It’s time to address the classism in our higher education system

Universities, and higher education in general, have not strayed far from the mainstream media’s attention in the past year. From contention over further raises and stratification of the tuition fee system, to raging debates surrounding free speech and the proficiency of campus ‘Safe spaces’, higher education has been at the forefront of public attention. Yet there exists a serious and wide-ranging debate that, through its own fault or otherwise, the media and public attention has largely overlooked; the classist nature of higher education, and the access of graduates into the sphere of higher employment.

There are a few disclaimers that must be addresses before this issue can be properly addressed. Primarily, by no means does this critique of classism, inherent to higher education, reflect a desire to abolish the current system of maintenance loans and grants – quite the opposite. The system of student finance has experienced great success in providing higher education to those who otherwise would have been excluded from such arenas. Indeed, a critic of the loan system need only look to the United States to undermine their own argument; where access to the highest standard of higher education requires an exorbitant degree of financial cost – to attend Harvard, including accommodation and associated costs, requires on average $63,205. Similarly, highlighting the classist nature of higher education and the internship system by no means detracts from the progress made already in creating what largely Conservative rhetoric describes as ‘social mobility’. Grant schemes, the tuition loan system and diversity schemes have been an exemplary step in the right direction, benefiting those of a lower socio-economic standing, BEM members of society and others disadvantaged by the social and economic conditions facing Britain today.

Yet there remains a prevalent issue within access to higher education, and access to the graduate job market, that limits the potential of our most capable members of society – primarily on socio-economic grounds. To truly address the inherent classism in the higher education system, it is important to focus upon three key areas of the current system enacted in the United Kingdom; access to higher institutions, the stability of those of poorer backgrounds within higher education, and access to the graduate job market upon graduation.

Let us first address access to higher education itself. It is no secret that educational success is linked to socio-economic position. From the use of tutors, to access to higher quality education through private schooling, the ability to finance greater standards of education separates those of a higher socio-economic position from those who rely upon free education in the state system. OECD research into the issue has found that, not only does income disparity and access to private education create a rift between those of different socio-economic positions, but that those whose economic fortunes have allowed for higher qualities of education have greater inequality of economic success than those who lacked such opportunity. Similarly, the rhetoric surrounding loans for tuition dissuades many from higher education, seeking instead to earn as soon as they leave higher education for fear of financial insecurity. Though there are cases which subvert such a trend, the statistical data is nothing short of unchallengeable evidence of the essential classism in the route towards higher education.

There is perhaps a simpler way of demonstrating this for those who argue ‘it is not about your position, but your work ethic’ –  according to research from the Higher Education Statistics agency, the academic year of 2012/13 was a record year for admittance into higher education for those of a lower socio-economic standing. That figure stood at merely 32.3%. Critics may argue that in 2017, those from state schools made up just under 90% of students accepted into higher education – yet fail to recognise the true nature of such figures. Of the total students in secondary education (including those in 6th form or otherwise), only 6.5% are educated privately – yet over 10% form the body of accepted students in higher education. Given that roughly 20% of the total school students in the UK go on to attend University, that 10% of students attended the statistically insignificant private school demographic is not only startling, but evidence of structural inequality in opportunity.

Nonetheless, recent years have seen a significant rise in the proportion of those from worse socio-economic backgrounds gaining access to higher education. By no means, however, does the issue of classism end with access to university. Given the significant increase in cost of living, whether through the extortionate student rental market, incentivisation of the student ‘party’ culture or rising cost of simple subsistence, the external costs of higher education continue to rise as the student loan system becomes more restrictive under Conservative governance. As a result, many students from poorer socio-economic backgrounds find themselves having to balance employment as well as tuition. The University of Birmingham, for example, lists the average cost of one year of rent and associated costs at £7,308 – almost double the minimum maintenance loan that most students receive. Without significant financial backing, students from worse off financial positions face either deferment or employment throughout university, simply to meet the rising costs associated with higher education. Such requirements for subsistence has severe impacts upon the ability to study out of contact hours, leading to greater stress, higher propensity for mental health issues and overall lower academic results. In this regard, students from poorer socio-economic backgrounds face more numerous, and without question increasingly significant, hurdles in achieving better results from higher education than those of a more privileged economic position.

