By Leilani Graham-Laidlaw, Current Affairs Columnist
The British government is selling Sherwood forest. Whether or not Robin Hood, Little John, and Maid Marion existed, I’m fairly sure they’d be horrified with all the foreign millionaires’ playgrounds that will be popping up over the next few years in a forest that’s been protected by British law since 1215.
The Tories are starting to take austerity measures a little too far. Britain, they say, is so mired in debt that they’re willing to sell out Robin Hood’s home, along with about 925,000 acres of public land—half of the total held by government.
Worse, they say the government is so far in the hole that they are slashing university budgets by 40 per cent. This will mean more than just a decrease in tweed jacket sales to tenured professors. It’s not just across-the-board cuts. Most of the cuts are targeted at humanities programs and science programs that are not economically productive enough.
Gordon McOuat, who was a research fellow at Cambridge and now teacher at Halifax’s University of King’s College, described this decision as a catastrophe. “If you look at any of the indicators, pure science itself is both noble and a civic duty … it has consequences that are much wider than merely economic funding. So to think that it all is about bottom line, like a corporation, is not necessarily accurate.”
He notes that while “there’s probably a lot of crap in science … (and) a fair bit in the humanities,” the decision of what qualifies as ‘crap’ is being based not on enrolment rates, societal values, or research, but on whether bankers see any ‘economic output’ in a program. No, I don’t quite understand how they’re measuring that either.
Decreasing funding also means that most British students’ tuition is going to jump, and the government will be able to destroy the current system of tuition caps. There’s a set level which British students are expected to be able to pay, and that cap changes yearly in accordance with inflation, a pretty sensible system that sees students paying up to £3,225 ($5,253 CAD). If the government and certain University presidents have their way, the average cost (not the cap, note) could go up to £6,500 to £7,000 ($10,600 to $11,400).
The other alternative being presented is a “graduate tax,” where 2.5 per cent of any student’s salary would be automatically taken by the government for 20 years after they graduate. No matter how much they make, no matter what they studied.
While the average tuition for an undergrad in the U.K. is still a little higher than the current Canadian average of $4,942 (up to $5,138 in 2011), it doesn’t mean that we should turn a blind eye to drastic tuition increases and ridiculous austerity measures that are barely justified by a fear-mongering government.
The debt-to-GDP ratio in Britain is 64 per cent, meaning they owe that percent of how much the country made that year. It sounds like a terrifying number: it’s 24 per cent over what Britain calls their sustainable level. Yet the US’s ratio is 71 per cent, and Japan’s at 194 per cent—and you don’t see them selling off Mount Fuji and half the countryside.
Britain’s debt doesn’t justify a massive sell-off and such huge cuts, especially since the jump in debt is mainly attributable to a passing economic recession (lower tax revenue, higher unemployment payouts) and a one-time bank bailout. The overall trend in Britain over the past ten years has been a decrease in debt, and a rise in debt based on specific, temporary causes won’t be fixed by shifting the debt burden to students.
There’s really nothing terribly alarming about Britain’s financial state. Thus, Cameron’s government, which was elected at the height of recession fear, has turned to drawing out fear-based politics to create the support necessary to cull programs and properties. Back home, it’s not something I’d put past Harper, despite the fact that Canada’s debt-to-GDP is expected to be under 30 per cent this year.
A temporary jump in British debt is not enough political justification to sell out Robin Hood or students, and the fear created by the politicking necessary to pass these cuts is almost scarier than the spectre of rising student debt or the loss of a national treasure.
“A bunch of young Robin Hoods should come up and steal it back.”