This is the day before the A Level results arrive. Around the UK, teenagers will be feeling a range of emotions. Nervous, anxious, hopeful….what will the future hold for them ?
I remember this feeling in the August of 1988. Doesn’t seem that long ago at times, then again, it feels like another century. That’s because it was. That year had been one of the most difficult in my life, a few weeks before my exams, my brother died. No words can describe what a teenager can feel, when their only brother dies, and then they sit the most difficult exams in the world, a few weeks later. So my story is perhaps different in ways to the tens of thousands of teenagers expecting their results, but no doubt, there will be teenagers who have gone through similar experiences. My heart goes out to them.
Infact my heart goes out to all the young people expecting their results tomorrow. When I got my results, I could think about what College or University I could attend, what was the course going to be like ? Did I and my fellow peers have to worry about tuition fees. No. Our society invested in us, they saw the value of investing in the future.
In 1990 I travelled to the USA on a family holiday. I was in my second year of my degree. I remember that sense of pride that my country invested in its future, we did not have to pay tuition fees, but in the USA they did. At that time, I worried what the future would hold for the UK, because I knew there was a drive to have student loans. In 1990 students protested on the streets against student loads. The Conservative Govt under John Major wanted to introduce the student loans. What was happening to our country ?
What was happening to that social contract ? What was happening to those principles of investing in education ? The universalism – that broke down social barriers. That enabled people from all backgrounds to go into higher education. It’s only a generation since my family were working in the mines, now my society enabled people to university or college. But now policies were creating generations who would have debt, before they even begin to venture into the world.
What message does that send out to our young people ? Think about that.
And yes, the decision by the Labour Govt to carry on this ideology from the 80s and 90s I feel was the wrong direction. Even if intentions were good. To increase more access to University, by 50%.
Now what do we have, but a Conservative Govt that is continuing its work from the 80s & 90s to break that social contract that enables young people from all backgrounds to access higher education, without fear of debt. Tuition fees will continue to rise. On top of this the maintenance grant has been scrapped to enable young people from lower income families to access higher education. Already we are seeing the effects of these decisions – and over the next five to ten years, this will become more apparent.
And this continually goes back to what type society do we want ?
The answer is to renew the social contract. We as a society return to investing in our future.
Tuition fees must be scrapped. Grants need to be reinstated. A long side this we need to transform education.
Enable young people – give them good careers advice, provide good technical, vocational education, apprenticeships – as well as access to higher education.
Nearly thirty years later, my son is one of the teenagers awaiting his results. He will be feeling all those emotions. I just wish he felt, like I had, the sense of pride that my society did see the value of investing in its future.
Maybe he and his generation will change this. Young people want to see change. Because there can be a different society, one that invests in its future.