Francis Beckett

Today I'm sending copies of my Baby Boomers book to two old friends, both of whom I heard on Radio 4 this morning saying things about today's student demonstrations which I'd never have heard from them when we were all young.

Former New Statesman editor Peter Wilby defended tuition fees, and Ivor Gaber, Professor of Journalism at City University, who once occupied Warwick University and discovered the appalling truth about what corporate influence can do to a university, now feels obliged to defend it.

 

What they both seemed not to grasp was how much worse and less egalitarian a society we have created for our children than the one we grew up in. 

I'm not sure whether Peter would have gone to Sussex University all those years ago if he'd had to tie a mountain of debt round his neck.  I'm sure I wouldn't have gone to Keele.  Like most people who have never had much money, I'm terrified of debt.  It's only the rich who take debt in their stride.

And I'm not sure Ivor would have occupied at Warwick University if he'd been paying tuition fees - let alone the fabulous sums you now have to pay to get an MA in Journalism at City University. He, and I, and Peter would probably have had our heads in our books, protecting our investment.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that today's students, who do have to amass a mountain of debt, are prepared to take the time and the risk involved in running occupations, and painting slogans, and painting Prince Charles's car.  (I'm not impressed by the manufactured outrage over this. When I was the NUS press officer in the seventies, I heard the same manufactured outrage when the queen visited Sitling University and some students failed to behave wirh what newspapers considered to be the prioper respect.)

No: I stick to what I wrote in the book:

"The baby boomers used up the economic good times, when there was work for everyone.  We used up the educational good times, when free education extended to universities, and we, unlike our children, did not have to amass a mountain of debt in order to go to university.  We used up the time when education was seen as a good in itself, rather than the acquisition of the skills required to swell someone else’s profits; as I write, the government’s higher education department has just been abolished, and its responsibilities placed under the department dealing with business and industry, a pretty good indication of what ministers now think education is for."