Stop the fees protests – at least for now
AFTER years of apparent political apathy in their ranks, it has been encouraging to see students finding something to protest about again.
But in view of the levels of violence and vandalism witnessed during last week’s demonstration against increased university fees, in particular the attack on a car carrying the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, the mainstream student organisations behind the campaign would do well to call a halt.
The longer the protests go on, the more they will be dominated by the professional trouble-makers who recognise a convenient bandwagon when they see one.
Far from being provoked by excessive force by the police (which, while no excuse for violent retaliation, should certainly be investigated as thoroughly as the ineptitude which put members of the Royal family at risk) the anarchist/anti-capitalist elements within the crowd were plainly intent on violence.
Rather than continue to stage demonstrations and so provide a platform for people whose activities will divert attention away from the issue of fees, the student organisers would be better advised to play the long game because, at a fundamental level, they are right.
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No criticism of the present Government should be inferred from this as, in the current financial climate, the increase in fees approved by Parliament last week is the only feasible solution in the short run to meet the funding needs of the university sector. In the long run, however, a developed country should be able to fund its universities directly.
Just as it was anachronistic for parents to remain responsible for supporting university students when the age of majority was reduced from 21 to 18, so it is an anomaly now for university eduction to be a chargeable service when other types of education are not.
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It is plainly in the interests of society for the rising generation to be well educated and it is only right that everybody makes a fair contribution towards the cost. In the case of schools, this principle is accepted without question. Childless workers, for example, do not pay less in tax because they are not using the education system, nor would most of them expect to.
Why, then, should the principle suddenly cease to apply to education beyond the age of 18, and why only then to higher education and not also to other courses which, no less than a degree, can also enable people to earn more?
It may well be that the university sector is currently too big and that fewer, but better, universities would better serve the country as well as being more affordable.
But a progressive system of funding university education under which those who benefit most also pay most, already exists. It is called Income Tax.