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Gale's View

December 15th 2010

By the time that this reaches the newsstands the next wave of “student protests”  will almost certainly have broken upon the shores of Central London as the House of Lords will have debated and voted upon the Coalition Government`s proposals for University tuition fees.
Those of us – and I began my own political career addressing a crowd of 50,000 people in protest at the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia – who believe in free speech, the right to peacefully demonstrate and freedom of expression  can only have been  saddened by the sight of a minority of violent, militant and ugly “activists” desecrating the sacred, vandalising the historic, deriding the loyal and inflicting injury upon those upon whom  we rely to maintain our law and order.
I do not believe that these revolting men and women have much, if anything, to do with the cause of Higher Education. I hope that they are identified, I hope that charges up to including attempted murder and treason are brought against them, I hope they are convicted and I hope that, notwithstanding the liberal tendencies currently  prevalent within the Department of Justice, the book and long custodial sentences are thrown at them  A three-year (minimum) course of “further education” at Her Majesty`s pleasure would seem a punishment designed to fit the crime!
That said,  the courtesy, reason and determination of one young lady constituent and student who took the trouble to call to see me and to make her case in person was exemplary.   I myself  believe that the Government`s proposals are inherently fair, affordable and, in time, will be seen to have been progressive and I applaud the courage of the Deputy Prime Minister and his own party`s Ministerial team that have supported them.  My young constituent believes otherwise and we have to agree, at this stage, to differ.  There will certainly be the effects of unintended consequences and I am quite sure that the package will have to be fine-tuned but only time and experience will tell which one of us was right.
There are, though, other issues that will in short order have to be addressed.  I suspect, for instance, that not all of the Technical Colleges that have assumed “university” status will survive as universities. Some will close and other will revert to their former status as excellent colleges of further education. It is at least arguable that they would have served the cause of  education and society better had they not succumbed to illusions of academic grandeur in the first place.
I do not believe that degree courses in, “the social effects of 1960`s nail varnish” or some such idiotic “qualification” have any place in  higher education and I would hope and believe that students who will, eventually, pay for the courses that have justified their graduation will demand a return to “real degrees”.   Given the future and inevitable cost of a university course I suspect that we shall also learn that a little less socialising time will lead, in may cases, to two rather than three year degree studies.
In the meantime, we all need to remember that higher education has never been “free”. It has been paid for through the taxes of those who, in East Kent, have in many cases earned and continue to earn, considerably less than the income threshold beyond which any of tomorrow`s students will even begin to make repayment of their student experience and degree courses at university. Given that Higher education will be free at the point of delivery and that only those who succeed and cross the higher income threshold will begin to make the repayments that will help to fund another generation of university students I know of no reason why any young person of ability, from any walk of life, should not aspire to graduate and to enjoy the social mobility that has been hitherto denied to too many from modest backgrounds.

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