I feel very strongly about education.
Of course I do. I come from an extremely privileged background when it comes to academics. My grandfather was a professor, my grandmother a teacher; both of my parents have degrees; my dad has a PhD and my mum’s working on an MA; and my mum works in a school. Well, two schools, actually. But whatever.
I wasn’t one of those kids who always loved school. I spent my fair share of time complaining about being in school, wishing I was at home, hoping it would snow so I didn’t have to go in. Oh, and then I was ill a lot, and I’m not entirely sure how much of that was me being genuinely unwell and how much was me making a fuss so that I got to go home.
(I thought it was mostly the latter, but then I found out about my coeliac and stuff, and I’m wondering if perhaps I was right to complain about my stomach aches. Because it turns out I’ve been poisoning myself for years without knowing about it, so…)
Since my mum’s a careers advisor, I’ve also grown up thinking about university and jobs and what a degree is really about. I started thinking about uni fairly young, maybe fourteen or fifteen, and I felt very strongly about the raise in tuition fees in 2010, as those who read my blog from the very beginning might be aware.
Yes, this blog did exist in 2010. So many things did that shouldn’t. Timehop is an app that is sometimes nostalgic but mostly just a cringe-worthy reminder of my early teenage years on the internet. THANKS SOCIAL MEDIA. You’ve immortalised the worst parts of me.
Recently the government came up with a new budget and it annoyed me, because they’re scrapping maintenance grants for low-income students and turning them into loans instead. First off, this won’t be enough: the maintenance loan I get at present doesn’t come near to covering my rent, let alone anything else like food or books. Second, this really doesn’t benefit anyone, because so many people won’t end up paying it back that the money will still be gone, just like the grant would have been.
And third, because it shows once again that this government doesn’t care about young people, particularly those on a low income. If you’re under 25, then you’re basically screwed under this system. The benefits you can claim are exceedingly limited and getting more so all the time.
I have a thousand arguments for why university should be an option to everyone whatever their background, and a thousand arguments for why forcing them to take out huge loans will discourage them, and how that leads to spiral of poverty from which they can’t escape.
I also have a thousand arguments about why uni isn’t all about the money or the jobs people can get when they leave, but has an intrinsic value because of how it helps people to develop emotionally, intellectually, and socially. I know I’ve opened up and matured a lot in the past year, and I’ve become way better about talking about my feelings, which is something I’ve always sucked at. That’s not why I’m paying to be there, but it’s still just as important.
But in the end, it’s not really about me. First, because this won’t affect me, since I don’t receive a maintenance grant in the first place. I’m lucky enough to have parents who can support me financially, and without them, I wouldn’t be able to go to uni. I mean, add my health problems on top of usual costs… like, seriously, gluten free food is so expensive.
I’m just frustrated. And angry. I want to do something about it — in the words of my favourite gobby Northern lesbian, “Let’s bring down the government.”
For want of the health, energy and bravery to build an actual barricade, I took to Twitter instead, arguing that wealth should never define somebody’s opportunities. I also talked on Tumblr about the pressure that the cost of university puts on students, talking about my own experiences and how the knowledge of what I was paying affected my enjoyment.
That would have been the end of it, if I hadn’t then read comments on various online newspaper articles saying that students should get a job and fund it for themselves, and stop expecting the government to do it for them. Various people talked about having a part time job during university.
And that’s a fair enough point. But there aren’t always jobs, and people aren’t always able to do them. At universities like Cambridge, you’re not even allowed to have a part time job during term time because the workload is supposedly too intense. People’s situations are a little more complicated than that. But even so, making university all about money is a mistake, because there’s more to it. So my second Twitter rant went into more theoretical territory about why people go to uni and again dealt with social mobility and things.
I’d like to build a barricade. A comfortable one, with soft chairs for people whose health doesn’t permit them to stand and wave flags; one where you can take a break every time your mental health overwhelms you. But I kind of don’t think that would help.
So I’ll stick to Twitter instead, because hey, isn’t that what the internet is for? Ranting about the government? Yeah, I thought so.
VIVE LA REVOLUTION.