Friday 10 December 2010

Students, Tuition Fees, And Our History

On November 11th, I wrote "During a week when a large percentage of the population are wearing red poppies, I found it quite upsetting that with our freedom, we turn to violence. Whilst some would say "it was only a very small minority" there was a much larger, silent minority, that were cheering them on and supporting them."

I was talking about student protesters, and how I found what they were doing strangely linked to how I was feeling about Remembrance Day. And it seems even more relevant now, here in the UK - where students have been protesting the hikes in tuition fees that were voted on yesterday. 

I'm currently reading Martin Luther King's autobiography (it's a collection of essays he wrote throughout his life). It's inspiring to read; to see what he achieved - and he did it through nonviolent non-cooperation. And he did that against laws and practices that were evil. The students here are protesting not against evil, but a curtailing of privilege. The rights on wrongs of both sides of the debate are being crowded out by the students and protesters who are setting fire to things, and swinging from war memorials and pissing on Winston Churchill statues. How can we have sympathy for this? 

Is there any excuse for these two images?

Conflicts happen when people clash, due to difference in ideology. That is at the heart of all of this. But one side of it is governing. If the other side has a point to make, it's that they're not governing responsibly. Setting fire to things is not going to send the message. 

"Our generation doesn't do that enough. We sit on Facebook, we write on our blogs and we send our text messages; but we don't have a great deal of awareness about what people have gone through in order for us to have those privileges."

I know that it is a minority of students who are doing the outrageous things. But take a closer look at that Churchill picture. There are a lot of bystanders. A lot of people accepting what is going on. When people are together for a cause; they become a group. They all need to be responsible for themselves and each other. 

The reality is, perhaps, that these people have not had a lot to complain about. In the United Kingdom; we have healthcare and welfare and all sorts of programmes which, having had them for so long, we see as our right. But they're not human rights, they're privileges. They're things that have to be paid for. And we are a lot better off than a lot of countries in the world. Should we feel guilty about it? No. Should we defend the things we want to keep, that we believe in? Sure. But starting fires and urinating on a Churchill statue shows a complete lack of awareness of our history, of our world, and of peaceful protest. I have no sympathy right now. Maybe the guy who's urinating could sell his Nike trainers and buy some school textbooks or something. 

It's entirely possible that our government are wrong, or making huge errors. But then, so are the young people out in the streets. And if we want our (somewhat) elected officials to do their jobs, we should really do our own. 

Care to share?


  1. I agree. What the government's done might be objectionable and it's the right of citizens to protest (well, in Singapore we're not allowed, but hey). But that does not excuse such behaviour. Honestly, such vandalism isn't likely to get people to sympathise with your cause, is it? These students aren't exactly thinking it through.

  2. I agree that what those students are doing is wrong - horribly wrong - and what really gets to me is people who, while admitting they are a minority, make a judgement based on their behaviour.

    As a student in my final year at school, so going into University (hopefully) next year. While if I manage to get in this year the fees will not effect me I already feel that it is, frankly, ridiculous.

    Firstly are the personal problems it has caused me I made a mistake in my subject choice when I applied because the Oxbridge deadline is very early and I thought that was where I wanted to go but, due to the influx of applicants this year they have changed the UCAS rules so you cannot withdraw or change subject in the same year. As financially it would effectivly cost me 18000 pounds to take a gap year that really isn't an option for me. So I have to get into university on the degree I don't want to do and then hope they will let me change.

    However part of my reason from switching subjects was of the maths and philosophy I had applied for I didn't really feel confident enough with the maths requirements. So for me there are going to be nearly a third more applicants (due to the rush for places) all trying to get better grades than me in a subject I am not too good at. I guess you could say it's my fault for making the wrong choice but we do all make mistakes!

    It also annoys me on a more political ground because for years the government have advocated less well off people getting the chance to go to university (particularly those such as Oxford and Cambridge) but while there will be more bursaries for those charging over 9000 a term this will only help a select school. I have a bursary at my school but I doubt I would come from a poor enough background to get one for university as they are so much stricter. Obviously my parents can't help me pay so even if I do get in I reckon I will be in the percentage still paying for my education when I'm grey and retired...

    So while you may have no sympathy for the stupid students you see on TV I don't think the price increase is taking away a privilege but is making it far harder, in an increasingly challenging economical climate, for people of my age to plan let alone live the way they choose which, for me, is the only real 'human right'.

    (p.s. please excuse any typos - I am a science student not english)

  3. As one looking at the situation from the other side of the pond....and being of a generation older...I look at the actions of the few and think that I was once that young, arrogant, thoughtless, and just plain stupid (at times) as those defacing and disrespecting the heritage and heroes of Britain's past.

    There's better ways of making your feelings known than reducing one's self to vandalism and thuggery- I'm just calling it as I see it. You make it known that those of age do have the vote, and they have friends, family, and supporters. Try the legal remedies first and work within the system before turning to quasi-anarchy for solutions.

    I understand the frustration of Britain's youth, and we Americans should be a cautionary tale of what could happen. My nephew goes to a prominent state university in the Midwest; his debt for four years is in excess of $120,000 US. It's even more outrageous in America than the UK. Kids get out of college and are as much as half a million in debt at age 23. Add interest and some young Americans may be paying as much as a million dollars for the privilege of a university degree.

    The world looks to America often to copy our solutions to their own domestic problems. But when it comes to higher eduction, I suggest they do what George Costanza did in a classic episode of SEINFELD. When the hapless George felt an impulse to do something, he did the opposite...and it worked.

    The UK should at America, where the cost of eduction has become unimaginable to lower and middle class families.....and do the opposite of what the Americans have done.

    It's not too late to get it right.

  4. Hugh - I agree with what you say. Thank you for sharing your perspective from across the pond.

    Scarlett - that thing that you see and feel, as a human right, is not under threat, not at all. Access to higher education is a privilege; it's something many millions all over the world have no hope of. Sure, it is difficult here and it's getting harder; but it's not about human rights. I have sympathy for a good person like yourself, who may struggle; but also I feel we have been socialized to believe that we must go to University, and it's so ingrained in us that, even after giant increases in costs, we're determined to do it. And it seems kind of insane to me. The world is so big, opportunities so large; an abundance of ways to gain education and learn about the world; yet we focus on University in our own country.

  5. I see what you mean Kid but there are some things you cannot learn without going to university and it's often ignored that many do want to go to university just to learn. If I wanted to get work as a scientist or a teacher I would have no way of doing that if I couldn't get into a university.