Epigram » Comment http://epigram.org.uk University of Bristol Independent Student Newspaper Sun, 19 Apr 2015 13:29:51 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Labour’s fee cap ignores the concerns of undergraduates http://epigram.org.uk/comment/2015/04/labours-fee-cap-ignores-the-concerns-of-undergraduates http://epigram.org.uk/comment/2015/04/labours-fee-cap-ignores-the-concerns-of-undergraduates#comments Sun, 19 Apr 2015 11:10:37 +0000 http://epigram.org.uk/?p=18663 Joy Molan considers party proposals for the future of tuition fees.

If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

As the Greens gain support from young lefties, Labour promise to cap tuition fees at £6000 to win back the student vote.

When not even Mrs Thatcher dared to introduce tuition fees, Labour decided to set fees at £3000. Labour’s justification for this move was that those who benefit from having degrees should pay. However, Ed Miliband sees the coalition’s fees increase to £9000 as “the betrayal of an entire generation”. So is £6000 fairer than £9000 and will students and universities be any better off under Labour’s new policy?

A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies showed that overall Labour’s policy would “leave university finances largely unaffected in the short run”. However the long term effects of these proposed plans paint quite a different picture.

Universities may be forced to cut building projects, facilities, contact hours and pastoral support

The current figure of £9000 does not cover the full cost of many degrees such as dentistry and medicine which are subsidised further by the government. Therefore, if fees are capped at £6000, it is unclear as to whether universities would be left to make up the lost £3000 or receive any further subsidies.

If Labour intends to give universities £3000 to make up for decreased income from fees, then there will be no saving for the tax payer. If Labour do not, then universities at the “ex Poly” end are likely to face bankruptcy. In general, many universities may be forced to cut building projects, facilities, contact hours and pastoral support.

Chancellor George Osborne sees Labour’s plans as financially illiterate, stating that: “Ed Miliband’s sums don’t add up because the universities would get less money and there would be fewer students so it’s bad for students, bad for universities, bad for the taxpayer and bad for the British economy.” Vince Cable, business secretary, shares Osborne’s negative view of Labour’s policy and says that Labour’s plans “would wreck the financial sustainability of universities”.

‘Hey kids, follow us and owe £18K in fee debt not £27K!’

Labour are painfully aware that many young people have fallen under the spell of Russell Brand’s faux radicalism and the eco-idealism of the Greens. By reducing fees to £6000, Labour hope to offer a token carrot which young voters will follow all the way to the ballot box. Labour’s rallying cry is shrill and misguiding: ‘Hey kids, follow us and owe £18K in fee debt not £27K!’

Ironically, Labour’s promise will do nothing to help current students as Labour’s plans will only reduce fees for future students who can’t currently vote. Labour’s promise on tuition fees means little to virgin voters, except perhaps, fulfilling a fantasy of cheaper higher education.

Everyone prefers the idea of having less debt than more debt

If elected, one positive which may come out of Labour’s ill-thought out plan is that it is likely to reduce fear of debt amongst young people who don’t understand the system. Most students will never fully repay their loans and this is unlikely to change under Labour. However, everyone prefers the idea of having less debt than more debt and Labour’s policy may gain the support of the scared and confused.

So what are the other parties offering?

UKIP plan to promote “useful” courses i.e. STEM subjects whilst the Greens are promising “free” higher education. The no fees option proposed by the Greens is very attractive, however, they would have to generate the income through tax to pay for scrapping tuition fees or, more realistically, eat into the deficit.

Radical options which no party has dared to propose include the controversial free market approach. This would give universities the power to offer loans to students thus making universities responsible for recovering the debt. In this scenario, universities would have to view prospective students as investments and assess their ability to repay their loans. This would force universities to be more selective and would jeopardise certain arts and humanities degrees. However, it would incentivise universities to support students into well paid jobs.

How much is my degree worth? How much does it really cost? And who is paying?

Another alternative, which could be detrimental to higher education, is the marketisation of degrees (charging different prices for different courses). Although this would discourage people from doing pricier STEM subjects, it would address the question ‘how much is my degree worth?’ which has caused tension and protests throughout universities.

Ultimately, in the lead up to the election, any discussion over higher education funding needs to address what publicly funded universities are really for. If subsidising higher education is an investment in human capital from which the economy will benefit, then surely enough wealth is being created to pay for the education. But there is always a catch. Some degrees do not directly produce much economic prosperity. Should these subjects still be subsidised by the tax payer or do they belong at private universities?

Labour’s arbitrary cap of £6000 does little to address these issues and totally ignores the three main concerns facing current undergraduates: how much is my degree worth? How much does it really cost? And who is paying?

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Bristol Question Time’s nonsense Non-dom debate http://epigram.org.uk/comment/2015/04/bristol-question-times-nonsensical-non-dom-debate http://epigram.org.uk/comment/2015/04/bristol-question-times-nonsensical-non-dom-debate#comments Sun, 12 Apr 2015 13:42:29 +0000 http://epigram.org.uk/?p=18459 Ed Fernyhough discusses ‘Non-doms’ and Bristol’s appearance on BBC Question Time.

