Posts Tagged 'Cambridge Student Liberal Democrats'

Free Education … still worth fighting for

Free Education

               …is still worth fighting for

                                                                      by Elaine Bagshaw

             

The Bill which saw the introduction of tuition fees in England was won in Parliament by only 5 votes. Nearly a million students marched in London against this tax on education. The NUS lobbied against it, it was denounced as unfair, and our own party promised to abolish it. The policy was seen as an unforgivable assault on free education that, to begin with, was questioned at every opportunity.

 

Fast forward ten years, and the landscape of the debate is much changed. NUS has dropped its commitment to free education (an indication of how close the union has become to the Labour leadership), campaigning from students is almost silent, report after report claims fees have had no effect on accessibility and at Harrogate this Spring, our party will debate Higher Education policy, and its commitment to the abolition of fees.

 

When everyone runs onto the same ground, it’s easy to think you should follow. The voices in favour of free education have dwindled, and we are often referred to as “loony lefties” who back a regressive policy which is only a middle class subsidy from the taxpayer. The majority of those involved in this debate seem to have accepted that fees are here to stay, and that if you want to enter Higher Education you better be prepared to take on the minimum £9,000 debt that comes with it.

 

The idea that crippling young people with huge debts is acceptable and something we should see as an investment, especially in the current economic climate, is an absurdity. Graduate debt is the first and last solution of other parties’ Higher Education funding schemes. This way of thinking is not fair and it is not progressive. As the recession takes hold, it is people in the under 25 age bracket that are making up the lion’s share of redundancies.

 

People will argue that it is a debt that no-one chases you for, and you only pay it back once you’re working, but it is still a debt and it still accrues interest. I myself have £14,500 of student debt to repay. This is accruing £60 of interest every month. If I were made redundant tomorrow, this interest would still be added onto the overall debt. And if the economy doesn’t recover for two years (the minimum that’s expected), that’s another £1440 added on.

 

But there’s more to it than just student debt: Since the introduction of tuition fees, we’ve seen a market creep into Higher Education which is damaging the sector. We are being forced to think about only how to get a job after University – one which will earn us enough to repay our massive student debts. Lecturers are being forced to teach to the mark-sheet and find it harder and harder to explore, with students, their knowledge or their potential – this has even begun to hit the age-old institution that is the University of Cambridge. This isn’t the fault of students or lecturers, but of yet another failed ‘Labour’ policy.

 

Research clearly demonstrates that poorer students are more likely to choose a University that is close to home, meaning that these students miss out on all the extra skills and experiences the rest of us get from University. Social skills, independence, involvement in student activities and much more: all missed out on not because you don’t have the talent to go to a better University, but simply because the structure of the system means you just can’t afford it. Higher Education in this country remains inaccessible to poorer students and the best Universities continues to be implicitly reserved for the most privileged, rather than the most capable.

 

Dropping an illiberal and artificial 50% target (proportion of people going to University) – seemingly plucked out of thin air – coupled with a system of progressive taxation and sensible budgeting from a Government would provide well-funded, accessible Higher Education. The benefits for every student in Cambridge would be immense. It would develop all forms of diversity, free up access teams to do their job, and push the reputation of Cambridge even higher.

 

Free education is not regressive. Means-tested grants, loans and fees are regressive because it means that at the age of 18 (or older if you take a gap year) you are still tied to your parents. Every other section of the law views you as an independent adult – free to vote, get married without your parents’ permission and take on commercial credit and yet the current tuition fees system ties a financial commitment to you that your parents are expected to keep, yet on the Government’s terms.

 

The fight for free education is still worth it because free education is something that should not be compromised on. Education is a liberating, developing force and can free us from any background we are born into. What matters is that the principle of free education is still strong and its benefits worthwhile. This is something the Liberal Democrats have always stood for, and I hope always will.

 

Liberal Youth will be leading the fight for free education and the abolition of tuition fees at Harrogate conference. If you want to get involved, email elaine.bagshaw@liberalyouth.org and help with anything from lobbying to literature.

 

 

 

The writer is currently the Liberal Youth Chairperson.

 

 

 

 

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We can defeat I.D. Cards

We can defeat I.D. Cards

                                  – by Joe Rinaldi Johnson

 

From 25th November 2008, any student or foreigner requiring a grant of leave to remain in the UK has been required to attend a government centre (the nearest to Cambridge being Croydon) to be fingerprinted and photographed as part of their visa application. This is Phase One of the Labour government’s ID Card and National Identity Register scheme.

