Sunday 28 November 2010

Students are Revolting. Again.

Things are changing fast.

Sixth formers demonstrate at rises in university tuition fees
Photo from the Guardian

Students are on the move again. All across the country during November, there have been at least two days of protests, marches and sit-ins, sometimes peacefully, sometimes a little more forcefully. More protests are planned for the coming weeks.

We all know the cause of the unrest. The Government plans to allow universities to increase tuition fees. There is currently a cap of £3290 per year, but this will be removed from September 2012, replaced with a maximum of £9000 per year. Any universities wishing to charge more than £6000 per year will have to put in place measures, such as offering bursaries, to encourage students from poorer backgrounds to apply. All of these changes come about because of recommendations in the Brown Review, published in October.

You can see the Guardian's photo coverage of the demonstrations here:

and here:

On this blog we've reported on the government's plans for reform several times:

For those of us of a certain age, all of this will bring back memories of a previous set of demonstrations. In the late 1980s and early 1990s students across the country brought universities to a standstill over plans to introduce the first student loans. The size of these loans was minuscule compared with those students take out today. But the demonstrators would probably say they were vindicated, in that those loans set a precedent for and led directly to the massive debts inflicted on the student population today.

One striking difference between these protests and those of 20 years ago, however, is the involvement of school pupils. A-Level students are fully aware of the implications of the cuts on their futures, not just over the next three years, but, if the plans go ahead, for years and decades to come. The debt levels some will accrue to gain a university education are truly mind-boggling.

David Cameron is of course a prime target for blame. But Nick Clegg is taking a huge amount of criticism as well. Before the general election in May, the Liberal Democrats pledged to oppose any move to increase tuition fees. Every member of the party signed a pledge to honour this commitment and vote against any such proposal. So understandably, ever since leading his party into a coalition with the Conservatives, Clegg has been attacked for abandoning these principles. Recently, however, it emerged that the Lib Dems had considered abandoning the commitment even before the election. Talking to students and teachers, it is this that has enraged them more than anything else.

Now there is news that the government wants to cut funding to school sixth forms as well.

Head teachers are warning of the drastic effects such changes could bring about, including loss of facilities and equipment, even teaching staff and an overall deterioration in the quality of A-Level teaching. Once again, on this blog, we put the case that, although we undoubtedly live in difficult times, these measures, both the university tuition fee rises and the cuts in sixth form budgets, are going far too far, far too fast.
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