I feel that first and foremost it is important to clarify the meaning of the term ‘Non-dom’. Non-domiciled status can be claimed when living in the UK, but when the father or grandfather of a person was resident in another country upon birth. Non-dom status entitles an individual to no obligation in paying UK tax on money earned outside the UK. Beyond this, your views are yours alone.

During this week’s Bristol episode of BBC Question Time an audience member questioned the panel on the obscurity of Non-dom status and its economic implications for the UK. The Labour Party’s Douglas Alexander answered unconvincingly, reverting without particular surprise to party-politics, preferring to focus on the alleged distortion of Ed Balls’ words by the Conservatives rather than using his energy to procure a reasonable response to the question asked.

The audience member had pointed out the major discrepancy in Labour’s view of the issue; Ed Balls’ assertion that the UK would lose income should Non-dom status be abolished in its entirety, whilst pointing out that in spite of this advice Ed Miliband plans to go ahead with such demolition.

During the ensuing debate, David Dimbleby steered discussion towards Labour’s apparent incentive for wishing to alter the status of Non-dom’s out of “moral principle” rather than well-considered policy. Whilst Ed Miliband’s heart may be located in the right place, beneath his sternum slightly to the left, scrupulous anatomic composition rarely has a significant effect on the political world.

Read more:

Will the Green Party really Change the Tune?

The Big Debate: Should students forgive the Lib Dems?

As Labour continues its campaign to tug at our youthful heartstrings, the Conservatives go on making little sense. Elizabeth Truss’s succinct analysis of the matter consisted of one incredibly poignant sentence: “What I’m not in favour of, David, is cutting off your nose to spite your face.” Well, Elizabeth, you have really cleared that one up for us all.

The Lib-Dem’s Vince Cable provided the most rational and honest response, suggesting that the “levy for tax-exiles” ought to be increased, whilst simultaneously highlighting that it is a legal issue that should be left to the expertise of lawyers who actually comprehend the nuances of the law.

Despite Mr Cable’s exhibition of reason and political honesty, his party suffered running criticism throughout the Bristol show for failing to keep their promises, and who would be bold enough to sympathise with them after this particular coalition?

The Non-dom debate seems to serve as an appropriate allegory for the state of politics in the UK in the lead up to this election. I know I am not alone in my utter uncertainty as to which party is most deserving of my vote, and other young people should not be put off by their own confusion.

If the Bristol BBC Question Time was anything to go on, it appears that the politicians themselves are just as ambivalent as we are. But student voters must avoid falling victim to transparent sophistry and unwise moral inclination, instead taking the time to research the reasons for – and possible implications of – the policies each party promises.

Is Ed Miliband right to promise to abolish Non-doms? Let us know in the comment section below.

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Will the Green Party really ‘Change the Tune’? http://epigram.org.uk/comment/2015/04/will-the-green-party-really-change-the-tune http://epigram.org.uk/comment/2015/04/will-the-green-party-really-change-the-tune#comments Fri, 10 Apr 2015 11:56:02 +0000 http://epigram.org.uk/?p=18404 Stefan Rollick picks apart the Green Party’s ‘hilarious’ new campaign video.

You may have seen the ‘hilarious’, ‘innovative’ and shamefully catchy song released by The Green Party press team earlier on this week. Whilst obviously seeing the funny side of it, I’m struggling to get my head around the blatant hypocrisy displayed by this ‘refreshingly different’ party.

Young people long for politicians that will tell the truth after the ‘disaster’ of the last general election, and the Greens seem to have acquired this title without actually doing that.

Clegg can’t get a word in without someone screaming “TUITION FEES” in his miserable face

Cameron is rightly being slated for not specifying exactly where his welfare trimmings will fall, Miliband has been frustratingly vague with his mathematics in bringing the deficit down, and Clegg can’t get a word in without someone screaming “TUITION FEES” in his miserable face.

But Natalie Bennett’s awful interview a few weeks ago where she essentially broke down when asked to explain how she’d fund the half million houses she wanted to build, may have pushed away a few fringe voters, but it left the Green faithful feeling as defensive and passionate as ever.

Though video is right about some things, it’s mainly for the wrong reasons. They conveniently neglect the intricacies of all of the party leader’s backgrounds and upbringings so they can paint them all with the same ideological brush. I obviously care that a career in politics may seem inaccessible for a child in a state school, I really do.

Read more:

Green Party leader spotted on campus

Green Soc: a vote for Green is a vote for a fairer society

But if you want me to hate Nick Clegg because his parents had the money to send him to a private school, even though from a young age Clegg campaigned for human rights groups like Survival International well before his career in politics, then I won’t.

Or if you want me to think that Ed Miliband is ‘out of touch’ just because he looks and sounds a bit ‘samey’, even though he was brought up with parents who were holocaust survivors and human rights activists, then I won’t.

Furthermore, the song uses ‘Oxford’ and ‘Cambridge’ as dirty words, and while I will admit that these universities are unfairly dominated by privately educated children, it’s stupid to make it seem shameful to be successful enough to go to one of these universities.

