Image Credit: cinefil//Flickr
Stealing milk from your flatmate. Breaking something in a shop and running away. Axing student grants.
Here is a short list of things which you wouldn’t necessarily own up to, because you know they are wrong. The first two, while sneaky and a bit uncalled for, don’t have dire consequences.
But when the tory government silently axed student grants – without even so much of a Commons vote – the situation they created was far more catastrophic than any pilfered dairy product could ever cause.
Once more, the bizarre myth that wealth directly correlates to intelligence bleeds dangerously into reality. In a country where privately educated students dominate medical schools and Oxbridge, those from less shiny backgrounds are faced with an insurmountable pile of debt.
The grant system worked because it generated equality. My termly payments are so important because, unlike a loan, they do not mean further debt. Instead, they level the playing field so that the difference in money between wealthier students and less privileged students becomes narrower. The reason why the likely alternative of a higher loan is so undesirable is because, in the future, it will just plunge me into more debt than my privileged peers. Which – in our adult, post-degree lives, will perpetuate the situation in which we started: with the more wealthy student paying less money back, and the less affluent having to pay more.
The quiet way that this change has been made is sinister. It is, in effect, another wedge placed between university and the working class teenager. The number of students who rely on grants to see them through – to prevent them from working ridiculous hours on top of their degree, to allow them to live in close proximity to university, to give them the means to eat and travel home – is high. Certainly high enough to justify the existence of grants, certainly high enough that, had the matter been brought to the Commons, there would have been an equal and well-represented debate from all sides.
While the main impact is of course financial, there is definitely a psychological aspect to this. To take away student grants, to raise fees, and to charge ridiculous amounts for university accommodations, is to say to the underprivileged young person, ‘this is not for you’. At the very least, it implies that the education of low-income students is not a government priority.
I think that the only way society can really work is if it produces diverse graduates. People who are able to debate and present, people who understand all levels of society, not just the one they have come from. I think university in its current form does that – having grown up in a small, working class northern town, I have met people from backgrounds geographically, socially and financially eons away from my own. I am a much better person for it.
George Osborne, if you shave off the poorest students – if you turn them away from university – then university itself becomes a narrower minded place. And those students, and the communities they represent, will slip into silence. The rich will stay rich, the poor will stay poor.
But just like the milk stolen from the flatmate, or the broken vase in a shop– perhaps you’d rather we just didn’t comment on your wrongdoing. Perhaps that was the point all along.
Becky Kells is a lost Northerner studying English at UCL. She knows lots about Japanese Literature. If you meet her, there is a high chance she will spill a drink on you.