Friday, 12 November 2010

Two Decades On - Nothing Has Changed

Ever since the coalition government announced the removal of the cap on tuition fees which could see them increase to three times their current rate, one thought has been riding through my mind amplified by Wednesday's student demonstration. It is a thought that I have expressed on Twitter and to my colleagues at work.

Twenty years ago I went along with a few thousand other idealistic young students to march on the capital and protest a Conservative government's plans to introduce the dreaded student loan. It was a fight to protect the notion that education was a fundamental right for all and not for a privileged few. Two decades later and it seems the battle is lost as we have students demonstrating against a Conservative government's plan to allow for the significant rise in tuition fees.

If there is one interesting aspect to note about the change in the country's attitude it is that ever since the coalition government took control there has been a sense of accepted elitism. The left wing press have stated numerous times (and they are right) that David Cameron and his stalwarts simply do not understand the people they purport to represent, as evident from this quote by the so-called schools minister Nick Gibb:
"I'd rather see an Oxbridge graduate with no PGCE teaching physics than a qualified teacher with a degree from a 'rubbish university"
Furthermore it seems that this exclusionary view of the right on access to education has become a war cry for the very people that this government has in fact alienated with its highly unpopular cuts and policies. It doesn't help of course when those whom I tenuously label celebrity go on national television and push for even further exclusions such as one time  Apprentice contestant Katie Hopkins who whilst on BBC's Question Time in June called for universities to be kept private and elitist. Easy for her to say.

I remember when in 2003 the Labour government  brought in top up loans to cover tuition fees for higher education. The media at the time whipped the public into a frenzy over peoples' rights to education.Suddenly everybody was championing the plight of the struggling student who may even have to sell their virginity to escape the clutches and burdens of student debt. Now it seems that the old rhetoric of undeserving students who do nothing but engage in drug fuelled and alcohol binged debauchery, is back with a vengeance judging by the numerous hateful remarks on various forums and social network sites, even from people I know.

This negative discourse of contempt towards students is fuelled further by Cameron describing Wednesday's demonstrations as "brainless" student protests. He is even content to allow The Daily Mail and The Times to basically tar the majority of peaceful demonstrators with the same brush as the small group of neanderthals who turned the protest in a riotous free for all. It has been argued that Wednesday's riots may even weaken the case against tuition fees as any "sympathy for impoverished students will be undermined if it turns out they can afford to take time out from their studies to travel to London, attack policemen and destroy property" according to Benedict Brogan of the Telegraph.

Yes twenty years on and not only is the country back where we started in fighting for the right to education, but it seems that the movement has lost an ally. When I attended the demonstration in Hyde Park London, students had the backing of Labour (naturally) but also the fledgling third alternative, the Liberal Democrats, with support spearheaded by Simon Hughes MP.

The Lib Dems however through their leader Nick Clegg whose political life force is seeping from his battered pride, have turned their backs on the students who vehemently supported them. The Deputy PM in a head rush inducing about turn, expressed regret at signing the anti-tuition fees pledge. The virtual loss of an ally, an increasing apathetic public and a vigorously determined Conservative led government, the students battle against the tuition fees just got harder.

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