Conveniently neglecting evidence seems to be a common thread with much of the Green’s support. This intellectual masturbation is spewed all over the Internet, where people think that saying “Nick Clegg stabbed everyone in the back over tuition fees!!” or “Tony Blair is a war criminal with no right to an opinion!!!” gives them a degree in politics.

You might have noticed, that this time 5 years ago Nick Clegg was in a similar situation to the one Natalie Bennett finds herself in now. Armed with the perfect ideology and an army of inspired teenagers ready to create the perfect utopia we’ve all been dreaming of.

Fringe parties are an important part of democracy, even if their policies are symbolic

Only that’s not how politics works and I can guarantee you that it will be no different this time. Fewer seats means less power, and that is why Clegg couldn’t get rid of tuition fees, not because he’s a ‘back-stabber’. If you are idealistic enough to believe things will somehow be different this time for the Greens then I imagine this article has been wasted on you.

Do not misunderstand me; I think fringe parties are an important part of democracy, even if their policies are symbolic. But, if after weeks of raving about the Greens and ranting about Clegg and the rest of them, you find your beloved party involved a coalition that remarkably still has the same policies on tuition fees, try not to get any tears in your humble pie.

Will the Greens change the tune? Can they win in Bristol West? Are their policies a joke? Check out the video and tweet us @EpigramComment

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Online dating: is offering race-based preferences racist? http://epigram.org.uk/comment/2015/04/online-dating-is-offering-race-based-preferences-racist http://epigram.org.uk/comment/2015/04/online-dating-is-offering-race-based-preferences-racist#comments Mon, 06 Apr 2015 19:21:02 +0000 http://epigram.org.uk/?p=18231 Ben Kew weighs up the rights and wrongs of an online racial dating preferences. 

Online dating is a revolution of the 21st century, and another result of our technologically driven world. Sites and apps such as Tinder, Hot or Not and Match.com are popular worldwide and are used by both young and old alike.

I think it’s fair to say most of us students have used them and some point, whether we admit it or not! Research suggests that in the UK alone, 34% of couples now meet through this medium.

a step towards better efficiency and improving chances of people’s matchmaking?

However, some of these services are now offering the chance to filter people by racial preference. Is this a step towards better efficiency and improving chances of people’s matchmaking, or a step backwards for a society constantly trying to achieve racial equality?

The idea that we as human beings have sexual preferences is a simple fact of life. Some people like their partners to have short hair and an easygoing attitude, whilst others would prefer their other half had long legs and a serious personality. In a world of true equality, race should be as important to our judgment of a person for example as the length of their hair – in other words, of no consequence.

Related article: Tinder Terror…

To call someone or something racist is a deeply serious accusation and as much as I applaud the fact that we live in a society where issues such as this are discussed, we must be careful not to overuse the term ‘racism’, and be so willing to stamp people or things as racist where the issue might actually be ignorance or a person following cultural norms. In this case, to label people who judge their possible partners on the grounds of race as racist, I imagine would be an incredibly broad accusation, crossing people of all races and cultures, and certainly not just white males. We must remember that this sort of thing works both ways.

But what evidence exists to suggest that having racial preferences is racist? The argument is that this sort of option is backward looking, and that to permit people to ‘filter’ their potential partner by race is itself a derogatory action, and promotes division rather than integration between races and communities. This in turn can promote people to develop a close-minded and ignorant point of view, that they can only romantically involve themselves with a certain race of type of person, or that people of certain races are inherently inferior and therefore should not even be considered.

Intentions are often based on a racist or prejudiced agenda

By stating from the outset that you wouldn’t date people of a certain race, one is essentially saying a person’s superficial qualities, (in this case their race), make it impossible to form a romantic or emotional connection.

This is a learned cultural bias, and to encourage it via dating sites, which statistics show are an ever increasingly popular form of meeting your next partner, can allow people to be close-minded, and their intentions are often based on a racist or prejudiced agenda.

But if a person has a desire for a partner of a certain race, whether that race is the same as his or her own, or completely different, then this is surely a legitimate choice that they have every right to pursue. Surely the option of racial preference offered by dating sites simply saves them time and increases their chances of finding love and happiness?

Like most debates that discuss racism this is a contentious issue. I would conclude by saying that at worst the specification of race on dating sites is ignorant, and at best it is simply another way we can micro-manage our lives through technology. For those who believe this is racist, they must surely lay the blame with the services providing it, rather than the people who pursue it.

Ultimately, it will be down to the biggest and most popular dating sites to set the agenda as to whether filtering by race is something that will benefit their customers, or risk being perceived as ‘racist’ and potentially damage their reputations.

Do you agree with Ben? Let us know in the comments or tweet @EpigramComment

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Was the solar eclipse culturally insensitive? http://epigram.org.uk/comment/2015/04/was-the-solar-eclipse-culturally-insensitive http://epigram.org.uk/comment/2015/04/was-the-solar-eclipse-culturally-insensitive#comments Sat, 04 Apr 2015 16:24:01 +0000 http://epigram.org.uk/?p=18179 Oliver Neale asks could watching the solar eclipse have been culturally insensitive…?

