Friday, 10 December 2010


OK the title may be obvious but after the rare occurance of serious conversation taking place today in my office, I am taking to the internet to personally highlight why I found the result of the vote yesterday so traumatic.  Having witnessed some heated debate on Twitter, I hope that those invoved will read this, and hear a new view on the topic.

In July I had the trauma of turning 30 - shortly followed by the joy of getting engaged to the most wonderful man in the world in August.  I have a fairly good job, we have a heavily mortgaged little house, and two cats.  I graduated from Uni in 2002 with what some would classify as a 'noddy' degree, but going to Uni honestly armed me with many tools and techniques that I use in my role today.

Not being from a rich family, and being the first year of students to have to pay tuition fees, I had to pay some tuition fees and to take out student loans to live.  I worked during all holidays but not during term time, requiring flexibility with my hours due to the nature of the course.  I had some financial support from my Dad, and my Mum struggled to find the money to pay my (reduced thru means testing) tuition fees. I graduated with £11.5k debt of student loans, a £2k overdraft, and having to take out a postgrad loan to put a deposit on a flat to start my first job.  8 years later, I still have £7.5k of student loans to repay, and lose over £200 per month on repayments, plus large chunks of any bonus or backpay.  When I was earning less money, I once paid off only £40 in a year follow interest payments.  I will be paying this back for years. YEARS.

I am trying to save for a wedding. My fiance works in public sector and his employment security is therefore under threat. People are asking us if we are going to have kids. Why? Why would we have kids? We wouldn't get financial support. One of us may be unemployed.  We don't have any family nearby who could support us. We couldn't afford to send them to Uni. What quality of life, what options and freedom, could we offer our kids?

I find it a struggle, psychologically, to reconcile how much money I have paid back to the student loans company. We get told 'the amount taken is so small you don't notice it'.  Do you notice £200 per month?? I sure as heck do.  And this was with a paltry £11.5k of loan debt.  Students moving forward will have the cost of living loan as well as the tuition fees (minimum £6k).  Let's say £11k per annum. How many families can afford to give that to their children?  So a graduate would leave Uni with £33k of debt, all ready to pay back when they're earning £21k p/a. Which will be when??

What kind of government is this? One that saddles these young adults with a life sentence of debt before they've even really started? That decides that education is a privilige of the wealthy, rather than a right of the able?  And to think that my Lib Dem vote actually ended up supporting this sickens me.

Violence is abhorrent and wrong and the scenes yesterday appalled me.  But I can understand why it happened.  We have witnessed hope being taken away from a new generation for no justifiable reason.  This money isn't going to be reinvested in HE.  So our University system will be the most expensive - and yet possibly one of the lowest calibre - in Europe?

I wish I could make millions so that I could set up bursaries for these bright and capable individuals to attend University.  I wish I could take my vote back.  I wish that our MPs really did do what the people who voted for them really wanted.

If you have made it to the end of this post without wanting to call me a 'leftie' then I thank you.  I wanted to share a little bit of my life, my thoughts, in a rare moment of being serious.  I could go on for hours but I shan't.  If you support our students-to-be, please re-tweet, and let's see if between us we can think of what we 'ordinary' people can do to help people get the education they deserve.


Anonymous said...

could not have said it better!

i have same debt same problem and 3 kids i hoped would go to college!

Stephen O'Donnell said...

I see the heading for this post is ConDemd. However, the fee regime you have experienced was introduced by the Labour Government of Tony Blair, supported mostly by the Tories, and 100% opposed by the Lib-Dems. As it was also introduced at a time when the county was experiencing an unprecedented boom, it was clearly ideologically driven, and not by absolute financial necessity. It was said at the time that by opening this Pandora's Box, it would be impossible to reverse, and be likely to be expanded.
This was indeed the intent of the Labour (and Tory) party, when they commissioned the Browne report into Further Education funding. They could have left the system you experienced as it was, but by this time were up against the financial wall, and had to make some very grim choices. Labour delayed the report until after the general election, with the hope that they could avoid it's inevitable electoral effects.
For what it's worth, I am dead against tuition fees in principle, and that your first degree should be fully funded by the state. Personally, I have no degree, or any qualification to speak of, so did not benefit from the free fees and grant system available to my peers in the 1980's. I also live in Scotland, where the Parliament, has cut other expenditure in order to pay the tuition fees of every student's first degree (or HND, HNC etc). This can't last in the current climate, and will change soon. I do however have three sons, aged 20, 17 and 8, so I do have a dog in this fight. My eldest is studying at Glasgow Uni, where my 2nd wants to study medicine next year.

This is clearly an emotive subject, and I was drawn into a Twitter argument about it this week.

The politics of the day has contrived the parties into very strange positions, where Labour wants to retain the current discredited system (or have a graduate tax), the Tories want to move away from direct funding of Universities by government, and the Lib-Dems want to cut other projects in order to abolish tuition fees. What the coalition agreement has meant, is that neither the Tories or Lib-Dems can stick to their manifesto on all issues. Tuition fees is an issue where the LD's frankly were always going to have to get shafted on. Like it or not, there are other more important issues where the LD's had to stand their ground.

The bottom line is that no-one got what they wanted, and the LD's have had to accept serious embarrassment, as they had signed a "Pledge" in addition to their manifesto commitments. This was clearly a stupid thing to do, and they bitterly regret it now.
It must be remembered though, that the vast majority of the electorate voted for parties that fully intended to drastically increase tuition fees. And surprise surprise, that's what they got. It seems equally clear, that the only way to have avoided that, would have been for a Lib-Dem government to have been elected. The uncomfortable truth is that student votes for LD's weren't wasted, they just weren't enough.