“What do we want?” Um…. “When do we want it?” Er….
Well, knock me down with a fire extinguisher (preferably dropped from a serious height). British students are out on the streets protesting loudly against a tuition-fee hike. As one cynic observed, television scheduling must have been lousy that day. For here we see members of a privileged breed—Idlelayabout Bastardus—crawling from their bedsits and residence halls, gathering to march, shout, and stamp their tiny feet. Good on them, even though nobody else gives a damn.
For all the froth, fury, throwing of fireworks, and assaults upon Prince Charles’s limo, the students will not garner popular support. They will mount sit-ins, daub graffiti, and parade their placards and phonetically spelled slogans. But nothing will disguise the faint whiff of self-indulgence. Gone are the big issues of Vietnam, nuclear disarmament, love, and peace. In their place are youths in grimy underwear and unwashed clothes shouting, “Me! Me! ME!!!”
They are victims not of Tory policy, but of their own egos and overweening expectations. This is the freeload and free-download generation, a group weaned on entitlement and bred to believe in what P. J. O’Rourke dubbed “gimme” rights. The poor, misguided fools. They have come of age just as the perfect storm arrives, a tempest created by the previous Labour government both espousing a “crap in/crap out” approach to university admissions and bringing the country to the verge of bankruptcy. There simply is no money.
Naturally, this truth does little to pacify the indignant shrieks from the enraged and entitled student fraternity. They do not wish to pay for their further education. They believe we owe it to them and ourselves to subsidize their personal self-improvement journeys. In providing them finance we are, they insist, investing in Great Britain’s future prosperity.
Forgive my skepticism, but my house requires the attention of a reliable electrician and plumber, not a half-baked and poorly written essay on media studies or art history. Tens of thousands of university students—most of whom seem unable to spell or form a working sentence—graduate each year with their embossed certificates and vastly inflated views of their prospects and abilities. They graduate knowing how to sink a pint, smoke a spliff, sleep through tutorials, and even walk on water. Watch out world, here they come. Sadly, the currency is utterly debased and the unfortunates discover plenty of their own kind in the open market, all waving the same meaningless scrap of paper.
We do not need these graduates, or at least the kind who are spoon-fed and module-based and who acquire intellectual and academic pretensions without ever being intellectual or academic. The system is incontinent, processing the same shit year after year, and we are the ones charged for the cleanup. And still the students insist: “We are worth it. We matter. We are a glorious asset to the nation.” I beg to differ. The majority of top-flight universities are American and are therefore privately endowed and not state-funded. They thrive and the country reaps the benefit. Britain needs a similar level of excellence without the taxpayers being hobbled.
Call me a gold-plated hypocrite, for that is what I am. It is one of the pleasures of getting older. Back in the days when only some ten percent of the young went on to university, the government paid and the institutions could impose quality control. Yup, I got to play with the casino money. I did precious little work. We were spoiled. We had tuition fees covered and maintenance grants provided. We could fart about, fornicate, and wile away three years. It was only later—first as a postgraduate and then at Bar School—that I actually bothered to study. By then, I was paying my own way and had been forced to take out a student loan. It made me focus and encouraged me to take responsibility. The moral: If you are the one paying, you seriously commit.
We had it easy and tomorrow’s debt-laden graduates will have it tough. Life can be like that. But the world and its universities are altered, and the students—given the absurd expansion in ludicrous courses—will for once be obliged to contribute. Few are more selfish and self-regarding than they are, thinking that the nation-state depends on them and should provide a feather-bedded living. Reality can be cruel. So I’ll put it in digestible textspeak for them: IT’S OVER (downturned smiley face).
Police and the public have so far been patient with them as they conduct their gesture politics. Perhaps they should be allowed to vent their energy and burn off their junk-food diets. Yet as time passes and the hysteria grows, as their publicity stunts morph to resemble RAG Week on steroids, society may tire of their antics. In order to engage in special pleading, you really need to be special. Today’s students are not.
Maybe if they performed like dancing bears, the rest of us might warm to them. Maybe it’d help if the police turned water cannons on them to create novelty ice-sculpture parks for our amusement. Maybe they could fight the Taliban, pick up litter, or sell their kidneys. Students could prove their intrinsic worth via any of these methods.
When it comes to employment matters, it’s strange how sectors such as British banking so often turn to motivated and trained applicants from overseas. Yet I am expected to continue doling out my hard-earned cash on behalf of our “skilled and flexible” students. Please, just go away.
Be charitable during Yuletide. Spare a thought for those student protesters and high-school politicos shivering on our streets. I want to give them food and drink and bring them to the warmth. Then I remember, as should they—there is no such thing as a free lunch.
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