Friday, December 10, 2010

The Students are Revolting

It seemed until recently that the fine, noble tradition of student outrage was dead in the UK. There are so many universities, so many students, so many vocational courses, it seemed going to uni was just another career choice. The idea of idealism appeared to have died. To be honest, when I was student it hardly burned bright. Mrs Thatcher had gone, the focal point of much hatred, so youthful anger had dissipated. There was also the growing idea that to agitate and march and protest was somehow uncool. What was the point? No point sticking it to The Man when the The Man never listens.

Which is why it has been heartening to see British students rise en masse the past few weeks. The focus of their revolt are the new tuition fees introduced by the Coalition government. These amount to a staggering £9000 a year. Throw in living costs, and it is estimated that students of the future could leave college with debts of around £50,000. An obscene amount of money to owe before you've even started your career.

Of course, those affected most are those will be those from less wealthy backgrounds. Rich parents will be able to pay for their kids to study. The poorer won't. Many bright kids from working-class backgrounds when faced with the prospect of taking a job and earning, or going to college and racking up horrific debt, will choose the former. So much for meritocracy and the entirely noble ideal that everyone should have the chance to better themselves regardless of their starting circumstances in life. What the private school system has established - the right for rich parents to buy be able to buy the best education for their children - the new university system will entrench. You will not be surprised to learn that nearly almost every single prominent member of the Coalition is from a wealthy family and went to a private school.

The fact is, Britain is becoming as socially immobile as the United States. In the 1980s, until Mrs Thatcher and her public services wrecking ball, students were given a government grant which covered their fees and their living costs. They could even claim benefits in the holidays. The number of children that went to university form poorer backgrounds increased exponentially. Then it was cut back, and student loans introduced. But while wrong, these were still manageable. The last Tory government, alarmed by reports from employers that the marketplace needed more graduates, created a host of new universities. More than ever before were going on to further education. Now these unprecedented numbers are likely to be decimated, as many turn their back on their studies because of the crippling debt they will incur. The problem is there aren't that many jobs either in the current economic climate (a backdrop which makes the new fees doubly outrageous. This was a problem created entirely by the wealthy and the greedy and it is the poor and the needy who will end up paying the price.) Pundits are predicting increasing discontent from school-leavers and students, and for protests against the fees to continue.

The main focus of their anger is the increasingly reprehensible Deputy Prime Prime Minister Nick Clegg. The backlash from the left in the US towards Obama shows us that there is no ire as great as thwarted hope. The right can get away with it. Being entirely cynical, they govern on the basis that we're all going to Hell and all we need is a steady hand on the Handcart. The left campaign in poetry despite the fact ruling can only be done in prose. Promises are made, ideals aspired to, expectations raised. Then when power is attained, and the reality explained, they have no option but to kowtow and compromise, under a hail of fire from the right-wing media and the vested interests of business. But whereas Obama is manfully and bravely seeking to push through at least some legislation that can actually benefit ordinary people, such as his admirable Health Care plan, Clegg has revealed himself to be a Tory in sheep's clothing. The Lib Dems, his party, who became a protest vote for all those tired and fed up of the last Labour government and couldn't possibly bring themselves to vote for the right-wing Tories, entered the coalition and have since given up every principle they appeared to have stood for. Public services have been slashed in the name of 'austerity' when everyone knows it is motivated by Tory ideological malevolence - Nick and his lads and lasses lined up to vote it through. Then we have tuition fees, a move which will effectively deny a university education to all but the wealthy. Some of his party voted against the bill, aware they had made a clear pledge during the election campaign to not to raise tuition fees and such a promise should actually mean something - Nick and his cronies voted for it.

The result is that Lib Dems could well be spent as an electoral force. They have helped prop up an ideological Tory regime and reneged on most of their promises. For what? The Tories won't thank them for it. They have their core support and always will. The Labour party is rebuilding itself as a viable opposition. Meanwhile, the Lib Dems, loathed by their own supporters for selling out, derided by Tories as willing dupes, and ridiculed by Labour voters as lickspittle fig-leafs for a bunch of right-wing crazies, are polling at 8%, their lowest ever. And it serves them right.

Their only positive legacy will be to have shaken students from their chronic apathy and returned protest and dissent to the streets of the United Kingdom. Hilariously, some of the protesters came across a car carrying Prince Charles and Camilla. They gave it a bit of a kicking and HRH a bit of a fright, but there seemed some justice that the Prince, as dumb as a box of frogs but able to go to University because of his wealth and pedigree, should encounter irate students seeking to defend the right of those who might have the brains but don't have the pounds to enjoy the education so wasted on Chaz. So far the protests have met with only a typically brutish and heavy-handed response by the British police. It is early days though. Long may it last.


Dan - Friday


  1. There was a great quip of Facebook by horror writer Steve Duffy reminding us of Camilla'a line: The fox enjoys the hunt as much as the rider.'

