|Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent
||[Wednesday 10th November 2010 at 9:36 pm]
Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent ~ Salvor Hardin, Foundation
That's what went through my mind when I read the news about the violence at the student protests today. From the reports it looks like it started out as a peaceful protest, right up until someone set fire to an effigy of David Cameron. A group then decided to storm Millbank Tower, and the hopelessly outnumbered police who hadn't been expecting a riot didn't stand a chance.
Sigh... they had to go and ruin a perfectly good protest. Instead of the media reporting on the student population protesting against tuition fee increases, they're reporting on riots.
Anyway, the reason for all the protesting is the Government's current proposals for university funding. In a nutshell, they plan to massively cut back on the funding from central government while increasing tuition fees to between £6000 and £9000 a year. This goes completely the Lib Dem's manifesto which was to abolish tuition fees, and so the student populous is quite rightly angry with Nick Clegg. Unfortuantly the proposals have some sense in them: with the current state of government finance it wouldn't be practical to outright abolish tuition fees.
Labour is of course against this, in a wonderful case of the pot calling the kettle black. It was the Labour government which first introduced top-up fees, permitting universities to charge up to £2k more than the then existing fees of £1k/year. In theory the top-up fees were only going to be charged by some universities, but in practice everyone charged the full £3k. I bet the same will happen with the new proposals, and almost all universities will charge £8k or so.
It should be noted that you don't have to pay any tuition fees upfront here: in the UK, the government provides a loan for the fees and some level of living costs, which is charged very little interest (0% last year!) and which you don't have to start paying back until you earn more than a certain amount. I forget what the threshold is, but part of this proposal is to increase it to £21k/year gross earnings. Unfortunately another part of the proposal is to charge commercial interest rates on the loan, and to have a surcharge for paying the loan off early. It's a stealth graduate tax, and that's especially cheeky as the government just announced that they weren't going to introduce one.
On the bright side, there's a fair chance that the proposals won't survive the Commons. Labour will vote against it if for no reason other than because the Tories proposed it. The Lib Dem/Conservative coalition agreement gives the Lib Dems the right to abstain from the vote on it, but some Lib Dem members may rebel and vote against the measures as well. Interestingly one of the Lib Dem proposals may backfire on them: one reform they want to introduce is the ability for the public to recall a MP who's guilty of "serious wrongdoing", and the NUS plans to use that against any Lib Dem who votes for increasing tuition fees.
This is all speculation as well, as no formal act has started to make its way through the government yet. All we have is the text of the Browne report, and a statement from the Conservatives outlining what they intend to do. And we all know how much a government statement is worth.