A reply to David Cameron

UCL Occupation replies to David Cameron in the New Statesman

It is generous of David Cameron, writing for the Evening Standard this week, to acknowledge our democratic right to protest. Perhaps he could pass on these sentiments to the Metropolitan Police, which has tried to kettle thousands of students and prevent them marching. Is protest no longer legal in the UK? Cameron may yet become infamous as the Prime Minister who destroyed a core British freedom, despite his claims to lead a “new era of liberty”.

Cameron, along with Nick Clegg, has argued that students are angry because of our “misconceptions” about the government’s education reforms. This is not the case. We fundamentally disagree with his view of what education is and means for the nation. It is an ideological, moral and democratic disagreement – and we know exactly why we are protesting.

We are protesting because the government is loading our generation with vast debts, under the pretence of a financial crisis we didn’t cause. We are angry because of the patronising misconceptions the coalition continues to peddle about what we think, and its insistence that the cuts are “inevitable”. And we are taking to the streets and occupying our universities because parliamentary democracy has failed us; we have been directly lied to for political gain.

It is dishonest of the government to claim that raising tuition fees and cutting the higher education budget is due to the deficit. Over the next two Parliaments, these reforms will cost taxpayers more than the existing system would.

The government asks, disingenuously, why the low-paid should have to pay for our education. It is an absurd question: students are taxpayers, too, and the nation benefits collectively from an educated population. Furthermore, cuts to the Education Maintenance Allowance, as well as the trebling of tuition fees, will make it incredibly difficult for students from poorer backgrounds to continue their education – even if the fees are not to be paid up front.

Education is a public good and should be funded by all of us. There is the money to pay for this. A fairer and more progressive approach to tax where the richest pay the most, not the least, would fund a fantastic university system.

In truth, the coalition’s reforms are ideologically driven. Cameron is making a deliberate choice to reduce state support for universities and marketise our system of higher education. We will become consumers not students; departments will focus on price not free inquiry; research will be funded on grounds of profitability and “impact”, not on expanding our collective knowledge. The starkest example of this can be seen through the cuts to arts and humanities, which will lose up to 100 per cent of their funding in many places.

The right-wing argument that you can cut your way out of a recession has begun to be pulled apart by economists across the world. Not only are the government’s proposals based on a discredited economic dogma, but they are dangerous, risking future growth.

These are the reasons why students are protesting. Perhaps Cameron is confused about this because he has not come to meet us since the election. Or perhaps it’s because, with 18 millionaires in the cabinet, his government comes from a completely different planet than most of us.

As students, we ought to have been given a fair hearing and a fair response to our concerns, rather than a deliberate attempt to misrepresent what we believe. What the Prime Minister must understand, however, is that we will continue to speak out until we have won this argument and this fight. And we do fully intend to win.

A statement issued by the UCL Occupation in response to David Cameron

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11 Responses to A reply to David Cameron

  1. Tom says:

    “…will make it incredibly difficult for students from poorer backgrounds to continue their education – even if the fees are not to be paid up front.”

    Why?

    I totally respect those taking a stand on the EMA. But I’m really not getting the protests on Tuition Fees…

    “A fairer and more progressive approach to tax where the richest pay the most, not the least, would fund a fantastic university system.”

    Ironically, one way to do this would be to increase tuition fees to ludicrously high level. It’d mean that those on lower incomes would never be able to pay back the full amount in the 30 year repayment period, and it’d mean that rich people would continue to make contributions after paying their share.

    But I’m guessing students would oppose that though. Still, not really sure how its much different from the extra taxes you are proposing.

    • Ehsan says:

      The difference is between being saddled with thousands of £s of debt and not being saddled with thousands of £s of debt at the start of your working life.

      • Tom says:

        The difference is only academic when it comes to Student loans. Real debt is nasty and traps you. Repaying your student loan is no different to paying tax.

        Its an important point to make I think because we can’t allow people to be put people off going to university due to the perception that they can’t afford it. Regardless of the rights or the wrongs of tuition fees, Access is something that students need to unite upon.

