Sunday, 27 September 2009

Students Should Pay More for Higher Education?

It seems that whenever higher education funding hits the debating table all manner of groups and individuals crawl out of the woodwork with the ideal proposal which usually involves a way of cutting the number of university entrants. The debacle over tuition fees, five years ago, is also still very fresh in the minds of student associations and the NUS (and students still trying to repay those increasing debts) so any Labour initiatives in this regard will no doubt send shivers up their spine. Well that debate has raised its controversial head once again as the Government gears up for a major review of higher education funding and student fees.

Their aim, according to England’s Higher Education minister David Lammy is to invest further into the system and aspire for 50% of young people to go to university. This seems to further illustrate the government’s view of universal access to higher education when Business Secretary Lord Mandelson called for universities to protect access to poorer students and do more to promote social mobility should they see an increase in fees.

Whilst Labour are still climbing up the hill that this their continued attempts to convinces us they are the champions of higher education access, the good old Confederation of British Industry (CBI) are putting pressure on the Government to increase the cost of attending university. Their proposals include:

  • Reducing subsidies on student loans.

  • Corporate sponsorship of grants and bursaries

  • More means testing.

  • Increase in tuition fees (in England and Northern Ireland they are £3,225 and Wales £1,285 with no tuition fees in Scotland)

  • University focus on more economically valuable subjects such as Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Languages.

It’s no surprise also that these proposals have the backing of The Russell Group, a lobbying organisation made up of twenty of the country's prestigious universities, who consisently pressure the government for increase in fees and other initiatives that would limit the number of university entrants, supposedly to protect the quality of education offered.

Yes there are some common sense suggestions here. I am sure nobody would have qualms about means testing (as long as it is fair) or a focus on economically viable subjects, although one would wonder what do you consider an economically viable subject when more and more jobs are being sent abroad?

The hike in fees promotes an obvious fear of increased student debt, especially as fees could be increased to £5,000 - £7,000 per year, and some even higher. This would also have a limiting effect on those who simply feel that they only way they could afford to go to university would be to hold down multiple jobs, or follow the example of student Rosie Reid and sell their virginity. The ultimate effect would be the limiting of access, however if Lord Mandelson's call is answered then this may not be an issue.

I remember twenty years ago, attending a student demonstration against the implementation of top up loans. The mantra boomed over the streets of Bristol was "Education a right, not a privilege". Yet in an explicit display of arrogance and elitism the CBI and The Russell Group seem determined to reverse that principle thereby disuading those on low income from having aspirations of higher education. It took me ten years to repay my student loan and it was nowehere near the levels they are today.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Shoe Thrower Finally Gets to Go Home

Many may not remembr the name Muntadar al-Zaidi, but if I say he was the guy who threw his shoes at George W Bush, echoes of "Oh him" I am sure would be ringing all around.

To recap, Muntadar, an Iraqi journalist working for a Cairo based television station, threw his shoes at US President George W Bush, during a press conference in December, protesting over the Iraq invasion and the treatment of Iraqi citizens at the hands of US forces. As his size 10's were hurtling towards the stunned President, Muntadar cried out. "This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog. This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq." He was detained by the secret service, tried and sentenced to three years in prison, of which he was required to serve at least one.

The good news is that Muntadar is being released, hopefully today, three months early for good behaviour. However he should never have seen the inside of a prison cell. I don't wish to condone assault of any kind, however Bush had a chance as the outgoing president to be magnanimous, show a little compassion, maybe even display some regret over his decision to invade Iraq and the ensuing casualties that followed. All he had to do was whisper a word or two to the Iraqi authorities and Muntadar would have been home with his family. Instead, he allowed this man to be prosecuted like a common criminal, and by doing so left no doubt in many people's minds that either he never understood the reason behind people's discontent over the war, or did not care.

Read the link below and maybe you'll understand why Muntadar decided to berate the former president with the ultimate insult any Arab could muster.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

BBC let BNP on QT

Whenever the BNP feature in the news, in any form, it always provokes intense reactions. I guess this is the nature of being a controversial and extreme political organisation. The latest furore however is the announcement by the BBC to invite BNP MP's, including its leader Nick Griffin, to feature on Question Time.

