Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Higher Education Outrage of the Week

OK, you've had a couple of days off from my usual bile-filled, splenetic fury. Now it's time to get back on the Angry Bike. 

The first thing is the government's latest spiteful, mean-spirited punch in the face of the poor. I wasn't going to get in to this one: my Vice-Chancellor has aired it in the Guardian recently. But even though we eyeballed each other over my picket line the other day, I feel compelled to support him.

You may or may not know that The Hegemon is one of those unfashionable universities that has a mostly working-class, mostly local, mostly first-generation intake. These students are not candidates for the Bullingdon and rarely spend their weekends beagling. They spend their weekends doing shift work and/or looking after their children. They do not have money to spare. They have often come through considerable adversity to get to university and quite a lot of them need extra financial and academic support to succeed. That doesn't mean they're here out of charity, or that we're making things easier for them: my department's external examiner works at a Russell Group institution and tells us that our students would succeed at her place just as they do here.

George Osborne's Autumn Statement announced that the cap on university recruitment would be abandoned. Universities could recruit as many students as they wanted. Sounds lovely, doesn't it? Only students are funded by borrowing money from the government, so every loan puts the country in more debt. George needs a way round this. One wheeze he's proposed is to sell off the existing Student Loan book to financial institutions. He gets an instant hit of cash, but it's a lot less than what would come in if he just waited for the repayments to start rolling in: the sale has to allow for a large scale of default. So there's going to be a massive gap between the money needed to pay for expansion and the money available to pay for it.

So that's pretty short-sighted and cynical. Par for the course, you might say. But this is George Osborne (and David Willetts, Cable and Clegg) we're talking about. They're not just economically illiterate: they're vicious class warriors, and in the words of Warren Buffett, their class is winning. They've found another way of saving money, and it's a humdinger.
The Department for Business (BIS) is considering cutting £350m of grants to the UK's poorest students and slashing £215m from ringfenced science funding in order to plug a £1.4bn hole in its finances, the Guardian has learned. 
More than 500,000 students from lower income backgrounds would be affected by plans drawn up by the higher education minister, David Willetts, which are being discussed by the business secretary, Vince Cable, and the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg.
That's right. They've looked at the Russell Group universities they went to, and decided to leave them alone. They've thought about tightening the budgets here and there, and rejected it. Instead, they've managed to pick on the students they secretly think shouldn't really be here at all: the poor.  My students.

Currently, students from households with a collective income of under £25,000 (just under the UK median wage for a single individual) get £3,250 as a grant each year, with smaller amounts available for those with slightly higher household incomes. The government wants to turn £1000 of this into a loan. So the poorest students will be loaded down with even more debt when they graduate than the richest ones, thus deepening inequality and making social mobility even more unlikely.

But that's not all. Just when you think you've reached the depths of their viciousness, Osborne and Co. pull another dead rabbit out of the hat. There's another fund for the very poorest students. It's called the National Scholarship Programme. It gives out £75m and was invented so that the Lib Dems had a handkerchief to cover their genitals having stripped themselves of their commitment not to increase student fees to £9000.
Separate to grants, the National Scholarship Programme, which is meant to aid the very poorest students fund their study, will be all but abolished a year early, saving the department £75m according to measures already agreed. 
However, the decision requires an "urgent" sign-off from Clegg, who announced the programme in February 2011. The programme was meant to offset the fallout from the Lib Dems breaking promises on tuition fees, which trebled in late 2010. 
My MP, Paul Uppal, is David Willetts' Parliamentary Private Secretary. Has he said a word about cuts that will directly hit a massive proportion of our students – his constituents – who wish merely to better themselves? Of course he hasn't.

And if that all pisses you off, you should read Steve Sarson's wonderful piece about being required to 'embed entrepreneurial thinking' into his curriculum. When I read something that good, I wonder how I ever dare put fingertips to keyboard.  


Son of Sar said...

Many thanks for the kind words, but you are The Man when it comes to blogging! My God, though, what this government is doing is, as you say, outright class war. They are, as one great and most eloquent man said, lower than vermin.

Historian on the Edge said...

Agree with Steve, but let's remember that these c*nts didn't merely go to Russell Group Universities: they went to Oxbridge, and overwhelmingly Ox*ford* at that.

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