In support of students

For me, it is very simple: restricting access to education is wrong.
Education is as much of an investment for a government as it is for the individual.

Here is how I think about the idea of limiting access to higher education to those that can afford it or are willing to begin their adult lives with tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt.

Most people will get 3 quotes when they are building an extension or having a new kitchen fitted. Why? Because by increasing the sample size there is a higher probability of getting some great work done at a great price. Restricting your choice of doctors to the ones that can afford to study medicine would be like opening the yellow pages and choosing the kitchen fitter with the biggest ad; you may well get lucky and they may be able to afford that advertisement because they provide excellent service at great value but it would be a gamble.

I am not interested in hearing comparisons with the United States or anywhere else. This is Britain. This is our society and we can make it what we want and need it to be.

I was in the first generation of students who didn’t get a grant. I had part-time jobs through University and confess (at my late father’s suggestion) to using the very cheap student loans to travel round Europe every summer. It was brilliant. (And I can tell some quite amusing stories about changing my car suspesion in a campsite using rocks to prop it up – another time maybe.)

Despite being born in the UK and being a British citizen from birth I had spent 8 years out of the country and there was a suggestion from the local education authority (LEA) that I should pay ‘foreign student’ fees. That would have been £10,000 a year. For me, there was an easy out because all I would have had to have done was wait one year and apply for University when the arbitrary time period would have elapsed and my sin of living abroad would be forgiven. My father and I wrote lots of letters, I went to see my local MP arguing that as I wanted to study engineering spending a year traveling and forgetting all my algebra wouldn’t actually be that ‘enriching’, the LEA relented and I went to University, as planned. It was 1993, those of you with knowledge of Balkan politics will understand why we simply could not have contemplated paying £10000 a year for University fees.

Subsequently I paid for my own Masters. I continued to work part-time earning a pretty penny thanks to my first degree.

Now, I have not invented the cure for cancer nor have I painted a Titian but I have been a high rate tax payer in this country for well over 10 years, through my work I have created employment opportunities, helped small businesses get off the ground, helped big and small business sell more and I sit confident in the knowledge that my University education has helped me enormously. What is more, it has helped me contribute to the society I live in.

In turn I have been helped by doctors, nurses, engineers, philosphers, artists, architects, economists and countless others.

I was listening to the Today programme recently and the politician being interviewed (I forget which one it was) was talking about how unfair it was for postmen and miners that their tax would be spent educating others. Sarah Montague started her next line with “The question is” and went on to finish with “is this going to stop students from poorer families going to University?” No Sarah – I said, shouting at the radio – the question is: When you go to hospital who do you want to treat you? The best doctor or the one with the biggest yellow pages advert?

Today, all I can do is ask that Messrs Cameron and Cleg stop playing with my society and spend my tax educating the people with the most potential.

Do I support the protests? With all my heart and mind. It is a sad society where the youth don’t think that they can shape their world, Britain’s youth is alive and fighting for all our futures. Awesome.

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14 Comments

  1. Anon
    Posted 9 December, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Ivanka, the issue is that if the education students receive is valuable (think Chemical Engineering vs Theater) then the students will get paid back enough to pay their student loans. This puts the burden on the people who have skin in the game to not goof off in school.

  2. ivanka.majic
    Posted 9 December, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Dear Anon,

    I much prefer to be patronised by people who have extended me the courtesy of introducing themselves.

    Your point is common but not one that answers mine. Thank you though for taking the time to skim my post, perhaps next time you might like to read it.

    Regards,

    Ivanka Majic

  3. Jan Jokela
    Posted 9 December, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    I basically agree with you that education needs to be available to anyone despite whatever background they happen to come from.
    I just can’t agree that University is all that important for a couple of areas like the liberal arts and technology, for example. From all I see, what University degrees provide in those areas is mostly brain damage. It hinders, by design, any attempts at divergent thinking, entrepreneurship and creativity in general. I am convinced very talented people are being Inhibited from discovering what they are capable of due to this general design of those degrees.

  4. Bob Bobson
    Posted 9 December, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    What is the difference between a poor candidate for medical school and a wealthy one? Neither has to pay anything up front. Neither has to pay anything before they can afford to. They both earn the same amount after graduating. They both pay back the same amount after graduating.

    There is no discrimination based on your wealth before you go to university here. Don’t talk to me about ‘they will be put off’ either. If someone is put off studying because they can’t understand that they only pay back when they can afford to, then they shouldn’t be a doctor in the first place.