The "Have Your Say" segment of the BBC and other forums are awash with heated comments in support and against dear old auntie's invite for tea, cake and politcal debate.

This can only be a good thing after all it strikes at the very core of what a democracy is all about; free speech for all even the minority. Stifiling the rights of bigots, either by censorship or frequently shouting and drowning them out will only strengthen their cause turning them into the underdog, and we all know how us Brits like to side with the downtrodden.

Let them have their say, after all like it or not they are a legitmate political party with duly elected representatives. Whilst it is easy to poke fun at the BNP and their electorate, berating them for their right to the right of Genghis Khan mentality, if one expects their views and position to be taken seriously, it is important we show the same consideration for those on the opposite side, no matter how much it pains to do so. This lies at the heart of free speech.

Also hasn't Question Time included on its panel many times, individuals with extreme views? A popular example being religious leaders, berating people's race, opposing faith and sexual orientation yet seldom is their right to be heared questioned. The BNP are no different to these people, despite their claims to the contrary, and although their political stance is growing, they are still lagging behind the main parties. The reason for their being a high profile party is not just their views but the fact that they shout so loud about them, like any group who preach on the extreme side.

Besides when you consider the viewing figures for Question Time, which is on after 11pm on a Thursday night, when most people are out on the town getting a head start on the weekend, or simply turning in early for work the next day, they are hardly preaching to a mass of fence sitters. The internet is a more far reaching arm for to plug their agenda, so to complain about giving them a spot on a seldom watched panel show is over the top to say the least.

Click here for image credits

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Sam Wanamaker and the MI5

I was somewhat appalled to learn that MI5 had spied on American actor and Director Sam Wanamaker, who came to these shores in 1951 to escape the fear and paranoia that had gripped his country thanks to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, this congressional lynch mob with the force of the FBI behind them, baselessly accused and had brow beaten various Hollywood luminaries into confessing to being communists and providing names of other communists sympathizers.  

Fearing exile and imprisonment names were given, sometimes falsely with no definite proof sought or provided. Wanamaker however refused to co-operate with the committee and fled his home to the UK, which he deemed a land of tolerance and with the embodiment of “the true spirit of modern democracy”.

No doubt Wanamaker would have been disappointed to learn that his associations and activities were closely watched by MI5 and reported to the US embassy that had branded him a “concealed communist”. With the exception of having been a member of the Communist Party for two years in the 1940’s, there was no real evidence that Wanamaker was a spy, nor that he had been involved any propaganda for the Soviet Union. In fact the evidence against him, which justified such surveillance, was flimsy at best.

Reports recently released from the National Archives showed that his well-known influence of Stanislavsky – the Russian father of modern method acting, was deemed evidence of his Soviet subversive sympathies. Despite Wanamaker’s growing stature as an actor the home office considered acquiescing to US authorities requests for his stay in the UK to be revoked. US authorities even intended to rescind Wanamaker and his family’s passports, which meant they would have been made to leave. Luckily he received indefinite permission in 1957 to stay, and in 1993 he died a British Citizen. His daughter ZoĆ« (star of BBC sitcom My Family), has of course become one this nations finest and respected actors.

I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that our intelligence community, even at the height of the cold war, used the same flimsy justification as Joe McCarthy’s political rabble to spy on a man whose contribution to British theatre saw the re-establishment of the Globe Theatre in London and the New Shakespeare Theatre Club in Liverpool. Yet the latter was deemed by a Special Branch Operative as being the perfect platform to promote extreme left-wing propaganda, a “great asset to the Communist Party”.

Who would have thought that Macbeth was in fact a war cry for a communist take over of the Kingdoms of Glamis and Cawdor. So does this mean that Oberon and Puck are really communist double agents trying to poison the minds of freethinking westerners with the power of love to accept the Marxist doctrine?

For more info click on the links below:

Image Credits J'Roo