Burdening the middle-classes is not a way to fix the system

Let’s not delude ourselves: when we leave this northern, duck-infested idyll we’re going to be in debt. Big time. It’s not because of bloated tuition fees that pay for four hours of teaching a week. Nor is it due to the escalating rent we’re forced to pay even when we’re not in York. And it’s definitely nothing to do with that £40 doorstop our tutor tells us we need.

No, according to Kevin Sharpe (who? Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary’s, apparently) the albatross around our necks is a result of a champagne drinking, oyster slurping, M&S buying upper-middle class lifestyle we can’t afford but desperately want.

Sorry Sharpe – this isn’t Ab Fab. The majority of us aren’t spending our precious loans on flat-screen TVs, but we don’t want to live in a student shantytown either.

In fact every one of my friends spent their summer working, harder than a Renaissance professor I’d like to add, unpaid in order to bolster their CV. Or like me, found paid work that mainly involved running up to the canteen to buy my fat-arsed, indolent excuse of a boss a packet of Wotsits, all the while plotting which orifice to stick it up.

As much as universities and their think tanks would like to think, we’re not ignorant about money. We know how much things cost and if we’re spending too much. And we work to ensure we have enough to live on.

So what’s worrying about Sharpe’s comments is that they are part of an increasing trend of middle-class bashing. The Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) higher education task force spent a year analysing campus finances. Its main recommendations are ruthlessly punitive, especially towards middle class families:

• The £3,100-a-year cap on fees should be lifted, claiming that a rise to £5,000-a-year would deliver £1.25 billion more for universities;
• Student loans should be charged at commercial interest rates – significantly increasing the amount graduates will repay;
And the final blow:
• Lowering the threshold for grants. Currently, students from families earning less than £60,000 are eligible for a partial grant, but the CBI advises this should be lowered to £38,000. Only students from families earning less than £17,910 should receive a full grant – instead of the present £25,000.

Over 20 universities, York included, agree with CBI’s findings. The National Union of Students, however, live in the real world. They know that the recommendations are financially crippling and “offensive”, especially when students are attacked for being too middle class by lecturers who are middle class themselves. I for one choked on my duck liver pâté.

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