Barely a month goes by now, when swathes of central London are not shut down for another mass protest by the eternally entitled hordes of middle-class students who have taken it upon themselves to represent the entirety of the at-large disenfranchised and marginalised of this country, by having a Strongbow-fuelled soiree of privileged posturing and half-witted hashtaggery in Whitehall.
There’s usually not a clear message, and it simply descends into a sort of portmanteau protest, howling resentment at the fact that the majority of the electorate are not in possession of sufficient sense to recognise that the Tories are all scum, the nuclear deterrent is evil, and that our current body of historic statute law must be replaced post-haste with the magna opera of Marx, Lenin and Gramsci.
However, Wednesday’s protest was different, in that its aim was to specifically protest the ghastly idea that university students should, at any point in their three years of debauchery at government expense, or at any point thereafter, have to consider the vast financial cost of their higher education.
Their particular grievance on this occasion was allegedly the government’s decision to replace maintenance grants with increased loans, coming into effect for the 2016/17 academic year. Despite this, however, it seemed that the protest was by far and away simply there to argue that university should be entirely free for everyone.
And argue this they did: thousands of students descended upon central London, waving their platitudinous placards, working their way through the student protester’s Top of the Pops, wailing past hits such as “No Ifs, No Buts, No Education Cuts” (a 2010 chart-topper), as well as new entries that included “Education Is A Right, Not A Privilege”, which appeared well-received by all present.
The problem, though, is that the system they propose is the fastest way to turn education into a privilege, and the current system is what makes university a right that all can make use of. They claim that a system which involves students who are financially successful after graduating actually paying for their tuition fees makes university unaffordable for less privileged students, but this is misleading, disingenuous, ideological rhetoric.
I don’t believe I’m alone in seeing the greatest obstacle to poorer students who wish to go to university as being not tuition fees, but the misleading nonsense that the left spew out about the aforementioned, which doubtless discourages many disadvantaged students from applying for university, because they’ve been told by some bespectacled middle-class Marxist that “the Tories have made it unaffordable for poorer students”. If the left want more students from less privileged backgrounds going to university, they should stop lying to them about its affordability.
Let’s cut into the detail of why the left’s claims are lies, now. Yes, upon graduation, you will be in debt to the tune of £50k, and yes, this amount will be higher as a result of the replacement of maintenance grants with higher maintenance loans. But, contrary to the lies of the left, this in no way makes it more difficult for poorer students to go to university, for a number of reasons.
First of all, no student has to pay anything up front, whatsoever. As ever, tuition fee loans will be paid direct, by Student Finance England, to the institution at which the student is registered, and maintenance loans will be paid direct to the student, who can then use them to pay for rent, food, alcohol and drugs – and, in fact, under the new system of grants being replaced by loans, students will get more money over the course of their time at university, which is when they most need it.
A student from a household with an income of £15k will, under the new system, receive £8,200 of maintenance funding a year; the same student under the current system would receive £7434. Correct me if my maths is wrong (my loan pays for a Politics course, after all), but that’s an extra £766 in the pockets of disadvantaged students, at the time in which they are in greatest need of it.
“Ah,” I hear the left object. “But they have to pay it back afterwards.”
Well yes, they do – and so they should. Going to university is an investment in one’s future which one makes because of the belief that having a degree in the chosen subject will enable them to earn more in the future. The left’s insistence that financially successful graduates should not pay back the cost of their higher education is tantamount to a declaration that a shelf-stacker in Tesco without a university education should be taxed to pay for the degree that allowed the store manager to earn five times as much as him.
As for those graduates who do not go on to be high-earners, they need not worry, because the key principle of the current repayment structure is that low-earning graduates pay nothing back. Yes, contrary to lefties’ ironic scaremongering, graduates will not have a bailiff-backed invoice presented to them the day after they graduate, demanding full and immediate payment of the £50k debt with which they are burdened.
In fact, the repayment structure is one that you would expect the lefties to get behind. A graduate who earns £20k for the rest of their life (or 30 years, given that after this period all debt is wiped) will not pay back a single penny toward their university education, because repayments only begin once the prospective graduate is earning £21k – and even after this, repayment is only to the tune of 9% of all salary earned above this benchmark.
So, anyone earning £22k will pay back only £90 a year, whereas one of those pesky bankers the protesters love to whinge about will pay back in excess of £7k a year, if they’re earning £100k. Taxing bankers to pay for university…am I the only person surprised that the left have a problem with this? To me, it sounds like their entire garbled ideology, reduced into one representative sentence.
“But they have it in Scotland!” Cries the last, disheartened wail of the token left-wing protester, their facepaint declaring them to be “anti-capitalist” now smudged by tears of righteous indignation. Yes, they do have it in Scotland – and let’s look at what’s actually happened there. As Adam Tomkins, John Millar Professor of Public Law at the University of Glasgow wrote, since Scotland abolished tuition fees, university application from poorer students have actually fallen – fallen to the point where a Scottish teenager from a disadvantaged background is now just half as likely to go to university as one of their English counterparts.
This is because, despite all the bluster from the SNP ideologues, scrapping tuition fees actually makes it much harder for poorer children to go to university. The huge cost of wholly subsidised tuition draws funding away from areas that are vital in ensuring students from poor families have the best chance possible of going to university: not only does it decrease the amount of money the Scottish government can afford to give them whilst they’re actually at university to cover living costs that their families cannot afford to assist them with, it deprives funding to the institutions which deliver earlier stages of education, such as primary and secondary schools, upon which students from disadvantaged backgrounds depend upon to actually get to university in the first place.
How on earth does it help poor students to give them free university tuition, if you’ve made it impossible for them to get there in the first place?
The answer is that it does not, so we should here call a spade a spade here, and confront the reason why, despite the current system being fair and progressive, and actually remarkably left-wing, the left still turn out in their thousands to complain about it – and no, it’s not because of the guilt they bury over tuition fees being made necessary by their own ridiculous demands that 50% of children should go to university. It’s because, despite their alleged dedication to the poor and marginalised in our society, they couldn’t actually give two hoots about them.
Rather, they see them simply as pawns, whose plight can be manipulated and exploited in their endless ideological war against any and all conservative principles. They care not about the fact that their incessant lying about the affordability of university to poorer students is far more likely to discourage poor students from applying than the system itself, and they are equally ambivalent to the unarguable fact that the same system is a realisation of their own principle that those with the broadest shoulders should bear the largest load.
They don’t care about the fact that a system in which all students are indebted, but only the wealthiest must pay it off, is inherently fairer than a system in which the same debt, created to pay for the tuition of high-earning graduates, is subsidised through taxing those who never benefited from university – and they certainly don’t want to recognise that what they suggest would be tantamount to university being funded through a flat tax – supposed anathema to the socialist cause.
Above all, however, they will do almost anything to avoid the cognitively dissonant truth that their demand that Liam Keane, of 41a Factory Road, Rochdale, who has never been to university, pay tax on his minimum-wage earnings, to fund the Sociology and International Development degree of Hettie-Rose Chetwynd-Cavendish, of 1, The Mews, Kensington, is representative clearly not of any desire to actually help the disadvantaged of our society, but rather their willingness to appropriate their cause and misrepresent their interests, simply to advance their own harmful and ideological hatred of all conservative policy and governments.
If they truly believe that education is a right, not a privilege, if they truly care about making university more accessible to poorer students, they should shut up, and stop telling poor students that they can’t afford it.