Friday, 17 December 2010

Speaking Up For Students

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
-Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

Recently some students attacked a car carrying Prince Charles and Camilla. Further protests against tuition fees. Protesters threw paint over the Rolls-Royce, chanting “off with their heads”, and rumours suggest one of the crowd “poked Camilla with a stick.”
The press photograph shows the couple open-mouthed, aghast and terrified. When the news broke, Facebook news feeds became inundated with angered opinions- mostly pro-royalists venting their disgust. Royalty they may be, people said. But they are still pensioners. And grandparents. Attacking an ageing couple’s car? Disgraceful, people said.
And so, sympathy for students drastically ebbed. The majority of people- certainly in my Facebook friends- typecast students in general, describing them as “scum”.
Let’s put this into perspective. Millions of students voted Liberal Democrats- 45% of them- based on the fair deal that the party promised to give them on tuition fees.

A few thousand turned out in London on 9th November. Out of those, only a handful damaged the Prince’s Rolls Royce.
Please don’t typecast all students based on the actions of these few individuals.
The flip side is this: The coalition went ahead and raised tuition fees, thereby breaking the Lib-Dems’ promise to give students a fair deal. The decision wasn’t made by royalty, but it also wasn’t opposed, as far as I can find. Prince Charles doesn’t appear to have done anything to prevent the increase of fees. He may be a pensioner, but he is a pensioner with power. A power he didn’t use.
If Prince Charles had voiced himself as a champion of higher education, things may have been different. People may have left him alone. If possible, he might have disallowed top-up fees from being pushed through parliament.
However, NOBODY- Not even Prince Charles himself- has pointed out how the original problem caused the fees row in the first place. University is supposed to be for the BEST people in the United Kingdom- a system to tailor the most capable individuals into the top jobs in the country. This isn’t happening now, and hasn't happened for a long time, hence the 500,000 people starting a university course in September 2010.
Shit, I’VE got a degree. I only got 1 grade C in my GCSEs. I am NOT the cream of Britain’s academia. Yet I’ve got a legitimate 2:1 after my name. Should UCAS have allowed me to go to university? Maybe not at the time that I did, especially considering how little work experience I had.
If the government set a system whereby only the best people in the land were given university places- either through exceptional qualifications or, more importantly, prior work experience, they wouldn’t have to charge students through the nose. They could probably reinstate grants, as there would be so few people going on to HE.
If you are in a position of power, yet you DON’T wade in on this debate, you can expect that the thousands of students will tar you with the same brush. As Neimoller suggests, if you don’t stand up for others, you can expect that they won’t respect you either. Whether you’re a pensioner or not.

1 comment:

M.J. Nicholls said...

Well said, Matt. It's my last year as a postgrad, but I want to feel that I could return to higher education at any point, and my government would support me. The Tories, as ever, have lied to us.