Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Fees, Cuts, and Tory propaganda

The second post i want to publish tonight is of a much more serious nature.

This post is looking to address the issue of the student protests which have taken place over the last month. By that very admission of scale i accept that i simply can't hope to cover all the diverse and complex issues involved in the debates surrounding the cuts being inflicted on education.

I have a whole range of points to make on this topic so i'm going to separate them numerically.

1) There has been a suggestion, repeatedly broadcast by the BBC and other news media, that both current and prospective students fail to understand that the cost of fees they will have to pay is not immediately reclaimable and that this delay in repayment makes the figure of £45,000 somehow more manageable. First of all, when did an absolute minimum debt of £27, 000 become a figure which suggests future wealth and security. Secondly when did short term loans become a template for long term gain (i'm pretty sure the small print in dozens of different loans adverts have warned me against the precise concept of considering a loan as somehow a basis for a supportable income). Thirdly, when it is announced a mere 6 days after the amelioration of previous tuition fees laws that unemployment is in fact rising, where precisely are the graduates of university degrees meant to find jobs?

Those three arguments, among others, are the the reasons why the last month has seen a dramatic reassessment of the so called 'apathetic generation'. Turns out we aren't a generation prepared to be fobbed off with a substandard higher education which is paid for through an extortionate fee system. The older generations have spent years dismissing my generation as lost, a decade of teenagers who cared for nothing more than our most recent facebook status and are now horrified to discover that in fact we are extremely angry at the dismissive nature with which the education of the year groups to follow mine are being treated. Raise tuition fees, do away with E.M.A (A hugely important source of finance for a large number of people from lower incomes hoping to pursue further education), entrench the concept that higher education is something for the wealthy rather than anyone with the intellectual capacity.

2) One element i'll take issue with is the suggestion by countless BBC journalists as well as numerous reporters for other sources; that students want a free education. I've read more times than i can comfortably deal with that students expect unreasonably a free education. There's enough holes in this idea to form a pretty effective collinder. For a start a large percentage of students i know have completely accepted £3,290 fees per year as fair. I personally am happy to concede that some degree of paying for a further education is fair. However, by raising the fees to a potential £9,000 a year the government is instantly placing a value on higher education that many people will feel insurmountable.

I have seen several interviews where journalist have suggested that the students who are protesting are doing so because they don't appreciate that they won't have to pay back the loan until they are earning £21,000 or more. To the contrary, most current and future students not only appreciate the short term impact this will have on them but are also aware of the more long term affects they face.

The anger seen on the streets of London over the last month stems not from the ignorance of reality but from the disgust at watching the ladder of higher education being pulled up by a generation who enjoyed free university education

3) It has suited media outlet's to portray the protests as simply a product of Nick Clegg's betrayal but this is a pathetically simplistic view. Undoubtedly many students, me included, are furious at Nick Clegg for going back on a principle he was only too happy to foreground when in the pursuit of votes. I voted for the Liberal Democrats at the last election, in the hope that they promised something different to the alternating Labour/Conservative governments. I can't see myself voting for them again because to put it simply, they managed to reveal themselves as a more blatant version of the traditional political spectrum of lies and mistruths than even the Conservatives or Labour had managed in several years.

However to dismiss the anger as simply a product of his back-tracking is to over-simplify and dismiss the true power behind the unrest. Clegg is simply a manifestation of a more far-reaching anger at the political system. The anger stems from the fact that despite proudly offering something different to the populace, he managed to provide a sickeningly similar option. My generation are not apathetic but they are disillusioned.

4) The second major issue relating to the protests is the nature of the coverage when relating to the violence. Even the guardian, a paper which tends to be more sympathetic to the student cause than most, labelled a video of an assault on a disabled protester as an 'Alleged assault'.

The BBC a supposedly objective source of news coverage made their position clear with their interview of the victim of the assault, Jody McIntyre, . If the attempts to claim that a man with cerebral palsy being wheeled towards a police riot officer constituted a threat doesn't suggest a painfully clear bias in the BBC coverage i don't know what will. In what other scenario could the assault upon a wheel chair-bound man be justified by claiming that the disabled man was being threatening?

