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Student movement: the debate rages (with Zenlike calm)

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Paul Mason | 09:30 UK time, Thursday, 2 December 2010

I covered the student occupation movement on Newsnight last night, from within the occupied Brunei Gallery at SOAS. That was followed by a lively debate in the studio afterwards, and the intensity of discussion in the studio was matched by that on Twitter, which was so vituperative that my iPhone nearly melted.

It's in marked contrast to the atmosphere at the student mass meetings: here, very unlike 30 years ago, all interventions are delivered in a calm, flat, deliberately reasoned tone. Anybody who sounds like a career politician, or anybody who attempts rhetoric, or anybody whose emotions overtake them is greeted with a visceral distaste.

This form of discourse is lifted directly from the anti-globalisation movement, complete with that hand shaking gesture to show assent without adding vocal encouragement, which we used to call cheering.

I don't know if it is better or worse than in the ideologised conflicts of the past.

It's better in the sense that it is less male dominated, and organised groups have to come over as individuals rather than monoliths with a party line, so the nuances of debate come out and people genuinely change their minds; it is worse in the sense that the deliberate creation of a restrained, unemotional atmosphere militates against clear meaning and does not exactly promote the idea of human greatness. (I wonder how a speech by Churchill, or Nye Bevan, would have gone down at one of these meetings).

In the end, the emotionless discourse may be the product of the central fact that hits you in the face when you report modern protests in Britain (and this phenomenon stops once you get to Ireland, France or the USA so it really is a Brit thing): there is no ideology driving it and no coherent vision of an alternative society.

This is what separates the modern student movement from its predecessor in the 1960s.

And the point is, even if you decry what the LSE students in 1968 thought they were fighting for, their generation really did shape its own destiny. The fact that the SOAS occupation mini-library is full of Derrida, Nietszche, Lacan, Fanon etc - and indeed so would be the official reading list of many courses - is a product of the great intellectual ferment of 68 and after. Ditto the "quiet prayer space" the students have created, even though the students of 68 would have laughed at it.

It raises the general political question - for both left and right in this technocratic age of "what works", "fairness" and political "blank sheets of paper": can you really shape history without an ideal?

I think also, on reflection, there is another reason why people are so restrained and un-ideological. Because the potential for damage arising from conflict appears to be larger now than before. The demos, when they get violent, immediately become more violent on both sides - check out the Youtube footage - than anything in the 1960s. So - like in America where there is no violence on the streets until there is shooting - you get restraint and then it snaps. So people go a long way to avoid it snapping.

So anyway, for now, feel free to hit the comment button on the pros and cons of the fee increases, the rights and wrongs of the student movement, and reasoned thoughts on where it's all going.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I've not been present at any student demo so I've no idea what it's like. I wouldn't be so quick though to say the protest movement isn't "ideological" just because it's not utopian like 1960s protest. What you describe - a collective feeling that old shouty megaphone ways of expressing protest are somehow naff - sounds to me like an ideological rejection of traditional utopian leftism.

  • Comment number 2.

    As Stefan Collini wrote in 'Browne's Gamble', "It is in reality a disguised voucher scheme. Students will be able to borrow the cost of the fees, on somewhat subsidised terms, and they are then expected to go and spend them on the ‘service provider’ of their choice. The report proposes that what universities teach will henceforth be determined by their anticipation of consumer demand."
    Where things become interesting, however, is that Friedman's 1955 voucher scheme for education was always a half-way house to ready the general public for the removal of state redistribution of wealth for the provision of education. Yet it seems that Friedman's monetarism, in the form of Bernanke's QE2, has just been disowned by the Republicans in their letter to the WSJ (Krugman blog, November 15, 2010, 'The Triumph Of Reagan Over Friedman').
    Can it be that Friedman's monetarism was always a half-way house for Reaganites and Thatcher-Powellites? And so, where do they go from here? Mervyn King thinks he knows.

  • Comment number 3.

    Perhaps this is how direct democracy will look in the 21st century?

  • Comment number 4.

    how can there be an ideology behind it? they are not being denied knowledge. Anyone with access to computer can learn anything they like from how to drill a hole in wood to the latest research at cern. A 'student' today is not trapped in a 12th-20th century idiom of knowledge delivery. Just as books made scribes redundant the internet will make most residential courses redundant. You can watch the finest lectures from the best professors often for free online. why pay loads to go to a neasden 'university' for a much inferior course with no job on the end?

    So if knowledge was their aim they have no reason to protest. If they want the 'middle class' teenager dream of leaving home for 3 years to booze and snog through the rugby team then they are going to be frustrated.

    They must sit in silence because they cannot make a rational case for what they are doing. its just middle class spoilt kids having a sulk. In africa people walk miles to get to a school. Here people walk miles to avoid them while being praised by trogoldyte numbskulls for not being an 'egghead' or a geek'. The uk establishment has a deep anti education culture.

    what the state should say is they will fund any residential course that fits in with the national skill shortages [although the hayekists still think it cheaper to bring in educated migrants while paying unemployment to untrained brits?] anyone else can have a distance learning course.

  • Comment number 5.

    Too early to draw strong conclusions, austerity needs to mature to feed real anger and radicalism.

  • Comment number 6.

    Just from observing the student community from a far, it seems that they are feeling let down and confused. Yes they are angry. And they have a right to be angry, but I'm not sure they get the real causes (yet!).

    As their generation grew up, everything they ever wanted was handed to them on a plate. Look at how many have laptops, iphones, cars, nice holidays etc. they own. Look at how many believe that "Britain's got talent". And so all everyone was telling them was that this was the age of enlightenment & opportunity.

    But this "prosperity" was a gilded age, not a golden age. And our "talents" appear to consist of little more than one part of the population stealing from the tranquilised masses.

    They were sold a consumerist promise, based on the fallacy of perpetual growth. But, slowly, the Ponzi scheme is unravelling and reality is biting back. The longer they stay confused, the longer the pillage will carry on.

