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Students must pay for their education 11, November 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in UK.
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(Above: a picture of one of the student idiots rioting and breaking windows to make a serious political point. Notice how different he looks to most people yet how he looks exactly like EVERYONE ELSE in Camden)

Some time ago, a tiny island called the United Kingdom ruled the world. Somehow an auspicious confluence of events transpired that meant that the sun never set on the British Empire. Its navy was the greatest and largest ever seen, its industries cornered the world’s markets, its political power reached every continent and its cultural power can still be felt today through the English language and the fact that time begins in east London.

Yet these days are gone. Today the U.K. is a middling power on a par with many others. Still, arguably, punching above its weight in international politics, but clearly it no longer enjoys anything like the preponderance of power that it once did.

Though its industries and navy are vastly depleted, some aspects of the U.K. are still preeminent throughout the world. Specifically, Britain’s higher education is world-class. Its best Universities are still among the very best in the world – somehow – despite catastrophically low relative levels of funding compared to the new powerhouse of world higher education, America.

This miracle can and will not last. Generations have gone through Britain’s higher education system obtaining degrees valued and sought-after the world over without paying anything, even being paid to take the degree. Truly, it was something for nothing.

These days students have had to pay a few thousand pounds for their degree, but a fraction of what similar degrees would cost in America. Still, British Universities soldiered on, seeking private funding to augment government funding and the pittance of student fees, and they kept up their standards.

The Liberal Democrat platform going into the last UK election was that they would abolish tuition fees. Again, they declared, students should get a world-class education for free. It sounded nice and they successfully courted the student vote.

Along came the election and the Lib Dems found themselves, via the coalition government, with their hands on the reins of power for the first time in generations. Partly thanks to the exigencies of the coalition and partly now that they saw the ‘real mess’ that the economy was in they went back on their pledge to abolish tuition fees.

Recently, the government announced that fees would go up to a maximum of £9000 per year for the best Universities. Still less than half of what a similar degree would cost in America.

Students were outraged by this hike in fees and marched on Westminster to make their feelings known. Around 50,000 students joined in but a minority broke off the planned path and instead decided to attack the building housing the Conservative Party’s head quarters. They broke in, smashed windows, terrified staff and other protestors, stormed their way to the roof and threw a fire extinguisher off the roof in a petulant act of near-murder.

Ignoring the criminals who saw this rally as an opportunity to break things under the cover of masses, is the student position really that ‘we want a world-class education for free’? We want the best lecturers and professors, the best equipment, the best facilities, the best libraries, the best research environment and the best student experience for free? What a truly absurd proposition.

Yes, in the past others have been this fortunate. This is exceedingly annoying and modern-day students are rightly jealously angry. But just because previous generations were so wantonly if not criminally underfunding higher education is hardly a reason for this state of affairs to continue.

Students are entitled to feel betrayed by the Liberal Democrats, but that serves them right for believing in a wholly stupid policy in the first place. I too would feel aggrieved if my politician promised me breakfast in bed every day but didn’t deliver, but then again, it would be mostly my fault for believing in something that was patently not going to happen.

To think that British Universities could maintain their place at the top of the world’s league tables without a radical change to the ways that they are funded; to think that they could continue to compete (and beat!) Harvard and Yale while their funding is but a fraction of theirs is farcical. The endowment of Harvard University alone is more than the endowment for every UK University put together. As one Professor moving back to the States from Cambridge University put it, ‘the formal collegiate dinners in castles are nice…but double the pay back in America is nicer.’

Things have to change. Tuition fees have to come in. And in the real world people cannot get a world-class education for a pittance. Is that really such an unreasonable proposition?