Alfie Meadows has only recently returned home after going through surgery on the brain after a hit to the head from a police man's baton. A large number of other protester's injuries have gone unreported in the last few weeks as the idea of the police assaulting defenceless young men and women doesn't fit within the accepted view of 'a violent group of "anarchist" students attempting to provoke violence'. Some papers have at least attempted to portray the other side of the protests but overall the national media has come down in favour of the Metropolitan Police rather than the protesters exercising their democratic right to protest against Government decisions they disagree with.

I am not for a moment condoning the actions of the protesters who have injured police officers, or the idiot who threw a fire extinguisher from the roof of Tory HQ , they are idiots and i reckon they probably deserve to be punished within the full force of the law (to the extent of their crimes, i'm unsure that extreme idiocy is the same as attempted murder).

However, I strongly believe that if the police can use the established media to publish the faces of those they believe were involved in the riots in London, it is only right that the student community pull together to make sure that footage of Police officers assaulting peaceful students is broadcast all over the internet.

I have a cynicism about the capability of the police to punish those within their own ranks who over step the mark, born out of the failure to bring the police officer whose actions killed Ian Tomlinson ( to any real sort of punishment.

It is my interpretation that at least during the initial few days following the protest, the media were only too happy to portray the December 9th protests as an all out assault on the police who operated solely within the boundaries of public interest and public service.

This ignores the simple fact that for every violent idiot among the protesters i would be willing to bet there was a violent policeman spoiling for a fight. What so much of the coverage, in their haste to take sides, has failed to acknowledge is that both sides have their violent, borderline psychopathic idiots and to pretend otherwise is inconceivably naive.

The portrayal of the student protesters as a violent, uneducated and ungrateful rabble, is precisely what has provoked the anger rather than what has explained it. The violence has been evident on both sides, yes there is a reasonable number of protesters who have made the decision to attack the police, but it can equally be argued that the afore mentioned decision stems from the aggresively defensive stance taken by the police. The decision to kettle people on Westminster Bridge until 11pm on a freezing cold December night (a fact gleefully ignored by the majority of papers) was one designed to provoke violence among the radicals within the protesters and discourage future demonstrations amongst the more casual of protesters.

It may sound like a conspiracy theory but i believe that the vandalism of the police riot van on the 25th of November ( was a exquisitely managed example of staged anger. I have been in enough cities where i have been a member of a group of away football fans or opposition to EDL groups to know how well the police tend to organise and protect themselves and their equipment. The fact that they 'accidentally' left a riot van right in the middle of the area they knew the students would be protesting in seems more than a little suspect to me. If there'd been reports of police having to genuinely flee the vehicle then my view would have been different, but the fact is most reports suggest the vehicle was abandoned. This leads me to believe it was a calculated ploy by the police service because they appreciated the impact photos of a trashed riot van would have in supporting their cause. Now many people will choose to believe they police line and i'm not conceited enough to believe that i'm categorically right. However i study politics and journalism at university and the effect of that is i am beginning to become cynical about situations like this due to the idealistic nature of the photo opportunity.

The third, and in some way simultaneously most ignored and most important, issue is the fact that a large proportion of students are protesting not because of fees (which has been reported as the sole issue at stake) but because of the 80% cuts to most universities funding. Now if the Conservative government (and let's be honest that's what we have seeing as the Lib Dems have performed one of the most graceful if depressing swings to the right) was really concerned with tackling the deficit in Britain it would attack the issues of tax evasion by big business' and wealthy individuals rather than putting such a high price on education. Vodafone, Topshop and Lord Ashcroft would all have to face up to the reality that their tax evasion is costing this country billions of pounds. If the amount owed in unpaid tax by those three evaders was reclaimed suddenly Britain's deficit would look a lot less ominous. However both the current Conservative government and the previous Labour one have shown a worrying reliance on big business, believing that free market economy is the way to solve all economic woes, despite a cornucopia of evidence to the contrary. Letting big business' and banks' act in their own self interest regardless of the national impact has appeared to become the accepted method of global economy and depressingly there is little evidence to suggest any chance being imminent.

Basically, the aim of this post is to attempt to make people realise that the student anger is not uniformed, non-specific or reactionary. The anger is knowledgeable, targeted and purposeful and despite the best efforts of the government and media under it's sway, is not just going to evaporate.

No comments:

Post a Comment