On Friday the 20th of March we were treated to a special celestial event: a solar eclipse. It wasn’t a total eclipse, but it was enough to make for a good spectacle. I joined the crowds in the Royal Fort Gardens shortly after nine in the morning.

Those of us who had remembered our viewing glasses were able to view the best of the ‘several times in a life-time’ spectacle. (That might not be as catchy as ‘once in a lifetime’ spectacle, but it hopefully still conveys the idea that it was a rare and special event. And it’s probably better than describing it as a ‘once in a short lifetime spectacle’…)

There is a risk that we were being culturally insensitive…

Unfortunately what those of us who were enjoying the ‘several times in a lifetime’ spectacle may not have realised is that there is a risk that we were being culturally insensitive, or at least, that’s if North Primary School in Southall, London has got things right.

Pupils at this primary school didn’t watch the solar eclipse with pinhole cameras or by other such means, but stayed indoors and watched it on screens in their classrooms instead. When council officials asked for an explanation, headteacher Ivor Johnstone told them that the decision had been made for ‘cultural and religious reasons’.

As one would expect, not everyone was very happy about this. Mr Johnstone said the school was sorry for any disappointment, but that overcast conditions in West London meant they would hardly have been able to see the eclipse live anyway.

“Scientific matters versus religious superstition”

The fact that it was a grey day in West London is not important. What matters is that the school decided that its pupils would not see the eclipse live whatever the weather because of ‘cultural and religious concerns associated with viewing one directly’. One parent, Phil Belman, told the Evening Standard the issue is about “scientific matters versus religious superstition” and if possible he would prefer it if we could avoid “going back to the dark ages.”

Whether or not one agrees with Mr Belman’s characterisation of the matter, we can agree that the headteacher’s decision wasn’t a very good one. The fact that some parents may have expressed a desire for their children not to view the eclipse out of religious and cultural concerns does not mean that all pupils at the school should be prevented from seeing the eclipse.

If we want to be culturally sensitive then it suffices for the children of the parents who expressed religious and cultural concerns to stay indoors and watch the eclipse on the screen while the others watch it outside (the weather permitting).

An English secular school should be to promote learning rather than cultural diversity

Perhaps North Primary School is crying out for a modern-day Ray Honeyford. Honeyford was a headmaster at the multicultural Drummond Middle School in Bradford during the early 1980s, at a time when schools were making ever increasing efforts to accommodate different cultures and religious views. Honeyford mainly acted according to the new dogma, but he considered that the task of an English secular school should be to promote learning rather than cultural diversity.

In an article he wrote for the Times Educational Supplement in 1982 Honeyford stated: “the maintenance and transmission of the mother culture has nothing to do with the English secular school [but is] an entirely private decision to be implemented … out of school.”

While sometimes seen as controversial this thinking remains relevant today. Had Mr Johnstone read his Honeyford, then he might not have made the mistake he did.

Do you agree with Oliver? Have schools gone too far? Do we need more understanding in education? Tweet us or write a reply @epigramcomment

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Speakers’ Corner: The young Bristolians fighting FGM http://epigram.org.uk/comment/2015/04/speakers-corner-the-young-people-fighting-fgm http://epigram.org.uk/comment/2015/04/speakers-corner-the-young-people-fighting-fgm#comments Wed, 01 Apr 2015 12:51:49 +0000 http://epigram.org.uk/?p=18141 Jess Sartenaer on inspiring Bristol teenagers campaigning to end FGM.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is carried out all over the world. The practice involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia and is rooted in attempts to control women’s sexuality and ideas about purity, modesty and aesthetics.

Whilst at a shallow level, most of us will be sceptical that any medical term containing the word ‘mutilation’ is going to carry with it aspects of purity, the reality concerning FGM is truly and profoundly horrific. The procedure has absolutely no health benefits for women and repercussions of the practice can be extremely dangerous, including recurrent infections, chronic pain, infertility and fatal bleeding as well as severe psychological damage.

200,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM in the UK each year

Although FGM has been outlawed in most of the countries in which it occurs, it has been estimated that over 130 million women and girls have experienced the practice in the 29 countries in which it is concentrated, in Africa and the Middle East. The practice is, of course, illegal in the UK yet it has been estimated that over 200,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM in the UK each year.

Read more: MGM, time to leave little boys’ genitals alone too, writes Patrick Galbraith

So why should we all be involved in the fight against it? Although FGM is associated mainly with cultural ideas of femininity, it should not only be feminists doing the campaigning. This is something everyone should be challenging, whether you identify as a feminist or not. FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It is not a medical practice and it is not humane.

Bristol University were lucky enough to welcome Fahma Mohamed to a panel discussion on intersectionality in the women’s movement last month. Fahma, at 17 years old, is an inspirational anti-FGM activist. She is known across the UK for her petition on Change.org which, within three weeks, had attracted more than 230,000 signatures.

