Posts Tagged ‘Student Fees’

RT on the Tory Whip Requesting Information on Universities and Lecturers Teaching Brexit

October 25, 2017

Mike’s already put up an article about this yesterday, including the reply from one outraged lecturer disgusted with this transparent attempt to intimidate and control British universities and the way Brexit is taught and discussed.

One of the Tory Whips, Chris Heaton-Harris, took it upon himself to write to university vice-chancellors demanding the details of their courses on international relations, and specifically where it discussed Brexit. He also wanted the names of the lecturers teaching the courses, the course syllabus and any lecture notes or materials on-line.

This has outraged academics across the UK, who have denounced it as McCarthyism. The programme quotes Professor David Green, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Worcester, who states that the letter appears innocent, but is in fact very dangerous. He states that it is the first step to the thought police, the political censor, naturally justified as the will of the people.

Heaton-Harris responded by claiming that Theresa May always believed in the independence of the universities and in free and vigorous academic debate. As Mike points out in his article, however, this guy is a Tory MP and so nobody believes him. RT has as their guest Dr. Marina Prentoulis, a lecturer in media and international politics at the University of East Anglia. And she calls this exactly what it is: a witch-hunt and intimidation. She states that the letters are intended to intimidate because they come on official House of Parliament notepaper, and ask for the names of the lecturers, as well as details of their coursework. When the interviewer asks if this is really so, as the MP has no authority to demand such information and most of the letters, he’s heard, were filed in the bin. She responds by saying that he could have found out that information simply by going on line. He didn’t. She states that it is an attempt by the government to control the debate. It shows how weak the government’s own position is – and the programme notes that Heaton-Harris is very much a supporter of the ‘Leave’ campaign. She also says that it shows the government’s own, entirely false view of history, when they were in the universities and could control what was discussed and taught.

When the lecturer asks about how she can teach the subject impartiality, she responds by saying that students are mature enough to form their own opinions about what they’re being taught. And yes, she is a campaigner, and supports ‘Remain’, but students are able to form their own opinions on the subject.

Mike in his piece on it has the succinct reply from David Green, who told the Whip that he is at complete liberty to see what and how the subject is taught at his university. All he has to do is enroll and pay the £9,000 a year tuition fees the other students have to pay.


http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/10/24/tory-mp-demands-details-of-university-lectures-on-brexit-this-lecturers-response-is-perfect/

In fact, educators in schools and universities are specifically prevented by law from indoctrinating students. They have to be impartial. And in situations, where they are required to make a statement concerning a political or religious belief or issue, they have to state that it is what they believe. They cannot present their opinions as objective truth.

And I would think that the majority of British teachers and lecturers take this requirement very seriously. I can remember hearing from some of the other graduate students at Bristol that they were surprised to find that some of their lecturers had very strong personal beliefs on political issues, when their conduct in class was completely impartial. I realise that some lecturers are much less reticent about making their personal beliefs known to their class, and that academic discussion is all about forming beliefs and testing them through the weight of evidence. And I can certainly remember some lecturers in the past, who made no secret of their opinions in politics and religion. But Tony Blair’s government passed legislation to prevent indoctrination. And some students, at least, have absolutely no hesitation about making their own minds up about what they’re being taught, as Dr. Prentoulis makes clear. And in my experience also, parents may also been extremely concerned about what their children are taught at universities. So really, Heaton-Harris has no cause to try to intimidate lecturers and other educators, who should be allowed to do what they want to do: educate.

Way back in the 1980s I can remember Stephen Fry giving a rather good little talk on the radio attacking Thatcher’s policy towards education. Fry explained that the British words ‘education’ and ‘education’ come from the Latin ‘educare’, which literally means ‘to lead out’. It was all about bringing forth and developing the pupils’ and students’ own abilities, ideas and talents. But the Tories don’t want this. They want instruction instead. Instead of an intelligent, questioning workforce, they want a society of compliant drones that will have the necessary skills to work for their masters in industry, but no more. They do not want questioning minds, that are keen to decide for themselves and form their own opinions. We’ve already seen that in the way Gove went off and demanded that schools teach the received Tory version of the First World War, not Blackadder Goes Forth. Mike wrote a very good reply to that, pointing out that he was mistaking comedy for history, when Blackadder was very much comedy and did not pretend otherwise. But Blackadder was based on a real view of history supported by evidence, even if it is one with which Gove disagreed.

