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WINTER

10th December


distinctions, and forms of self-exclusion - all of which are class bound". In 2010 the new Conservative and Liberal Democrat government trebled University fees at a single stroke. They protested that provision is being made for the poorest students to ensure they can access a university education. There is something very Victorian about the way Liberal Democrat and Conservative politicians refer to the image of the clever but excluded poor students of Bermondsey and elsewhere. It is precisely the politician's privilege that makes them unable to face up with sober senses to what they are doing. Hand-outs reinforce class distinctions rather than blur them; they ease the guilt of the giver while reducing the recipient to a 'hard luck' case.

The key thing that is left out of the ongoing furore about student finance is the emotional politics of class and relative poverty. Class mobility has always been a precarious trade off between individual escape and the security of group associations, friends and family. More often than not the price of educational opportunity is cutting class-based cultural affinities and associations. This is what Richard Sennett called "the hidden injuries of class". The tools of freedom and opportunity - in this case education - are organised in ways that make them also "sources of indignity". The financial premium on education intensifies these emotional dilemmas.

Amongst most working class and poor families there is a deep fear

 


of debt. This is more than simply a matter of financial risk, it is an ingrained anxiety about being unable to "pay your way", as much a cultural phenomenon as an economic fact. During my time as an undergraduate the few working class students I knew never ran up large bank overdrafts; their grant cheques were meticulously accounted for. Rather, it was the students from moneyed backgrounds who cashed cheques like it was going out of fashion.

The present system of student finance will do nothing to address the fear of debt and the emotional costs of class mobility for students with no family history of going to university. It may also have detrimental effects on racial equity. Poverty is disproportionally black and brown and one consequence of the current system - regardless of the determination within minority communities - is that a multicultural university will be harder to accomplish.

Before leaving the south London students there was time for a question and answer session. I could tell the teacher was edgy. A young woman sitting on the back row held up her hand patiently but was passed over by the teacher. Her vigilance was rewarded with the last question. Cutting to the bottom line she asked, "Sir, how much do you earn?" I blathered on for a few seconds saying "it not just being about the money". Her hand went up slowly again as if hoisting the flag of my own surrender. "But, how much do you earn?" I told the inquisitor how much I earned at the time as a junior lecturer. She shrugged her shoulders as if to say, "You expect us to get up

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WINTER - 2010


16 December