Fahma even convinced Gove that FGM should actually be taught in schools

In an extraordinary meeting around this time last year, Fahma, alongside other members of the youth charity Integrate Bristol, met with the then education secretary Michael Gove to ask him to write to every school in the country about the horrors of the FGM. Not only succeeding in this respect, Fahma even convinced Gove that FGM should actually be taught in schools.

Fahma made it clear in her Bristol visit that she is continuing her campaign and will not be satisfied until FGM no longer exits as a practice. Fahma’s campaign and attitude are inspiring.

We must all educate ourselves about the ghastly details of FGM and take a firm and active stance against it.

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The Big Debate: Should students forgive the Lib Dems? http://epigram.org.uk/comment/2015/03/the-big-debate-should-students-forgive-the-lib-dems http://epigram.org.uk/comment/2015/03/the-big-debate-should-students-forgive-the-lib-dems#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 16:03:03 +0000 http://epigram.org.uk/?p=17781 This week Epigram asks… is it time for students to forgive the Liberal Democrats?

Yes – Darcy Rollins

In considering this question, it is very important to remember the troubled history of the Liberal Democrat party. Although officially formed as recently as 1988, they are a party with a proud and noble heritage, the forerunner of labour as the alternative to cold conservatism. The Liberal Democrats as we know them seem a very different entity indeed. To characterise them as a party that have been continually vying for power that they long since forfeited to Labour is harsh but not untrue.

So it is against this backdrop that the oft thought ‘betrayal’ of Mr Clegg and co must be viewed: a party with noble beginnings that it has failed to ever meet again.

Simply put, a party such as this does not have the political strength of the main contenders. Even when they had technically found their way into government, this remained the case for the Lib Dems. Sacrifices would inevitably have to be made from the promises made in the wilderness. Furthermore, the party’s unfortunate familiarity with this virtual political obscurity has most likely given them a strong desire to resist returning there. Regarding tuition fees, it is by no mean a stretch of the imagination that it was this survival instinct that motivated them to go back on their word.

There is some irony in the fact that this turnaround was a rare example of honest forces at play: the sort the public wishes occurs more in politics. Looking back, it is clear that the Lib Dems could not have been motivated by anything other than that aforementioned necessity and/ desire to survive.

The consequences of an increase in tuition fees were severe

By changing his stance, Clegg has left his fleeting days as the golden boy of politics (the TV election debates of 2011 anyone?) far far behind. It looks likely that he knew he was doing this too; in letters to his MPs he described it as “one of the most difficult decisions of my political career”. In no way was this a situation motivated by spin and I think we should have sympathy for this honesty. I have said a great deal about the motivations at play in the Liberal Democrats’ actions and there is an obvious response to this. The consequences of an increase in tuition fees were severe and no amount of sympathy for their position can eradicate the reality of that.

Yes, promises were broken and yes, from a point of principle the actions of the Lib Dems are worthy of condemnation

I acknowledge this, but who knows what other important issues were at hand. As students, we sit a little removed from the fray. Think about the stereotype of the idealistic, Chomsky reading student, of which I admit to being the most ardent member, which is a stereotype for a reason. Students tend to romanticise ideas and neglect reality.

We also tend live in a student bubble, somewhat isolated from the rest of society. A consequence of this is that we may not consider what other important issues might have been kept on the table by virtue of opposing a rise in tuition fees was taken off it. Perhaps the Mansion Tax? In short, we underestimate the necessary evil that is practical politics.

Unfortunately for us tuition fees were likely a sacrifice they had to make

Yes, promises were broken and yes, from a point of principle the actions of the Lib Dems are worthy of condemnation however against all will of the imagination politics does not operate in a sphere where principle is upheld above all other considerations. It often must give way to compromise. In the world of politics, pragmatism may look like the immoral relative of principle but it actually means getting some things done at the price of other things.

Unfortunately for us tuition fees were likely a sacrifice they had to make. In light of this, I think it is time to apply some ‘twice blest’ Portia inspired mercy and forgive the unlucky yellow party.

No – Liam Marchant

Every morning, in between popping a Valium pill and smearing his face with anti-wrinkle cream, Nick Clegg ponders what brought him into politics in the first place. Was it a will to power? Ideological conviction? Or was politics simply a profession he drifted into after graduating from Cambridge? It cannot be either of the first two reasons – he is, after all, a Liberal Democrat… This moment of contemplation is, however, cut short as Clegg, rummaging through his sock drawer, comes across an antiquated ‘I Agree With Nick!’ badge. Gripping it in a tired fist, he sighs and then sets off to work.

We have just as much cause for outrage as any other victims of the Coalition

One could almost be forgiven for feeling pangs of sympathy for the Lib Dems. They’ve been battered so hard by a dominant coalition partner, defecting party members, and a livid electorate that further attacks on them just seem spiteful. Well, at risk of sounding like a child answering up for whacking a school bully in the face, they deserve it.

