Today Parliament votes on the Coalition's proposals for higher education funding. The stuff that has provoked student protests unseen since... well, quite a while really. One university don commented after a particularly nasty demonstration, "Oh no, none of our students were involved, it was in the morning".
The point I find amazing is this: well - before I get there, what I don't find amazing is the question of raising tuition fees. And I don't find the two-faced cant of the Labour Party amazing either - they introduced tuition fees, increased them, introduced the living allowance, increased it - and all after fighting elections saying they would do no such thing. So they put forward the Browne Review which is the foundation for the current legislation (though rather improved by the Lib Dems in the Coalition, really) and now oppose it saying it's terrible. It would be worse if they were still in power. No - I don't find their opportunism amazing; cheap - yes; amazing, no.
What is amazing is that a huge sea change has occurred in the nature of higher education funding and no-one has debated it. Time was, having a university-educated sector of the population was seen as advantageous to society, a social good, something that made life better for the whole nation. Therefore when it came to looking at funding, it was obvious that in some way society should be responsible for some of the funding.
Now, a university education is suddenly accepted as a lifestyle choice. A personal thing. Self improvement. So you should pay for it yourself. The state isn't there to make you feel better about yourself.
How did this happen? And why is no-one fighting it?
This change is most classicly revealed in the porter & the doctor argument, simply accepted as a self-evident truth, which I heard repeated on BBC Radio Wales this morning as I waited to comment on the altogether weightier matter of Prince William's upcoming marriage guidance sessions (a whole other story). Some well-educated and posh sounding woman said: "Why should a hospital porter have to pay anything towards the education of a doctor in the same hospital, when that doctor is probably earning £100,000 a year plus?" Argument made, education is about self-improvement, it's not a social good, it only benefits the individual.
I hope that porter never needs an operation. Or he may discover there was a social good in educating doctors after all. It wasn't all about self-improvement. It advantaged society to send the doctor to university. Maybe the porter benefitted, and maybe everyone should contribute to this?
Have we totally let go of "Society" as a concept? The way we are looking at paying for higher education right now - yes we have. And we haven't even realised it, debated it, thought about it. All we have is a cheap opposition too stupid to realise that here is a fantastic political issue - the party spouting the "Big Society" are abandonning all pretence at any society at all. God gives us the politicians we deserve. What a state we are in to deserve this.