As for Heaton-Harris himself, he should resign. Prof. Green and Dr. Prentoulis are right: it is intimidation, and a very transparent attempt to control what is taught, as well as make educators frightened for their jobs. Totalitarian regimes always try to control what is taught in schools and universities. This was very explicit in Nazi Germany and the Communist bloc. One of the first things the Nazis did as part of their seizure of power was to ‘coordinate’ the universities, and force out Jews, Communists and anybody else, who dared to teach material they didn’t like. This included established scientific fact, like Relativity. That couldn’t be correct, ’cause Einstein was Jewish. Another victim of this purge was the Jewish mathematician David Hilbert, who was one of the great mathematical geniuses of the 20th century. But his ideas were also forbidden because he was Jewish. The resulting purge of intellectuals left Germany academic life and culture seriously impoverished, and enriched America, where many of those purged fled.

And when Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia conquered the peoples of Europe during the Second World War, they had a deliberate policy of imprisoning and murdering those nations’ intellectuals, in order to destroy any independent academic or intellectual life. This was particularly brutal in eastern Europe. In Poland, for example, tens of thousands of teachers and lecturers were imprisoned and shot because of the threat genuine free speech and discussion poses to all totalitarians and autocrats.

The same policies are pursued today by dictators and autocratic regimes around the world. These include Israel, where it is illegal to teach anything about the Palestinians’ connection to their native land. This harsh atmosphere of intellectual repression also extends to Jewish Israelis. Tony Greenstein reported a few days ago that Netanyahu’s government is trying to outlaw Breaking the Silence, a civil rights group comprising ex-squaddies, who talk about the massacres and atrocities of Palestinians they have witnessed and taken part in.

See: http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/israel-moves-another-step-nearer-being.html

Genuinely free academic discussion, debate and inquiry is one of the cornerstones of democracy and at the heart of any vital national intellectual and cultural life. Government has absolutely no business trying to censor and control political debate. By trying to do so, Heaton-Harris has shown that he is a positive danger to democracy. He should apologise and resign. Immediately.

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Vox Political: Owen Smith Insults Voters with Mental Health Problems

August 24, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has also put up a couple of stories today on the outrage Smudger has caused with a tweet sneering at the mentally ill. Smiff tweeted that with him ‘you won’t have some lunatic in charge of the Labour party’. Mike states that as someone, who has known many people with mental health problems and has blogged about the considerable obstacles they face, he cannot find words to describe his opinion of Smudger.

Many others weren’t shy of showing their feelings towards Smiff for this insult. Mike gives a few of their comments in his article. They state that such comments about the mentally ill should be unacceptable. Several of them are by people, who suffer from mental illness, and who therefore feel personally insulted by Smith.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/08/23/owen-smith-has-just-banged-the-final-nail-in-his-campaigns-coffin/

Smudger has realised the offence he’s caused, and tried to explain it away. He appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme, where John Humphries asked him if that made him unsuitable for the Labour leadership. Smudger told Humphries that he was talking about himself, not Jeremy Corbyn, and that it did not make him any the less suited for the leadership of the Labour party. He was sorry for any offence, and would have to be a bit less colourful about his language in future.

Mike comments drily that it’s too late.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/08/24/owen-smith-says-he-was-the-lunatic-does-that-make-it-any-better/

I think it’s very clear that Smudger wasn’t talking about himself when he used the term ‘lunatic’. The tweet was ‘With me, you won’t get a lunatic as head of the Labour party’. He is stating very clearly that he isn’t a ‘lunatic’, so the epithet must refer to someone else. It could, of course, refer to no-one in particular, but considering the insults heaped about Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters as ‘Trots’, ‘rabble’, ‘dogs’ and so on by the Blairites, it’s reasonable to assume he was referring to Jeremy Corbyn, or someone from the Left like him.

