Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Wednesday, 10 November 2010
I was talking to someone yesterday who had watched the building across the street from his office being picketed. He was quite bemused and asked me, very innocently, how much I thought they were paid for a day's demonstrating. I tried very hard to keep a straight face and explained that in general people protest because they feel strongly about something. He couldn't imagine feeling so strongly about something that he would take to the streets. I was stunned - I have been demonstrating since I was a babe in arms and continue to do so. Indeed this weekend I will be out in Finchley to kick the BNP out of N3. But of course, I realise that I am in a minority. There is no tradition of demonstrating your support of or opposition to something by marching, picketting or leafleting. Brits don't build barricades, they don't set light to effigies (apart from Guy Fawkes and the political significance of that particular conflagration has long been forgotten). Occasionally something will really upset folk here and hundreds of thousands of people will take to the streets - the ban on hunting, the Iraq war, G20. But most of the time most people not matter how provoked simply shrug, thinking "not much I can do about it". In France, of course, they will take to the streets at the drop of a chapeau. They have been engaged in practically hand-to-hand combat over the raising of the pension age by two years. Here the pension age is going up six years for women and the response - loud tutting. As if to prove me wrong, as I write this student protesters are storming Millbank Tower. A rare example of things kicking off here or evidence of a change in attitude?
Wednesday, 3 November 2010
I have never been a fan of tuition fees. I argued against them when I worked in government and I remain unpersuaded. My opposition is hardly surprising I suppose. I come from a family of modest means, I have been raised to abhor debt and pay my way. The prospect of paying large tuition fees after I graduated would have certainly stopped my going to LSE at the age of 18. It would have made a difference. I probably wouldn’t have worked in the third and public sectors and probably would have stayed in banking (a dark period in my career).
I am realist and understand that no government now is going to abolish tuition fees. But the Con-Dems should think again about this latest foray into high education funding. Raising fees will make a difference. We already know that children from poorer backgrounds are less likely to take on high levels of debt – this is one of the reasons why youngsters in affluent areas are five times more likely to go to university than their counterparts in the poorest areas – it’s not just about the quality of education and aspiration. I don’t buy the “a degree increases your earning potential” argument. I am no economist (in spite of having a degree from LSE) but surely graduates can only command higher salaries when there are fewer of them? With more and more people graduating won’t their market value decline? Graduate unemployment is currently running at 8.9 per cent – the highest it has been for 17 years. What does that say something about earning potential? And should we be placing such a great emphasis on graduates getting high paid jobs? Don’t we need graduates to want to become teachers, health care professionals, tax inspectors and social workers and all those other occupations where the prospect of making vast amounts of readies is very low?
Yes, we need to increase access to higher education, but these measures aren’t going to encourage members of underrepresented groups to fill in a UCAS form.