    If only 1% of the students spent some time digging in to issues such as the following, the grim reality of the situation would surely dawn on them:
    - How banks actually work (see Money as Debt, or Steve Keen)
    - The debt addiction inflicting them (Peter Warburton's majestic "Debt & Delusion")
    - How the West is crumbling as the East Industrialises
    - How the Neoliberal project is nothing more than a cover for wealth concentration (David Harvey's Rise of Neoliberalism)
    - How a cunning few are actually conducting a leveraged buy-out of the West (Catherine Austin Fitts)

    There is a lack of investigative prowess by the current movement. But I sincerely hope that it improves. They have the time and the resources at their disposal to look for themselves. And they claim to have the talent.

  • Comment number 7.

    More power to the students I say. Its about time people started finding their voices and standing up for themselves. That generation above all will be the ones who end up paying, one way or another, the price for keeping the banks, and the economy, going this past few years.
    I hope it spreads and more people join in. Who today can afford to buy a home? Who can afford to rent one even? Rising inflation, falling wages, a new kind of minimum wage temporary contract job market, the fact that many people will die before they retire...Its the future and it touches all of us in one way or another.
    The political system is rigged against ordinary people and towards vested interests with powerful connections, so what other choice do people have?
    The way the tuition fees issue is being dealt with in parliament is a case in point. Vince Cable, who is the minister responsible for the changes may not even vote for it. The bill will still pass, he knows that, but the fact that he can say that and get away without it destroying his political credibility just shows that the system will now adapt itself to anything.
    We already had a political class, detached from both the people they represent and any experience of life outside the political bubble, only now they know that whatever they say or do or promise it can be turned on a sixpence and life just goes on as if nothing had happened. In a system like that, a kind of 'one party with three faces' democracy, what power do ordinary voters have any more?
    Even Labour would have introduced the fees...what real choice do people have?
    It is perfectly possible to disconnect democracy from the voter, that is, after all what is happening, the interesting story is how ordinary people will cope, react and fight back. I hope this is just the start of something bigger. I not talking about violence, just a growing stubborn refusal to be patronised and lied to. If your vote no longer 'means' what you thought it did when you cast it what choice are you left with?

  • Comment number 8.


    "There is no alternative to austerity!" the Gvt cries.

    "Oh, yes there is" cries empirical evidence:

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-12-02/iceland-bankrupting-self-to-recovery-reveals-policy-ireland-dared-not-take.html

    Debt holders should be subordinate to genuine shareholders (i.e. the populace of a nation), and no-one proves this better than Iceland.

  • Comment number 9.

    I think 50% uni attendance was, against strong competition, the dumbest thing Labour did. I realize that's a strong statement.

    The arbitrary percentage has spawned thousands of places providing pointless degrees. It's created an intellectual arms race where employers can demand a degree for the most basic of jobs. The surge in graduates has largely inflated away the worth of a degree, leaving only the redbrick paper as a credible currency.

    The whole idea that someone has a "right" to go into higher education, no matter how mediocre their qualifications or how pointless their degree is symptomatic of the gap between the electorate and reality.

    I believe in extracting the smartest kids in our society, whatever their background, and getting them on the fast track to run this country, whether from industry, politics or whatever. Why not cut uni back to the core redbricks, taking the percentage of undergraduates back to early 1970s levels, then fund a significant percentage of those places with scholarships, to ensure smart kids from poorer backgrounds get a shot.

    Then if any middle class kids want to study painting or media on three Bs at a-level, let them pay for it, as we will never get the money back in taxes.

    ps going from mediocre a-levels straight into a job would give young people 3 years quality experience, and they will be in a better position overall after those 3 years, with no big debt. The only people who benefit now are the not-so-good intellectuals who insist we must attend their former pollys.

  • Comment number 10.

    Paul as an ex? workers power guy that lack of red ferment must have been disappointing? :)

    Rachel was correct in her analysis of the hayekist philosophy at work but education online is as good as 'free' for anyone who wants it now? should there be free [state paid] driving lessons and tests? why is that not knowledge'? no people pay to learn skills that are essential to the economy.

    the bigger question is how does one defeat hayekist ideology? its not by sit ins but by forensic analysis and exposure. An 'internet warfare team' that blogged on all the main boards armed with quotes and references would raise awareness and challenge the sleepwalking assumptions behind hayekism and those in the media who propagandise it. NN has not asked anyone in govt about why they think hayekism is good or the highest idea of the mind. Give Rachel the quiz masters chair. Unlike some she's read the books and so could ask intelligent questions and then be able to judge the answers.


    One must despair of that placard NN chose to highlight that believes university is the place people go to learn to spell?

  • Comment number 11.

    Like radical working class movements in the past and present the students will work out their own ideology and progress without an ideologue coming in from the outside and telling them how they fit into a global theory. It think that this coming generation is up for grabs, and as two of them are my children I'm quite excited by that - probably more than they are.

  • Comment number 12.

    Perhaps they are seeing the prospects of being able to repay the debts dwindling fast:

    http://www.agr.org.uk/Content/Class-of-2010-Faces-Uphill-Struggle-for-Jobs

    The revolution is muted because it more self-interested and financial than the civil rights movement.

  • Comment number 13.

    Interesting link

    # 78% of employers now insist on minimum 2.1 degree

    Up 11%. That's inflation due to printing too many. Sounds familiar? Many of these degrees are totally worthless, hence the hike, Zimbabwe style.

    # Average graduate salary frozen at £25,000 since 2008

    Wages for the young are falling in real terms whilst house prices have not dropped much after a huge rise.

    The student's don't seem to know what they want. If they want the right to go to uni in droves, get a pointless degree, loads of debt and no prospects, then I'm telling them they don't know what they want. Are they equipped to articulate what they want, given an education system that values expressing your emotions higher than double entry book-keeping? And parents who, as a generation, are the least sensible bunch ever?

    What we do need is a drop in house prices / rent. Without that living standards of the young will be bad, whether they get a degree or not.

    Sorry, I know we don't usually do bottom-lines on the BBC - let's agree on our rights first then we can sort the "pay for it" bit after.

  • Comment number 14.

