So predictably the government has voted to raise the upper limit of fees that universities can be changed and equally predictably another student demo has descended into violence. Whilst as mentioned before I did benefit from a free University education but that was when a much smaller number of students went to University but as Dizzy observes the way the new loans are structured they only have to be paid back if they start making above a decent wage. Which seems fairer than expecting everyone to contribute to a university education for everyone who’s even just a tiny bit above academically average (which is what the goal of 50% of people going to University means), and likewise it seems preferable to graduates paying a higher rate of tax indefinitely which would likely mean paying back more than the loan works out to. Perhaps just possibly it might be a better plan to not send everyone to University but to revive technical and vocational training which Polytechnics used to excel at before they all wanted to be Universities. Before I leave the matter of funding Burning our Money observes that the ever increasing spending on education isn’t being reflected by increased educational achievement, so maybe throwing money at the problem isn’t actually working? Also it’s worth considering that only English students will be forced to pay these increased fees.
More worryingly and as highlighted by Political reboot the Browne report which is the basis for these changes in university funding prioritises subjects based on economic viability. Which is really rather reminiscent of soviet planning, and surly not a good idea as no-one really knows what the next big thing will be and the state doesn’t have a good track record of picking winners. I’m reminded of a short story where a method to travel to alternate realities had been discovered, due to war induced trauma, but it required a poet to explain how to do it to those not afflicted by the requisite trauma. Sadly due to the fictional government dictating that only “useful” subjects be studied there were no longer any poets available.
But all that aside what interests me most about the current student protests is the manner of protest used by the students and the states response to those protests. The students managed to cause a Libdem conference to be canceled thus removing the chance to lobby the people the crucial libdem faction directly, according to some reports they haven’t lobbied a single MP and consider ideology to be a bad thing. The general feeling seems to be that mass peaceful protest didn’t work for the Iraq war so may as well skip straight to the violence (not bothering with any other option), however whilst indulging in violent civil disobedience they can actually manage to get a petition together to demand that the police not contain them – if a petition is worth while to change police behavior might it perhaps have been worth while to get the MPs to change their minds. Yet given the repeated violence on the student demo’s these same people who object to the police containing protests because of the children also object to the police planning to pull children out if demo’s turn violent So I’m not quite sure what tactics they’d like the police to use – just let them run riot perhaps?
Which all sadly leads me to the conclusion that these demos which don’t seem to be tied into any other action, aren’t much more than a temper tantrum. There’s no ideological basis behind the protest, no planned campaign of action and no acceptance that engaging in civil disobedience has a direct cost to those taking that course of action. If we have got to the stage when peaceful protest and lobbying is no longer even worth trying and only (violent) civil disobedience is an option then such a course of action surely needs to be better thought out than a letter writing campaign and needs to take heed of vulnerable supporters liable to get caught up in it, but more than that will also have to accept and prepare for the state reacting in kind. I’m not convinced myself that we are at that stage, but if we are is the question of whether an over inflated university system should be paid for by universal taxation rather than individual loans really worth the violence. Though of course there is an irony in students violently protesting that money should be taken off themselves and everyone else (especially the 50%+ to going to university) under the threat of violence to pay for their university education so that they can pretend they’re not paying for it.
I think new methods of protest need to be found and maybe some of the techniques coming out of the wikileaks drama can be adapted, so perhaps the student demo’s represent part of the search for those methods. But violence to demand the state uses the threat of violence to provide you with continuing largess, doesn’t fit will with me even if projected into the context of a “post democratic” state.