Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Don't Call Me Stupid.

Blimey, I still can't get used to having so many young people phoning us up and wanting to talk about student funding. It's as if they've just discovered politics for the first time. I mention it to The Boss when he calls me at lunchtime.

"It's very good news," he says. "Perhaps we can stop worrying so much about youth disengagement now."

"About tuition fees, anyway," I say. "Though I'm not so sure that they're all interested in politics in general."

"Hmm," he says. "At least I hope they've learned where being politically naive gets them: LibDems promising the earth and then discovering they can't deliver it. If so many students hadn't fallen for the buggers' pledges, we might not be in this mess now."

This is all very well, but I do wish Ed Miliband would be a bit more careful when he talks about the changes to tuition fees affecting social mobility. It's not as if we've got a glowing record on that ourselves - as one of the older constituents who phones today is at pains to point out.

"Your lot presided over a worsening in the situation," says Mr Fincham. "And as for that ludicrous 50% university target, well that's the elephant in the room, isn't it?"

I hate to say it, but he's got a point. No-one wants to talk about that when the subject of tuition fees comes up. They stay well away from how on earth such a high target could possibly be publicly-funded.

And, as for whether graduates with poor degrees from less-desirable universities stand any chance of getting well-paid jobs, or whether they've been burdening themselves with debt for no good reason, not even the "bold and brave" Nick Clegg will touch that one with a bargepole, will he?

It's very unnerving when you find yourself agreeing with a Tory on anything, but David Davis seems to be one of the few prepared to think the unthinkable. Mr Fincham must be his biggest fan.

"Davis is the only one talking any sense," he says. "You guys should pay attention to him, instead of arguing about a graduate tax and fighting amongst yourselves."

"Ah," I say. Sometimes I can see why The Boss relies on saying that so often.

"Is that all you've got to say?" (I didn't claim it always works.)

"Well, I agree with him about tuition fees hitting those students who come from the tier just above the poorest the hardest," I say. "They do, as with many other means-tested things that involve a cut-off point."

I'm hoping this will satisfy Mr Fincham, but he hasn't finished yet:

"Bloody right. And Davis has got the solution to the whole problem, hasn't he?"

"What's that, then?"

"Send fewer people to university," he says. "Not that the Labour Party will ever have the bollocks to face up to that. Obsessed with degrees at all costs, and couldn't give a monkey's about whether the courses these young 'uns take are even worth doing."

I know what Mr Fincham means. The Boss is completely hung up on degrees for all - not that he seems to think mine is worth much.

When the Labour Government first brought in tuition fees, I kept asking Andrew why, if a university education was such a passport to success, I was so badly-paid in comparison to my non-graduate friends, but he always wriggled out of it.

"Gave you the confidence to argue your case, though - didn't it, Molly?" he said.

"But seemingly not to win it," I said.

I'd ask him again now, and use Johnny as an example of what non-graduates can earn, if I wasn't still worrying about MI5 and drawing attention to my Russian connection. Johnny thinks I'm being ridiculous when I ask him not to email me at work any more, though.

"You'd need to work for someone much more important than your boss for the Russians to be interested in you," he says. "He's a backbench MP - and in opposition, for God's sake. I shouldn't think they've even heard of him in the Kremlin."

"Given his supposedly-Marxist views, they may know him better than you think," I say. "Not that he ever applies them to my pay. But, anyway, I can't take the risk. I don't know what you might try to get me to reveal in an unguarded moment."

"The only thing I'm interested in getting you to reveal is what you look and feel like naked."

"Well, I've only got your word for that," I say. "I'll set up a Hotmail account and get back to you when I've done it. Don't email me until then."

"Now you're just being stupid," he says. He doesn't even moderate the insult with a smily face, or any kisses.

I somehow refrain from pointing out that only 6% of the population made it to university when I went, and Johnny didn't. But the knowledge makes me feel a whole lot better, as long as I don't think about what he earns.


  1. OK, serious comment for a change (not that I've much that is novel to add to the argument).

    University education was & should be an elite aspiration. Good courses from excellent institutions (for the most part) were something to aim for and separated the sheep from the goats – animals named in no particular order – at usefully non-arbitrary stage.

    Tertiary education, however, should be open to all that want it and not be seen as a lesser option. Having a vocation, to my mind, is more fulfilling than the possession of above average intelligence (the ideal being the happy coincidence of both).

    I hate (not too strong a word) the way a generation of children & many of their parents have been conned into believing that entering a noddy course at a nodding dog university was the route to satisfaction & riches. Most are wiser now and, as far as I can see, the only benefit is on our side of the counter or bar; where to be served by bright & conscientious kids forced to slum it in jobs some distance below their capabilities is satisfaction for the customer but cannot be for them. Unless they have managed to secure a job with an employer with an enlightened attitude to career paths (they do exist).

    Here's a (rough) fact: Apple has 25,000 employees. The company's main manufacturer (Foxconn in China) employs close on a million. And here's a pertinent observation: Germany resists outsourcing jobs to the far east.

    I'm not a natural Labour chap but I can see where the real jobs lie and our government (any colour will do) would do well to address vocational education together with attracting companies who might want to build things here. If Japanese & German car cos can do it then so can others.

    Apologies if the above appears rather simplistic (and at odds with the tone of your piece). I am aware that this is a complex and not easily solved issue (eg a 50 per cent attendance at 'uni' is one more way of massaging unemployment figures) and it is certainly one that is tough to tackle in the comments to a blog).

    Also aware that I may be repeating myself (tend to do that) but it's an important topic that merits more than one visit.

  2. Agree entirely about vocational education!