Wednesday, July 22, 2009

An open letter to the rt hon Alan Milburn MP

Dear Alan,

I can call you Alan, right? After all, in our egalitarian, best of all possible worlds, society I’m allowed. No glass ceilings here eh?

What’s that you say, disproportionate numbers of professionals come from moneyed backgrounds? And I’ll bet it’s more now than it was a few years ago. And I bet it’ll be more still in another few. And why? Well it’s obvious isn’t it? The universities are all shameless elitists who have it in for “ordinary” kids like you and me. They’ve erected this “glass ceiling” of yours to keep us in our place, yes?

Well no actually. You did that. You, with your failed policies and your failing government. I notice you had to slink away from health a few years back after wrecking that, and now you want to have a go at higher education. Well heaven help them. You see they didn’t put the ceiling there. You and your cronies did that all by yourselves. Whilst you were collectively milking a crooked system that “froze” your pay, quite wrongly I might add, and made up for it by doling out the swill in the expenses trough (and no I nether know nor care if you personally were implicated, this is satire and not libel), you thought it would be a good wheeze to introduce student loans and tuition fees.

Worse, yet, in your anodyne “no-failure” “non-competitive” school system you devalued the grades awarded in the bizarre system of GCSEs that teach pupils how to sit exams, not how to acquire knowledge. Now the universities, faced with a torrent of straight A students, have to find other ways of selecting the brightest and best. Applicants need at least a Grade 8 instrument (but we don’t do music or instruments in school), a Captaincy of a County XV or XI (but we can’t do rugby or cricket—we sold the field) and a plethora of other qualifications or aptitudes beyond what school can offer in normal hours (but we only have to teach the national curriculum).

A medical student qualifying this year will have, on average, a student loan debt approaching £50,000, sorry, didn’t you quite get that, I said FIFTY THOUSAND POUNDS. Lawyers and accountants might owe slightly less, but will still need to obtain post graduate qualifications in order to actually pursue a career in their degree subject, which they will pay through the nose for, with far less guarantee of a job at the end because you’ve blown all our money fighting “terror” and shoring up failed banks. Overall the medics have it easy don’t they.

So how dare I, a privileged member of this moneyed elite dictate to you, a veteran class warrior and striver for equality? Well you see my roots are about as working class as you can get. I was lucky enough to get to a grammar school, and to have grandparents who wanted badly enough for me to be the first of my family to go to University. The same is true of three of my four partners. You’re right, the students I teach now all have at least one professional parent, but it’s not their fault, and it’s not their University’s fault either.

This is the world you made. I imagine you all started with the best of intentions, but you’ve screwed up so badly it almost defies belief. Still you’re not in it for the long haul are you? A few soundbites and then it’s on to the next brief, or the wilderness of opposition where you can say what you like and damn the consequences. Or if it gets too hot again, back you can go to the bosom of your family. But if I were you I wouldn’t spend too long mulling over my dubious achievements when the time comes, or I might end up very tempted to take a long walk off a short pier.