Archive for April, 2011

14
Apr
11

A view from the other side of the coin. A different opinion on the NUS.

A post by Jamie Neale..

The NUS elections occurred this week, would you know it? The election is an annual event with turnout so low that even your local MEP would be embarrassed by it, but why does it make a difference? Well it is taken to be the be all and end all opinion of the student populace, but does a piss poor job of doing it.

Although I will look at Liam Burns I will refer to one of his competitors who had a decent chance of winning it and encapsulates the whole problem of the NUS, explaining one of the reasons why a growing number of universities (which can get voter turnout) have been leaving it.

Mark Bergfeld (above), a member of the hard-left Socialist Workers Party came a close third in the election. “400 students can block a road, 400 train drivers can bring a country to a halt” although this is a sentiment largely held by this blog, you need to pick your battles and his view that the country is some authoritarian capitalist ‘regime’ under Cameron does not flow. It is also counterproductive, education is and should be open to all, but the fees in my view are not the main issue. When discussing with friends whom largely hold no strong political affiliation, pragmatically they will accept fees and that education has increased in price. Our parents had small classes, a blackboard, chalk and a lecturer. We do not. We have libraries open 24/7 (something you’d be hard pressed to find on the continent), counselling services, Nightline, subscriptions to expensive journals specialising in our field. For law I receive access to Westlaw and Lexis Nexis two databases which you will not find at the same law firm due to the sheer cost of membership. These things and more have changed the way higher education is done, and with it comes an increase cost, that can be begrudgingly accepted by most. For those from poorer backgrounds like the original fee’s introduced by labour there is an overhaul of aid which means once again education is not priced out(though publicising this to the poor is another thing).

The problem is not with the fee’s the problem is with the cuts to education, something which has been overshadowed by the fee’s argument. With the attacks on Millibank, rioting at Abbey and Fortnum and mason shopping, what do these things achieve? (Other than Edward Wooley being gaoled for two years for getting caught in the moment) we lose more traction and a voice against the cuts. Michael Arthur head of the Russell group warned:

It has taken more than 800 years to create one of the world’s greatest education systems and it looks like it will take just six months to bring it to its knees.”

And for those reading with glee; more ammunition against the Con-Dems, this was to a letter to Alistair Darling, the cuts and fight should have started then. Why I also find it ironic Ed Milliband joined the protests in London, when he oversaw the beginning of the end. A decent opposition should prepare alternatives not just criticise; the honeymoon period is over get a policy platform already! But Rant over, how are the UK’s universities meant to keep up to international standard when their funding is being slashed and this fee’s not even bringing them back to it? This is the question not being asked enough, but more importantly not being answered.

Now onto my second part a look at Liam Burns and why he will help lead a further decline in education by being the useless “representative” of students? He has a warped view on social mobility and doesn’t understand the primary reason for university is to learn, from the Herald Scotland

For Liam Burns, NUS Scotland’s president, this is not good enough. Social engineering via positive discrimination should be considered.

I think we should be honest about our priorities,” he said. “At the end of the day, the point of the university has changed. If you look at when only 5% of the population went, that was about knowledge, discovery, pushing boundaries, people talked about the crème de la crème. That’s not the purpose of universities now – it is about social mobility and people changing their lives. The reality is you need that bit of paper to get into better jobs with greater earning potential and influence. So we want as many people to get one as possible, at the expense of quality if necessary.”

He added: “It is not good enough to say that the University of the West of Scotland does access, while Glasgow gets to go off and be a centre of excellence. There is a capital that comes with a degree from Glasgow that leads to the best jobs.”

That capital comes from the research quality of the university. There has been recent furore in the press about David Cameron’s remark, that only one black student went to Oxford last year. It turned into an argument of semantics; 1 Afro Caribbean or 41 black undergrads, rather than the fundamental issue. Too few students from minorities (though it should be poverty not minority status which count) and poor backgrounds are gaining access to higher education. By a young age students from poor backgrounds start to fall behind there wealthier counterparts. This is s system which needs to be changed and the unpopular Michael Gove is working on reforms to reverse the decimation done by Labour of pushing students into GNVQ’s and other qualifications which just don’t match up. Underprivileged children can achieve academic results and they need to believe it to achieve it. They don’t need to be told you can’t do it but its ok you can do this instead, or face academic syllabuses which don’t challenge. A friend of mine works in the infamous Haringey council, his bosses struggle to speak English properly and poor quality writing having high level GNVQ in social care. Is it any wonder that we get cases like baby P when the upper management haven’t even got basic level English and Mathematics?

