When Student Becomes a Bad Word

1 04 2011

This was originally posted on an old blog, reposted here.

When Student Becomes a Bad Word

I overheard something said quite innocently last week, while in town.

I was with my daughter keeping my distance but watching the student protesters in Glasgow’s George Square. There were 3 police to every protester and the sad attempt at a kettle, looked like an authoritarian game of The Farmer’s in His Den, complete with wife, child, dog and bone in the centre.

While I watched the three deep police kettle “control” a crowd of no more than 20 people (for sadly they didn’t hold hands and dance in a circle around them as much as I willed them to), I heard for the first time in a very very long time, the word “student” used as a swear word.

I remember living in a rather upper class part of a rather affluent Tory dominated town in the 1980s. My mother, a staunch labour supporter and *gasp* student at the time, didn’t get much respect from the parents of my peers at the local primary school. Indeed we were somewhat of an anomaly and approached more like creatures to be observed in an unnatural habitat, a curiosity if you will. I remember mothers of friends being scornful of a mother who not only didn’t stay at home to look after her children and bake (don’t even get me started on the baking) but who studied at a university to secure a future career for herself. Instead of becoming a dinner lady/playground monitor when the youngest child went full time to school, my mother worked nightshift as a staff nurse and put my toddler brother into nursery when she attended lectures. She was, *shock horror* a leftie feminist and a worthless “bloody student”.

Of course my mother’s contribution to society has far exceeded the label of a working mum and bloody student… but the disrespectful under-breath hissing of the term “bloody student” by a friends father will always stick with me.

By the time I was old enough to attend university, it was what everyone and their dog did. If you couldn’t get into one of the traditional universities you went to one of the new ones converted from Polytechnics. A degree wasn’t something you aspired to, it was something you expected, like pocket money and Christmas presents. As time went by this expectation got worse. Degree’s were being devalued left, right and centre and what Boris Johnson in the Telegraph termed, Micky Mouse subjects, such as Outdoor Adventure and Philosophy (offered in Plymouth) or Science: Fiction and Culture (offered in Glamorgan) put such graduates on an academic par with Doctors and Lawyers.

I’m not saying that degrees in such subjects are worthless in the slightest, far from it. If you can get a first in Sci-Fi you can continue to do your PhD in Klingon. I’m sure the marking criteria are equally as strict and the employment specialisms will be hard to fill without the qualifications.

The problem however, lies in the fact that since the Tory government have gained power (I wont patronise anyone by referring to it as a coalition, suggesting a partnership) they have sought to restrict access to the university system to only those who have the available cash or “poor people” who are so bright it would be a crime to hold them back and who don’t mind leaving tens of thousands of pounds in debt.

Any talk of progressiveness seeks only to soothe those capitalists with an ounce of conscience. Allowing kids to start their adult life with mortgage sized debts is unforgivable.

Perhaps a long way for a shortcut, but the point I’m trying to make is that while students and future students protested the tripling of tuition fees to £9000 per annum, the media were creating yet another discrimination fuelled frenzy. Those “crazy students”, imagine wanting a better life. How dare those teenagers consider starting life without crippling debt. The cheek of it. Oh now they’re getting violent, well doesn’t that just say it all, they don’t deserve a debt free life for that. Lets lock them up at taxpayers expense. That will teach them to not want debt.

Forget that it was debt that got the country into this mess in the first place. It was society’s greed for material possessions and trying to keep up with everyone else that created a situation where the country was near bankrupt, the banks failing and jobs being cut all over the place. Now to top it off we’re going to punish future generations by forcing them into crippling debts, all the while allowing tax evaders like Vodaphone to forgo the £6billion they owe the country in taxes. The difference between education and materialistic greed is that the world benefits from one and not the other. Sadly the line between the two, separating necessity from desire, seems a little blurred these days

So what if it gets paid off over a lifetime? So what if you have to earn £21k a year before you start repayments? Its still £40,000+ of debt hanging over their heads before they can even embark on adulthood, but its ok, they’re students; like lifelong benefits claimants only with a worse social standing.

Big business are let off with their debt running into tens of billions, while the little people will be chased to within an inch of their life. If anyone dares to complain about it, they will be branded until the day they die. And if anyone tries to better their future chances by attending university, getting themselves into debt they will also be branded as the new social pariah, a student.

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