    So sitting in is the new collective quiteism ? End result - a belief in collective self identity perhaps ? The simple resultant conviction that "as a group we are socially entitled to be entitled ?"

    Well probably just the fin de siecle of too much Lacanian self consideration - either resistance is surrender :

    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n22/slavoj-zizek/resistance-is-surrender

    or infinite demands of a state that has long ago learned how to ignore them:

    http://slackbastard.anarchobase.com/?p=1147

    Alternatively think up some finite solutions to finite problems ?

  • Comment number 15.

    Paul I would suggest that pervasive CCTV is a massive disincentive to 60's style visceral protest. As the loon who lobbed the fire extinguisher off Millbank Tower will discover, a criminal record for REAL direct action is a massive handicap in a global jobs market. The clever students will have to work out how to make a telling protest while avoiding appearing on Youtube. Alternatively, they are all frogs debating the crisis in global capitalism in strangely lukewarm water.

  • Comment number 16.

    The temperature of the debate is certainly rising rapidly here in Oxford. Having denounced student protestors earlier this week - none of whom were arrested for their peaceful protests in the city - as an 'ugly, badly-dressed rabble', Keith Mitchell, the Conservative Leader of Oxfordshire County Council has succeeded in making things a whole lot worse by describing the protestors - most of whom were schoolchildren worried about the ending of the EMA - as 'a dangerous infection in our country which needs to be stamped on.' Good grief. Doesn't this count as incitement to violence? And shouldn't it be reported to the police? Or at least his suitability as a County Council leader called into question? In any case, the parents of the schoolchildren involved have been shocked and troubled by the vehemence of Keith Mitchell's language, and are starting to agitate.

  • Comment number 17.

    "I think also, on reflection, there is another reason why people are so restrained and un-ideological. Because the potential for damage arising from conflict appears to be larger now than before."
    Alternative analysis: students, on average aren't that bright these days. They don't understand, so are easily confused. That's been guaranteed by increasing the numbers going to university tenfold.
    We saw some of this in the Newsnight discussions. Free-market shills like Zoe Williams b.1973 and David Aaronovitch b.1954 egging student leaders on to argue for its own sake, ensuring they'll never get anything substantive done except get animated. These journalists get paid for doing this as it sells copy.

  • Comment number 18.

    It's been raised before, but it seems nobody picked up?
    See Krugman on Households http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/15/the-problem/
    Look up economists' definition of households. Look for an opportunity to use this for a scam. It's just a basic economic unit.
    But what do YOU think of when you see the word 'household'?

  • Comment number 19.

    Resistance is surrender: "One of the clearest lessons of the last few decades is that capitalism is indestructible."

    Maybe the left have given up too soon. The last few decades have been the upswing of an enormous credit cycle. This now going into reverse with commercial banks, central banks and governments trying to fight the inevitable write-offs. With the exception of Iceland noted above.

    When the debt deflation takes a real hold, as austerity measures kick in from 2011, so disillusion with the market system will increase.

    The ONS estimates two thirds of bonds are held by pension and insurance funds. When the markets get spooked by potential haircuts and encourage governments and central banks to take over debts from commercial banks it really is a game of pass the parcel. Tax payers and savers are the losers. Only those making a commission on each transaction are happy with the 'volatility'.

  • Comment number 20.

    Hawkeye_Pierce (6)
    "If only 1% of the students spent some time digging in to issues such as the following, the grim reality of the situation would surely dawn on them"
    But they won't will they? Most are not smart enough, and hard work hurts. These days, learning has to be fun or they won't do it.
    Like so many of their elders in the professions, they've effectively been bought off, pretty much as you say, and, what they have, they now want to keep. Regardless.
    The problems which we have sustained by fear of loss more than greed per se. Look everywhere and you'll see self-serving narratives to protect the status quo even though the status quo is unaffordable. Take away the goodies is the only solution. Yet no 'haircuts' for senior bond holders....so guess who will have to pay? 'Households'
    It's going to get ugly. Currencies will have to be devalued (if not in the Euro) and the Eurozone will have to slash incomes, raise taxes, VAT etc. None of this will go down well with those who reckon they're entitled to their ill-gotten gains.
    Sadly, it's probably a waste of time saying this?

  • Comment number 21.

    ben (13)
    "The student's don't seem to know what they want. If they want the right to go to uni in droves, get a pointless degree, loads of debt and no prospects, then I'm telling them they don't know what they want."
    Yes, that's correct, they're just naive consumers, and it really doesn't matter what these consumers need, as they're just conduits through which the money supply flows to others.
    That really is how consumerism aka capitalism operates. Its biggest fear is that of losing conduits. That's what's been happening too. Now, those who fear losing money are trying to import substitutes in droves..
    Hasn't anyone already highlighted this? On the other hand, maybe most people today aren't smart enough to pick up on it? Probably students?

  • Comment number 22.

    David

    'a dangerous infection in our country which needs to be stamped on.'

    "Doesn't this count as incitement to violence? And shouldn't it be reported to the police?"

    Clearly this guy is an idiot. However I do get sick of people in the UK using such legalistic nonsense - it's totally inappropriate and is making life in the UK really untasteful. Did you think it was a good thing when that guy on twitter was arrested for making a bomb comment?

  • Comment number 23.

    I think pretty much every assessment on here, unfortunately including Paul's, suffers from a real lack of knowledge, and again unfortunately a hefty slosh of prejudice that acts as a blinker.

    First important point - the occupations 'movement' is separate from the demo 'movement'. The occupiers are university students, mostly from middle class backgrounds, who as Paul rightly said are influenced by the anti-capitalist 'playbook' developed over the last 20 years. This style was designed, again as Paul mentioned, to move beyond the Old Left scheming and infighting. It has proved to be very effective: for example non-hierarchical organising has become the standard model on the left and in many other spheres of activity. Of course this has problems, the biggest being an inbuilt inertia when dealing with less serious issues (everyone is encouraged to have an opinion, consensus decision needs time and effort to combine opinions, no one can be bothered to give it the time or effort, result - decisions don't get made, a lot of people sit in silence not really engaging). This sounds like what Paul was witnessing at the occupation.

