According to BBC Reporting Scotland, students protested in Edinburgh on Thursday to send a message to Holyrood not to follow the lead of MPs in Westminster on tuition fees.
The twitter hashtag #solidarity suggested a more general motive of support in my eyes, but what do I know. Watching the rest of the beeb’s report, I couldn’t help thinking they haven’t bothered to get the full story at either side of the border.
For one thing, they branded every one of the London protestors with a hood up as being a troublemaker. Watching the footage back that was evidently not the case – some were undoubtedly just a bit cold. It is winter, you know. I’d have been more inclined to judge that bunch of reprobates who were all dressed in black and wearing masks whilst they smashed the windows of the Treasury.
Anyway, back to my point. Are Edinburgh students genuinely worried that the Scottish government will renege on one of the key issues of devolution and suddenly start charging people £9,000 to go to university where at the moment it’s free to Scottish students? They only scrapped the graduate endowment when I was in fourth year, a mere three years ago. Surely politicians are not so fickle?! *cough* Clegg *cough*.
MSPs are all swearing blind this will not happen, although nobody has been particularly forthcoming on an alternative funding model as yet. There will be a green paper released on the subject next week, and in a chilling piece to camera on STV, president of NUS Scotland Liam Burns warned that he WOULD BE WATCHING.
But if Scottish students do continue to study for free (excepting of course their cost of living, books and actual graduation after four years), what does that mean in terms of finances for our universities?
MP for Edinburgh East Sheila Gilmore has been quoted this week as being concerned that universities, who have struggled with some fairly brutal cuts over the past few years, may take higher quotas of fee-paying students from England and abroad to try and raise some money, to the detriment of bright and able young Scots.
Taking this to the logical conclusion, we’ll still be churning out graduates, but they’ll presumably decamp back down south after graduation and the Scottish economy will see none of the benefits of their (alleged) higher earning power. Meanwhile we’ll have a larger number of unqualified natives working three or four menial jobs to try and make ends meet.
Sorry, but this smacks of scaremongering, and xenophobic scaremongering at that. Whilst there are a lot of English students in Scotland, there would need to be an exponential surge in numbers for them to overtake the levels of Scottish students. According to data collected by The Higher Education Statistics Agency in 2006-2007, out of 223, 532 people studying for their degrees in Scotland, 21,514 were from England, whilst there were 158 983 Scots.
However, the nationality of our students seems irrelevant given that the chance of anyone getting a decent job after graduation is fast becoming an urban myth. The jobs market in Scotland is a barren wasteland, littered with the dead aspirations of graduates who wanted to do something interesting and found instead that it was bottom rung data entry, retail or dole. One of my friends tells a story of how last year he attended a training session in an Edinburgh branch of Waterstones where one St Andrews graduate (who also had an MLitt from Edinburgh University) taught four other recent graduates how to lift a box.
We don’t have to start paying back our SAAS loans until we’re earning more than 15k, and I only know about three people who have got to that stage. I graduated in 2008. Meanwhile the new legislation from Westminster gives people till 21k before they have to start paying things back. It could take years to get to that stage. The way things look right now, it might never happen.
In that case, what is the point of getting a degree in the first place? You’d be as well doing your 6 months on the dole straight from school, then getting on the career ladder ASAP. Except that when you then want to go for those middle management, 20k promotions in your late twenties or early thirties, they turn round and tell you that you do need a degree after all. Not because you can’t do the job, particularly, but because all the other candidates have one. It denotes a particular aptitude for handing in paperwork that you may not have as someone who came to work straight from school.
Furthermore, according to a Universities Scotland report, employment growth will continue to be concentrated at graduate level over the next few years. Although as far as I can gather, ‘graduate level work’ almost exclusively involves moving to London and working for companies like Deloitte doing something you have no real interest in.
This is probably a product of my arts degree. I didn’t go to university to become an historian; I went to work on the student press as part of my quest to become a journalist. Whilst the experience has done nothing to get me work paying more than 13.5k pa; it was a valuable and worthwhile experience which taught me to think and communicate in a number of different ways.
As a result, I do think that people ought to have the option to go and on a personal level I’m open to the idea of a graduate contribution to facilitate this. Who can really argue against putting something back into a system that enabled you to go as far as you could intellectually and financially?
I don’t know what our ‘Scottish Solution’ to the problem of Higher Education is going to be, but I do think that a graduate contribution of some kind makes sense. Just as long as the Scottish Government don’t present it in the same cack-handed way as Clegg and the coalition, because that makes people angry. And people put their hoods up when they’re angry.