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Fair?

November 11th, 2010 · 2 Comments · education, finance, news, politics, poverty, work

On the radio this morning I heard a report of yesterday’s student protests in London against the increase in university tuition fees, protests which started peacefully but ended in violence. A listener to the program sent in a message to say that the students should take this new price hike as their first lesson in their prospective university career: life isn’t fair.

Of course, it isn’t life that is unfair, it is people who are unfair when they allow injustice to stand and their fellow man to suffer. Those who trot out the lazy line of “life isn’t fair” invariably do so to try to uphold an injustice that suits them, all too often out of self-interest or, worse still, malevolence.

While I have much sympathy for the prospective students, particularly as I was lucky enough to go to university at a time when there was a system of government grants to help even the relatively well-off, I can’t condone their violence, especially after reflecting on another injustice I heard this week.

Yesterday morning I heard a report from India on the work that is undertaken by the “untouchables”. These are people at the lowest level of India’s caste system. A woman told how she had to retrieve and carry human excrement in tins carried on her head just to earn money to feed her children. It was a life and work that she was born into without hope of improvement. And her children face the same prospect. If anyone wants to see the face of unfairness in the 21st century, I suggest they read/listen to her story.

Of course I defend the right of the students to protest and I sympathise with their cause, but even there I had to admit that Janet Daley (with whom I never like to agree!) had a point when she reminded listeners that the fee increases here still left people far better off than in the American system. (My American readers can correct me here if they think Ms Daley is grossly generalising.) Her argument in itself is not a defense. It is still certain that many students from poorer backgrounds will be deterred from pursuing a university education in the face of a long-term debt and that is unacceptable in an already too unequal society.

But it’s still worth remembering, it is a far more unequal world.

If you would like to hear more thoughts about what fairness means in the UK, Radio 4 has been running a series on it all this week.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Jessi

    I hate it when people say that "life isn't fair." It is lazy and saying that eliminates the need to make important changes that WILL make life fair. We should be fighting to end injustice (or unfairness) wherever we see it: in the Indian Caste system or University tuition. It's a valid and important fight on whatever front you are fighting.

    I can't comment about American vs. UK system, but as someone very disillusioned right now, I can't help but assume that your system is better. Also, I may be able to pay off my student loans before Brynna starts college, and I actually doubt that I will.
    My recent post Sunrises and Sunsets

    • Steve

      I'm glad I'm not alone in that phrase making me furious.

      Re universities: The UK system currently has a cap of £3290 pa in fees but that maximum is about to rise to £9000. Loans used to pay fees only have to be paid back once the graduate is earning above about £15000 pa and even then are paid off at a low rate of interest, but again that interest rate is now to rise.

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