    At the front of the demo movement are the 15/16 year old kids who stand to lose EMA (a big deal for them and their families). They are predominantly working class, and are more representative of the British population in terms of ethnicity, gender and attitude. They are not interested in attending meetings, they get a buzz from the freedom inherent in street protest, and giving the police (who they and their whole families have been conditioned by experience to despise) the runaround.

    They are often at odds with the university-based 'organisers' of the protest, and 'disobey' them by breaking away from agreed routes, pushing through police lines, throwing stuff, and generally being a breath of fresh air to a movement that had grown fearful of police brutality and pessimistic about the success of demonstrating as a strategy.

    Both groups organise via facebook, twitter, and post up their own news reports, videos etc. They are rapidly becoming politicised by the level of police aggression they encounter. They have older brothers and sisters, uncles and aunties, veterans of the working class riots of the 80's and 90's who are starting to feel the fight flowing back through their own veins.

    Are they political? I know its a crass answer, but 'define political'! From what i've read and heard, the 60's demos were similar to the university occupations, or the anti-G8/G20/IMF mobilisations. These are good things, but only involve(d) a minority.

    The 60's revolution didn't hit the masses until the early 1970's, and that's when the 'cold' class war turned 'hot'. Read up on the army 'exercises' at Heathrow etc, all done behind Wilson's back, and the request to Mountbatten to lead the 'coup by capital', and hear how the unions were arming to fight back. Or go back to 1911 to see when the gloves really came off on both sides.

    I believe we are at that stage of the cycle again (the same cycle Paul writes about in "Live Working Die Fighting"). The occupations may be the 'flower power' equivalent, the headline makers, and may produce the Derrida's and Fanon's, but the demos may turn out to be the crucible for the equivalent of the mass movements that REALLY changed everything in the 1970's.

    The movements will be social, community based, rather than industrial, but the effect on those involved will be the same, and that is where the political aspect can be found.

  • Comment number 24.

    I agree with Hawkeye at #6. Collectively the students know they should be angry about something but are unsure what exactly 'it' is. They have yet to discover a tangible narrative for that anger.

    The fees debate is really only one minor (but easily understood and tangible) manifestation of the much bigger issue of their future having being gambled (and lost) on the international finance markets by a bunch of spivs rather than their generation being offered a proper and descent vision for taking advantage of our technology to build a very different society, something positive they could engage the energy of youth to obtain.

    I hope they 'get it' soon along with the deep gratification shared struggle brings when aligned with a cause you believe in. It beats X factor, debt slavery, jobs in call centres and distracting fancy phones any day.

    I have contact now with a lecturer in economics and will have a go at a brief presentation on the financial crisis, the global economy, the decline of the west and what it means to them and see if I can get anyone to listen. As a layman, untrained in economics, perhaps I may be able to find the right words.

    Heck I may even ask you guys to comment on it.



  • Comment number 25.

    mafftucks - great post, thanks for that perspective.

    However, fundamentals remain. 50%, or even 40% in higher education is insane. We didn't have this 10 years ago. It was a mistake. Why can't we just go back to how it was before? Or as usual can we only increase state spending but never reign it in?

  • Comment number 26.

    Jericoa

    "The fees debate is really only one minor (but easily understood and tangible) manifestation of the much bigger issue of their future having being gambled (and lost) on the international finance markets by a bunch of spivs rather than their generation being offered a proper and descent vision for taking advantage of our technology to build a very different society, something positive they could engage the energy of youth to obtain."

    Totally disagree with this simplistic, class based caricature. How can you even use "spivs" in what I assume is meant to be an attempt at a balanced post?

    How many people have spent a fortune based on the increase in their house price, which is a direct result of easy credit. It's more complicated than your picture and painting it in black and white helps distance us from a workable solution going forward.

    The deficit is also part of the problem and this is not made up of bank bailouts (debt not deficit), rather by wage, pension and benefit payouts. Why do you persist in such polarised posts?

  • Comment number 27.

    Our students, and youth generally, have been quite a sanitised bunch over the last couple of decades. There wasn't this level of direct action over Blair's tuition fees. I understand Paul's point about the students taking their cue from the globalisation movement (where it was a loose coalition of disparate organisations coming together for disparate reasons), but I see no coalition here only a disillusion of the economic-political system where direct action has become to be seen as the negation of the ballot box. I expect this belief in direct action to be taken up by the working people who have been shafted by the political elite in this country.

    Democracy was installed in this country by the elite to protect themselves from change coming from below instead of from above. Now those from 'below' know democracy to be a sham. It's guillotine time!

  • Comment number 28.

    Three related thoughts:

    First, I agree with #6 among others that student fees are a flash point issue - but the real issue is the extent to which the "consumerism on a plate" has hidden the extent to which the younger generation is being denied the opportunity to get a life. We give them further education but not jobs. Student fees will be a mill-stone round their necks: if house prices don't come down they may never be able to get onto the property ladder: and some may be well into their thirties before they get a steady job (if then) as opposed to short term training posts. now we are being told that the older generation will work until they're 67 or older - so even fewer dead-men's shoes to fill.

    If they did not have the pleasures of consumerism, no responsibilities (mortgage, kids)and effective contraception there would be riots by now.

    Second, I question the numbers on the fees proposals. It's all very well talking about raising the repayment threshold to £21k: but is this index linked? If not (as I suspect) how long before we're back where we started in real terms. Also, did I not see something about them increasing the interest rate on repayments? I can't find this now, but if so (and if compound interest accrues from the date of graduation) then there's a nasty shock in store for people when they start repaying. Finally, would anyone take a small bet how long it is before the £6,000 figure becomes a floor rather than a ceiling - and everyone is somewhere between £6,000 and £9,000.

    Has anyone produced a table showing likely total debt (£20-25k on fees, plus any loans for living expenses over three years): compound interest from graduation to date earning £21k: and likely repayments required depending on how long it take someone to reach that level of earnings. Also, how many debts are likely to be written off because people don't reach that level of income before the (is it?) 25 year write off period is up?