The Liberal Democrats are not sat in the passenger seat next to the Conservatives gently telling them to slow down as they speed towards a cliff edge of economic ruin – this would suggest passivity on their behalf. The supposedly ‘middle of the road’ party have actually colluded in a government responsible for slashing spending on schools, hospitals, and welfare whilst cutting tax for the top 1% of earners. As students facing thirty years of debt repayment we have just as much cause for outrage as any other victims of the Coalition.

These MPs betrayed the mandate given to them by their constituents

The trebling of tuition fees in 2011 not only failed spectacularly in creating a huge funding gap for universities – few graduates have jobs and even fewer are earning enough to pay off their loans – but also lacked any shred of democratic legitimacy. Every Lib Dem elected to Parliament on the strength of the student vote had a clear instruction not to support the rise in fees.

In acting otherwise, or not acting at all as in the case of Stephen Williams, these MPs betrayed the mandate given to them by their constituents. The notorious image of Nick Clegg signing his name to a pledge for free education is, therefore, much more than Labour Party propaganda; it encompasses the chronic cynicism which has come to define British politics as a game of cheap populism and broken promises.

And yet party apologists still maintain that they were urged into such compromise on higher education by force of necessity – Britain’s indecisiveness in failing to give one party a majority made partnership with the Tories a necessity. Aside from the fact that the Conservative’s 2010 manifesto made no mention of raising fees, this claim also ignores the Liberal Democrats’ electoral success in seats where they postured as a left wing alternative to Labour.

In my home constituency of Kingston upon Thames, the incumbent Lib Dem MP, Ed Davey, shamelessly targeted the town’s sandal-wearing Guardianistas with leaflets headed: ‘Labour can’t win here, this is a two horse race with the Conservatives’. The implication being: vote yellow to keep blue out. One can only speculate on the success of a Lib-Lab-plus coalition but the union of Clegg and Cameron – paired with all the hastiness of a Las Vegas wedding ceremony – seems far more dubious when 65% of the electorate did not vote for the Tories.

Like Doctor Faustus, Nick Clegg has sold his soul to the devil for a short lease of power…

There is another lie which students must be wary of when faced with the urine-tinged rosettes of Lib Dem canvassers; that Clegg and co have somehow acted as a moral buffer zone to the more draconian of Conservative policies.

This assertion would be laughable if the government’s dismantling of the NHS, cuts to legal aid, and increased online surveillance were not such real and pressing issues. In fact, I challenge the reader to name a single piece of legislation which the Lib Dems have themselves drafted and passed since they came into government which Clegg can brag about come the TV leaders debates – I certainly cannot think of one.

Like Doctor Faustus, Nick Clegg has sold his soul to the devil for a short lease of power. He may have accomplished significantly less than that tragic hero, however, he is sure to incur the same downfall.

We, as the students he has betrayed, must be instrumental in this.

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Vice-Chancellor salaries on the rise as student debt crisis deepens http://epigram.org.uk/comment/2015/03/vice-chancellor-salaries-on-the-rise-as-student-debt-crisis-deepens http://epigram.org.uk/comment/2015/03/vice-chancellor-salaries-on-the-rise-as-student-debt-crisis-deepens#comments Tue, 24 Mar 2015 12:33:03 +0000 http://epigram.org.uk/?p=17639 Epigram’s resident angry columnist Oliver Carter-Esdale gives university Vice-Chancellors a piece of his mind…

Sometimes you really have to wonder what planet university Vice-Chancellors and senior management teams think they’re living on.

Thanks to the coalition government’s initiative to increase in fees to £9,000 a year, students have been forced into an average of more than £44,000 worth of debt for their three years’ worth of study at University, a debt that almost half of us will never actually pay back in full.

Worse still, for those considering postgraduate study, this mountain of debt increases substantially, along with any hope for financial solvency. Meanwhile, most teaching staff are expected to make do on fairly dismal wages which, owing to inflation has meant a real-time pay cut of around 13% for some, as they compete against their peers at other Universities for research funding and suffer increased workloads due to a greater influx of students whose fees supposedly make up for the lack of government funding.

His counterpart at Nottingham Trent took home £623,000 in salary alone last year

So, when figures were released recently showing Vice-Chancellor’s bumper pay packets, it beggars belief that anyone in their right mind thought it was A-OK to sign off on giving UK University Vice-Chancellors on average a salary of £260,000 a year.

On top of his £20,000 trip to the far-east to strengthen ties with international students, Bristol University Vice-Chancellor Sir Eric Thomas was paid £321,000 in 2013-14, according to figures from the University and College Union. But don’t let’s be too hard on our outgoing Vice-Chancellor; his counterpart at Nottingham Trent took home £623,000 in salary alone last year.

What these salaries also display is a total disconnect from the majority of those at Universities

These salaries are both a symptom and a cause of the marketisation of education. Universities are now run like businesses, and apparently for the University to succeed in this competitive market, we have to be able to pay top salaries to attract the ‘best candidate’ for the job. Moreover, once in these positions, what are Vice-Chancellors supposed to do, sit there and watch as their six figure salaries shrink to the same level of say, the teaching staff?

