Thursday 9 December 2010

A few more words on Tuition Fees before I get back to writing about the rest of the World

The passing of the motion to raise the cap on tuition fees came as a massive disappointment today. I was impressed by Labour MP Sharon Hodgson, who made the best speech in the commons on the actual sums involved. She emphasised the fact that graduates on typical salaries will not even be paying the interest on their loans, which will lead to a large proportion of the debt being written off. (as I have discussed here).

I also admire the students who came to London to peacefully engage in a protest on this important issue, and I wished I could have joined them. I heard a number of comments today critical of the protesters, grouping them all together as violent aggressors, but really this label only applies to a small minority of them. The vast majority were only interested in peacefully expressing their discontent at the cuts to education funding. The tactics of the police, in particular the thuggish ‘Territorial Support Group’ were heavy handed, and were responsible for inciting and perpetuating violence rather than stemming it. The latest figures – 9 police officers* injured compared to 15 protesters – underlines which group was the more violent.

I am sure we have not heard the last word on the tuition fees debate, and as the details are ironed out in a white paper next year I am hopeful that more politicians will see sense and will make amendments to the current proposals. I expect that I will have more to write on the matter later. But the tuition fees debate has distracted me from my intention to write more about China, following my visit there in October. The aim of this blog is to take a ‘worldview’ and I have become wrapped up in the problems of the UK, which significant though they are, pale in comparison to the challenges faced by most countries in the developing world.

As an example, one of the most memorable features of my trip to China was living with the air pollution. I am not especially prone to respiratory problems, but even so my lungs felt weak and I had frequent bouts of coughing due to the air pollution, and I was only there for two weeks. The pollution in China is something that hundreds of millions of people have to live with daily. In time it is bound to cause serious chronic health problems.

The pollution is directly related to China’s rapid economic growth, which has spurred the building of a large number of coal-fired power plants. It is an example of the ‘tragedy of the commons’ where a common resource – in this case clean air – is depleted through over-use. The only solution to this kind of market failure is government intervention, which has been slow as the government prizes economic growth so highly.

Reminding myself of the scale of problems like this helps me to feel a little less angry about the UK’s University funding debate.

*At least one police officer was injured when he was ‘forced off his horse.’ Perhaps the use of horses in crowd control is a little outdated nowadays?

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