 

Choosing ‘foreigners’ as guinea pigs is not accidental – the Labour government is invoking, and encouraging, fears and stereotypes in order to gain public support. Contrary to the narrative of the popular press, very few migrants to this country are ‘illegal’ and those that are would have no incentive to register for an ID Card anyway. At Cambridge we recognise the immensely valuable cultural, intellectual and economic contributions throughout history that foreign nationals have made to our country. We should not be treating them as criminals or as pawns in political games. The world’s best and brightest can easily choose, to our detriment, to go elsewhere.

 

The government’s other potential first targets have vocally rejected their plans. They are worried that this scheme gives the government too much power to intrude in their daily lives. The National Identity Register will amount to a huge government database linking up and cross-referencing all pieces of government data (medical, educational, tax, etc.) to a single source – providing them with an easily-accessible total life fact-file. This will amount to constant central government surveillance from the cradle to the grave. Once you are on the register you will not be able to get off it. Soon you will not even have a choice as to whether you register – you will be forced to do so. And when you are, if you so much as forget to keep their database updated – such as when you move address – you will be liable for a £1,000 fine. The Cambridge Student Liberal Democrats, and I, believe that this is an attack on our supposedly liberal democracy.

 

Some people say that they have nothing to hide. They would give up their right to privacy in order to gain security. But these people will not get what they pay for. As the government cannot stop issuing thousands of genuine passports each year to false applicants today, they will not be able to stop criminals and terrorists obtaining ID Cards tomorrow. And as the government is able to lose millions of people’s personal data today, they will not be able to keep our data safe from criminals and the eyes of nosy government officials tomorrow. Even in the unlikely scenario that they did manage to protect us from these failings, they ignore the fact that tackling criminals and terrorists has never been a problem of failing to identify people. The 7/7 and 9/11 bombers all had valid forms of government identification and would not have been stopped by this scheme. Registering for an ID Card will not reveal any criminal motivations. The problem we should be trying to solve is catching them in the first place. To do that, we need police officers, not plastic. This scheme will give us neither liberty nor security and will cost us a colossal amount in the process.

 

In the midst of a potentially lengthy recession, now is not the time to force people to pay between £93 and £300 to obtain a worthless ID Card. This is not the time to drive away the foreign nationals that so enrich our nation. The Labour party are intimately complicit in this scheme and the Conservatives have only recently pulled on a cloak of principled opposition – they wanted ID cards long before Labour did. The two main parties have lurched about so violently on this and many other issues it is no wonder they both suffer from ideological motion-sickness. Consider this quote from Tony Blair in 1995: “Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on compulsory ID cards as the Tory Right demand, let that money provide thousands of extra police officers on the beat in our local communities.” We totally agree. We should scrap this scheme and spend the savings to bolster our police force. ID Cards and the National Identity Register are expensive, intrusive, ineffective, and risk alienating those foreign nationals upon whom our society depends. A liberal activist (and dry cleaner) brought down the last British ID card scheme in 1952 by refusing to produce his card, announcing “I am a Liberal and I am against this sort of thing.” If you join CSLD in refusing to register for an ID Card today, we can do it again.

 

 

 

The writer is a student of Social and Political Sciences at Cambridge, and the current CSLD Chair.

 

 

ID-Day Report

During a bitterly cold week, late in November, CSLD’s committee and its volunteers braved arctic weather conditions and battled porters covetously guarding their pigeon-holes to deliver 8,000 leaflets for our Michaelmas campaign: ID-DAY. Even before the day itself, interest had surged; press enquiries were coming in from Falmouth to Leeds and over 100 people had signed our petition online. The message was simple: the ID Cards scheme is expensive, intrusive, ineffective and unfair, but it can be defeated. We asked people across Cambridge to sign our petition calling on the government to drop plans for ID Cards and, more controversially, to refuse to register for an ID Card. Overwhelmingly, people on the streets of Cambridge were supportive of our campaign, reflected in the number of signatures we managed to collect – 500 in total. But more worryingly for the government, nearly 150 people pledged to refuse to register for an ID Card. On ID-DAY, CSLD sent out a stark message to the government: Cambridge will not comply.