  5. Simon
    Posted 9 December, 2010 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    The problem, of course, is that money needs to come from somewhere. Governments typically don’t have much of their own – it all comes from people paying taxes. And at the same time that students are complaining about how much their education costs them, the tax payers are complaining about how much the government is taking from them. Can’t please everybody.

  6. Steve
    Posted 9 December, 2010 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    Why are so many people ignorant of the fact that *nobody pays upfront*. People’s wealth before they go to uni is absolutely irrelevant.

  7. Dean
    Posted 9 December, 2010 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    The new system isn’t quite as bad as some people are saying, I think that it’s regrettable but acceptable.

    Ivanka is right that thanks to the government subsidising my education I earn more and thus I pay far more tax than I would have done otherwise. The government subsidising a students education is a cheap investment for the government that will return them profit and improve the students life and that of their future family. Few other government investments measure up to that benefit-cost ratio.

  8. ivanka.majic
    Posted 10 December, 2010 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    @steve Please note that I talk about debt *leaving* University. I am reasonably well acquainted with the facts, certainly to the degree that I understand that one isn’t required to acquire the money in advance. That doesn’t change my position.

  9. ivanka.majic
    Posted 10 December, 2010 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    @Bob, unfortunately I just don’t agree with you. This is an attitudinal adjustment as much as anything else. 18,000 (min fees, 3 year degree) is a very different amount of money depending on where you are judging it from. It isn’t just the fees and the debt, what about saving the 10% minimum they will now have to have in order to buy their first house – what is that? Another £15, 000? Please let’s consider what we are doing for our next generation. It isn’t a pretty picture.

    @simon No, you can’t please everyone. But this is my blog and I want to make it clear that I feel happy to pay taxes to be spent on education amongst other things. I am of the opinion that an educated society would provide me a more pleasant environment and I am willing to continue to contribute to that.

    A society needs art. It needs philosophers. It needs creative expression. Of course, the requirement is not physiological but it is nonetheless important. I had the good fortune of working on a client project in one of these tax-free places. I was doing user research so had the opportunity to study the society (albeit for a short period, this was not full anthropology) and I found it very unattractive in its selfishness.

    @jan I think we could have a whole different conversation about whether or not the courses themselves add value! I think divergent thinking starts with challenging your own assumptions and those of others, bit of protesting shows some steps in the right direction, don’t you think? Mind you, if we are turning our Universities into private enterprises, market forces will apply, that could prompt an interesting evolution.

  10. Robert
    Posted 10 December, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    What bothers me is that LibDem politicians promised that they will vote against any increase in tuition fees before they were elected. And they were elected by quite a number of people despite their smaller number in parliament due to the skewed electoral system in the UK. I feel that they violated my trust and many others feel the same. It won’t go without consequences. It is also noteworthy that Scottish universities will remain free and Welsh still pay the smaller fee (for the time being).

    On the other hand the government has cut university funding by 80%!!! What can universities do to survive? a) raise the fees as they are allowed b) recruit more foreign students who pay the full fee (this is definitely the plan where I work). Where does it leave us? Less places for UK students. So it is not just that they have to pay more (after they graduate if they earn enough), they will have to also fight for fewer places/compete with the rich of from abroad. UK universities have a rather good international reputation as of now so it is not that difficult to get foreign students.

  11. ivanka.majic
    Posted 10 December, 2010 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    @Robert It’s not good. To borrow from a colleague – we have effectively privatised our universities. For a balanced and ‘happy’ (pah!) society, it will take more than letting market forces shape things. Maybe this will force them to increase immigration! :-)

    Society is not a set of problems in neat little columns, it’s all so intricately woven together – I fear we have a few threads caught on nails.

  12. Posted 10 December, 2010 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    I can’t see why there is any need for loans or a graduate tax. The whole state education system is ‘loaned’ to us to make the best use we can of it. Then whether we graduate with PhD or drop out at 16 we get a job we pay taxes. If the tax system is progressive, and if as politicians claim degrees add to one’s earning potential it follows that the best educated will pay back the most. And the rest of us benefit from having well educated professionals around.

  13. Posted 19 January, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Hi Ivanka! Apologies for the off-topic-ness of this comment – I couldn’t find your email anywhere.

    I was wondering if we could coax you into giving a short talk at a girl geek event in Brighton? We are happy to pay travel expenses and offer the promise of wine, nibbles and great company!

  14. none
    Posted 8 March, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    I wanted to address Anon 1′s point about fees preventing slackness. Such a viewpoint is idiotic when you consider the job market is false and found wanting.. in that case, you can work hard all term and finish with nothing.

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