Why the Brits Are Protesting

November 25, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Sometimes, it seems, even the best tv news coverage is worthless. Repeatedly in the past few days we have heard on PBS about the student protests in Britain over increases in university tuition. But did the newspeople tell us what the increases are? Nah. We heard a while back that the Greeks were protesting because the minimum retirement age was going from 60 to 62–what the current minimum age for Social Security is here. Tuition figures, however, are apparently too complicated to be repeated on the tube. 

Today, however, the local paper of record has filled in the details. University tuition in Britain is scheduled to go from a cap of $5,624 to a cap of $14,400. This because the deficit-wary government is giving less money in direct grants to universities. And, the Times mentions, up till the late 1990s, university tuition in Britain was free. (I’m still not up to speed on embedded link technology, but you can find the article at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/25/world/europe/25britain.html?ref=world )

So one way you could look at this, if you figured university tuition in Britain as $1 in 1995, is to say that there has been a 14,000% increase in allowed tuition charges, more or less, since then, and a 100% increase since the most recent cap. I can imagine why students might take to the streets over that.

To gain a little perspective, though, bear in mind that these figures include the maximum allowed tuition to Oxford and Cambridge, two of the greatest universities in the world. The undergraduate tuition at Harvard is $32, 557. In-state tuition at the University of California is  a good deal lower–$6,230 (at Berkeley at least)– but California is on the verge of bankruptcy, and the outgoing governor, Arnold-baby, has proposed an 8% increase in tuition, on top of a 32% increase in 2009. Students were protesting there, too, last week (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/18/us/18calif.html?pagewanted=2&sq=student%20protests%20University%20of%20California&st=cse&scp=4) . Maybe if they hear what the tuition cap at Oxford and Cambridge is, they’ll quiet down a bit. On the other hand, in Britain the government throws in health care for everyone on the side.

All of this makes me grateful my student days are behind me. I have a feeling this won’t be the last we hear about these matters. Stay tuned.

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