Are our academic aspirations achievable?

The words of an unknown university master that a “working-man” should stay in his own “sphere” hangs bitterly in the ears of every student and every student that dreams of entering a university.

Yet, these words do not come from modern day UCAS letters but from Thomas Hardy’s, Jude the Obscure, written one hundred and 16 years ago. Hardy’s novel about a young man self-taught in the classical languages who has great aspirations to attend Christminster University (Oxford University) and the bitter consequences of Victorian society and class restrictions brings extraordinary parallels to our own modern day British society and current events unfolding.

Reading Jude the Obscure, one cannot do less than empathise with the protagonist. Jude reflects many thousands of students across the country: diligent, huge dreams and breaking family tradition in wanting to go to university. Jude comes from a rural, agrarian background and his desire to learn and to read is eccentric, abnormal to the country workers.
It does not deter him and he proceeds to further his education by moving to the aforementioned Christminster having learnt the trade of masonry beforehand in order to support himself. It is the idea of tradition, “following the ways of the immediate generation before us in a blind or timid adherence to its successes” , that Jude has to escape, and succeeds in doing so, to start his attempt at becoming a scholar. Although, Jude’s elders and townsmen clearly express their opinions on his ambitions he is told that University is “only for them with plenty o’ money” . Breaking tradition is one of many ways of achieving social mobility, the tuition fees that can now be tripled to £9000 will most definitely restrict the students that wish to break tradition and better themselves.

Students from every household income, above all from lower income boundaries will be deterred by the massive debts that will come with a university degree. The words of Jude’s town folk ring clear, will university be restricted to those who have the money to pay and support themselves? What is evident from Jude is that the Victorian society had an extremely rigid hierarchy. University and higher education was, generally, restricted to the middle-upper classes and the class hierarchy rigidly kept in place. Can we draw upon Jude the Obscure for a possible future for society in Britain?  Will our country now suffer the restrictions that Victorian society once imposed?

Opportunities becoming only attainable through wealth and the right acquaintances restricting initiative and creating a large class divide. Britain has long enjoyed the liberty of social mobility and meritocracy, and, with each university feeling obliged or willingly rising tuition fees may see this movement firmly stamped out for future generations.
A faint echo of Jude’s fate with his dream of becoming an esteemed scholar and studying his passion were crushed due to social class prejudices and lack of monetary security and background.

The possible modern day numbers are limitless.With the impending tuition fee rises, many students are seeking to migrate to our neighbours in Europe. With the attractive idea of lower living costs, higher standards of living, and most importantly, lower tuition fees. Increasingly in the Germanic speaking countries from the Netherlands to Belgium are offering English based undergraduate and postgraduate courses which do not hold the burden of unthinkable debts. This trend is even spreading to the Mediterranean countries, famous Anglophobes in regards to our language being incorporated into theirs, the prospect of having English initiative and ambitions in their countries is becoming attractive. What does this leave for Britain?

A massive loss in a creative and intelligent demography as well as the financial boost the government hoped it would receive from students. Worrying still, with Europe being and looking so attractive, not only to study but also to live, this could be catastrophic for the British economy. Why would these fleeing students wish to return to high taxes, inflation rises and little graduate? Will Britain’s economy suffer again? We stand to lose incentive, enterprise and fresh inspiration in the work place with the loss of these students. A potential long term, crippling future for Britain, possibly overlooked by David Cameron and our government in their hastily thought out legislation.

With every step modern day Britain is set to evolve, or mutate, into its ‘great’ predecessor, the Victorian period and the harsh restrictions on class. It paints a very bleak image in the minds of Britain’s future generations.
The results of the tuition fee rises and university funding cuts, conjures the oppressive nature of Victorian society that our hero Jude had to endure where only the higher echelons of society could attend. A bright spark that was crushed heavily under the ashes of class and society. Upon Jude’s death bed, some of his last words are a heart wrenching reflection that he was “fifty years too soon”
The question left on our lips is, are we digressing back one hundred and sixteen years?

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