For me, it is very simple: restricting access to education is wrong.
Education is as much of an investment for a government as it is for the individual.
Here is how I think about the idea of limiting access to higher education to those that can afford it or are willing to begin their adult lives with tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt.
Most people will get 3 quotes when they are building an extension or having a new kitchen fitted. Why? Because by increasing the sample size there is a higher probability of getting some great work done at a great price. Restricting your choice of doctors to the ones that can afford to study medicine would be like opening the yellow pages and choosing the kitchen fitter with the biggest ad; you may well get lucky and they may be able to afford that advertisement because they provide excellent service at great value but it would be a gamble.
I am not interested in hearing comparisons with the United States or anywhere else. This is Britain. This is our society and we can make it what we want and need it to be.
I was in the first generation of students who didn’t get a grant. I had part-time jobs through University and confess (at my late father’s suggestion) to using the very cheap student loans to travel round Europe every summer. It was brilliant. (And I can tell some quite amusing stories about changing my car suspesion in a campsite using rocks to prop it up – another time maybe.)
Despite being born in the UK and being a British citizen from birth I had spent 8 years out of the country and there was a suggestion from the local education authority (LEA) that I should pay ‘foreign student’ fees. That would have been £10,000 a year. For me, there was an easy out because all I would have had to have done was wait one year and apply for University when the arbitrary time period would have elapsed and my sin of living abroad would be forgiven. My father and I wrote lots of letters, I went to see my local MP arguing that as I wanted to study engineering spending a year traveling and forgetting all my algebra wouldn’t actually be that ‘enriching’, the LEA relented and I went to University, as planned. It was 1993, those of you with knowledge of Balkan politics will understand why we simply could not have contemplated paying £10000 a year for University fees.
Subsequently I paid for my own Masters. I continued to work part-time earning a pretty penny thanks to my first degree.
Now, I have not invented the cure for cancer nor have I painted a Titian but I have been a high rate tax payer in this country for well over 10 years, through my work I have created employment opportunities, helped small businesses get off the ground, helped big and small business sell more and I sit confident in the knowledge that my University education has helped me enormously. What is more, it has helped me contribute to the society I live in.
In turn I have been helped by doctors, nurses, engineers, philosphers, artists, architects, economists and countless others.
I was listening to the Today programme recently and the politician being interviewed (I forget which one it was) was talking about how unfair it was for postmen and miners that their tax would be spent educating others. Sarah Montague started her next line with “The question is” and went on to finish with “is this going to stop students from poorer families going to University?” No Sarah – I said, shouting at the radio – the question is: When you go to hospital who do you want to treat you? The best doctor or the one with the biggest yellow pages advert?
Today, all I can do is ask that Messrs Cameron and Cleg stop playing with my society and spend my tax educating the people with the most potential.
Do I support the protests? With all my heart and mind. It is a sad society where the youth don’t think that they can shape their world, Britain’s youth is alive and fighting for all our futures. Awesome.