I believe in Social mobility but it should never be at the expense of quality of education. How would you feel having doctors, pilots, nuclear physicists or any other number fields being given low grade education for the goal to be inclusive?

From his victory speech I have another problem

The NUS has retrenched back into the old narrative that there is a hard-left and moderates, and that we have to do everything we can to marginalise them. When we said we condemned everything that happened at Millbank – that was 30 or 40 people who were smashing windows. But there are far more people that have an affinity with direct action and we have to reach out to them.”

Should militancy be rewarded with acceptance and a voice? I have already expressed why militant activities can deter from the real problem at hand. And when those militants like Mark Bergfield regularly compare themselves to those in Libya, Egypt and the rest of the Middle East genuinely fighting for freedom can an organisation be taken seriously. Hopefully they can be subdued but I highly doubt it. They will either have to be marginalised again or will make NUS more militant once again detracting on the real protests which they should be fighting.

Jamie Neale

(ED) this is an opinion of a different sort than usual on our blog. If you disagree with him please do post a comment as a response. I am sure Jamie will be pleased to discuss this issue further

13
Apr
11

No confidence in Lansley

Today the Royal College of Nurses (RCN) sent a very clear rejection of the proposed NHS reforms by passing a vote of no confidence in the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and his Bill. At the RCN conference 96% of the 497 delegates backed this motion declaring their opposition to the proposed changes. This Bill aims to abolish Primary Care Trust’s (PCT’S), handover budgets to the hands of GP’s, allow for private companies to bid for health care treatment and introduce EU Competition Law to the NHS. The momentum against Andrew Lansley is building because as more people hear and read into this Bill the more people start object to it. Resistance is gaining more pace and the pressure is beginning to rise. Are we beginning to witness the demise of this Bill and of the Health Secretary too?
Andrew Lansley

We are only just approaching the end of the first year in this Coalition Government and already we have witnessed many Minister’s inability to govern. There was the controversy when Vince Cable was caught bragging to under-cover journalists about his war on Murdoch and thus ultimately breached a Minister’s responsibility to remain neutral in carrying out their decisions. We then had the ruling which held that Michael Gove’s cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future scheme was illegal highlighting this Government’s arrogance in making decisions. Today, we are now witnessing the rising winds of opposition blowing against Andrew Lansley and his NHS reforms. This Bill has now taken a ‘natural pause’ in it’s life as he said to give an opportunity to ‘pause and reflect’. Clearly this pause is an indication of the fact that this Government cannot ignore the growing resistance.

It is important to consider this Government’s mandate in relation to bringing about these NHS reforms. David Cameron promised before the 2010 election that he would not oversee a top-down reorganization of the NHS, their manifesto for the last election mentioned nothing of these reforms that have now being brought about. There was only one vague sentence about giving G.P’s ‘more power’ and that was it. Similarly the Liberal Democrats did not have any policy in their manifesto for re-organizing the NHS either; unfortunately it appears Nick Clegg has a gift for miss leading the people when we also look at the issue of rising tuition fees. These reforms were not even in the Coalition Agreement which puts more emphasis on the very fact that there is no mandate for these changes. There is something very undemocratic about a Government that is trying to bring about a policy which they did not pledge to the electorate in the General Election.

Doctors, nurses and we the people can see that this Bill has nothing to do with health care and everything to do with opening the door of the private markets to our NHS. Health care is too much of an important issue to leave to private companies, in the use private hands the focus would no longer be on the quality of health care and instead would be based on the ability to make a profit. It should be a Government’s responsibility to ensure that the people have at their means a system that will care for them in times of ill-health and need as it should be in their duty to ensure the people are well and healthy. There is something morally wrong about making a profit on the ill-health of others.