    Thirdly, if 50% of students (or more) have the hope or expectation of going to university then 50% of families in the UK are affected by this. It affects nearly everyone - the graduate class is no longer an elite. The politics of University education and a degree have therefore changed - but political attitudes have not. The message from the increase in tuition fees is that people are not entitled to a degree - they should pay for it. That reneges on the original deal between the welfare state and the middle class: and on the more recent extension of that deal to the general population. All in the name of saving money (not by necessity but by political choice as evidenced by the Welsh and the Scots).

    Time was that a parent (the parental generation) saw its job as providing for its children - either personally or through state intervention for those who can't afford it. Now we are asking them to provide for themselves by borrowing.

  • Comment number 29.

    I'm 29, so attended university under the same terms as current students. In other words, I had to pay a certain amount of fees. Being from an actual middle class family, these fees were the minimum possible. I also get help from certain (means tested) university endowment assistance funds for "poorer" students. I was, I suppose, lucky. Still, I required bank loans to get me through University. But I didn't work (by choice and university rule). It's a complicated picture, which it will be for every student. Everyone will finance their way through university by different means. I came out with over GBP30k in debt. Do I regret this? No, of course not. I had a fantastic three years and ended up with a job that enables me to pay this debt off. So what point am I trying to make? That I entered university as an adult and I left as one and all the choices I made were grounded in an adult world where things, by and large, are not granted to you - you earn them. Someone has to pay for university education; that fact cuts through all debate. Why should those who CHOOSE to receive it not pay for it? Perhaps I think too rationally, but when it comes to University fees, paying for what you receive seems to me to be the ultimate rational truth. And all debate should occur around how this simple truth is best implemented. Students who wish to protest against something should find a subject more worthy of their protest.

  • Comment number 30.

    "Thirdly, if 50% of students (or more) have the hope or expectation of going to university then 50% of families in the UK are affected by this. It affects nearly everyone - the graduate class is no longer an elite"

    For elitism substitute meritocracy. Over 50% is ridiculous. It's like the joke that 55% of drivers are above average.

    Totally agree about the young being fobbed off with phones and computer games.

    Most pointless degrees are part of consumerism. Students are paying for a 3 year "experience" but it's a sad joke as they think they are investing in their future, but by definition the labour market cannot support a system that delivers 50% of candidates who are well above average. Someone has to do the crap jobs and last time I checked that was about 80% of jobs. How do we cram a pint into a quart pot?

  • Comment number 31.

    I think (as noted here) a great many people are missing the proportion of protest here that's about the withdrawal of EMA. It's not all about tuition fees. With the school-leaving age heading up to 18, there's going to be a painful period for some whereby they won't get EMA for sixth form study, but will be required to pay bus fares to school, for example. Where I live, that's £8 a week (subsidised sixth form travel card) - I just checked it out on my local authority website. For families on benefits, £8 a week to send your child to sixth form before they've even bought a text books (do they have text books now?) is a lot of money.

    For graduates on average wages, house prices are - aren't they always? - the elephant in the room. If first-time buyers are struggling now, how much more will they struggle when the young graduate couple has to get past £60k in debt? 3 x annual salary - £60k won't get anyone very far. Back to silly loans then?! And we can all begin again.

    Since we have a Big Society government, where are all the sweeteners for companies to finance 18-year-old entry employees through degrees? Why aren't we hearing more about this? Don't we need more paternalism from employers? Wouldn't the degrees then be more 'relevant'?

  • Comment number 32.

    #31

    House prices have been propped up by historic low interest rates in the short term as one of the responses to the crises.

    The longer term dynamics of first time buyer affordability and the prospect of interest rate increases in the next year almost certainly mean that steady house price deflation is here to stay for a while until they become affordable again to those very people you mention. An average house price of 163k is still bonkers in the context of average wages of 25k.

    For the market to be balanced I would say average house prices should be around 120k.


    lets hope all those in negative equity will dilligently continue to pay the morgages eh!

  • Comment number 33.

    For the 'students' who seek to understand human existence:

    “In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness.
    The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.
    At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or—what is but a legal expression for the same thing—with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters.
    Then begins an epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundation the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations a distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic—in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production.”

    Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, 1859

  • Comment number 34.

    The new dynamic duo "Hudson & Hudson", explain our economic woes in plain simple language:

    http://michael-hudson.com/2010/11/hudson-to-hudson/

    "Michael W. Hudson, reporter:


    Getting people to load up on debt required not only crooked tactics, but also changing their attitudes about debt. First, the finance industry stopped calling it debt. Debt meant you were in the hole. You owed. Calling it credit removed the stigma of going into deficit and instead replaced it with a sense that you were being conferred an admirable distinction."

    "Michael Hudson, economist:
    Your articles showed how the mortgage brokers and other pilot fish for Wall Street increased debt pyramiding by outright fraud. These sleight-of-hand lending practices at the local level were enabled by junk economics at the highest level.
    This wealth creation really was debt creation. That’s what was bidding up real estate prices — just as was the case with leveraged buyouts bidding up stock prices during the takeover wave. And a rising proportion of this debt was 'empty' debt, without any corresponding real value."

  • Comment number 35.

    I think it is a misnomer to compare 2010 with 1968.

    The latter was a generational movement arising from a youth that wanted an end to the Second World War that was still going on in their parents' heads. For period flavour I recommend the scene in a Hard Days Night where the Beatles are playing their trannie in a First Class railway compartment. They are admonished by a gentleman who tells them that he fought in the war for the likes of them. At which John Lennon rejoins with a question as to which side was said gentleman on. I recall that got a cheer in the cinema as we all had that line dumped on us when we failed to march at school.

    The current student movement is particular to the UK and is a response to an education system that has totally lost its way, whose economic redundancy has been dumped onto the heads of the school-children as a quick-fix was called for. This is a Gordian Knot that can only be resolved by radical reform.

    Given that the students are the first generation of a new austere age, it is inevitable that the established political discourse is wholly inadequate. For now, they need to find their own dialogue from which we can hope some new ideas will come.

