Friday, 10 December 2010

Degrees of uncertainty

I went to University in the mid 70s from a working class background and from a council estate in Stoke. I failed my 11 plus and went to the local Secondary Modern that became a Comprehensive school at least in name half way through my time at Carmountside Junior High. I worked for a few years in a pottery and then went on to University from Further Education College. I did not know any one who had gone to University from the estate I lived on.

On holiday the locals presumed that I was in the Army because that was the only way my lengthy absence could be explained. My brother told me that when he explained one of my subjects to a classmate Economic she exclaimed " What Cooking"!

I find it difficult to settle in to University although I did not face any major debts as grants existed then and I could always get a job in a potbank or somewhere else in Stoke.

I admit I was exceptional although there were some people I knew at York who did come from the same background although many of them had been to Grammar School.

Low aspirations were an issue on the Abbey Hulton estate and a distrust of education. I cannot say I blame people on the Abbey in the late 70s. By and large people’s life followed a pattern. The pattern involved work at 16,with luck and apprenticeship at the Mitch or British Steel, marriage by 19 and starting a family in the early 20s. It involved staying close to the family and friends. It was limited but it followed a smooth and well-known trajectory.

Of course all this changed by the 80s and unemployment, social problems drugs and rising crime took a grip on the area the following decade. For many university and college became an escape route that more began to take.

But it must be harder now to justify this leap. After all in the context of North Staffs acquisition of a degree or even a higher degree no longer guarantees a job. I am proof positive of that as I work part time in a supermarket.

Social mobility has ossified and the top jobs whether they are in politics, media and even in pop music are now dominated by those who followed the public school and then Oxbridge route. A working class lad or wench from the Abbey has even less chance then I had in 1975. Social mobility is worse now than existed in the 1950s and the time of Macmillan.

From understanding of the fees debate and the debts that students will have by the time they finish their degrees of £30,000 to £40,000 will be a huge burden. The model followed by the coalition is unlikely to appeal to low income families. The vote yesterday will inevitably lead to fewer people taking the route from Council estate to University: it can only get worse.

I am in a dilemma because my daughter who is now 6 will probably want to go on to University. Will she be put of as we are from a low income and my path from University to low paid job hardly is the best example to go.

Certainly, I feel nothing but contempt for the politicians who benefited from decent grants and now burden future generations Phoebe included to huge and possibly unpayable debts