Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Dear Lib Dem backbenchers, Tell the truth on fees before anyone else gets hurt.

I'm furious.

I'm furious for a variety of reasons relating to the higher education funding debate, but not Millbank-trashing furious. No, if I was to mask up and stick a railing through a window, it'd be the NUS who should be pulling down the shutters (I would never take direct action. I'm just trying to attract attention to the seriousness of this situation).

I'm furious because the backbenchers of my party aren't courageous enough to tell the truth to the public.

I'm furious because various student groups who are receiving generous funding to support themselves through university are telling future applicants they won't be able to attend when government proposals should IMPROVE fair access.

And I'm furious because the Scottish government is clinging on to a funding policy which is pinning both Scottish universities and students in disgraceful poverty.

I was going to call this blog post "Failing to see the wood for the fees". Deferred fees are not the determinant of whether young people can support themselves through university. Maintenance funding determines whether students can feed and house themselves through their studies and maintenance funding will RISE following the implementation of government proposals. MORE students from poorer backgrounds will be able to attend higher education if they aren't in ****ing prison after the latest riot.

The fury really started for me when I read that Lib Dems were lobbying Vince Cable to cap the fees at lower than £7000 because when you examine the implications of this you have universities struggling to fund courses and widen access on a lower income than they have at present and for whose benefit? The lowest earning graduates wouldn't be saved any money. The middle half would save a little. The highest earners would save a whole lot more*. When the **** did the Lib Dem back bench become the parliamentary defenders of the marginal financial interests of the wealthiest and most fortunate in society?

Higher deferred fees should only deter those who would not receive net benefit from a university education. Those who aren't academically inclined should look elsewhere. Those who are bright, motivated, highly skilled or entrepreneurial might be able to earn more and be happy without having to struggle through 3 years of academia that doesn't really motivate them. Student groups should be demanding the high quality careers advice that maximises this "good" deterrence and stop driving the "bad" deterrence that comes with poverty and a misunderstanding of the type of debt or costs that studying will bring.

If you really want to fight for the right of the disadvantaged to a top quality education, fight for an access levy so that only those institutions with at least average access to the disadvantaged can keep 100% of their £9000 fee.

But the one thing that made me spitting-mad, grind-your-teeth-while-reading, livid was when I started comparing the maintenance funding available to English and Scottish students and drew up this table: (also contains evidence to back up * above) So, in the land of free ****ing tuition, we see fit to let some students try to live on nearly £3000 less than their English counterparts while our universities go to the wall. It's no wonder the disadvantaged kids in Scotland are the least likely to go to university of all the regions of the UK Mr Salmond. Mr Russell. You can stick your empty-gesture free tuition up your respective voluminous backsides. I want a quality education for this nation's youth, and I want them to be able to enjoy it without rushing from lectures into a part-time job that they can't support themselves without.

Children. Students. Open your eyes. Aaron Porter doesn't have your interests at heart. Don't buy the lies about your ability to go to uni if your family is poor. Like some on the Lib Dem back benches he took a stance a while back and he's too much of a coward to tell you that stance is no longer correct. Please tell him (in as splenetic terminology as your youth allows) to call off this farce before anyone else gets hurt.

I never thought I'd engage in a near-socialist rant in favour of higher tuition fees and in defence of a Tory minister. But the government is proposing a fairer and better means of funding higher education in this country. Could we please start trying to properly get this message across?

Monday, 1 November 2010

Drugs Harms in the UK: some observations

As Mark Easton reports in his blog this morning,
The Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs has today released an analysis of the relative harms of the drugs that are routinely used in the UK today. The analysis has yielded a quite different result to a previous harm assessment that Nutt and colleagues carried out in the fact that alcohol has come out as a clear "winner" in terms of harm done to others and overall harm, with heroin and crack coming in second and third and the rest trailing some distance behind.

The analysis has been made very accessible and informative through the graphical representation of the different components of the final harm score (available on MArk Easton's blog), thus allowing enthusiasts to pick apart where these harms come from and hypothecate how the graphic might be different were drug policies to change.

I am rather disappointed that medically supervised diamorphine (pharmaceutical heroin) consumption has not been included in the analysis, but we can certainly identify major contributors to heroin's harm score which would be substantially reduced by consumption of a pharmaceutical product in a medically supervised environment. Indeed the three major contributors to heroin harm: drug-specific and drug-related mortality and crime would all be substantially reduced, and the only indicators that I suspect would not be reduced are dependence and drug-specific impairment of mental functioning.

The take-home message we should be going away with from this study is that

A: The misuse of drugs act categorisation of drugs is an absolute joke.
and B: A great many of the harms considered by this study are created or exacerbated by prohibition.

With home office and justice spending being slashed, it's about time we thought about doing things differently.