Thursday, 25 November 2010

The debt generation

Posted by Lleu Williams, Non-Portfolio Officer

"We will vote against any lifting of the tuition fee cap, and campaign to get rid of tuition fees" were the importal words of the Clegg posse, aka the Liberal Democrats in the lead up to the General Election, the wording on pledges that every single on of their MPs signed and one of their parties mainstay policies. It is actually making me laugh reading about that now to be honest, as myself, like many other young people genuinely believed that this would be the case when coalition discussions were taking place.

Where are we now? The Browne Review has reported back suggesting lifting the cap on tuition fees and creating a marketisation of the higher education sector in England, and since then the ConDems have put forward proposals for tuition fees to be capped at £9000 a year.

There have been protests up and down the country yesterday, including walkouts and occupations right across Wales. This has been a great success in highlighting the issue within the media, as well as with the general public. I do not condone the small spates of violence that have taken place, but in the majority yesterday, as with the NUS Demo two weeks ago, young and old have been out on the streets voicing their concerns over proposals that will ensure that the next higher education generation will certainly be the debt generation.

I do not take for one minute the ConDems justification that their new proposals are fairer. Yes, the pay back threshold has been increased to £21,000 (a level it should be at anyway) and that the proposals make HE more attractive to part time students are to be welcomed, but how dare they suggest that the debt of £27,000 for a degree will not put off those who are from the poorest backgrounds in our society. For many of these people, their household incomes are not even that much and I don't think they could even comprehend putting themselves into that much debt, I know I couldn't!

And Mr Willetts, the Universities Minister, said that people from the poorest backgrounds won't have to pay it back until they earn at least the new suggested threshold, is he saying then that people from these backgrounds can't or shouldn't be earning more than £21,000 and thus aspiring to lift themselves out of poverty?

In addition to that, we have seen standard Tory procedure of backing their own kind by not asking for any contribution from business. Society, the individual, the economy and business reap the benefits of a world class higher education system, why aren't business asked to contribute their fair share into funding the system? They certainly aren't doing their bit by increasing the number of graduate jobs in the market at the moment....or even better, how about actually increasing the pitifully small banking levy of £2 billion to something much more substantial such as the £8 billion in bonuses this year and thus reinvesting a proportion of that funding back into teaching budgets, thus alleviating the cost onto the student? But the cyncial side of me says this would be too harsh on their friends high up in the world of business, cheers Cameron!

I am over £13,000 in debt, and I don't think I will ever clear it myself- something the government will do for me when I am 60 anyway. But the government are suggesting any debt that is left after 30 years of repayment will be wiped, I dread to think how much this will cost the government in 30 years time and create a potentially huge vaccum in the coffers at Westminster.

Here in Wales, we are lucky to have the National Assembly to shield us from such volatile and socially destroying proposals. Teaching budgets in England have been cut by 80% (forcing the plug in funding to be met by the student) whilst in Wales they have only been cut by 12%, which will hopefully mean any changes will be minimal.

But what is real is that young people will be put off by this debt, I know I would have been. It's time for the ConDems to sit up and listen to the majority here and not condem the next generation as the the debt generation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good post Lleu. It is a poverty of thinking, when looking at national debt, that the traditional parties of power want to cut excessively to reduce the debt. While there are many cuts I would support, surely the problem isn't that they are spending too much, but they are not raising enough money. Tax evasion for example.

As far as students go, it is obvious that the NUS as a professional bureaucratic organisation (and I don't use that term as an insult) cannot be involved in civil disobedience- but it's important to remember that occupations are a legitimate tactic of protest and have been in every major struggle in the UK and further afield. The austerity measures in Greece, Portugal and Ireland have all provoked similar resistance, even though it is a minority usually shouting louder than everyone else, the government of the day is to blame rather than students.