    It all seems rather like the start of the green movement which funninly enough has its roots in the late Sixties.

  • Comment number 36.

    For the youth of today, the 21st Century has over-promised and will under-deliver.

  • Comment number 37.

    As a balding ex-student of the 1970s who now has 2 kids at the student stage, I'd like to think that the current generation are a lot more objective in their views and are prepared to consider the rights and wrongs of issues on their merits.

    What I feel their sense of grievance comes from is that no one in the ranks of the policymakers has really thought what the next generation's lives will be like if this change comes in.

    Firstly, three times the debt (or more) is relevant to their credit rating - debt is debt - banks and building societies will factor it in to their mortgage calculations, so unless they land a well paying job, the housing ladder is going to be out of reach - if it's not already with av. first time buyer age is now 35.

    Secondly, their parents, the baby boomers, do still tend to have pensions worthy of the name - I simply cannot see how the coming generation is ever going to build up big enough pension pots at all.

    So they face a gamble - go to university and rack up a big debt, then hope they pull off a decent paying career afterwards, or adopt Plan B - stay below the trigger point for loan repayment and live the frugal life.

    When the new generation comes to retire it is highly likely that many if not most therefore won't have major equity in home ownership or a pension so the State will face paying out two or more orders of magnitude more money in old age benefits than the initial cost of the university fees that were the millstone round the necks of today's students that stopped them b uying a house or saving for a pension.

    This is punk economics, lousy short term decisionmaking and it forces our kids into gambling with their futures by choosing the course and the debt, or the harsh job market and the greasy pole - its financial Russian roulette coming to education - casino capitalism for 16 year olds.

  • Comment number 38.

    bsrw2 (29)
    "Someone has to pay for university education; that fact cuts through all debate. Why should those who CHOOSE to receive it not pay for it? Perhaps I think too rationally, but when it comes to University fees, paying for what you receive seems to me to be the ultimate rational truth. And all debate should occur around how this simple truth is best implemented. Students who wish to protest against something should find a subject more worthy of their protest."
    The economic-political issue used to be easily seen as that of individualism vs collectivism (nationalism). Today, most appear to have capitulated to individualism (if not revere it - see celebrity shows etc), and the more open our borders have become, the less credible collectivism has become as it isn't sustainable nationally. If one looks to China (which still selects only about 5% of its population for university, and where courses primarily reflect the state's job needs not the interests of individuals), one can better appreciate why our higher education system appears to some to be symptomatic of a deteriorating nation state, i.e. too many people are just self interested.

  • Comment number 39.

    More distractions from the economy.

  • Comment number 40.

    Hawkeye_Pierce (34)
    "The new dynamic duo "Hudson & Hudson", explain our economic woes in plain simple language: Hudson (economist) "This wealth creation really was debt creation."
    Excellent.
    Something to think about when considering 'The War on Terror', the Islamic proscription of riba perhaps, and the relative wealth of nations?
    Whilst we're at it, let's bring Faust in. You can have it now, right now, but only at someone else's expense (if not here,probably overseas)?

  • Comment number 41.

    stanilic (35)
    "For period flavour I recommend the scene in a Hard Days Night where the Beatles are playing their trannie in a First Class railway compartment. They are admonished by a gentleman who tells them that he fought in the war for the likes of them. At which John Lennon rejoins with a question as to which side was said gentleman on. I recall that got a cheer in the cinema as we all had that line dumped on us when we failed to march at school."
    You don't think their managers and producers were cynically using them in order to undermine the status quo in pursuit of merchandising? The 1950s created a new demographic, the teenager - a new group to market dreams to. Surely this has now been going on for decades and it's why the pre-war generation was so appalled by the rebellious 50s and 60s? They saw what was coming!
    The problem with freedom is that it comes (as Hawkeye-Pierce's post at 34 clearly sets out) at a very well hidden (to most) price.

  • Comment number 42.

    Richard
    "Secondly, their parents, the baby boomers, do still tend to have pensions worthy of the name - I simply cannot see how the coming generation is ever going to build up big enough pension pots at all."

    ssssssssssh! Repeat after me: the boomers are not living way above their means at the next generation's expense. It's all good.

    There is a contract between the state and people under 35, it's just not what they (boomers nearing retirement) say it is. And no it's not a conspiracy, just incompetence, idleness and greed.

    The funny thing is I reckon it'll blow up before most of them get even 20% of their pensions.

  • Comment number 43.

    Apart from little asides re the cuts to the rest of the population, there is a big schism between what the students are pursuing, and the main concerns of the rest of the country.

    Foreign students have a high profile in these demonstrations, particularly where the media has been casting its eyes - the likes of LSE and SOAS(cant be bothered going further? or just sure you wont run into anything nasty there? or picking unis that hang onto a leftie image from the past even while becoming the core of neoliberalism).

    The schism is related to issues of ideology, or no ideology as you have suggested, Paul.

    At some point, students should wake up to the fact that they are right in line with university management for whom bringing high foreign student fees into their coffers (not necessarily cash brought into the country, just moved around towards universities)is a top priority.

    They should also wake up to why there are no graduate jobs. The Unis got what they wanted from govt policy - if students can stay and work - its very good for selling degrees.

    And how about the part time jobs that should be there for students to work their way through Uni - with decent wages. Now those jobs are all done by Eastern Europeans or foreign students working cheap. £2 an hour.(Though maybe not the rich students at LSE and SOAS that you atypically portray).

    Right now, the nation is beginning to wake up to just how many foreign students are coming into the country, and staying - that was the excuse for not cutting worker immigration - by comparison, student numbers are so much higher. So the students couldn't be doing more to help the universities' lobby to keep the 'student visa' pathway open.

    But this means that students are out of step with the rest of the people who are negatively affected by cheap foreign labour. (If they dont see that they themselves are, that's their problem)

    Although some workers are looking longingly at the size of student protests - the students are on a different path, and actually a contradictory one.

