Yoonie meanies need a bloody nose

21st February 2003 at 00:00
MY husband's former university regularly phones him to ask for donations to prevent their establishment languishing in penury. So far he hasn't contributed anything but we know the situation is desperate because the caller then writes to say thank you for listening to the tale of financial woe.

This is a terrible state of affairs and a damning indictment of a Government whose members have well and truly given up any pretence of being the champions of the poor. My sympathy goes out to the universities but right now it's the prospective students I feel most sorry for.

OK, the problem is being brought home to me because my daughter will matriculate at Glasgow University this autumn and we will join that band of parents for whom the terms "weekly direct debit" and "the oldest car in the car park" have taken on whole new meanings. Oh please! Two teaching salaries, not pleading poverty, surely? Not whingeing on our own behalf, no ( although there will be some sacrifices), but there are people who simply cannot afford to send their children to university.

You don't believe me? Go to our secondary schools and ask the pupils. You will find a fair number of kids across Scotland for whom university is just not a viable option. I have spoken to some of them and they say that the sums just won't add up.

Whatever the Scottish Executive says about children in the poverty trap, there is no straightforward route out of that to higher education.

Government schemes will, we are told, look after the poor but, according to the young people affected, once again we are listening to a Government peddling inexactitudes.

What a betrayal of socialism and its egalitarian doctrines. Not so long ago we might have been seduced by the "education, education, education" mantra - not any more. Now we know it for the empty yah-boo slogan it was.

Listening to a devastated youngster explaining to me why her family finances are preventing her from going to university made me understand very swiftly that there are ways of despising I never knew I had. I can't get her image out of my head or the look of despair which was her response when I asked her if she had explored every possible option.

So, is someone going to stand up and say that I'm mistaken? Just for the record, when I was doing my research on this subject not a single voice was raised in support of government policy on student finance. Pupils from families who can "afford" the cost of university spoke of older siblings several years into courses who look like ending up with mega debts of around pound;30,000.

Future students are already certain that the dark spectre of poverty is round the corner for them too. With that knowledge comes gripping anxiety.

Sure, the stereotypical student has always been poor - but not this poor.

How can pupils give full commitment to their studies when they know that shortly their main focus at university will be on keeping the inevitable level of debt under control?

Many Scottish students are also unable to choose the courses which are most suitable for them because of the prohibitive cost of attending university in England.

I am teaching many talented students this year and I am certain that they will leave their tracks in the snow of the world. But we now live in a society which has made higher education once again the elitist domain of the financially better off.

The people who must protest about this are the young victims themselves.

Most of them will be old enough to vote in the forthcoming elections.

Depressingly, apathy reigns king over my generation but I hope that these first-time voters will throw their punches in May. A bloody nose at the ballot box may work where logical argument has so far failed.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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