This is before addressing the most significant aspect of the inherent classism present to the higher education system; access to the graduate employment market. Popular rhetoric would have the casual observer believe that it is simply a matter of ‘working harder’ and ‘wanting it more’. Nothing could be further from the truth. Access to the graduate job market is now, more than ever, predicated upon previous experience and internships, especially in London, where a significant proportion of these opportunities are based. The fact that the average median monthly rent in London alone exceeds £1,400 is evidence alone that the internship system is indirectly discriminatory to those of poorer socio-economic backgrounds, or those who resides outside of the nation’s capital. Yet there exists a culture through which both wealth and nepotism is the best route towards graduate jobs. Those with contacts in large scale firms – especially those with cheap family or friend access to the London housing market – find themselves in a privileged position to access the largely unpaid internship market. The recent expose in the Guardian, written by Amalia Ilgner, is perhaps the best example of this. Having interned at Monocle magazine, Amalia found herself in a position of significant responsibility – having been accountable for duties including client interaction, data analysis and content contribution. Her compensation for a nine-hour shift extended to only £30 – at around £3.33 an hour, it covered little more than travel and lunch expenses. Given that employers inherently favour those with previous experience (Internships being the best route for young professionals to prove such experience), the high costs of accessing these opportunities excludes many sections of society who, despite equal effort, dedication and commitment to the dream of social mobility, are excluded simply by socio-economic position.

Though there has been a distinguishable degree of progress towards an equitable playing field for graduates, it is simply not enough. Student finance, though a step in the right direction, disincentivises many from the sphere of higher education, with fears of future financial insecurity. For those who do access the higher education system, rising costs of living restrict their ability to study, with the necessity of employment increasingly infringing upon education and leading to poorer results. For those who survive such constraints, a lack of connections and financial stability places them in an inherently unequal playing field within the graduate job market. It is time for society – from government to the public – to address the inherent inequality and classism rife in our higher education system; to create a system in which our most talented members of society – regardless of class, race or socio-economic position – can truly rise to the top and create a better future for Britain. If Britain truly believes in the possibility of social mobility, it is about time we systematically started acting like it.

Corbyn is not anti-semitic but he is apathetic

 

Many of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters have in recent days repeated the same rhetoric over and over. There is clear truth to the notion that being critical of Israel and its actions isn’t anti-semitic. However, describing all Jews as ‘Zionists’ or ‘zios’ and using this as a criticism is clearly anti-semitic. Many people who hurl these apparent insults do not take into account the person in question’s views or beliefs on Israel. These arguments simply group together all Jews and insult them on the basis that their religion talks about Israel as a homeland, regardless of what they think about the current state of affairs. These sort of messages are deeply hurtful to many Jews and are seen as anti-semitic by most Jews including myself.

I agree that Corbyn himself is not anti-semitic himself, however, he is apathetic to Jewish concerns and anti-semitic allegations within his party. The past few weeks of news stories have shown that Corbyn was and still is a member of several Facebook groups that contained explicit anti-semitic material. The latest story that has initiated the protests is a post regarding a mural. In this mural, bankers are depicted playing monopoly on the backs of the poor. The intention of the painter was to depict the bankers as rich Jews. For those complaining that the mural doesn’t resemble Jews explicitly, Corbyn himself admitted it was anti-semitic. This begs the question why Corbyn initially supported the mural staying up.

