The fees furore has been at a low ebb. Fortunately, Labour Students are on hand to remind everyone to be cross. Our authors think that they’re wrong…
So the good ol’ left-wing students have united in #solidarity and are planning a get-together entitled the ‘Labour Campaign for Free Education Conference’ (21st March at UCL). We’d like to run through the statements in the event description, and point out a few things to the students who get behind this campaign.
“The current regime of tuition fees and student loans has been exposed as a failure. The system has reached breaking point. The government is now approaching the point at which it begins to lose more money than it saves.”
The string of melodramatic simple sentences beginning with the same word is a great rhetorical device, but let’s cut through to the content. “The system has been exposed as a failure.” What is the goal of ‘the system’ which remains unattained? Getting as many students as possible going to university, regardless of background? Apparently not, because the number of applicants is at a record high. Okay, but the campaigners are referring to the fact that the government is making a loss. Fair point.
So what’s their remedy? Oh – to not raise any money at all except, of course, through “general taxation, with the rich paying the most”. Which, by the way, is already the case. The top 10% of earners pay more than 55% of all income tax. About £7k is knocked off our fees every year thanks to tax. We personally would like to send humble, apologetic gratitude to those earning ~£11k/year (and it would have been £6k but for the coalition) who subsidise our drinking/dining/dancing with the rest of Oxford’s middle-class, privileged elite.
So no. Increased funding for our alcoholism (N.B.: anyone who claims to spend the majority of their time studying is a liar) should not be eked out of the taxpayer. Onto the next one.
“The Labour Campaign for Free Education (LCFE) believes that education is a public good, which benefits society as a whole.”
Huh? Do they know what a public good is? For those not aware, a public good is one which, once provided, can be utilised by anyone at no cost. Street lights, motorways, the police force, etc. – they are, in jargon, non-excludable and non-rivalrous. Education, clearly, is not these things. We appreciate that these guys might not be able to afford a course in economics, but they could just use Wikipedia for God’s sake.
What the LCFE mean to say is that education has positive externalities. A positive externality occurs when the usefulness of the consumed good spills over to third parties who were not originally involved. The top-notch education of a lawyer who successfully prevents a company from polluting the environment is, indirectly, positively affecting me, without me having paid anything for it. Ergo, I should make a contribution.
The issue, my dear little free education conference attendees, is that your degrees in cultural studies, creative writing and geography are not going to positively influence anyone’s life in any significant way, and no one should foot the bill for them except you. And by the way, we study German and Linguistics/Philosophy and Theology. So we’re not exempting ourselves from the criticism. It’s just that we’re not demanding our education be ‘free’, either.
People who read subjects that are going to change the world are going to be attracted to those subjects without breaking the taxpayer’s back. And for the 5% of you studying PPE/History and Politics who end up in Whitehall, you’re going to fuck up just as much as you do right, so the chance of anything benefiting from it except your own greasy pocket is infinitesimal.
If we receive access to a good without a bill, we behave in a very different way (compare JCR teas with Sainsbury’s: homogenous goods, but antithetical consumption habits), and an Oxford without cost would be one of hedonistic sloth. It’s wasteful enough already: we all spend vast quantities of time watching TV/dicking around on the internet/penning passive-aggressive articles instead of working. About 5% of people here make full use of their potential: you can see them when they’re President of the Union, or editor of a paper, or producing a Playhouse show. Or sailing through finals with straight Firsts.
The way we fund our universities may not be optimal, and there is plenty of room for debate, but please spare us this rabble-rousing nonsense.