I write as one who, back in the day, was up to his neck in student activism; demonstrations, marches, protests. I even went so far as to attend the occasional ‘workshop’ which I loathed, but anything for the revolution. They were all grist to my mill.
All right you sarcastic mob, play air violin out and sing “I remember when.”
Tomorrow, 9th December, is the day when when Parliament votes on an increase in fees for university students in England. The National Union of Students has called for a day of action.
When threatened with rises in university fees what is the result? Students march, blockade office buildings, paint posters, the more energetic even riot. After all, that’s what students do. They march, they shout, they throw things, so what? We shouldn’t be surprised.
What we should be disappointed about is not the demonstrations themselves but that basically, there is no difference between protesting students in England today and lorry drivers blocking roads a few years ago because of fuel price rises. This is a consumer’s rebellion; put up the price of anything and the customer is not going to be pleased.
We should be asking the foundational question as to whether or not students should pay for their education, and if not the students, who? If the recipients don’t pay, who does?
A member of my congregation is puzzled, a guy who left school with no qualifications whatever, he has four children and works every hour his strength allows, and despite that is never more than one step ahead of financial calamity. He wonders why his taxes should go to help middle class children get yet more advantages in life. Students, who like himself are working class, will be spared the worst and the handful who enter work which pays as badly as his will not need to repay student loans. The real impact of student fees will be on the families of comfortable middle class students whose biggest problem has previously been where to go on their gap year.
The students should be asking themselves: Why is it only money that outrages us? Should they not also be outraged by both the standards of the education they receive and the standards and values of society generally, those commercially based standards and values into which they have apparently bought.
Figures on educational attainment released yesterday by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development reveal that in the last three years the UK has slumped in the international standings from 17th in reading skills to 25th. Overall we are being outperformed in educational skills by Estonia and Poland, countries only emerging from the economic chaos of Soviet domination. Despite all the money thrown at it our education system is sinking. Is this not worth protesting about?
Why is it the threat to their pockets which outrages them? Why are they not horrified by the standards of the society they wish to emulate? This is a society where the gap in life expectancy between rich and poor areas is currently 13 years and rising, the society in which they wish to ‘make it.’ Is this not worth protesting about?
Students have an excuse for striving to maintain the status quo, they are too young to know better. What about the rest of us?