It is an insult to Jeremy Corbyn’s intelligence to suggest that he did not realise the content on these groups was anti-semitic and even more insulting to allege that he didn’t realise the content was anti-semitic at the time and only realised this fact 6 years later. It is becoming abundantly clear that Corbyn has the opportunity to distance himself from these groups, their members and their views, yet he fails at every opportunity to do so. Corbyn has become apathetic to the issue and mere public, carefully-worded statements will not cut it anymore. Prior to this month, the issue was Corbyn and Labour not expelling anti-semitic activists. Since then the issue has become personal to Corbyn. That is why many Jewish people protested along with supportive MPs this week. The cry is not to remove Corbyn or stop him being critical of the State of Israel. The call is for him to take firm, proper action on the major issue of anti-Semitism in Labour.

The rhetoric mentioned at the start of this article are damaging and help Corbyn hide from the issue at hand. It is time for people to stop defending the leadership’s apathetic nature.

Austerity – Asymmetrical, abhorrent and avoidable

“Unless we deal with this debt crisis, we risk becoming once again the sick man of Europe”. This was David Cameron in 2009, addressing the Conservatives in Cheltenham on how best to deal with the wake of the 2008 global financial crash. More specifically, this was the beginning of the age of austerity in the Conservative party mindset – the treatment of our nation as a failing business that demanded sweeping cuts across the public sector. Cut to the beginning of 2018, and it was announced that Austerity had finally reached its targets of debt reduction – a full 2 years later than the brutalist model of spending reduction was supposed to. But how successful has Austerity really been for the United Kingdom and its future?

With the aim of reducing the national debt to a level that investment could begin again without compounding trillions in national debt, Austerity has been ‘successful’ –  it has finally succeeded in its core promise to reduce the budget deficit significantly.  Indeed, according to UKPublicSpending.co.uk’s estimations, the current budget deficit between 2010 and 2017 has fallen from £99.74 billion to only £14.04 billion. Though this is a considerable reduction in national debt, there are two key issues that prove the truly devastating impact of Austerity on the United Kingdom – the impact on the economic prosperity of the people, and the precedent set by both former and future conservative action surrounding the national economy.

To take national debt reduction as evidence that austerity has worked for Britain is almost laughably reductionist. Rather, austerity has led to significant economic hardship, regional economic disparity and a fall in opportunity for many. This is not to argue that societal hardship in times of economic uncertainty is surprising; rather, the extent of such hardship was widespread, brutal and largely unnecessary.  Take women in the national economy, for example. Due to austerity and the severe public spending cuts, female workers in the public sector have been most harshly impacted by this policy of financial subtraction. Due to cuts in tax credits, sweeping redundancies across largely female dominated sectors, and the growth of the casual job market as the only route back into employment, it is estimated that women have been 15% worse off as a result of austerity – equivalent to just over £70 billion lost in potential wealth. Similarly, massive cuts to the welfare system have severely impacted the lowest earners in our society – with a 2016 WBG assessment estimating that the lowest 10% of households will be 21% worse off as a result of austerity.  Austerity has had a similar regional effect, with massive cuts to budgets outside of the regional south leading to a disparity in unemployment. According to the Office for National Statistics, unemployment in the North East reached 5.8% in 2017; compared with 3.3% in the South East. It is no complex conclusion, therefore, that the effects of austerity have been not only significant, but wide ranging and unequal.

But it is the failure of the neoliberal consensus that makes austerity not only brutal, but unnecessary. It must be conceded that the wake of the 2008 financial crash demanded a somewhat revolutionary economic response. In a world with families being kicked out onto the streets, Multinational banks closing and national economies such as Greece almost collapsing under the weight of their debt, to maintain the economic status quo would have achieved little else but gradual and unavoidable economic collapse.  But to claim, as the Conservatives did, that Austerity was the only solution is not a problem of debt but of failed foresight. The problem itself relates to the consensus of privatisation and state reduction that has prevailed since the 1980’s. The need for economic revolution after the brutal conditions of the 1970’s, coupled with a political desire to appeal to the electorate, led to a shift in economic models; away from taxation, and towards venture capital and debt. This allowed of economic growth based on lending, debt and speculation, whilst pacifying voters by protecting their ‘hard earned money’ from the evils of taxation. At the same time, the growth in faith that the private sector facilitated economic revolution led to mass privatisation, the shrinking of the state and the sale of numerous sources of government revenue, external to taxation. How, then, does a state fund itself whilst maintaining this ethos of low taxation and sale of its own revenue streams? Any attempt to increase spending through taxation, after the prosperity of the 1980’s, would have been little else but the proverbial bullet-in-your-own-foot; thus, the money must be borrowed or gained from the sale of government assets.