Read more: Labour’s £6,000 fees will hit poorest students hardest

 

What would we do with all that leftover money that would have otherwise gone on a 5% pay rise? Why would we ever want to afford to have more research staff and academics to teach in seminars and tutorials when we can send our Vice Chancellors to turn foreign students into an import of greater capital, disregarding the fact that an increase in numbers without first tackling immense student dissatisfaction and the problems that have arisen owing such growth will only further decrease the levels of satisfaction and further hamper academic staff’s abilities to teach.

What these salaries also display is a total disconnect from the majority of those at Universities. Worse still however, is the kick in the teeth when University boardroom leaders sign a letter opposing any reduction in the already outrageous £9,000 a year tuition fees.

My own response to the open letter sent by Universities UK to the Times opposing the ‘implausible’ plans by Labour to reduce fees was twofold: Firstly, the phrase “bit rich coming from you” came to mind. Secondly, and more vociferously was more along the lines of “are you fucking kidding me?” So, let us return to the question of planetary habitation.

Where do you think you are? Planet “Ha! Fuck the poor”? Perhaps it’s more like Dick Whittington’s fantasy, where the streets are paved with gold.

A wild Vice-Chancellor appeared!

A wild Vice-Chancellor appeared!

It is not difficult to understand why such opposition would be raised. Let us be honest, any reduction in fees – be it to £6,000 a year or, preferably, a total reduction and return to grants – would necessarily require progressive taxation. And where would this taxation first turn itself toward? Funny enough, the pockets and bank accounts of six-figure earners like those belonging to University Vice-Chancellors. Coincidence, or what?!

The Browne review marked a recognition of the direction Education has been heading in for some time now. Universities have become business; students are a commodity; and our education has become a constant resource to tap. Our potential future earnings are used as collateral to raise capital.

Who profits from government plans to sell off student loan books for cheap to private equity firms…

Whose interests does it serve to charge students £9,000 a year, plunging them into tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt all before many of them are even 23? Who profits from government plans to sell off student loan books for cheap to private equity firms while still guaranteeing any non-repaid debt? It certainly is not the many, but the few.

Paying someone £260,000, £321,000 or even £623,000 a year while many students and staff face a cost of living crisis is abhorrent. To have them denounce a change in the way Universities are funded which would directly affect their largesse and pay packets displays a fundamental selfishness that perpetuates the current exploitative financial systems and fiscal policy. It is high time we put a stop to it.

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“Those damn kids”: Cameron’s same-old policy on youth unemployment http://epigram.org.uk/comment/2015/03/those-damn-kids-camerons-same-old-policy-on-youth-unemployment http://epigram.org.uk/comment/2015/03/those-damn-kids-camerons-same-old-policy-on-youth-unemployment#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 12:31:57 +0000 http://epigram.org.uk/?p=17534 Alex Yeates considers David Cameron’s latest plans to tackle youth unemployment.

David Cameron has announced his most recent plans to shake up benefit culture and youth unemployment. With a keen interest in killing two birds with one stone, the Prime Minister has made the pledge that, if elected in May, the Conservatives will introduce a ‘Youth Allowance’ in place of the 18-25s’ ‘Job Seeker Allowance’.

The difference being that after six months of claiming, you will be denied any more unless you undertake 30 hours’ worth of voluntary work a week. A policy that the Conservatives hope will instil the discipline needed to enter employment.

Conservatives have decided to continue to appeal to older voters who enjoy blaming misfortune on those damn kids

On face value, Cameron’s proposals appear to be based on sound and agreeable logic. That young people should not expect a hand-out from the State and should get off their backsides and actively seek a job instead of happily reclining into a life of welfare dependency. By banging the ‘We are all in this together’ drum, the Tories are effectively preaching to the choir that the unemployed youth should stop being lazy.

A poll conducted by the Metro found 68% of its readers agreed with this sentiment. Fighting youth apathy by encouraging those with nothing to do to respect the world they live in and to understand that their relationship with the State is a two way street, does well to hit the issue of youth unemployment and anti-social behaviour right on the head. And as such, we should be grateful.

Read more: Speakers’ Corner: Bristol University Conservative Association

david cameron

David banging the ‘we are all in this together drum’

Or should we. With the 2015 general election fast approaching, and another hung parliament looking likely, political parties are going to be stepping up rhetoric on issues that strike a chord with particular voters. In the coming months it is expected that the policies proposed will be progressively more targeted at emotive issues. In this instance, the Conservatives have decided to continue to appeal to older voters who enjoy blaming misfortune on those damn kids.

Concerns have been raised over the proposal to force young people into voluntary work because of its disproportionate impact. Fresh out of education, many wealthier students will move back home to be supported by their parents, whereas the less fortunate will be left with no choice but to take part in the new scheme. The problem of which being that it favours the wealthy by granting them a competitive advantage in the job hunt. When looking for a job time is valuable, and by forcing those who cannot afford to not claim benefits into work for work’s sake, they are less able to freely attend work interviews or to take the initiative.

