Things can only get better

Pay attention, class. This is an important revision course on UK student tuition fees

July 26, 2009

Both Labour and Tories are backing plans to more than double student tuition fees to £7000 within four years. Labour shamelessly abandoned its 2001 election manifesto promise that ‘it will not introduce top-up fees and has legislated against them’ – then introduced them in 2004.

The Dearing Report, commissioned in 1996 under Tory PM ‘Sir’ John Major (who achieved only 3 O levels, didn’t go to university but won an election with the greatest margin in electoral history, published in 1997, recommended charging students 25% of their tuition costs. Newly-elected Labour ‘reluctantly’ introduced means-tested fees, claiming it as a Tory initiative. In 2003, a Labour-commissioned White Paper proposed that universities could charge students top-up tuition fees capped at £3000. In November of the same year, Tony Blair (educated free at St John’s College, Oxford) pontificated in the Queen’s Speech:

“A bill will be introduced to enable more young people to benefit from higher education. Up-front tuition fees will be abolished for all full-time students and a new Office For Fair Access will assist those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Universities will be placed on a sound financial footing.”

On the very same day, Norwich North MP Ian Gibson (yes, him Thus passim) tabled a motion on ‘top up fees’ signed by 185 MPs. Earlier that year, Tory Leader Iain Duncan Smith (Sandhurst, no university) pledged that Tories would abolish fees, to Labour claims (audacious even by the standards of spin at that time) that this would ‘disadvantage’ poorer students and cost 6500 academic jobs. On January 27, 2004, Education Secretary Charles Clarke (coincidentally MP for Norwich South – educated free at King’s College, Cambridge) introduced the Higher Education Bill on the very same day as the Hutton Inquiry into circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly. Amid the muck and bullets, having bought off Labour rebels with last-minute concessions and support from right wing Tories, the bill was passed with a majority of only 5, the closest Blair came to defeat thus far. At a stroke, Professor Jugears and his cronies undermined the 1944 Butler Education Act, which had safeguarded the rights to a free education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels for 60 years. If they had tried the same trick on the NHS, another (rightful) sacred cow, there would have been bloodshed, but the bill was enacted on the premise that “Universities exist to enable the British economy and society to deal with the challenges posed by the increasingly rapid process of global change” (Charles Clarke).

Herein endeth the history lesson. As a product of the Butler Act – a poor kid lucky enough to get a great free education leading to Oxford, Manchester (and the school of hard knocks) – I despise the foul cant about ‘engineering social mobility’ belching from the arse of ‘five jobs’ Alan Milburn (Lancaster University), and the rest of his Blairite bastard squad, shameless elitist social climbers who have burnt the ladder behind them. It is an obscene insult to the intelligence to claim that career success in the professions is a direct result of the networks created at elite schools and universities. Of course it is, and always was. Blair’s clique was notoriously stacked with fellow lawyers, Oxbridge room mates, Scottish Public School kiltlifters, Trotskyite student union bores and a fat bloke who used to be a ship’s shop steward to appease the unions. Cameron’s Notting Hill Haw Haws reek of Eton, Oxbridge, Bristol. It’s debatable whether you could ever stop the tendency of elites to form, or whether it is ethical or even sensible to do so, but you certainly don’t go about it by erecting financial barriers to entry to higher education for ‘the less well-off.’ During Labour’s tenure, the percentage of middle class students has risen, as has the number of debt-burdened graduates.

The crisis in education funding is as much a product of the overweaning burden of administration, the 1992 (Tory) elevation of polytechnics to university status and the bewildering number of ‘new’ universities that nobody has heard of, whose qualifications are commensurately worthless but which increased the intake and number of academic posts. Bothering kids at primary and secondary level with endless tests, grade inflation, league tables burying teachers under mountains of target-inspired assessment programmes and whipping parents into a frenzy of fear that their kids will be ‘left behind’ are unforgivable and premeditated crimes of social engineering. Give us back our Butler Act, you lying hypocrites. And stop sniggering, Cameron. We hear you’re thinking of privatising state secondary schools. Have you learned nothing? What kind of education did you have, boy? Oh, Eton and Oxbridge.