    Thus rather than build to a broader and bigger movement, workers and student concerns will cancel each other out, especially with the involvement of groups of non-students who see themselves as 'Left' and are taking quite a big role. THEY will never come to grips with overseas student issues, that's for sure!

    And the Unis will feel well supported by students doing the dirty work for them, defending the student visas system as is - out of some misplaced version of 'solidarity', 'antiracism', 'universalism' or the latest - 'cosmopolitanism'. Wait till the 'debate' we are supposed to have on cutting student visas starts. Then the splits will really show.

    Ah life's rich tapestry

  • Comment number 44.

    42

    I didn't say the babby boomers are living beyond their/our means - I said that I couldn't see the coming generation having personal pensions in the same way. As pension contributions, company schemes and pension incomes are all falling, this is simply a statement of reality - add in massively bigger personal debt just as students move to start work and the effect of this will be to make a bad situation impossible - there will be a timebomb of welfare spending ticking away when they can no longer work.

    The 180 change in policy by the LibDems is socially devisive - I entirely agree that it reflects the switch towards individualism and away from the national interest - this is a good point - and it shows that there is no middle way here for Clegg & Cable to find a compromise that is acceptable.

    The most likely scenario I can see is a huge fall off in the proportion of people going to university at all, which will lead to a big contraction in universities over the next five years - indeed several will have to close completely and others merge. We will lose one of our major assets in our higher education system in a world where the UK has precious few as it is.

    What will happen to the large number of kids who don't go? Firstly they will not get jobs, the state will have to provide "training" or "work experience" for them, a lot won't do either and we'll be back to the 1980s of a whole generation who never work.

    That adds another burden to society - the welfare bill for yet another workless generation for the next Ian Duncan Smith to lament and demand that the "welfare state is reformed", i.e. cut further their standard of living.

    The choice is we pay now to fund higher education, or we pay later through the welfare bills for unemployment and pensioner poverty.

    The inherent contradiction in believing in the case for free education that the LibDems claim to want is flatly incompatible with the libertarian thrust of Clegg's determination to roll back the state and cut public spending, as given substance by Cable's trebling student fees.

    This is a very real divide in the LibDems - it's the fracture line that will split the party down the middle when the political cost of the ConDem alliance has to be paid at the next election.

    The ConDem strategy that the private sector is going to expand, create vast numbers of new jobs and deliver export-led growth is a massive gamble - if it doesn't work, then a vast amount of resources will have been wasted.

  • Comment number 45.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 46.

    The provider of the debt to individual students is the Student Loans Company (SLC). A private company owned by the BIS government department.

    According to the the SLC in 2010 it has debts of £32.9 bn (for England and Scotland combined). It made £5.1 bn in advances for the year and received £1.2 bn in repayments.

    http://www.slc.co.uk/pdf/slcsfr032010.pdf

    With increasing tuition fees the debts of the SLC are set to increase dramatically.

    It is not clear whether the use of a private company to administer the loans is an accounting wheeze to transfer the costs to future years (ala PFI schemes).

  • Comment number 47.

    It is indeed very telling that the SOAS mini-library is full of the same sorts of books you would read on an official course. In the sixties, students wanted to be taught completely different stuff from what academia is offering. Students wanted Adorno and Horkheimer, Marx and Marcuse, few of which were available on reading lists. Does that mean that today's students are content with their courses, only that they don't want to pay for them?

  • Comment number 48.

    @Hawkeye_Pearce (34)

    Marx wrote pretty much the same thing in Capital Vol III: with the rise of the credit system, an accumulation of debts appears as an accumulation of capital.

  • Comment number 49.

    So suggesting buying silver and GIVING IT AWAY as a more effective method of protest is now an act of sedition worthy of censure ?

    getting twitchy mods ?

  • Comment number 50.

    Meanwhile, a very sad story from a Daily Mail writer - looks like a baby-boomer herself. You may end up with tears (of laughter) in your eyes - but keep a sick-bag handy!

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1335550/Merry-Christmas-Along-millions-middle-class-families-I-afford-says-CHARLOTTE-METCALF.html

  • Comment number 51.

    Richard,

    "As pension contributions, company schemes and pension incomes are all falling"

    because real wages are falling and a lot of the former generation have defined benefit pensions, whereas now we have the reality-based defined contribution. If the boomer contributions where anywhere near sufficient, or heaven forbid, more, they would have defined contribution. But they don't because no normal person could build a pension pot big enough to last 30 years, so they are in fact living beyond their means on our taxes, and when we get to be old the ponzi scheme won't be accepting new entrants!

    I think most good unis will persist and bad ones will go to the wall, once they are no longer subsidised by the state.

    "What will happen to the large number of kids who don't go? Firstly they will not get jobs, the state will have to provide "training" or "work experience" for them, a lot won't do either and we'll be back to the 1980s of a whole generation who never work."

    What happened in the 1970s when the percentage was far lower? I think employment levels in the 1970s and 1980s were much better than the current prospect for graduates, so this disproves your comment, and invalidates your comments about welfare. How does it help having kids pay 40k for a rubbish degree so they can work in admin?

    Sasha - that has to be a spoof?!

  • Comment number 52.

    somebody in the permanent government must be having a little chuckle to themselves today, Topshop's flagship London store hit by tax protest , it wasn't just in London, take look at this map , it was all over the country. (Pride/Fall, sorted:)

    Mostly current students and recent graduates, media savvy, some of them will have respectable placements inside the very institutions that they are protesting about, their friends on the outside are suffering under debt and unemployment, they understand that they have been 'sold a pup' and they know where their loyalties lie.

    They are having a laugh at the moment, running rings round the organisations, 10:49am press release on friday and a haircut for Arcadia saturday. (it's the economy, stupid!)
    These people are bright, they've been to or are at university, they announced the target in the Guardian on tuesday in the form of a story about a pre-cursor protest.
    They have captured the media already.

    When it turns nasty (inevitable, the ball is rolling and state/government control has already been lost), what will Cameron do, what will the state do ? (government of the day and the state are different things)

    If anybody has read my random rantings in the past, you may recall me asking whether David Cameron had the bottle to act in the interests of the people over the state, it might not be long before we find out.