As for the outrage it’s generated, I’m not surprised. Depression and anxiety are on the rise, caused by austerity. The situation has become much worse for those with mental health issues through the stress of the Work Capability Test introduced by Tony Blair. The professional body representing medical health professionals – doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists, have stated that the stress of taking the tests has made their condition worse for 290,000 mentally unwell people, sometimes seriously so. Mental health services are being cut as the NHS services are rationed as part of the government’s privatisation of the NHS. There are extremely long waiting times for those with depression to see a psychiatrist. Students are also at risk of developing mental health problems. It’s been estimated that about 1 in 4 of them will suffer from depression at some point. Again, I can’t say I’m surprised, given the increased pressure to get a good degree, and faced with a mountain of student debt. Again, partly caused by Blair and Mandelson, when they decided to introduce tuition fees.

Faced with a government and Blairite faction in the Labour party that is at best indifferent to the needs of the mentally ill, those with such problems and their carers are bound to be outraged by Smudger’s apparent contempt.

Private Eye on Corbyn and Trotskyite Anti-Parliamentarianism

August 20, 2016

Private Eye was running the old Blairite line yesterday that under Corbyn, Labour was being infiltrated by Trotksyites from the Socialist Worker’s Party. In the ‘Focus on Fact’ strip, which seems to be just the Blairites trying to have their revenge against the old Labour left for slights and incidents in the 1980s, they quoted the Socialist Workers’ a saying that all Momentum events were open to them. As proof of this, they further cited the SWP as saying that they’d managed to sell 127 copies of their paper at Momentum rally Newcastle, and about 20 or 30 odd in one of the southern towns.

Now I might be missing something, but this seems less than conclusive proof that they’ve infiltrated the Labour party. The fact that they are not thrown out of Momentum might show that there is some sympathy for them in Momentum, but it does not show that they have infiltrated it. Look at what was not said: the Socialist Workers did not say that they had infiltrated Momentum, only that they weren’t kicked out of Momentum’s rallies.

As for selling newspapers, at one time all Labour party or trade union events attracted people from the extreme left-wing parties. Way back in the 1980s a friend of mine went to a demonstration in Cheltenham against the banning of trade unions at GCHQ. He came back with a stack of papers being sold by people from the Communist party, including a copy of Worker’s Dreadnought, which was the paper of the ILP, still just about hanging on at that stage. And the Anarchist Ian Bone on his website talked about heckling Ed Miliband when Not So Red Ed came to speak out at an anti-austerity rally.

All this piece really showed is that there were some in Momentum, who weren’t completely hostile to the SWPs attending. But that’s quite different from infiltrating Momentum. If the story is true, of course. And given the fact that the Blairites have lied and lied again as if it’s going out of fashion, there’s no reason to believe that it is.

Elsewhere, the Eye also saw fit to mention that the SWP was against parliamentary democracy. This was to frighten us all again with the spectre of Trotskyites worming their way into Momentum to seize control of the Labour party, win power, and turn this country into Marxist dictatorship. It’s the kind of stupid, paranoid conspiracy theory that the Scum ran in the 1987 General Election, Frederick Forsythe turned into a thriller, and Maggie read and approved. It’s classic Thatcherite scaremongering. But it perversely had the effect of making me actually think higher of the SWP for a moment.

I don’t have much sympathy for the Socialist Workers’ Party. Their leader, Dave Renton, has written some excellent articles for Lobster, but the part itself is a threat and a nuisance because it does try to infiltrate and take over other left-wing protest groups and organisations. I’ve mentioned before how they broke up Rock Against Racism by infiltrating it and turning it into front organisation. There was also trouble on campus in Cheltenham in the 1990s when some of the students organised a demonstration against student fees. Unfortunately, someone also naively invited the Socialist Workers, who turned up with their megaphones haranguing the students, before being chased off by College and NUS staff.

Despite their stupid and destructive tactics, they’re right about parliamentary democracy. The corporate domination of parliament has shown it to be increasingly corrupt. 78 per cent of MPs are millionaires, holding between them 2,800 directorships in 2,400 companies, with a combined workforce of 1.2 million people and £220 billion. The laws passed by parliament reflect this corporate dominance – pro-free trade, anti-welfare, with a concern for ‘flexible labour markets’ through zero-hours and short term contracts. This bears out the Marxist idea that the state is an institution of class oppression.

