Thursday 15 December 2011

All about perspective

Today’s education section in the Western Mail contains a lengthy report of an interview with the Tories’ Shadow Education Minister.  It covers a host of education issues – including the matter of tuition fees.
On that particular subject, there was one sentence in particular which struck me as especially revealing – and indeed, it was one of the quotes which the Mail itself chose to headline in the little box at the bottom of the page.
Ms Burns said, “I don’t believe in this current climate we can have a universal benefit like this”.
That goes right to the heart of the difference in perspective which clouds any debate on the issue,  It is clear that, from a Conservative viewpoint, payment of higher education fees is a ‘universal benefit’, something which puts it in the same class as the state pension.  For me, it is an investment in the future of both our young people and our nation.  There’s an enormous gulf between those two perspectives.
But it goes further than that.  It is entirely legitimate to ask at which age paying from education starts to become a ‘benefit’ rather than an investment.  Does such an attitude only apply to higher education?  I can see no logical basis for distinguishing between higher education and further education – or even between higher education and sixth form education.  Indeed, the growth of ‘dual-sector’ institutions means that all three types of education post statutory school leaving age will be delivered by the same institutions.
Perhaps it goes even further than that.  Perhaps deep down at least some Conservatives see all education as a ‘benefit’; part of the benefits system.  In that context, tuition fees are just the thin end of a very large wedge.
I pick on the Tories here, because the statement came from them.  But the underlying attitude – seeing the payment of tuition fees as an unaffordable ‘universal benefit’ permeates all four parties to a greater or lesser degree.  Even some of those arguing for free tuition “when we can afford it” are effectively accepting the basic premise.
There is a real ideological difference here, and that point is not made often enough or strongly enough.  Education is not part of the benefits system and should never be seen as such.  There are two very different world views here, but for too long, politics has glossed over that fact.  Glossing over it is allowing one of those world views to win.


Anonymous said...

The most shocking part of the tuition fees debate is that with more Welsh students deciding to study in England than Wales -with huge financial cost - Leighton Andrews and Labour are financing a brain drain from Wales.

And nobody says anything.


Boncath said...

The problem is as you so rightly point out is that any one capable of earning an income or a benefit of any description is now seen as a target for direct taxation.
At the lower income levels benefits have outstripped earning potential a situation accelerated by the minimum wage so you can end up working alongside those who have the same income from work as you but who enjoy a much better benefit enhanced income overall For many work is a device for obtaining benefits just as not working acts in the same way

MP's are no different their income and expenses are out of sync with the majority of those who vote for them and the same is true at County Council level where public service for community benefit has all but been lost as the operating principle behind being a County Councillor

I also submit that the Uk taxation system imposes a far greater burden on low wage areas than is widely ackowledged --we are all in
together conceals the truth that some are more in it than others