinking that I can apply to any other situation. Every day I am confronted in my work with ethical dilemmas and the rather esoteric ‘philosophy of language’ that I took in my final year relates absolutely to anti-discriminatory practice and the way that words shape the ways we think about things. My at-the-time-hated logic classes that I struggled with because it all seemed ‘too much like Maths’ have provided an absolutely fantastic foundation in forming and presenting arguments. I am a far better practitioner for having a first degree in philosophy than I would have been had I taken an undergraduate degree in social work when I initially left school – which is a moot point because I don’t think I even knew what social workers did when I left school!
But where are the philosophy graduates of tomorrow? Eton, Harrow, Westminster?
I doubt very much they are growing up on the same estate I grew up in.
- Cameron tries to quell university tuition fees protest (dailymail.co.uk)
- Tuition fees: Government offers concessions to head off rebellion (telegraph.co.uk)
- Government unveils new concessions on tuition fees to win over Lib Dems (guardian.co.uk)