The passing of a vote of no confidence is the first big symbol of rejection we have seen in resistance to the NHS Reforms. Ed Miliband said that this is not a problem of ‘PR but instead a problem of principle’. The NHS needs security and safe hands and this proposed re-organisation will pose a significant risk to the quality of health care in this country. In Michael Moore’s documentary ‘Sicko’ Tony Benn said that there would be a revolution if any government ever tried to change the NHS. It is important to build on the resistance shown by the RCN to maintain pressure on Andrew Lansley and the rest of this Coalition Government in order to bring about the dropping of this Bill for the protection of our National Health Service.

JW

10
Apr
11

Image for the week that was #1

08
Apr
11

Stop the Shutdown: quit the blame game and think of the people


Politics has always been very polarising in the United States. While budgets may pass without hindrance in other countries, at the moment in America, the Federal Government risks total shutdown as an agreement cannot be reached upon one, and if no successful compromise is achieved by midnight tonight, Eastern Time, the administration in Washington will cease operations; this will precipitate a crisis for government workers, the country at large, and indeed, as a result of the US’ extensive influence and various campaigns across the globe, the world as a whole. Although such an event has in fact happened before multiple times, the disruption is normally prevented by an eleventh hour deal, but the sad truth is that, in all probability, that window of time is now either upon us or has passed, and no deal has been negotiated.

The Republican House Speaker John Boehner, notable for being a rather overly emotional individual has stated that, primarily, the cause for such a delay is a disagreement over the level of cuts to be carried out on spending. This is however quite clearly not the overarching case- US politicians are overwhelmingly patriotic, and in order to spare those workers who are at risk of being labelled ‘non-essential’ from the hardship that now looms over them, a discrepancy over figures, while still acting as an instigator for much furious ideology-driven debate, would have not proven such an enduring obstacle to the process. This goes much deeper. In order to discern the true reasons for most recent extended failures in finding a happy medium, one must traverse the complicated and often incomprehensible network of differences in fundamental principle between the Republican dominated House of Representatives and the Obama administration. In this instance however, it is really quite simple to see where the real dispute lies. The quarrel’s source is of an ethical nature. It’s about abortion funding.

This has come to prominence not simply because of what currently constitutes the House but ultimately what constitutes the Republican majority in the house. The (in)famous Tea Party candidates that swept to power during the last midterm elections as a result of the perceived failure of the President on some occasions, and his proposals of vaguely socialist bills in others, see the current circumstances as the optimum time to push their far-right radical agendas and wreak as much havoc as possible by being as uncooperative as is possible- they have made it abundantly clear that the impending shutdown is very much their objective now. This loony wing of the Republican party that has charged its way into congress seeks to exploit the situation to the full for their own philosophical reasons in a narrow-minded fashion, much to the detriment of the people at large.

So while it is doubtful the Tea Party congressmen and women will capitulate to avoid a government closedown, the task is up to more mainstream republicans to think of the results for the government workers in the States and those around the world that are effected by the work they do, that a powering down of the Washington machine would generate. This is however looking increasingly unlikely, as John Boehner has already stated his defiance by saying that while he does, unlike the Tea Party politicians, not wish for a government shutdown, he was not willing to “roll over” to prevent one.

Both sides claim it is the incessant rhetoric and stubbornness of the other that is preventing a completion of a budget; Democratic leader Harry Reid insists that an agreement has been reached on overall spending itself, the Republicans won’t budge on various specific issues, predominantly abortion. Boehner conversely says the Democrats aren’t being flexible enough regarding their own cuts program to get close to a universally accepted settlement. It is plainly obvious that both parties are too preoccupied with holding each other responsible while not thinking about the people they represent.

The consequences will be regrettable should the shutdown come to pass. Not only will world affairs be thrown into chaos by a ceasing of the US government to administer the many areas it is responsible for, but, needless to say, ordinary people will be effected in a terrible way. Not only may 800,000 staff be suspended, many of which will be modestly paid public sector workers– which will be made all the worse by the current economic situation- in which many people are already struggling, but basic services provided that aid those even less well off, such as the unemployed, will in many cases stop functioning. Some of the aforementioned areas the Washington administration controls will surely experience negative effects as a result of troops stationed oversees not receiving their wages. Men and women will be asked to continue risking their lives for no compensation while the predicament continues. In addition to all of this, swathes of people across the USA will be forced to endure hits to their confidence, for as mentioned previously, the government will be forced to decide which workers are classified as ‘essential’ or ‘non-essential’. Those branded as the latter will be told to stay at home, unpaid, and understandably upset.

