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Tuition Fees and Cultivating Excellence – What Does the Future Hold?

17/12/2010 1 comment

I’m going to try very hard to restrain my anger in this post, but I’m making no promises.

In a whirlwind of activism recently, thousands took to the streets for the first time to express their anger at the Coalition government voting in new legislation which raises the cap on tuition fees. It was an incredible throwback to the days of anguish felt by those under Thatcher, and the anguish is set to continue via a series of new grassroots networks.

These new organisations, which include anti tax avoidance group UK Uncut and various “occupation” movements" (who are very active on Twitter), embody the prevailing sentiment of outrage felt by vast swathes of the population here. The cuts are deemed necessary by a Coalition government looking to roll back the state, but they are not by this new generation.

Even organisations like the National Union of Students (NUS) have been criticised of twiddling their thumbs in the face of this crisis. Their chief, Aaron Porter, has been accused of weak leadership, even pandering to the elites. As such, a vote of no confidence in his position is imminent. After all, merely appearing on all of the BBC’s coverage isn’t enough, is it Aaron?

That is where I’ll end with the neutral observation. I am gravely pissed off, much like these students and soon to be students.

Having officially graduated in September this year despite completing my course at UCL last year, I have been thinking about what someone needs, or what someone has to do, to be considered “excellent". What does it even mean now? This is, after all, the task which schools and universities must put at the centre of their mission and their duty to society.

Notice, I have deemed it a duty of schools and universities to inspire and nurture excellence. In other words; education is a right, not a privilege, and this is because the people who emerge from them will be working in society, creating new ideas, and ensuring the progression of humanities on issues such as democratisation, economic justice and technological innovation.

Thus, having educated people benefits society, innovative business and, something which is seriously overlooked, the critical thinking of a nation who is at the very centre of worldwide crises and foreign policy conundrums. Phillip Green wants to reap the benefits of publically educated people in his business, but not pay towards the very system producing them.

 

topshop-protest-philip-gr-006

“You marketise our education, we’ll educate your market”

 

Its a simple economic principle: maximise benefits and minimise costs. When legislation can include language allowing “tax avoidance” but not “tax evasion”, you will have politicians clambering to appease the corporatists who seek these loopholes. Leadership is impaired if, like you have now, our Bullingdon club of leaders simply do not represent the people.

Schools and universities are subject to government legislation, so the whole mechanism is meant to be accountable to their electorate (cue Lib Dem confusion). What we are seeing today is no accountability. The government want to privatise our education by making up to 80% cuts to the teaching budgets of universities. This will change everything.

By raising the cap to £9,000 a year, this will mean a total debt of £40-50,000 for a university education will not be uncommon if you factor in loan costs and accommodation – emphasising the belief held by the government that education is indeed a privilege. This is papered over by invoking the “nothing up front” feature the government are rather smug about.

Becoming our creditors brings them joy – how fitting. Only someone bred for power can feel this sense of entitlement from us supposed underlings.

Look at the state of the economy. We currently have the highest number of unemployed graduates for decades. The private sector has demonstrated an inability to accommodate the number of job seekers out there because of dogmatic and linear business modelling. That aside, lumping students with vast debt from the age of 18 will do two things:

1. Maintain the value of university education by making it more exclusive again.

2. Deter some from even attending because of the fees and the dismal state of the job market which lies before them.

It is, and I must emphasise this, no way meant to improve higher education. It is simply privatising it and loosening the grip the state has on these institutions so “they can get on with it” a la the invisible hand. It is an age old ideology, and that must be made clear through wave upon wave of bare-faced lies made by our government.

Thing is Mr Cameron, most of us don’t believe these lies of yours and your cronies.

 

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Angry protestors outside Parliament as new tuition fees legislation is narrowly voted in

 

These two issues of tax evasion and tuition fees are intimately linked, if not by subject matter, but public sentiment. The outcry has been fierce because of a harmonious message: the cuts are not necessary, university education is a public good which requires public money, and tax cheats, whatever their stripe, should pay their dues towards a system they benefit from.

The feeling at the centre of all of this is a desire for justice and social responsibility.

In the speech opening my graduation ceremony, the vice-provost of the university declared, “excellence is not only measured in one’s achievements, but it must also exist in one’s attitude”. What surfaces within those protesting the rise of tuition fee and those who are outside the stores of tax evaders is this excellence of attitude.

A condition of victory for corporatists and the political elites who serve them is consumer apathy. We are currently being groomed to become consumers first and citizens second. The “Big Society” is positive spin for government cuts – we don’t need Wikileaks for that. By demonstrating our anger, we rob them of their greatest asset – our indifference.

Our indifference dissolves them of their responsibility to us as our elected representatives. We cannot be indifferent when they shape and mould our world as they please, to benefit them and their circle of rich buddies. By privatising more and more things, big business has access to new markets ripe for exploitation and the government has an easier job.

Our excellence is precisely measured by our awareness and our critical examination of events. Critical thinking is the bane of all elites, who prefer to keep it a dynastic privilege, if that. This is done by ensuring we keep one of our eyes fixed on an end financial incentive, whereas they have the freedom to entertain whatever means with their full attention.

To put it in the context of a student’s perspective over the Atlantic (who are basically living in a U.K. in the year 2035), I have a video to share. Here, Erica Goldson, a girl from a school in the U.S. gives a meaningful speech on her graduation. There, the free market disease has long had a firm grip on schools and universities and largely stifles critical thinking and innovation.

 

 

The full transcript of the speech can be found here

 

We all have a duty to future generations, but lets not forget this current one, our one, who is charged with affecting change for the better. Talking vaguely about what embryos deserve is not enough – we must act in solidarity to remedy the injustices in our society. These politicians must remember – they serve us – and we will light bigger fires until they accept that.

