It’s going to be a great decade for British music

Watching those revolting students on the telly last night, I have to admit to a frisson of excitement at he sound of smashing glass. I’m very glad nobody got killed, and hope that the 10 people hospitalised make a full recovery. The topic of student fees is important, but it’s not so important as to give people the right to lob fire extinguishers off roofs at people or endanger human life.

Batman to David Cameron - Want some? Bring it on...

But as for wrecking Tory party headquarters, well it’s hard to argue with the logic of the cricket-bat wielding student who said:

“If the Government knows we’re willing to take this kind of action, they will take us more seriously.”

Sadly, history is on his side. The biggest protest ever in the UK was the Iraq War protest in 2003, about a million strong according to the BBC. That changed the course of action by all of….Zilch, Zip, nada.

Whereas the Poll Tax riots of 1990 actually changed things.  It’s not pretty, it’s not nice, but it’s the way life is.

As a side effect, the early 1980s and early 1990s were pretty good times for music. Great music is born on the streets from dissatisfaction welling up and finding its voice, not produced by Simon Cowell on the X factor.

The problem here is that the students are quite right. Borrowing £30,000 to pay for three years at university is an astronomical amount. Other than my mortgage, I’ve never borrowed that much for anything – indeed I have never spent that much on any one thing other than my house. And the Tories are also right. We haven’t got the money to pay for 50% of 18 year olds to go to university. Cameron did manage to score a brilliant own goal by letting the Chinese know that he felt their pain in subsidising British university students so he was increasing British university fees so overseas students wouldn’t have to suffer increases. Nice tin ear, Dave 🙂

There is a solution. We used to be able to pay for about 10% of 18 years olds to go to university. When modern students whinge about the baby-boomers getting their university education free, they also have to be prepared to face up to the corollary of that – the exams were hard enough to discriminate by ability and top-slice by ability. If students want free university education, they have to also accept that 80% of the typical modern student cohort won’t make the grade to qualify.

Somewhere between those extremes lies the answer. It’s going to be a long hard slog, because the educational establishment has considered selection by ability an anathema for over thirty years. Faced with the economic tsunami coming from the rise of China and India, a squeeze on natural resources and the total SNAFU made of our economy, we can’t afford to carry passengers any more. We are going to have to prioritise our resources, and that probably doesn’t include paying for people to do media studies.

We could bring back free university education by fixing the exam system, introducing a numerus clausus and drastically reducing student numbers. Whether that is really what the student revolutionaries want is another matter.