The negotiating teams must consider all of these fallout effects of a shutdown when undergoing talks. At time of writing, we are entering crunch time, and we can only hope for the benefit of all a resolution is brokered, soon.

MH

EDIT (4:10 BST): With only one hour left before the government arrived at closing point, John Boehner announced that a deal had been reached with the Obama administration, averting the shutdown. Close run thing folks, but we should be grateful that politicians put people before petty politics and formed a compromise.

06
Apr
11

Nick Clegg and Social Mobility

Yesterday Nick Clegg gave a speech outlining his vision of improving social mobility in Britain; this is something he talked about in the TV debates back before 2010 General Election and is something which he is now aiming to take on. Indeed there is no doubt there is a serious problem of social mobility in this country, indeed this is evidently shown by the rising inequality between rich and poor. This is a gap that has been rising for a very long time. Clearly it can only be right in a proper democratic society that everyone has an equal chance in life and a person’s success in life should not depend on who they know or the value of their family name.

In his speech Nick Clegg stated that he believed a person’s opportunities should depend on “what you know, not who you know… not on who your father’s friends are”. Britain’s top jobs and high earning positions have been held by the same section of society for a long time. This is obviously wrong as we should all have a fair start in life which is not hindered by where we are born or the balance of our parent’s bank accounts. He also urged companies to award internships through ‘open competition’ and not to the ‘well-connected’. However despite all the good in the principles that he is promoting there seems to be an immense hypocrisy in it all.

It was revealed shortly after his speech that Nick Clegg had a significant gain in his opportunities in life through the connections his farther had when he was young. It came about that in his gap year he was awarded an internship with a Finish bank through his farther Nicolas who was also a chairman of a bank, the United Trust Bank. Not only this but it appears his door into the world of politics was opened for him by a recommendation from a family friend Lord Carrington, who served in Margaret Thatcher’s government, which helped secure him a job in the European Union’s trade commission. This therefore means that Nick Clegg is criticizing the very way of life that has benefited him and has no doubt been a help in getting him to where he is now as Deputy Prime Minister.

However, if Nick Clegg is passionate about improving the life chances of everyone and is thus using his position now to help improve social mobility then this of course should be welcomed. It has already been said that something has to be done in our society to make life chances fairer in order to reduce the influence of wealth, class and family status. Despite this there also appears to be another aspect of hypocrisy in what he is saying about social mobility.

If Nick Clegg is truly passionate about social mobility then he would have done a lot more to prevent the trebling of tuition fees at our universities. He and his fellow Liberal Democrat Ministers have aided the Tories in helping to bring about £9000 a year fees for students from 2012. This will clearly be a drawback for social mobility in this country as student’s from poor working class backgrounds will be deterred from pursuing a degree by the fact that they will be shackled by the chains of debt. The effects of having a life in debt were talked about in a previous blog named ‘Trapped in Debt’. It is obvious to see that young people from low economic backgrounds will not want a life of loan repayments and debt interest due to the fact they have lived throughout their early lives with not much money. For Nick Clegg to be critisizing the inequality of opportunities in this country after overseeing the raising of tuition fees just demonstrates his lack of thought and sensitivity on this issue.

It is clear in this country that a person’s success is still highly influenced on where you are born and educated, your family name and background wealth and this has got to be tackled. Despite all the merits in what Nick Clegg wants to do to help with this problem it is clear to see that no matter what he says he will be drowning in hypocrisy. The Deputy Prime Minister has benefited from the way of life which he is now talking down on and although he is trying to help with this issue he has hindered social mobility in this county by the raising of tuition fees. It is fair to assume today that the popularity of Nick Clegg has gone to an even further low.Nick Clegg's tuition fee pledge

JW