11 Nov 2010, 10:52am


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  • It’s going to be a great decade for British music

    Watching those revolting students on the telly last night, I have to admit to a frisson of excitement at he sound of smashing glass. I’m very glad nobody got killed, and hope that the 10 people hospitalised make a full recovery. The topic of student fees is important, but it’s not so important as to give people the right to lob fire extinguishers off roofs at people or endanger human life.

    Batman to David Cameron - Want some? Bring it on...

    But as for wrecking Tory party headquarters, well it’s hard to argue with the logic of the cricket-bat wielding student who said:

    “If the Government knows we’re willing to take this kind of action, they will take us more seriously.”

    Sadly, history is on his side. The biggest protest ever in the UK was the Iraq War protest in 2003, about a million strong according to the BBC. That changed the course of action by all of….Zilch, Zip, nada.

    Whereas the Poll Tax riots of 1990 actually changed things.  It’s not pretty, it’s not nice, but it’s the way life is.

    As a side effect, the early 1980s and early 1990s were pretty good times for music. Great music is born on the streets from dissatisfaction welling up and finding its voice, not produced by Simon Cowell on the X factor.

    The problem here is that the students are quite right. Borrowing £30,000 to pay for three years at university is an astronomical amount. Other than my mortgage, I’ve never borrowed that much for anything – indeed I have never spent that much on any one thing other than my house. And the Tories are also right. We haven’t got the money to pay for 50% of 18 year olds to go to university. Cameron did manage to score a brilliant own goal by letting the Chinese know that he felt their pain in subsidising British university students so he was increasing British university fees so overseas students wouldn’t have to suffer increases. Nice tin ear, Dave 🙂

    There is a solution. We used to be able to pay for about 10% of 18 years olds to go to university. When modern students whinge about the baby-boomers getting their university education free, they also have to be prepared to face up to the corollary of that – the exams were hard enough to discriminate by ability and top-slice by ability. If students want free university education, they have to also accept that 80% of the typical modern student cohort won’t make the grade to qualify.

    Somewhere between those extremes lies the answer. It’s going to be a long hard slog, because the educational establishment has considered selection by ability an anathema for over thirty years. Faced with the economic tsunami coming from the rise of China and India, a squeeze on natural resources and the total SNAFU made of our economy, we can’t afford to carry passengers any more. We are going to have to prioritise our resources, and that probably doesn’t include paying for people to do media studies.

    We could bring back free university education by fixing the exam system, introducing a numerus clausus and drastically reducing student numbers. Whether that is really what the student revolutionaries want is another matter.

    I was involved in several demonstrations that turned into riots in the 1990s.

    It’s sort of horribly exciting when you’re on the fringes, it’s undeniable – I was never at all violent, I hasten to add – but I’ll never forget the sight of a prone policeman’s head being repeatedly kicked before he was hauled out by his comrades. Totally random as far as we could tell, he was just a bloke turning up to work at the wrong place at the wrong time. Not much glamour in that.

    I think that was an anti-fascist demo IIRC. We didn’t get rid of fascists, either, as commentators who tell me I’m a fascist on my blog because I think work should pay and benefits shouldn’t be limitless will no doubt confirm. 😉

    IMHO The Gov had to do something, too many people going to uni these days. But what else do young people do? We dont make anything anymore. Very few manufacturing jobs. So what do you do, work in retail, food or a call centre.

    We need more people with trade/technical degrees and qualifications, IMHO there should be some sort of sponsorship from the Gov to people who enrol for these courses.

    Perhaps the new fees will discourage people from doing useless degrees like travel and tourism etc.

    as a former pirate radio DJ, rave organiser and hedonist, I’m not sure about the “great music” TBH, there was an equal amount of crap in the 1980s! As the years go on its easy to forget the rubbish and look upon things with rose-tinted specs.

    yes there was a fair few tracks with “political” lyrics but ultimately the main development of the late 80s and 90s was electronic dance music / the rave scene and Indie/Britpop and the emphasis shifted to escapist hedonism.

    Interesting subculture but funded on one level by a massive scale of drugs-related money laundering, usually through the record labels and large commercial events – and people still being willing to *pay for content* (I still have about £1000’s worth of vinyl records in my spare room!) thus sustaining a variety of industries.

    and unfortunately there is a long term hangover, about 60% of the folk I used to go raving with are suffering physical or mental health issues. I sometimes wonder myself how I survived – perhaps I was just lucky.

