We **** Need ** Education

Thousands of students marched to protest education cuts

10,000 students marched to protest against education cuts

Healthcare and education. 99% of people would agree that both are services of vital importance. As a nation, the NHS is one of our best assets and the very right of every single citizen of the United Kingdom to free medical treatment is one which many take for granted. Is that wrong? In a word, no. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services. It is perfectly possible to both expect the state to provide healthcare, whilst appreciating that we in this country are fortunate enough to live in a land where it is our right to have access to such services and that we are in the global minority with this.

Free education is a right too. Our right. The right of every person in this country. At least, for those between the ages of 4 and 18 it is. This week’s student protests in London dragged the ever-present issue of student fees back to the fore-front of the nation’s collective mind and highlighted the problems of graduate employment as well as the staggering financial implications which arise from university and higher education courses. I know someone who marched and I know how passionate they were, and still are, about the need to shine a light on the mess that is education finance in the UK. I saw them apply to uni, I saw the nerves the weekend before they left and I saw them return after their first term having the time of their life. But today I saw a photo of them marching over Westminster Bridge – student union banner in hand – and I was proud. It’s disappointing that the students campaigning this week are unlikely to still be students if and when any legislation is introduced to combat the dramatic rise in fees which was introduced in December 2010, but this in itself proves the commitment of many to a cause which effects everyone. Earlier this month, students from Oxford University, Oxford Brookes and other local schools and colleges protested against David Willetts, the Minister of State for Science and Education, giving a talk in St Peter’s College to the point where the proceedings inside were forced to be suspended as the chants from outside may it impossible to continue.

Pinning down exactly whose “fault” tuition fees as an entity are is difficult, predominantly because they have been introduced gradually. In 1960, fewer than 200,000 British students attended university. This figure had doubled by 1980 and risen to 650,000 by 1990. In 1997, New Labour decided that the state could no longer provide for the 1.15 million students studying beyond secondary educational level and so introduced an annual fee of £1000 for university courses. Fees were required to be paid upfront and maintenance grants were ousted. In 2003 this system was revised; £3000 per annum but with loans and some maintenance grants available specifically for students. Returning to the General Election of May 2010, it is clear that student fees wasn’t a campaign issue parties wanted to push; though when the NUS launched a campaign aiming to achieve the support of every MP by encouraging them to sign a pledge which read “I pledge to vote against any increase in fees”, many MPs (the majority, Lib Dems) jumped at the opportunity. Perhaps not so coincidentally, every Lib Dem MP who got elected in the election had signed this pledge.

As you and I both know, these promises, if not intentionally empty, were broken. Really quite dramatically and with new, extortionate fees. £9000 per year is the highest amount a university is allowed to charge and all but a very small number are doing just that. The upshot of this is that, for the average three-year-course student, around £35,000 worth of debt will be accumulated during their studies and £27,00 of that will be for their education. Depressingly, at the same time the UK has seen a 40% cut in the teaching budget which begs the question of where our fees are going if not to raising teaching standards? The line fed out by government that “increasing fees will cut the deficit” is a simplistic statement and one which doesn’t quite add up. It is costing the government more than ever to keep students at universities as the trebling of fees has had the knock on effect of causing student loans and their cost to soar. It is now crystal clear that the argument needs to be made that university education is just as important and integral a public service to and for this country that the National Health Service is. Preferably, sooner rather than later.

Why? Because we don’t need no education.

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The Rise and Rise of the Topshop Cult

Topshop Queues

As I sit here at my desk, drowning in the emotions of Kate Bush’s vocals I try not to think about the torrent of exams I have to face next week and beyond. I know that as long as I do my best then no one can ask for more. The post below was written as a practice essay for English Language, the stimulus being “don’t get me started on”. This style of writing is intended to provoke a reaction in the reader, be it positive or negative. I would rather receive heaps of criticism and know I’d struck a chord – albeit a rather out of tune one – than have my writing shrugged off as lacking in passion. In some ways this is the continuation of my first ever blog post, written two years ago, which discussed in somewhat less detail the many negative aspects of the Topshop experience. 

Topshop, like other popular retailers, can be easily defined by its clientele – those who shop there – and its target market – those the brand would applaud for stepping over their threshold. The Topshop Girls (or clones, depending on how strongly opposed to the chain you are) can often be seen congregating on patches of grass in the centre of University Campuses; blackberries clutched in one hand, ‘Topshop Make Up’ bags dangling from the crook of their other arm. Don’t think I’m getting on my high horse – I have a blackberry and it’s incredibly useful – but I don’t utilise it as a fashion accessory.

One of these individuals will have been entrusted with the act of selecting a suitably skimpy floral outfit which the remainder of the contingent will have been required to observe before clothing themselves in a variation of the same ensemble. In a nutshell, the more items purchased in a shop with a name beginning with the letter ‘T’ the better (just to clarify that’s Tiffany & Co, not Tesco – too easily confused, I know). It’s female peer pressure which channels itself into a bizarre spectacle of consenting uniformity; a sad but nevertheless honest reflection of some corners of today’s society.

The cunning sales technique employed in every Topshop from Oxford to its giant flagship store on Oxford Street has no doubt been the most profitable idea to emerge in the last twenty years (apart from Google and, erm, Apple but that’s by the by). Grown women morph into wild animals upon the arrival of a new collection and God forbid Kate Moss collaborates with Topshop again or she’ll have the blood of many a shopper on her hands; death-by-stampede. The alpha male of last season’s Limited Edition capsule wardrobe is indisputably squabbled over; the statement Christmas party dress which was probably held up on the pedestal of Topshop Boutique until it’s price was slashed.