This is where the problem of failed foresight emerges. Austerity was not inevitable, had the neoliberal consensus recognised that privatisation, low taxation and increasing focus on debt was the recipe for economic crisis on an unprecedented scale. Austerity is the product of ignorance to the inherent fluctuations of capitalism; an ignorance that removed any state capability for self-investment, any capability to reinvigorate the economy and consumer confidence, and any ability to enact any alternative to brutal cuts that affected millions. Not only did the population face severe cuts, it also faced negative real wage growth. The UK achieved the 2nd worst economic performance in Europe between 2007 and 2015, only Greece managed worse. The nation sank to the bottom of the OCED wage growth index in 2018.

Perhaps more troubling than this, the rhetoric surrounding austerity removed the decision from the political sphere. The Conservative government made it appear as an unavoidable evil that we, the people of Britain, would just have to grit our teeth and bear the severity of. It is important, now more than ever, to challenge the ideas around austerity as a ‘success’ and those who seek to remove debate and democracy from political decisions. If light is not continually shed on how brutal, unequal and unsuccessful austerity has been for the current and future state of Britain, then we leave ourselves prone to this kind of unnecessary rhetoric again; perhaps even as a cover for more inherently unequal policy.

The Salisbury incident benefits Putin, whether he did it or not

 

The recent attack on Russian defector Sergei Skripal has thrown up significant debate over the true perpetrators of the act. Many see it as a direct Kremlin attack, many as an attack by Skirpal’s personal enemies, and a significant minority cry false flag. Were it ordered by Putin, it is seemingly illogical, a blatant act of aggression that will gather nothing but hostility for little real gains. But those that see this as a reason to absolve Putin of the act fundamentally misunderstand the peculiar style with which he rules.

Putin’s rule is in ways paradoxical, he is often lauded for the stability and security he brings to Russia, and indeed this is the main argument of his supporters. But for him to be such a stabilizing pillar of state, there must be threats, external and internal, to the stability he provides. Were there no threats to Russia’s stability, it’s unlikely his oppressive rule would be tolerated.

The relatively recent annexation of Crimea for example, incurred harsh economic reprisal from the EU and NATO, being felt most severely by the common Russian, yet it only strengthened Putin’s support. Most Russians saw the sanctions as nothing but a naked act of western hostility on the state, no doubt a view encouraged by the Kremlin. Therefore, Putin can commit these controversial acts with impunity as in the end, any retaliation likely benefits him; it is not a stretch of the imagination to suppose he commits such actions with the controversy as an intentional goal. A line from 1984 springs to mind. For Putin War is peace, and peace is war. These foreign threats help him suppress his opposition.

Does this categorically mean the Kremlin was responsible for the Salisbury attack? Essentially, the question is irrelevant.

If he did do it, he certainly knew the possible outcomes, and was possibly even banking on the international retaliation to push fearful Russians into his camp during his recent landslide election. If he is innocent of the order, it’s in his interest to act as if he had committed the act anyhow. London’s Russian embassy certainly wants us to think he did it, with provocative tweets followed by half-hearted alibies.

A defector is dead, his people vote him back into power amid international sabre rattling, and the UK parliament is in turmoil over the incident; all in all, its been a productive few weeks for the Putin.