  2. Martin Packer says:

    @Tom I’d say massive debt – which is what this represents – is one heck of an inhibitor, especially to those from poorer backgrounds where the debt size looks like a telephone number. I’d also say saddling people with debt sends a very strange message to them about taking on debt (just as encouraging people to get a mortgage does).

    At least with general taxation funding Higher Ed there’s some acknowledgement wider society gains from people going to University. Which is why it seemed equitable that, in my day (1980’s) we got grants and didn’t pay fees.

    To me this whole fees thing is just another example of the Tories setting everyone at each others’ throats.

  3. Ashleigh says:

    Tom- the first comment you quote refers to the cut of EMA. EMA is crucial to encouraging poorer students to stay on to sixth form or go to college. The ‘fees-not-paid-up-front’ argument is not relevant to this because it is concerned with gaining A Levels or practical qualifications which may or may not lead to University, but which are surely essential to forming generations of people who are educated and well equipped enough to make it in the world of jobs.

    The second point you make implies that tuition fees are the only way to fund university and hence that a point about the rich paying more supports the Browne review. Instead, what I believe is being said is that taxes from work should contribute to the University system via government funding from those taxes- which remember, could be completely abolished for arts subjects under current proposals. Universities do not have to be paid for from interest of huge student debts. Instead, a fairer rate of tax and a fairer university fee for students, along with a government which is not effectively saying that there is no such thing as society (ie no one should pay for anyone else) could and would maintain a healthy university system and a healthy country.

    I am not part of the occupation, but I support them wholeheartedly.

  4. Hi,
    Naturally, we fully support your occupation, and your fight against the University management’s decision to go through to courts in an attempt to evict you. I have just set up a skype account in the name of ‘sheffield occupation’ and attempted to contact you, as I think it would be interesting to hear about what dialogue you have had with the University Management prior to their decision to resort to the courts. especially since any tactics they use against yourselves which are perceived to be successful will no doubt be used against us shortly afterwards.

    I will try to contact you again later this evening, at a reasonable hour. naturally.

    Fuck ’em and their law,

    Ruaridh, Sheffield Occupation

  5. girlonthenet says:

    Only just seen this – well done. Someone had to reply to Cameron’s devastatingly patronising article. It made my blood boil on the tube – perhaps he thinks that students are too thick to understand the complex workings of his evil Tory brain? Or perhaps he’s still trying to get to grips with the idea that poor people are allowed to go to University at all.

    I have nothing more to add, as I think you’ve said it all. Well done.

  6. pissed off says:

    very intelligent students at UCL!

  7. Media Lens Message Board

    US Govt to University students: if you read Wikileaks we will try to ensure you never get a job.

    ‘AMY GOODMAN: I’m going to interrupt, because I want to get to some memos that we’ve been getting from around the country that are very important and interesting. University students are being warned about WikiLeaks. An email from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, that we read in headlines, reads—I want to do it again—quote, “Hi students,

    “We received a call today from a SIPA alumnus who is working at the State Department. He asked us to pass along the following information to anyone who will be applying for jobs in the federal government, since all would require a background investigation and in some instances a security clearance.

    “The documents released during the past few months through Wikileaks are still considered classified documents. He recommends that you DO NOT post links to these documents nor make comments on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter. Engaging in these activities would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government.

    “Regards, Office of Career Services.”‘

    The rest of the interview is also well worth reading.

    http://www.democracynow.org/2010/12/3/is_wikileaks_julian_assange_a_hero

  8. Media Lens Message Board

    Message to students : follow your conscience, not the tyranny of secrecy
    Posted by joabbess on December 4, 2010, 9:50 pm, in reply to “US Govt to University students: if you read Wikileaks we will try to ensure you never get a job”

    Dear Students of Columbia,

    Show us your ethics !

    You are entirely free to do what you think is for the best with the Wikileaks leakings.

    Do you want to work for an administration built on lies, deception and manipulation of foreign countries ? Do you want to submit yourself to the tyranny of blanket secrecy ? What would the angel on your shoulder say ?

    It is your duty to blow the whistle on any practice or action or word that contravenes the laws of your country and the principles of ethics.

    Follow your moral conscience. Acting with integrity is what makes you trustworthy and fit for public service.

    With my best wishes for your future career in public life…

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