Thursday, 11 November 2010

Anarchy rules... OK?

I see from the news that Rentamob have featured heavily in the recent student protests against rising fees, and - inevitably - have left a trail of damage and destruction in their wake. It's harmed their case, in my view, because however jealously you regard the right to free speech and legitimate protest as being a fundamental cornerstone of a free democratic society, the right to go out to deliberately smash things up isn't, and reflects badly on those who do it.

I'm not unsymapthetic: I was a student myself once - more than once, in fact. At the age of 19 I travelled by bus and train from home to college in Birmingham every day for two years. I was lucky in that about two-thirds of my tuition fees were paid in the form of a grant (not a loan) from the Local Education Authority, but I ate my parents' food and used their electricity at their expense and subsisted off £1.50 a week which even in those days wasn't a lot of money. I didn't have the money to go out and get plastered on a regular basis, and they wouldn't have let me back in the house if I had.

Fast forward ten years, and I was working full-time with my own home - and with a mortgage and bills to pay. Doing a three-year part-time degree course was hard going and left little time for 'fun', but I thought it was worth it. I'd got my own motorbike, so getting to polytechnic on the outskirts of Birmingham once a week wasn't problematic. I can't remember how much the fees were, but since my employers decided that getting a (relevant, job-related) degree was for my benefit rather than theirs, they backtracked on a decision to pay for me to go, and I had to fork out the several hundred quid a year myself. So much for "investing in people", "workforce development", and all that claptrap. I did one night a week as a pools collector to raise the money - the old 'working your way through college' idea.

So yeah, being a student is no picnic. There again, there's no such thing as a free lunch - and there never has been.

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