It's pretty hard to come up with anything very original to say about the student protests yesterday and earlier. The fact that there is no major political party here that would reverse this increase in university fees, leaves me with the sense that the protesters are praying to a god that does not exist. As an atheist, I fully acknowledge the benefits some people derive from praying to gods that do not exist, but I don't think the protests will do any good politically.
This comment article in the Guardian made most points that are worth making. This article in the Daily Mash is, I must admit, a trenchant and effective critique of the protest movement. Any case in favour of "higher education as public good" should take it into account. This blog post calls attention to the unresolved issues with the current proposals. We learn that Nick Clegg is "haunted" by his election promise. (That's good of him. I wish Tony Blair and David Blunkett were haunted by their 2001 manifesto commitment not to introduce tuition fees. Or should we all accept that making and breaking promises is the price of winning an election?)
I actually struggle to make a principled case for HE as public good. It's relatively easy to make a practical case: e.g. that there's a slippery slope -- next we'll expect people to pay for post-16 school education, and (following Dearing's logic), since the main beneficiaries of the NHS are the patients, then patients should pay back the costs of their treatment. But, the slippery-slope argument evades the question of what's wrong with high tuition fees themselves. The other practical (not principled) case is that the fees make us out-of-step with most of the industrialized world (as I hinted previously). To elaborate on that, one could accept that high tuition fees are correct in principle, but also accept that nations compete amongst each other for academic talant and skills. Hence we risk a new brain drain not just of staff but of students. Although, that may help with the government's efforts to reduce net immigration.
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