Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why the Lib Dems should continue to oppose tuition fees

A couple of weeks ago there was a debate on tuition fees. Julian Astle said the Lib Dems should abandon their pledge to do away with tuition fees. Paul Holmes said we should keep it.

I am on Paul Holmes's side and a brilliant article by Jeffrey J. Williams in the American Dissent Magazine has helped crystallise my views. He draws a parallel between the burden of debt that is placed upon students from modest backgrounds and the system of indentured labour that existed in colonial America.

Read him:
One of the goals of the planners of the modern U.S. university system after the Second World War was to displace what they saw as an aristocracy that had become entrenched at elite schools; instead they promoted equal opportunity in order to build America through its best talent. The rising tide of student debt reinforces rather than dissolves the discriminations of class, counteracting the meritocracy.
Although it seems as if it crept up on us, student-loan indebtedness is not an accident but a policy. It is a bad policy, corrupting the goals of higher education. The world we inhabit is a good one if you are in the fortunate third without debt, but not nearly so good if you live under its weight. Student debt produces inequality and overtaxes our talent for short-term, private gain. As a policy, we can and should change it.


Anonymous said...

We are just entering a recession caused in no small way by large levels of personal debt. So are we about to tell another generation of students that having large personal debts is normal?

Joe Otten said...

Er, OK, so what sort of grant package did these American planners introduce?

dreamingspire said...

Good bit of socialist planning: get more people going to university, then realise its costing a lot of money and going to cost even more, so make them pay, then realise how much pain that is causing, so start lots of student bursary schemes. All somewhat unstable.

mhuntbach said...

Jeffrey J. Williams' article was a good one, spoilt by just one throwaway remark:

"Student debt applies to those with less family wealth, like indenture reinforcing class differences. That this would be a practice in imperial Britain, before modern democracy and where classes were rigidly set, is not entirely surprising; it is more disturbing in the United States, where we ostensibly eschew the determining force of class."

This is often how Americans imagine Britain to be, but in fact historically Britain has had quite a high degree of social mobility with social class being fairly fluid. More so than much of the rest of Europe.

The fact that we have a vocabulary for talking about social class, with fine gradations, perhaps gives the impression that it is something fixed at birth with formal mechanisms for assigning a class label to people. The fact that we have a vocabulary for it actually means we recognise it as an issue and it arises because of social mobility. It is sometimes the case tha lack of vocabulary for something means it is so fixed people don't see it as an issue. The reality is that the USA is as class-bound as Britain, but they don't think they are because they don't have words for it.