Enjoyed a lively and passionate “Question Time-style” debate at lunchtime today attended by some 160 students at Westminster Kingsway College. It left me feeling very positive about the likelihood of younger people really stepping up into politics and fighting for their generation’s future. (Hopefully we’ll see a great turnout at the NUS march tomorrow.)
One of the issues I highlighted was the ending of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) – the £30 a week that is paid to 16-18-year-olds remaining in education. It got a strong reaction – not surprising when a teacher noted that about half of students at the college currently receive it.
Another was the fact that under the former Labour government FE colleges were getting £1,000 of funding less per pupil studying A levels than were schools (and school pupils get free school meals while FE students don’t), and the Condem coalition is planning to cut this by a further 25%.
Tuition fees at university were also unsurprisingly the subject of strong reactions (particularly for the Lib Dem councillor in the debate). And there was a lot of interest in my explanation of the fact that the Green Party would abolish tuition fees. (As Caroline Lucas recently highlighted, an alternative to tuition fees would be a business education tax levied on the top 4% of UK companies.)
But the interests in the debate weren’t narrowly focused on the practical interests of students.
There was a strong feeling in the room that the current economic system is fundamentally and hopelessly broken, that markets don’t have the answers, and an entirely understandably angry focus on executive pay (and that of top level civil servants).
And I was pleased with the anger and compassion in the question (and the audience response to it) about the fate of Mit Singh Chopra, an Afghan student of the college who was deported in the middle of his studies.