Thursday, December 09, 2010

Should politicans lead by example?

My thought of the day: if those in favour of today's trebling of fees genuinely believe "we're all in it together" and the current deal is so "progressive" and "a better deal for students," then how many will now voluntarily ask to begin making payments to the state to reimburse it for the free fees and grants they received as students. Lead by principled example, not spinelessly shifting debts to the next generation.

Let me expand on this briefly. The argument against today's vote on raising fees is that students will receive a worse deal. The government says that the deal is genuinely better than ever and necessary given the current financial situation. In reply, those against make many objections including one of standing: many of those in government supporting a trebling of fees had themselves paid nothing at all for their university educations. Indeed, many also received free grants to cover living expenses leaving universities with a degree and no debt. Now students will have from £18,000-27,000 worth of debt in fees alone that may raise to £40,000-50,000 including living expenses. This is seen as grossly unfair.

If those in government believe that we are in this together and all should contribute in the national interest to solving the country's financial problems, then it seems only fair that those who paid nothing at all for their university educations should now pay something back. This is perhaps especially true for those who support what they constantly say is a "fair deal" for all future students and yet they themselves will not be burdened with any of the debts that will be passed onto future students. If the deal is so good, then by all means let us see the Prime Minister agree to make the same kinds of payments he will have imposed on future students.

Moreover, this has also been sold to the public as necessary given current economic conditions. These conditions may change for the better. There seems no plans in place to ever return to greater public investment for teaching in higher education should the financial crises be overcome. This then suggests that proposals sold as a solution to a temporary problem is itself a permanent solution. There should be great concerns about a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Finally, why should the future generation be burdened by the sins of their fathers (and mothers)? Baby boomer MPs enjoyed free university education in many cases. They also had oversight over financial institutions, oversight that later proved problematic. The burdens for which they bare at least some responsibility might be thought to be left with them and perhaps their generation. Instead, there is a generational shift whereby burdens are shifted on the next generation. This is unfair.

If politicians in favour believe what they are arguing for today, then let us see them put their money where their mouths are and sign up to making their own payments themselves. If not, then they concede by their actions that they are proposing a permanent solution to a temporary problem to be imposed on a future generation to cover the debts incurred by a previous generation, a solution so fair that none who propose it have signed up to themselves and -- while students may take on debts of £40,000+ in these "fair" proposals -- they enjoyed debts of precisely £0.

Politicians should lead by principled example. I doubt this will happen today though.

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