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THE PENSIONER.

Byline: Elaine Morgan

Earlier this month the Guardian featured a cheerful little headline: "Useful students in Cardiff".

Steve Dub in Carmarthen Since then, all coverage of student activity has become strident and alarming. We read of thousands on the march... children taking to the streets... smashing windows... occupying buildings... All but a handful of the demonstrators were law-abiding, but some commentators sounded like Oscar Wilde's Lady Bracknell comparing such events to "the worst excesses of the French Revolution".

The Government insists that further education is a privilege, and must be paid for by those receiving it. "Isn't that fair?" But fees are going through the roof, and the debts incurred can be prohibitive, at a time when we need educated citizens as never before. The more complicated our world becomes, the more we depend on a rising generation of people who are qualified to take out an appendix, build a pylon, pilot an aeroplane, search for an antibiotic, teach maths, design a flyover, or practice any of the other thousand specialities needed to keep the show on the road. If the prospect of crushing debt discourages then from acquiring these skills, we'll be sunk.

Formerly, young people were given every incentive to improve their qualifications. Students on Newsnight put Jeremy Paxman on the defensive over this. He urged that though his own education had been free, he'd repaid that debt in taxes that subsidised later students. Nobody listened. They think we had it cushy, and now we're letting them down. They have a point.

In my day (longer ago than Jeremy's) besides having free tuition and subsistence, we could easily find jobs in the vacations, because the war created an acute labour shortage. I worked as clerk in a market research organisation, as a bookshop assistant, dishwasher in a hotel, and in the KLG sparking-plug factory in Treforest. It's much harder to do that today.

That was what prompted the "Useful students" item. They're offering, online, to perform services - someone to walk the dog, trim the hedge, cook, type, do some shopping, or help your child with his maths. What I need is someone to translate into English an interesting academic paper that's only been published in German. I'm going to try www.usefulstudents.com Initiatives like these may help, but only a little. Our economic troubles arose from the assumption Growth is God, and if we don't consume more this year than last, forever and ever, the system will grind to a halt. To keep growth going, we're encouraged to incur huge debt. In effect we've borrowed from the future, practising a policy of "Live now - our children and grandchildren will pay later."

It couldn't go on forever.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 3, 2010
Words:449
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