From Beatniks to Vandals

The Government in the UK have introduced higher tuition fees for university students.For the priciest courses the fees for a three year course can amount to nearly £40,000 or $60,000.It is a far cry from the free education of my beatnik youth and the reaction to it is very different from the heady days of 1968.

There I was in the heart of the French-led student revolt, in Paris, in Brussels and in Geneva, making the odd incoherent speech but not about education being a mortgage for life but about transparency of student records, open, critical debate, democracy. It was tied up with what was then called the counter-culture, West Coast American hippy idealism, flower power, the end of war and time to make love. Of course it all looks naïve and simplistic today but it wasn’t then. We were touched by idealism and wanted to change society and change the way that society thought about itself and its young. It was the inevitable politicising of rock and roll. OUR music.

Watching some students in London smash their way through glass panes in Conservative party Headquarters, there was none of that. It was all about money. In fact the multitude that marched peaceably did so about fees alone, as far as I understood it from the media and my armchair in Ghana. I don’t know where our idealism got society when our descendants, now at university, can only think in those terms. They were not talking about the quality of education only the price of it. Meanwhile the inevitable University Chancellors were doing their interviews, wanting more money for the trough in order to ‘compete with the elite universities across the world’. What a travesty of the truth. Over the last decades, university senior managers have become well off at the expense of education. Larger classes, lectures to hundreds and falling standards of teaching and research are the true indicators of what has been happening among our ‘elite’, together with tie-ups to multi-nationals in the private sector. In my time I have ‘saved’ PhD students from Oxbridge colleges who never saw their supervisors and were referred in their vivas. And the fee for a year’s work in helping turn these students round? £100. This was only a short while ago. The students in question were being charged £8000 PER YEAR. Academics are as greedy as bankers, in the main. Greedy to pursue their own careers by publication, greedy for status and about as altruistic as panhandlers in a river of gold.

Decades of education have not raised critical consciousness in the UK or American society any higher than it was in the fifties. Everyone has bought in to capitalism and acquisitiveness. The vital energies of the young are chanelled into intellectual and creative dead ends. It would have been remarkable if the march in London had signalled the beginning of a philosophy of a new world order but it was more about students feeling that they were being priced out of consumerism.

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