As it stands, the game is rigged in Putin’s favour, his geopolitical agenda necessitates chaos and international hostility, and with these sideffects he props up his domestic regime. Unless the British leadership wises up to these realities, he will continue to run rings around them and continue to be able carry out acts like the Salisbury attack with impunity.

Jacob Rees Mogg – Ignorant or Evil?

Corrupt, elitist and Authoritarian. Jacob Rees Mogg shows everything wrong with the current Conservative party.

Jacob Rees-Mogg has been seen as the new young(ish) rising star of the Conservative Party. The “MP for the the early twentieth century” has begun to top online leadership ballots in recent weeks which has thrust him further into the spotlight. There has been feeble attempts by the right to humanise Rees-Mogg, through copycat groups like Moggmentum (Momentum) and meme pages like “Middle class Memes for Rees-Moggian teens”. However it is clear to see that the homophobic Brexiteer is truly the symbol of everything that’s wrong with the tory party and by extension the government of this country.
The easiest way to judge an MP is on their voting record. To put it lightly, Rees-Mogg’s is awful. He has continually voted for his own personal gain, not his constituency’s. He voted against raising taxes for those earning over 50 grand a year i.e. himself. He voted against raising capital gains tax, protecting himself and his mansion. He voted too to reduce corporation tax, which is leading to an increase in his profits from his own stockbroking firm. All of this is frankly disgraceful but nothing compared to his moral track record. He voted for the removal of finical support for apprenticeships. Shooting hundreds of young people in the foot, forcing these young people away from trades and secure working into the land of zero hours contracts and then has the audacity to claim that the way out of poverty and into a house is work. Good luck getting a mortgage when you haven’t even got a contract or any hope of saving 20,000 pounds. We haven’t all got noble fathers to project us into the fast lane. The cherry on the cake is his blatant homophobic attitudes, he voted against equality law and against gay marriage hiding behind his catholic religion despite the softening of the catholic church towards LGBT community. Rees-Mogg also has archaic views on abortion, in a recent interview, he stated that he thought all abortion was wrong in all circumstances, even as a consequence of incest or rape or to save the life of the mother. Despicable.
Jacob Rees-Mogg is always a familiar face in the house of commons, he has a great myriad of talents in the realm of public speaking. He used to hold the record of the longest word spoken in parliament and has plans to regain this title. Jacob Rees-Mogg is also the primary filibustering expert in the Tory party. The ability to talk bills out of the house has been used numerous times, for example he and a colleague were able to talk for two hours about the pros and cons of delaying the start to the meetings. These meeting were about the NHS. The vote to bring in a bill, which would have reduced the damage caused by the 2012 care act, was unable to be debated. Filibustering is an awful, archaic, undemocratic practice which has been the death of many good bills. Indeed in the USA the republican party which is hardly a hallmark of a good moral compass, wishes to get rid of it, yet our possible future prime minister counts it as part of his skills.
However his most atrocious comments have come this week. Claiming the increased usage of food banks was ‘uplifting’. Claiming somehow that is it due publicity of food banks that is raising the usage. Not the disastrous working conditions of our poorest citizens caused by his parties gutting of our welfare state. We must ask our-self is it ignorance or morality that fuels these despicable beliefs.
The British public would never get behind this man. The man claims to have six children but in my book you are not a father if you’ve never changed a nappy, never had to get up at 3 every night to calm your crying child. Mogg instead passes it off to a paid nanny. If by some disaster he became the leader of the Tory party before 2022, the next election would be handed to Corbyn on a silver platter, much like the ones I’m sure the aristocratic Jacob Rees-Mogg ate off as a child. The working class voters that backed May in the 2017 election would never stand behind the an old Etonian. The pain of the last old Etonian MP, Cameron, is still very much felt today by those lower income families. The public have learnt not to stand behind a plummy voiced millionaire stockbroker. The tory party will sign their own death note by putting Jacob in power. That’s one bonus I suppose.