The meagre pay and the questionable work experience gained by those forced into the program will likely leave them with a deep sense of resentment

Youth Fight for Jobs, a group that fights on the behalf of marginalised young people, has pointed out that by decreasing the choice of poorer young people and forcing them into voluntary work, the State is effectively able to pay for labour far below the minimum wage. ‘Voluntary’ workers would be doing the work for a mere £1.91 an hour.

The meagre pay and the questionable work experience gained by those forced into the program will likely leave them with a deep sense of resentment. One which stems from being told that it is their fault for the position they are in, and not that of the Government’s in their failure to properly rebalance the economy.

The face value of the policy proposed strikes a chord with older voters

The face value of the policy proposed strikes a chord with older voters because they want to believe that the mess the young are in is because of our own laziness. Where in reality it is due to a lack of jobs, inadequate pay and closed doors. The fundamental oversight of the scheme is the unfair effect it has on those in need, by further limiting their choices.

Rather than punishing those who are victim to the economy the older generations have built, it would be more productive to invest in creating a better education system and a society with more accessible jobs.

It is not acceptable for the people at the top to persist in blaming the young for their own shortcomings just to attract votes. Policies such as this is seek to divide us, not to help us, and are not conducive to fostering a prosperous society.

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Labour’s £6,000 fees will hit poor students hardest http://epigram.org.uk/comment/2015/03/labours-6000-fees-will-hit-poor-students-hardest http://epigram.org.uk/comment/2015/03/labours-6000-fees-will-hit-poor-students-hardest#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 09:53:53 +0000 http://epigram.org.uk/?p=17496 Let’s stop kidding ourselves: Labour’s £6,000 fees will fail to benefit the poorest students, argues Ajit Niranjan.

Tuition fees are a horrible idea. It doesn’t need repeating that they are expensive, ineffective and psychologically sinister – we know that the system is hugely flawed, and we have every right to be angry about it.

We will start our working lives saddled with a bag of debt larger than any previous generation has been burdened by. So large, in fact, that we probably won’t even be able to pay it all back.

The proposal to cut the fees to £6,000 is simply a tax cut for the rich

So Labour’s recent announcement of cutting tuition fees back down to £6,000 a year ought to be cause for celebration – or at least hailed as a small a step in the right direction. And on the surface, it is. If they come to power in May, future students will be expected to pay back a smaller total sum of money for higher education. It will be the same system, with a few minor tweaks, but on average we would save more than ten thousand pounds, after you account for a little interest and inflation.

Read More:

Our VC cares for numbers not students

Bristol VC rejects fee reduction

The bit I am struggling to get my head round is the idea – touted by every single student paper piece ever – that this policy has anything to do with equality. Because as far as I can see, it simply isn’t – at least, not in the sense of the word that’s concerned with things like fairness or helping kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. The proposal to cut the fees to £6,000 is simply a tax cut for the rich.

This seems counter-intuitive, but the numbers genuinely do back it up. The thing to remember is that all the debt is wiped after thirty years: only half of us are expected to ever pay back the full amount.

An engineer, according to the BBC, will pay it off after 27 years. A teacher takes a little longer, but should manage it after 29 years – just one year shy of the debt being cleared anyway. A librarian, on the other hand, will spend thirty years working to pay back less than half of what is owed.

This is where the problem lies. Roughly speaking, most of the money which will be paid back by all graduates – not just the dentists and architects – actually comes from the first £6,000: we’ll almost all have to pay back that first chunk of the loan. It’s the next £3,000 which would be written off anyway, except the highest-earners in society. And for most of them, this will come when they reach their early forties. Labour’s new policy is to demand even less from those with the most – at a time when they’ll be very capable of paying it back.

Across the board, university applications are at an all-time high

The only possible argument for decreasing the headline figure would be if large amounts of debt were actively deterring poorer students from applying to university. But this also isn’t the case. University access schemes are more successful than ever, and the gap between rich and poor applicants is still decreasing. Across the board, university applications are at an all-time high.

This is because universities, in order to set fees above £6000, need to prove they’re helping struggling students and opening higher education up to everyone. There are bursaries to help students from low-income backgrounds, and many universities are trying to make sure financial situations do not hold prospective applicants back.

As students we can – and should – protest the high fees we pay

The truth is, this policy doesn’t help students. It doesn’t help struggling kids from low income families, or children who are the first of their generation to go to university. It doesn’t help young graduates taking unpaid internships to claw their way onto the career ladder, and it doesn’t help the better-qualified graduates who had to turn those internships down because they couldn’t afford to work for free. The only people benefitting from a cut in the fees are middle-age, middle-class educated professionals.

So let’s be honest about this. As students we can – and should – protest the high fees we pay, until our government joins the rest of Europe in providing us with cheap or free higher education. That’s something we can all get behind. Or, alternatively, we could argue for further increases in maintenance grants, or better-subsidised student housing. Those would also benefit students across the board.

But we can’t kid ourselves that this tax cut, aimed entirely at rich professionals in their forties, is in any way a progressive policy.

Are £6,000 fees progressive or just an election gimmick? Comment below or tweet us @EpigramComment

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