  2. Most American students leave college with a debt of $50,000 and many up to a $100,000. Welcome to the real world of a college education.

  3. What you describe as the future for U.K. students is today's fiscal reality for many in the U.S., and has been for what seems generations. And for those who go the student loan route, the enormity of what they incur often shackles their lives to repaying that debt.

    In Greece, though, those successfully negotiating a national exam could expect an essentially free and endless university life. The operative word in today's world being "could." The times are a changin'...everywhere.

    By the way, Dan, you made an observation that succinctly summed up what I've felt since my very first disappointment at the hands of an inspirational leader:

    "Obama shows us that there is no ire as great as thwarted hope. The right can get away with it. Being entirely cynical...The left campaign in poetry despite the fact ruling can only be done in prose."

  4. Dan, Obama is trying but yesterday a group of Democrats refused to allow debate or discussion on a bill he sent to Congress. The bill would allow the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest people to continue. This was required by Congress, included Democrats, in order that long-term unemployment benefits, due to expire this week, will be funded.

    The Democrats, planted firmly on the left, had a meeting in which they "bravely" declared war on the president, the leader of their party. At no point did anyone in Congress mention the unemployed.

    Back in the 1960's, Lyndon Johnson pushed through Congress his plan, The Great Society. A major part of that program was to offer low cost loans for college to those who would be, primarily, the first in their families to attend college. So after four years there was a flood of very bright, well-educated young people moving into the better paying job market and competing with the not so bright "legacies" who got their educations at the best colleges without having to prove they could read beyond a 7th grade level.

    George Bush falls into the same category as Charles. Name and checkbook are the only requirements for admission. The well-heeled did not take well to competing against those whose true station in life should have kept them repairing those heels. Competing against those who forgot their place was unfair, so those with power and money (judges) ruled that schools needed to be integrated. White flight killed education and the cities.

    Tuition, board and room, and "fees" can cost a student $50,000.00 a year at a private college, a school that the wealthy would not deign to enter. Competition for jobs is desperate. So, working class and lower middle class students, no matter how bright are opting to do the same as their British counterparts. They won't take on the debt because there is no guarantee that jobs are on the horizon.

    So, now we are all back to the way it should be. Those who have money get more and those that don't have the money won't get the education to get more.


  5. I know that many students around the world also have to pay through the nose for their college educations, but I don´t exactly see it as something to be proud of. As the mother of three young students, I feel for your British demonstrators, and I cringed last night when a Danish top politician bragged about our not having British conditions yet. Well, our government is doing what it can to catch up with yours. It may still be possible for most young people to struggle their way through college, but will this widen the gap? Yes it will.

  6. These protesters desecrated the Cenotaph. There is no excuse for that, even when faced by a government of millionaires who don't care about ordinary people. Let us hope that the Liberal Democrats are utterly destroyed at the next election, are there really still 8% of voters who will vote for this cynical band of freeloaders.
    Our problem is that we have three useless major parties, and some minor parties that are run by people, who want to live in Bavaria circa 1934. Our children and grandchildren face a bleak future.

  7. Dan,
    What a good post. I cheer on the students in Britain; they are getting a terrible deal with the increases in tuition fees, dangers of huge debt and then a tough job market.

    And that they're out in the streets is a good sign. Youth are so often out there ahead of others, bravely and with determination.

    Across the Atlantic, as others have said, students accumulate huge debt, tuitions are going up, and the job market is tight. Youth unemployment is high, many who graduate from college take jobs for which they are very overly qualified and underpaid.

    There have been protests, such as in the California university system, and some in other states.

    The city college I went to for free years ago now charges tuition and more increases are looming.

    Since unemployment is nearly 10% and many pundits are saying that it will stay high till 2012 (and some say it has become a permanent feature of the U.S. economy), the powers that be may just be deciding that college educations do not need to be available to all youth. The economy does not need them.

    And so those with money will get educations, the others don't need it. Or they graduate with enormous debt.

    A friend who is in a very good grad school (due to her fantastic grades prior) had to take out big loans to do this, yet there are no new hirings of teachers and threats of thousands of teacher layoffs loom--and, as an aside the class sizes are growing.

    Friend's daughters and their friends graduated from college and can't find jobs.
    One is a receptionist in a hospital, another a waitress.

    I don't know how youth today can deal with this tough situation which clouds their futures.

    One thing that surely helps is the actions of the British young people. It's heartening to young people everywhere. I heard a woman in my city who is a transit worker--where there were just more layoffs of people with homes to pay for, children to feed, etc.--bring up the British students' actions in the most positive light.

    And here the Democrats should let the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire and then fight for the unemployment benefits and everything else NOW!

    As some columnists here say, the wealth is being redistributed even more to the top, at the sake of the poorer folks. Something has to give here, there and everywhere!

  8. Dan, just letting you know that the Download an Extract link on the Blood Atonement page at is actually leading to the THE BLOOD DETECTIVE.
    BTW I'll have a review up later today.