So, what does the future hold? Or better yet, what should the future hold? After all, it is our task to collectively shape it – not sit in the backseat. The royal family is not the only group with a stagnant gene pool; the media, the government, and big businesses are all inbred and self-preservationist. This will be their downfall as survival is achieved through diversity.

That is a natural law – not a policy.

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“Downsize your Dreams”, we are Told.

I have come across a podcast today on the Guardian website entitled Careers Talk – The Graduate Job Formula and I have to say, I was livid. (Predictable, yes, but I wouldn’t be writing this if I was delighted, would I?)

The podcast was conducted by four girls who chuckled more or less throughout, in what I believe was a botched attempt to take this serious matter seriously.

The situation presented is a familiar one:

Art student finishes enjoyable degree and enters the employment world ambitious, creative, full of ideas, and impatient to start working in a field he or she loves. Art student then finds most of the very few positions already filled by Oxbridge candidates or those who had the resources to undertake free work, travelling, and all manner CV building unrelated to the person’s actual ability. Art student, dejected and crestfallen, retreats into obscurity and works odd jobs until dream can be realised.

Unfortunately, the dream is often not realised because of the webs we are woven into.

These girls disagree. They say working in a call centre, for example, can be a very positive experience where many skills can be fleeced in return for some cognitive downtime.

The positives which were mentioned were as follows:

The training. Oh yes, the training. Knowing what button on the phone unit to press and how to speak to people, yes, I did not learn these things when I was a child, I must have been too busy dissecting Lego from my arse.

Understanding the legal issues. Call centres can be very challenging places to work in. A tech support call centre have an influx of distressed people with broken computers or broken lives which require real expert advice. But lets face it, you won’t be in a call centre like that because that requires years of training and probably a degree, and most importantly, some kind of passion for it. You’re more likely to be working in a sales role smiling your face off at a cold computer screen. Legal issues? Yeah, don’t swear at the idiot on the phone, which leads me nicely into…

Learning how to deal with difficult people. “We all have to deal with difficult people at some stage in our career…” was how this positive was framed. Indeed, we do. However, a difficult person being difficult about something you could not give a crumb of crap about is far different from a difficult person being difficult about something you are enthusiastic and passionate about. Chances are, you don’t care for that insurance you’re shotting, or the cable deal, or mobile phone, or whatever modern trinket we busy ourselves with these days.

And my favourite:

Future employers will know you are very hardworking. I can’t fault them here, they are right. You must be very hardworking, determined, dogged, resolute, and all of the other superlatives which also fit well with the Catholic Church’s attitude in covering up its child abuse scandal. Working in a call centre is textbook training for being another expendable entity in a system which is intent on maximising the commodification of labour, creating worker bots who simply generate wealth for the elites. Basically, your future employer will know you will do all your work, and usually theirs, without complaint or call for better treatment.

 

imageYou’ll be sitting next L9JKV811.

By the way, I’m actually a balding, pugnacious man who hates you.

 

We are told we would be “work ready” after our ordeal. Having our ambitions bludgeoned by big business, who wouldn’t be ready for the particular employment market which awaits our fall from grace?

We are told to present our experiences at these call dungeons “intelligently” on our CVs, with the assumption that we won’t naively on their minds. What else are we to do? Write down we hated everything about it to the point where we daydreamed about suicide in our breaks?

“No, be honest, it was good for you. You just don’t know it.”

These four girls, who are expanding their journalism portfolio and are, from what I can surmise, doing what they want, have the cheek to preach to recent graduates about the CV goodness of putting down “Call Centre” as past or present employment, let alone actually enduring life as a call centre agent.

This is all presuming you can freely quit whenever you want, and have little debt to pay off in the inevitable gap between jobs where you have no income.

It is remarkably patronising and counter-productive to advise arts students to “be realistic” about their career prospects without simultaneously addressing the negative, oppressive system they are graduating into. Of course, as usual, it must be the graduate’s fault, or the low income worker’s fault, or the unemployed person’s fault – wealth is out there, go get it like everyone else is. They almost want to say stop sucking at life.

It is infuriating having such short-sighted people exercise some kind of false authority in this subject when they are clearly ignoring the public mood and have no idea about the global picture—and at the same time carve a career out of it in such an important field—journalism.

The most ironic part of the whole turgid conversation had later with a Professor was when he listed the key ingredients to give your job hunt the best chance. What ranked higher than anything else, according to him, was having good contacts. How worrying it is that graduates are expected to already have contacts without being previously employed.

“Dad, who was that guy you said would be interested in taking me on for a bit?”

Plainly put, we are becoming increasingly tired of papering over cracks, of having drivel being fed to us as news, of bailing out exploitative and opportunistic banks and funding illegal wars with public money, with government forever placating corporatists, with cementing the plutocracy, and with these geriatric “experts” making us feel like they “understand”.

The more we have people like these girls telling us to see the positives in slaving away in enormous call centres for people who view you as a screw in their wealth machine, the more desperate our society will become in overhauling itself.

Where is the identification of the new workforce and what it desires to do? If a lot of people are now taking arts based degrees, for example, where is the increase of arts based jobs? We are already seeing government cuts to these kind of jobs, with the Murdoch empire hovering like vultures over the BBC and any Tory plans which may call for its downsizing.

Collectively, people should determine what they want to do, and not corporations. There is a massive disconnection with the employment “market” and what people wish to do and study. We peer out of our university gates after three years only to realise these kind of jobs “are not there” and be told “not everyone can be artists”.

Of course they couldn’t; there would be no-one left to work for the elites who offer little material reward or fulfillment. There would also be even more competition for these journalism jobs.