  • Comment number 53.

    41

    Are you suggesting that the teachers in my school who wanted us to march as if we were soldiers were in an unspecified alliance with marketing people who would come to exist at some ill-defined point in the future? I think they were just preparing us for the next war out of a misplaced sense of duty as, sadly, this is what had happened to them.

    No, you are talking with the benefit of hindsight, looking back through history for trends or even some diabolical conspiracy. Sorry, but it doesn't work like that.

    The change in demography after the Second World War which created the `teenager' was due to a lot of children being born in a very short time period following the return of their fathers from a brutal war. It was sex not marketing! It created a defined line in social experience among the population. My recall of the Fifties is of a buttoned-up society fearful of change but slowly becoming more wealthy and as a consequence facing the very change it feared. For example, my grandmother was even admonished by her milkman for listening to Saturday Club whilst she did her chores. Her age group was not supposed to listen to that racket. But then they had only had electricity for a few years so any racket was better then none.

    After the funeral of Princess Diana a Dutch friend commented that the British had changed so much since the funeral of George VI? I suggested that the death of George VI had been another dreadful experience following on from The Great Depression, The War, and Austerity. Over the next thirty five years or so the country unbuttoned a bit whilst at the same time as unloading the Empire, so there has been less need to marshall the children into squads of four or even jam them into classes of 40.

  • Comment number 54.

    A belated further thought, listeneing to the LibDems defence that the proposed scheme would mean that poorer students would, in future pay less.

    I 100% support the idea of universal access and, under the old scheme it was entirely right that the taxpayer cover the costs of poorer students while relatively well off parents were obliged to contribute.

    Under the new ideology, it is the students themselves who are supposed to pay, having borrowed initially andonly when their income reaches £21,000. In this scheme everyone is in the same boat regardless of parental income - a student from a poor family who arrives at the magic income of £21,000 is no better or worse off than a student from an affluent family. By definition they are both on the same income.

    If we accept this ideology (which i don't) we also have to ask why should a student have to pay more for his degree simply because he is from an affluent background?

    Surely, once the idea of degrees being paid for by the student out of future income takes root the idea that poorer students require support becomes redundant!

  • Comment number 55.

    stanilic (53)
    "Are you suggesting that the teachers in my school who wanted us to march as if we were soldiers were in an unspecified alliance with marketing people who would come to exist at some ill-defined point in the future? I think they were just preparing us for the next war out of a misplaced sense of duty as, sadly, this is what had happened to them.
    No, you are talking with the benefit of hindsight, looking back through history for trends or even some diabolical conspiracy. Sorry, but it doesn't work like that."
    I am indeed talking with the benefit of something, but that's a sound knowledge of how consumerism operates. The industry doesn't like to offend its quarry.
    What's more, I'm suggesting that the way that consumers think is engineered in the interest of sales, whilst they are led to believe that they make free-choices.
    I have no idea what your teachers may have wanted of you, but what happened in the 50s onwards was major investment in selling merchandise through making it attractive to youngsters. There was no conspiracy, just marketing psychology.
    You appear to be one of those thoughtful, creative, people who believes otherwise. Did you read the Hudson-on-Hudson link provided by Hawkeye_Pierce? Tip of the ice-berg.

  • Comment number 56.

    stanilic (53)
    "After the funeral of Princess Diana a Dutch friend commented that the British had changed so much since the funeral of George VI? I suggested that the death of George VI had been another dreadful experience following on from The Great Depression, The War, and Austerity. Over the next thirty five years or so the country unbuttoned a bit whilst at the same time as unloading the Empire, so there has been less need to marshall the children into squads of four or even jam them into classes of 40."
    I get it - like all the people who got themselves into debt unloaded and unbuttoned themselves (of all their thriftiness and responsibility etc). The country has definitely become more emotional over the past five or six decades. Why is that?
    Like Mr Stelzer (see end)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irwin_Stelzer
    perhaps you should try to see it the other way (it'll be good for your soul).

  • Comment number 57.

    tFoth (54)
    Sadly, UK Higher Education today is a salutary illustration of everything that's wrong with consumerism. A quality product has been over-marketed for the masses which have been sold just the image of a brand, and all for profit and appearance. This has all but destroyed the value of the original product. China sends 5% to university, which is 5% of its annual cohort of just 1% of its population. As they have a much larger population than the UK they massively out produce good quality students. Two thirds of these are trained in subjects where there are vacancies determined by the state and they will work for the state too, mainly science and technology positions. Did Paul's piece cover UK science and technology students? What do people do with Derrida etc except deconstruct? Most students today are just conduits for the money supply to retailers and money lenders. That's what our free, liberal, and Open Society has come to.
    Britain is now a bovine nation of shoppers and borrowers.

  • Comment number 58.

    "The fact that the SOAS occupation mini-library is full of Derrida, Nietszche, Lacan, Fanon etc - and indeed so would be the official reading list of many courses - is a product of the great intellectual ferment of 68 and after."
    This was fringe reading in the 60s and 70s, and should be today. That it may not be probably explains why society has dramatically deteriorated since the 60s and 70s, as the above authors prompted people to ask questions, but not to look for answers. That is, they were existentialists (individualists), nihilists and anarchists. Many mistakenly thought these were left-wing radicals, when in fact they inspired exactly the opposite behaviour given that the status quo at the time was more left left-wing than it ever had been in Britain's history much of the country had been nationalised). Those who lived through the 50s, 60s and 70s and who are familiar with the above, will know what I'm referring to. Just as many in the USA were seduced by the American Dream (see the recent BBC-2 series) many naive, not very smart, students were misled into studying politics (and especially sociology) which they never really understand the origins (or consequences) of.

  • Comment number 59.

    I seem to remember that the Cons slipped in an invidious amendment that means that parents can pay off fees immediately so these lucky students don't get saddled with any interest on debt - rather than putting the burden on the student alone, having to wait to pay back with interest when earnings reach the magic amount. Does anyone know if this is correct?

 

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