Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Sickness unto Debt.

Another government, another politician called Brown(e) and someone else who wants to shaft anyone who would favour stupid things such as intellectual growth or the advancement of British academia over good business acumen. While we at the Lion applaud Lord Browne for his novel and outside-the-box approach to higher education, one can’t help but wonder if he happened to learn joined up thinking in his own time at university.

Lord Browne (played by the love-child of George W Bush and Pierce Brosnan, assuming George Bush could get it up without starting a war), has announced his plan to cut funding for the education of what he considers are not “priority subjects”. But don’t worry, John Browne is not like George Bush in the sense that ol’ Dubya is a cynical playboy descendent of crypto-fascist senators, born with a silver spoon in every orifice, the Bible one hand and a bottle of Johnny Walker in the other, rather Lord Browne is just a nasty little neo-Thatcherite with a reputation for firing people who disagree with him and ruthlessly cutting costs. The esteemed peer of Her Majesty’s government has no experience in education and is an entrepreneur who has over 40 years of experience at BP, that same company which, earlier this year, broke the world.

Browne’s plans to remove limits on how much a university may charge students in tuition fees could lead to fees being hiked up to £90,000 over 3 years. Read that number again. Ninety thousand pounds. That’s enough for a house in the suburbs. Or enough Johnny Walker to sink the Belfast. Lord Browne has defended his proposals claiming that “These reforms will put students in the driving seat of a revolutionary new system.” Although it is technically true, not all students will be empowered by these ‘reforms’ and the system is only ‘revolutionary’ in the Thatcherite sense of the word. As I recall, Wat Tyler was a revolutionary, and things didn’t go so well for him. These proposals are a part of the cuts agenda that could decimate the welfare state and reinforce a system of affirmative action for rich-white-men.

The kind of educational system favoured by Browne could have been drawn up by Allan Bloom, an elitist system where intellectuals pump out ‘great ideas’ which everyone else just memorises. If one considers where Lord Browne’s cuts and ‘Glorious Revolutionary Ideas’ may take the education system, one ends up with a dystopia that Orwell would have killed to dream up. David Cameron has given full backing to this proposal. It’s nice to have a Prime Minister who will do the best thing for the downtrodden common man while sipping brandy at the Bullingdon and braying like a newly neutered pony.

It’s ironic that the government is supposedly dedicated to cutting the deficit so that our children won’t have to live with the burden of our actions. While Con-Dem policy on education appears to be “Let’s ensure that our children have to live with the burden of our actions.” This eases us gently into the main point of this bilious tirade. To ensure that you don’t have to live with this little scheme of Browne’s (which our Paramount Leader James Johnston detailed in the last issue) then you’re going to need to do a little walking. This communal stroll will take place on the 10th of November, to enjoy the London sunshine, take in some sites on the way, and to kick arse all around the room and down the stairs.

This is a short interlude to let our heads break the surface of hatred for a moment, to add the perfunctory note that Lord Browne’s report does have some good bits. Like the Curate’s Egg. On the other hand, the Curate’s Egg was still rotten, and it doesn’t matter how good the good bits are, you still throw a rotten egg away. Or at someone. Like Lord Browne. In fact, if any readers happen to have any rotten eggs, by all means bring them along on the march.

On a more serious note, it is important to remember our status in this. When one mentions the word ‘students’ a whole list of pejorative phrases and negative images float into the mind of the public in general. This kind of activism is the kind of gesture that shows that students in London and across the nation are not going to take these cuts lying down. In a time when political apathy is almost a badge of honour in many circles, showing that university students have a social conscience and are prepared to march and declare their opposition to unfair or unjust proposals. It is, if not an obligation, then most definitely your right as a student and a British citizen to protest. Change in government policies should come from the affected making their stance known. If the government is out of line, then you need to tell them so. If they will not police themselves, it falls to the public to express their dissent.

No good can come of this government, as it espouses the maxim “From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed”. Lord Browne proposes to treat institutions of learning and high thought as a business. He pays no heed to the importance of the arts or culture in our society. Short of actually calling him a bellowing philistine ninny, we will instead simply say that Lord Browne intends to take institutions like Cambridge, Oxford and the towering latter-day Athens of Heythrop and treat them as a business because the cocaine barrel happens to be running low. It is interesting to note that Lord Browne (whose title, I just noticed, makes him sound like a Brummie pimp) put Physics as one of the “priority” subjects, as this happens to be the degree that he read at Cambridge. It also happens to be a favourite of predatory recruiters into the City, who will snap up scientific types like a vulture over carrion. Strange, then, that Philosophy, a subject that promotes individual thought and betterment of oneself and the world, has been relegated to the status of secondary priority and would, under Lord Browne’s proposal, have its funding cut. As Nietzsche once wrote “The Philistine detests all education that makes for loneliness, has an aim above money-making and requires a long time.”

The Browne report on its own merits could be deemed barbaric in its aggression towards the arts, but when considered as part of the cuts agenda of the Con-Dems it is constitutive of the ongoing annihilation of remnants of social democracy which began in 1979. Since Browne’s proposals carry the potential to hike tuition fees for medical students well over £100,000 we should think of our position at this point as defending what remains of an exemplary system of higher education. If Browne’s report becomes reality (not just a hideous speculative fantasy) then a new age of debt-ridden life of wage-slavery for students is ushered in. The deficit is cut, well done, jolly good show boys, now it’s the people who are carrying the strain.

At the risk of sounding like a thundering demagogue, I would say that it is your duty to attend this demonstration. It’s relevant to you; yes YOU holding this paper in your sweaty little hand, because you don’t want to see yourself in debt for the next 40 years. It’s important for the country and for the university you attend. I do, of course, hate to think in such callous terms, but think of the money. The f*cking debt you would be in would be bloody outrageous. Nobody likes being in debt. Especially not to David Cameron, that simpering toff gleefully rubbing his palms together and salivating, all the while perspiring with pleasure at the thought of a system that rations education according to affluence rather than intelligence.

And furthermore, if sticking it to the Conservative Party doesn’t make you want to attend, then nothing will. Just conjure up an image of Lord Browne sharing a sweaty roll in the hay with David Cameron in a pile of banknotes paid by students toiling endlessly to pay off their debt, and feel your social conscience grow proud and erect. (Writer’s note: That is the worst sentence I have ever written in my whole life and I hate myself) It is absolutely vital to the core of education, the furthering of intellectual pursuits and the struggle for knowledge, that these proposals be opposed with the utmost sincerity and tenacity by students across the country.

Written by JT White and Joshua Ferguson, October 24th 2010, for Heythrop's student newspaper the Lion originally.

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