As for the horrors of soviet-style government, Trotsky and Lenin were champions of the workers, soldiers’ and peasants soviets set up spontaneously by Russia’s working people during the first phase of the 1917 Revolution. Before the Bolshevik coup, these were genuinely democratic institutions. Apart from the Bolsheviks, there were other Socialist parties elected to them, including the Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries and Trudoviks, parties later dissolved and purged by the Bolsheviks. Now I think we need a genuinely democratic system of workers’ assemblies and a workers’ chamber in parliament in this country, because of the overwhelming upper class bias of existing parliamentary institutions. And it isn’t just the Trotskyites in the SWP, who want a system of worker’s soviets. I think Dennis Skinner says something positive about them in his autobiography. And I have the impression that the Tribune group within the Labour party also support this form of government. On their books website they offer a documentary history of the Council Revolution in Germany. This is interesting, because one of the major supporters of the council system, the Bavarian premier Kurt Eisner, did so not because he wanted to destroy democracy, but augment and buttress it using the workers’ and peasants’ soviets.

The Bolsheviks effectively neutered the workers’ council in Russia by taking them over and turning them into the instruments for exclusive Bolshevik government. But this doesn’t mean that they originally weren’t a good idea. And the Eye’s denunciation of the anti-parliamentary attitude of the Socialist Workers to my mind actually makes them look good when parliament is so corrupt, unrepresentative and increasingly hostile to working class representation and policies.

Financial Expert Martin Lewis to Challenge Osborne on Student Loans

December 16, 2015

This is interesting. There’s a piece in today’s I newspaper reporting that the financial expert Martin Lewis is preparing to issue a legal challenge to the government over the age at which former students must begin repaying their student loans. The I reports

Money saving expert Martin Lewis has hired lawyers to challenge student loan repayment rules. George Osborne froze the salary at which graduates must start repaying at £21,000 until 2021 despite promises it would be increased in line with earnings from 2017. Mr Lewis will try to overturn this.

I think Lewis has his own show on ITV. Ideally, the whole rotten system of student fees and loans ought to be scrapped, but I can’t see any government actually having the guts to do this. Not after Bliar and Cameron have done their level best to make higher education a fully fee-paying industry, with all the advantages that brings to the financial sector. But it’s a start.

In the ‘I’ Today: One Fifth of Young People Have Been Homeless

November 6, 2014

Today’s I newspaper has a truly shocking story: ‘One Fifth of Young People Slept Rough’. This reports the findings of a survey conducted by ComRes for Centrepoint, a charity dealing with homelessness amongst young people, that in a poll of 2,000 15 to 25 year olds, 18 per cent had slept rough. They had been forced to sleep on the streets, in night buses or in cars due to the fact that they had nowhere else to go. A third of this group said that they had been homeless for up to a week. A third of those sampled generally also said that they had been homeless at some point in their lives. The report ends with a quote from the charity’s chief executive, Seyi Obakin, 6that ‘Our poll proves the issue of young people sleeping rough is huge and nobody else is giving an accurate picture of the problem.’

This is chilling, and should frighten everyone concerned with this country’s future. The same newspaper a few pages before that article also reports that today’s young people are far more likely to be ‘downwardly mobile’ due to there being less opportunities available for gaining middle class jobs. That article seems to regard the expansion of the middle classes in the 1960s as a blip that has now decreased as fewer of these jobs are created than lower skilled jobs.

Together these article paint a very bleak future for today’s young people, where there are few well-paid, professional jobs available and a far greater risk of becoming homeless. It’s certainly not the kind of situation that would encourage anyone from a working or lower middle class background to go to university and become saddled with tens of thousands of pounds of student debt.

The Tories and their Lib Dem collaborators have explicitly advocated their policies of dismantling the welfare state and forcing Britain’s workers to accept pay freezes and cuts on the grounds that this will make Britain better able to compete with the low-paid workers in the Developing World. Unsurprisingly, this is leading to a massive increase in poverty. I wonder how long it will be before we have the same Third World conditions in Britain, complete with mass famine, malnutrition and shanty towns full of the poor and the desperate. We are already like them in having a polarised society with a vast gulf between rich and poor. If this survey can be believed, we may be well on the way to a situation where London is now different from Calcutta, where a vast section of the population lives on the streets, occupying an area about the size of the average school desk.