Earlier this year I voted, for the first time, in a general election. I was riding on an orange-coloured wave of enthusiasm. I hoped, without daring to believe, that this time things might be different. Political hope was a new feeling for me, and I liked it.
Last night, sitting in a Whetherspoon’s pub reading the subtitles on Sky News, I felt its opposite. For the first time in my life I felt a sense of deep, helpless political anger. The news ticker said that all Lib Dem MPs had agreed to vote in favour of higher tuition fees. How could they do this to us? Hadn’t they signed a pledge to oppose a rise in tuition fees?
I study at Birmingham City University. The English department there is a small but thriving community. Everybody there knows all of the staff and most of the students in their year group by name. In the past few months though, the tension in the department had been hanging in the air like a Dickensian pea-souper. One senior member of staff reportedly offered to take a ten per cent pay cut, if others did the same, in order to help combat the problems caused by proposed budget points; another has expressed hope that the government would u-turn over the proposals. As I watched the yellow news ticker run along the bottom of the screen, I knew there was almost no hope of that happening now. And I felt there was nothing I could do.
So I sent my dad a text message. When he replied he pointed out that while ‘ideally all uni fees should be paid by the state’ the country simply can’t afford to do that at the moment, and that the increase in tuition fees will come with ‘an increase in support for those from lower incomes and an increase in threshold where you have to pay it back’. This helped to dull my worries, as always, there is more to the story than the media like to admit, but I still feel deeply uneasy.
Interestingly, the view that all tuition fees should be paid by the state is one that my dad shares with David, a mature student on my course, who has generally voted Conservative. When I asked David how he felt about the tuition fees he explained that his reasoning is that if graduates are beneficial to the state, it follows that the state should pay for them. He also believes that the money students get should be means-blind. An opinion I understand. I have a housemate who only qualifies for the lowest level of financial support, but her parents have their own debts to pay, and so she has to survive on what little she can earn.
So, the rise in tuition fees is a situation which nobody wants, at this stage though, it seems unavoidable. While there are things being proposed which might improve the current system I’m still a little angry at the government for not suggesting a better solution, and I’m still worried about what it will mean for higher education as a whole. Tomorrow the liberal democrats face a decision which goes against one of their key principles. I understand that there may not be much they can do about it, but if they vote in favour of the tuition fees, they run the risk of seeming, to a large section of their supporters, to be breaking a promise. To a party who put so much importance on breaking form the political status quo, this could be devastating.