Emily Downs writes…
Following the recent tuition fee debate, and with the risk of upsetting a large number of fellow students, I have to admit that I actually agree with the Vice Chancellor. He made a number of good points that I think we, as disgruntled students striving for change, should have been more willing to take on board in order to stimulate any type of cooperative solution. The Chancellor’s views that seemed to cause most controversy were the belief that higher education is not a right but a privilege, and a reluctance to participate in any further challenge against the bid to increase university tuition fees. I believe the Chancellor was right to take this stance and that the immense strength and solidarity shown by students on this subject is being channelled in the wrong direction.
The first thing we must come to terms with is the fact that Higher Education is not a right. Standard education on the other hand most definitely is a right and is one which, as extremely lucky members of a fairly wealthy nation every one of us is provided with and so many of us take for granted. A right is something that all human beings should have because without it they are unable to live safely and healthily, e.g. the right to healthcare, or the right to equality. This is not the case with higher education. Admittedly, University is a unique experience seen by many as an essential part of their maturation. But it is not necessary for everyone; many youngsters aspire to more practical vocations for which a degree is unnecessary. Clearly, Higher Education is not a right but a lifestyle choice; we must face up to this when considering its cost.
In the UK, our government spends vast amounts in honouring our right to a standard level of education with school fees being paid for everyone up until the age of 16/17. In a time of economic crisis, and when the decision has been made to impose vast cuts on public spending, whether we like it or not those cuts are going to affect us. Personally, I would rather take on the burden of a greater student debt than see primary and secondary school students miss out on the standard of education that is their right, or instead see extra burden put on the NHS, already strained to its limits.
The fact is that whatever debt we may rack up through tuition fees, it has already been ensured that we shall only pay it back when we can afford to. The £21,000 threshold has been put there for a reason, and we should be grateful that the government has even had the decency to increase the amount in recognition of the increased burden of the rise in fees. University is undeniably expensive. Expensive is not the same, however, as unaffordable. In the current situation the government, individual universities and national and international sponsors go to great lengths to provide scholarships, bursaries other access schemes to prevent finances from being a deciding factor when opting to go to university. Official UCAS figures show the positive effect of these efforts; last year saw a 2.3% increase of successful students coming from the most disadvantaged fifth of the population. Ignoring the proposed cut of EMA, a cut which I do not support and believe needs serious reconsideration, government efforts to make university entrance universal do appear to be working.
Furthermore, we tend to forget just how much it costs to provide us with the state of the art facilities, high quality teaching and once in a life-time opportunities and experiences that as students we eagerly lap up. In reality the amounts we pay ourselves are mere subsidiaries to the grand total that is required yet we also have the benefit of fun and exciting experiences along the way.
Whichever way you look at them these government cuts are going to hit hard. In my opinion, students have been some of the luckier ones. Yes, we will have a debt, but if we lose our job, are underpaid, or even if we haven’t managed to pay it off within twenty years, it will go away. What about those people slogging away in the public sector having their jobs snatched from under their feet, or the women who will find themselves hit by these cuts disproportionately to their male colleagues, or those who rely on council facilities such as libraries to provide them some little enjoyment or structure that they so desperately need but may have taken away? These are the people we should be fighting for. We must bear the plight of the non-students in mind, the plight of all those in society who will suffer the consequences of cuts to all forms of public spending, not just education cuts, and not just students. Our protest is for a privilege; it is vital that all students bear this in mind.