THE VILLAGE SOAPBOX
Ron has a few words to say about the recent winter weather and University fees
I am sure you've heard enough about this topic but that, in part, is what prompted me to write. I get cross at just how many times I hear people complaining, and read headlines in the papers, not complaining about the weather, they know they can't do anything about that, but complaining about the failure, as they see it, of the local authorities, the highway authority, airports and the railways, to maintain normal services. We hear the cry "other countries manage with worse conditions than we have, why can't we do the same?" Firstly the truth appears to be that even in countries like Canada and Finland they are sometimes overwhelmed temporarily by heavy snowfalls, but the real difficulty for us is that our weather is much more unpredictable than theirs and usually does not result in long periods of lying snow. Authorities are then faced with a difficult decision as to how much money to invest in equipment and personnel in order to cope well with these sudden unpredictable conditions, needless to say increases in taxation, fares etc are resisted. Often those most vocal in complaining about council tax increases are those that are most vocal in complaining about any shortcomings by the council in clearing roads. As individuals we face the same type of decision, should we buy a 4x4? Should we fit winter tyres that are a help in snowy and icy conditions but wear more rapidly than ordinary tyres under normal conditions? Should we fit studded tyres which are even better but should be removed once the snow has gone? Should we use snow chains? As a rule we do none of these things because we do not feel that it is justified financially or because we simply cannot afford it. So it is with the authorities.
When I was a relatively young man it was largely left to the individual to cope with the conditions as best they could and that was accepted, snow chains were quite common, such help that was provided by the authorities, mostly in the form of grit, not salt, spread on the snow by men with shovels standing in the back of a lorry, was appreciated and not complained about. So let's stop whining and get on with it.
Another cause of irritation to me in winter motoring relates to lights. I have complained on this topic in The Pump before and I admit that I am offended less often these days, I am talking about those motorists who decide that the lighting conditions or visibility are such that lights are advisable and then switch on their side lights. If they would just use their powers of observation they would realise that an oncoming car with sidelights on can generally be seen before it is possible to discern that the lights are on. Often, in the fog, one may see an oncoming car with its dipped headlights and subsequently discover that there is a car in front of that one that has not been seen that is running with just sidelights. To turn sidelights on under these conditions is a conscious act that is futile and stupid.
Regular readers will not be surprised that I was appalled and dismayed by the government's success in pushing through the new rules for student fees. Despite their protestations that it is fairer, the fact is that most students from ordinary and middleclass families will be faced with a very large debt when they complete their degree course, much bigger than for those currently attending university. This is certain to deter many students and their parents. The knowledge that they will not have to start repaying until they are earning £21,000 a year will offer little comfort, by the time they are at that stage they know they will be faced with a whole range of expenses, not least their accommodation. Unless they are very successful in their careers they will be paying off their debt for years and faced with accumulating interest. Of course those with wealthy parents willing to help out will not be faced with those problems and will not have to face the agonising decision. It is a further step towards making our already very unequal society even more unequal.
I would be the first to agree that there are too many degree courses of questionable value to the student or society, and, perhaps, too many students attending university. I would also agree that the assessment of students for suitability for university education may need some revision and I support some of the suggestions made by Michael Gove, in particular, that we should move back to a situation where more emphasis is placed on an unseen end of course examination for assessment purposes. I envisage that, in the future, we will see fewer students attempting degree courses whilst others look for courses more suited to their abilities, but we should not use family wealth as the means of selection.
As a nation we need well educated and trained people in general, and in particular, we need doctors, lawyers, scientists, (of all disciplines) engineers, business administrators, mathematicians, teachers, et al. It is very much in the nation's interest to ensure that those young people that demonstrate the ability and aspirations to pursue studies at degree level should be encouraged and should not be deterred by financial constraints or worries. It is in the interest of all taxpayers that we should ensure that the talents of all young people at all levels are developed as much as possible. This can only be achieved if the taxpayers accept the burden, including the bankers, the city traders, the tax avoiders and the Vodaphones, that is the only way that we can ensure that we move further towards a meritocracy. (At present it seems we are moving back towards an aristocracy.) At the time of a previous world financial crisis President Roosevelt said "the school is the last expenditure upon which our country should be willing to economise". For 'the school' one might substitute 'education'.
THOUGHT FOR THE MONTH
"A merely fallen enemy may rise again, but the reconciled one is truly vanquished"
Friedrich Schiller German Philosopher, 1759-1805