Students are tearing up London today. There are riots as a reaction to the government plans to triple the maximum annual tuition fee, from £3,000 to £9,000.
I can understand the depth of feeling. I think that as we face increased global competition, a country like the UK has to educate our young people if they are to compete. We can’t compete internationally with an uneducated workforce – low-cost skills can easily be sourced elsewhere for much less than they cost locally in the UK.
And I was recently working in Malta, the smallest EU nation, where they still pay students to study. Course fees are all covered by the government and the students receive a stipend… cash straight into their pocket. It used to be like that when I was a student in the 1980s, though I was studying right towards the end of the glory days when it was free to study and you got a grant just for being a student.
Tripling the cost of education when we need more educated young people is outrageous, but I don’t think any students have helped their cause today by smashing up London. Most people in the UK are more concerned about the 500,000 public-sector jobs that are about to vanish – and probably a similar number in the private sector that were supporting those public-sector people. That’s a million people on the dole soon.
Do the students really think that their desire to study for free is considered more urgent or important than millions of workers being cast out to the wilderness of unemployment?
The NUS can’t demand that Lib Dem politicians keep their pledges. Our electoral system created a coalition. That meant the two parties agreed to compromise and one of the pledges made by the Lib Dems was lost in the agreement. End of story. Do they really think that smashing up the city is going to get Nick Clegg to change his mind on this? And much as I sympathise with them, I’m afraid most people won’t be sympathetic… students tearing up the city and breaking windows while others lose their jobs.
Where do you think public sympathy is going to go?