Not even the instincts and rivalry displayed on the plains of the Serengeti could match the ferocious scenes of fracas on Boxing Day morning when the fashion food chain really comes into play… The top predator is the thirty-something marketing manager who replaced potentially child-shaped holes with clothes several years ago and who stops at nothing to gain internal workplace promotion – even if it means a four-figure yearly wardrobe. The primary consumer is the proactive student out looking for a bargain which she’s likely to achieve given that she is welcome to a ten percent discount when using her NUS card. She’ll know what she’s here for but will lack that scary, “in at the kill” attitude others possess.

The producer on the other hand is, very aptly, the expectant mother or mother with baby in tow. I would advocate the plastering of warning signs all over the entrance to the shop in a heartbeat, bearing the message “KEEP OUT unless you are willing to lose an eye for an eye(catching cardigan)”. To summarise: Topshop is unsafe unless you are a) trained in the art of combat, b) the owner of a pair of particularly pointy elbows or c) very, very determined to purchase something your were too much of a cheapskate to last month.

On a more serious note, I know that I am not alone in having been embarrassed by the sizing Topshop deploys. I see myself as a healthy teenager and, although I’m not a stick insect, large I most certainly am not! It therefore worries me that, being the size twelve or fourteen in Topshop that I am, there are girls out there shimmying into size sixes. We can joke about how they should be given the benefit of reduced prices considering how little fabric the garments they buy are created from, but I can see how little things like this could lead to allegations of encouraging eating disorders of anorexia – irrespective of whether or not the brand actually is.

I could have ended up a Topshop girl if it wasn’t for the guiding hands of several people who pulled me away from the bright lights of the Manchester Arndale and down the un-crowded streets of the Northern Quarter – the vintage Mecca of the North.  Whilst I acknowledge the act that we can all be permitted a couple of pieces in our wardrobes I feel very deeply that we are, as a nation, in acute danger of getting sucked into a vicious spin-cycle of lazy, over-priced and clique-induced fashion. I know that the day when I feel a thrill when handing over any amount of money in Topshop will signal that it’s high time the men in white coats come and drag me away. I’ll probably be wearing a slogan t shirt reading: “I left my soul at the sales desk”.

Great British Schooling Tradition

“Where They Are Just And Loyal”

It always struck me that, of the four illustrious Hogwarts houses, the fair students of Hufflepuff never had any glory or recognition bestowed upon them. Everyone hated Slytherin, apart from the Slytherins themselves who all garnered a sinister pride from their membership of the House that had produced the highest number of, shock horror, dark wizards, the Ravenclaws all seemed a snobby bookish lot and the Gryffindors, well, everybody loves the Gryffindors. Gryffindor is Harry and Ron and Hermione. It’s the Weasleys, it’s Neville and his toad Trevor, it’s the Fat Lady and that perpetually roaring fire.

Can you imagine what it would be like if your school was structured in the same way as Hogwarts? I’m not suggesting the council install a starry ceiling or programme staircases to sporadically change direction, but how would you feel if you and your peers were divided up into four houses; separated by colours and mottos and even living space? For a long time the tradition of schools having “House Systems” has been thought of as only for those attending the most prestigious of schools or those who want to mark themselves out as institutions of heritage and history. You only need to flick through the opening chapters of any of  the Harry Potters or Enid Blyton’s “The Twins of St Clare’s” or the “Mallory Towers” series to understand the quintessential Britishness of these such systems.

It isn’t so much the fancy regalia of cloaks and hats proudly bearing the crest of a founder or the novelty of being, to use a rather strong but apt word, segregated into dormitories and common rooms with the people who bear the same stamp of affinity as you which those of use who aren’t or have never been part of something which offers such certain stability in exchange for loyalty and honour find attractive. It is the togetherness of it all; the team spirit, the camaraderie, the feeling of belonging to something, to someone, to many people in fact. Kinship is the most honest way to describe house systems at their strongest and most enforced, although there is most certainly a spectrum of the importance of these systems in the life of a school. I have been in a house, at Primary School, where they assigned the three primary colours and green (green being classed as a secondary colour is one of the few facts I remember about year seven Art) to the names of four explorers. Let’s see how many I can remember…

Sharman, named after Helen Sharman was the yellow house, or ‘group’ as it was sometimes referred to. She was the only female featured and I remember being disappointed to be in Sharman being clueless as I then was as to her ground-breaking role as Britain’s first astronaut in Space. My older self now feels proud to have been devotedly acquiring ‘points’ to be drawn up on our house noticeboard which would win the whole house prizes if we were to win and in doing so honouring a female pioneer in the Scientific world. Unfortunately my school didn’t award a ‘House Cup’ and promptly lay on a spectacular feast for us if we were victorious. Fiennes (as in Ranulph) was up there too along with Captain James Cook and another – I forget who. To this day I still wonder who made those crucial decisions as to the names of the houses we represented!

Outfit Snapshots:

  • Mustard chinos: New Look
  • Electric blue shirt and turquoise nail polish: H&M
  • Blue cardigan and turquoise silk scarf:  a Vintage Fair
  • Blue suede shoes: Clarks
  • Grey cashmere socks: M&S
  • Hufflepuff badge, blue beret, gold Accurist watch, brown leather satchel and Ray Bans: All Gifts