    Anyway the authorities are now harsher on money laundering and many modern party drugs (although not the tabloid “killers”) are poor quality and the nasty after effects of paranoia and despair arrive even quicker than 90s stuff.

    and if the same cops who deal with raves round here had been sent to “Dave the Rave’s” pad he’d still have glass in most of his windows (I’ve heard on the grapevine EA cops are now being asked to teach metpol how to do things!)

    so no escape for these youth unless they are prepared to actually graft and create and run their own music/social venues. I agree with Dreamer that trade/vocational courses are what should be funded, but aren’t there a fair few anyway, just that youths don’t want to take them?

    As I have just argued, if the nature of the debt is correctly understood, the proposed funding system is reasonable and may help to reduce silly courses and the number of people taking them.

    In the 60s, grants were probably essential to raise HE participation above immediate post-war levels of perhaps 5%. It’s hardly required now.

    I’ve never been wholly convinced by the “reduce student numbers” argument.

    I think there’s a good argument that the only way the West will be able to compete with the emerging markets and their ultra-cheap industrial labour is by having a highly educated working population. The West’s education system is, when it works, very very good. Agreed that churning out those dance & waste management graduates are not evidence of it working, though.

    In any case, we are not loading future students with debt, we are loading them with a time-limited, conditional, and delayed income tax liability, right? This is a completely different beast to a lump-sum unsecured debt.

    I think the nature of the courses, duration and integration with eventualy paying careers are what need revamping rather than simply reducing the numbers. Some public funded post 18 education is good – but not everyone needs to do a 3 or 4 year degree… perhaps 2 year diplomas linked with work placements make more sense..

    Ironically many of the creative arts courses existing today arose as a direct consequence of the “great years for British music” spawning the creative industries which were supposed to take in these graduates – but no one realised in the 1990s that a huge chunk of the revenue stream would evaporate due to the Internet reducing the value of content..

    […] It’s going to be a great decade for British music – Simple in Suffolk […]

    @Monevator, there’s something about the sound of smashing glass that quickens the pulse 😉 And I’m probably fascist in believing exams should reflect ability. I failed Eng Lit because I was NBG at the subject, I was better at science and engineering than the arts. If I’d got a B it would be better for my self esteem but I’d still be crap at it.

    @Dreamer, Spot on – we need to focus our energies on subjects that will be good for building wealth at the moment. Something gives me the feeling that 45% is too many going to uni, though what I have to say that one the TV interviews at the demonstration they were more articulate that I’d expected.

    @Alex, it’s a fair cop – I went to university in the very early 1980s and music is always best for anyone in those formative years 😉 I do think there was more energy and rawness however, and adversity lends fire and passion. Pluse in those days there was no Auto-Tune which makes things sound pitch-perfect but strips tone-colour and passion from the sound. Or maybe I’m just being a crabby old git, I’m just tired of X-factor shite clogging the airwaves, all slick production. Few of the creative arts are improved by a process of slickly elimination everything that’s wrong. There has to be something right about it in the first place, else the result is vacuous muzak.

    @SG. your Can’t someone else pay is a brilliant analysis and shows that the system may actually work okay in practice. However, presentation is a large part of things. If someobody had told me at 18 that I would need to take out a loan of about 1/3 of the value of my house I would have been hit by sticker shock and passed. The fact that the workings of this are functionally more a graduate tax than a loan system would be lost on me. Whereas if it had been called a graduate tax I would have considered it more. Life to my teenage mind was more black and white with fewer shades of grey, and taking a personal finance decision of that magnitude with the calm analysis you’ve done is asking a lot. You can’t, and perhaps shouldn’t, put an old head on young shoulders – if this is more a graduate tax then it should be called such. We mght even not have rioting on the streets and our copper menaced by flying fire extinguishers if the true nature of the proposals were more widely known.

    @Lemondy, Can’t argue with the fact that recent shifts probably demand a higher level of education. However, I do wonder whether increasing the graduate intake to 50% is wise – it means admitting people of truly average intelligence to university. You can’t make people cleverer by sending them to university, and this is one of the tragedies of the shift in requirements for the modern workplace. We have nowhere for the non-academic to go. The emphasis on academic intelligence devalues other skills talents, and the imbalance throws a lot of people on the scrapheap. I don’t know what the answer is, but there’s a limit to how many potential knowledge workers we have got within the UK population.


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