THE BLOG
29/09/2015 06:35 BST | Updated 25/09/2016 06:12 BST

Education Funding 'Reforms' Are More Damaging Than Tripling Fees: Let's Shout About It

Aside from hoping that the press fulfil their duty to report on these regressive changes, a more media-friendly hubbub needs to be kicked up about them. Far from being worn down by years of fighting Tory attacks on students, anger merely simmers beneath the surface - someone just needs to tap into it to get people talking.

Maybe I'm alone in this, but I'm permanently baffled by what makes the news and what doesn't.

This week it was finally proven that government welfare policy was responsible for someone committing suicide; but were they interested at Telegraph towers? No, they were still recovering after seeing Jeremy Corbyn's top button undone - the scruffy disgrace. Day to day, media obsession with the deficit and cuts - repeatedly deemed economically illiterate by numerous economists - trumps any coverage of those petty issues like homelessness and child poverty. And in foreign news, the populist media endlessly bemoan the (advantageous) influx of BLOODY IMMIGRANTS, whilst holocaust-esque scenes in North Korea and human rights travesties in a myriad of other nations drift seamlessly by without comment.

We should probably give the media a bit of a break: they can't cover everything and have to cater to (often mindless) public interest. But the silence over Eritrean brutality, to take one example, is surely unwarranted, given the comparative fascination with the Duchess of Cambridge's new hairdo.

Despite all that, it still seemed surprising that the announcement of another 'reform' of university funding went virtually unnoticed in last month's budget - especially given the blanket coverage the previous changes received. Yes, people were preoccupied by Tory porkies about the 'living' wage, but for a divisive topic like fees to attract such limited commentary seems odd.

Even a report confirming that women and poorer students will be hit hardest by the changes received very little coverage on Thursday, despite the Sutton Trust warning that less privileged students' debt will "soar to more than £50,000" thanks to the replacement of maintenance grants with loans.

Fees themselves will now rise with inflation from 2017 meaning that the cost is no longer capped.

And yet, no one is talking about it.

Granted, fees and maintenance loans are not the biggest issues in British politics, and - if my Twitter is anything to go by - some are fed up with 'naive lefty students whinging about £9,000', but university funding is something that effects hundreds of thousands of people every year.

But whilst fees attract all the attention, the consequences of another rise are only likely to be felt in the long term - perhaps when a future government realises the gaping hole they have left in public finances. Like broken pensions promises, then, don't be surprised if the goalposts are moved to make students pay back what they owe - regardless of the 30 year write off 'rule'. More problematic than fees in the short term, though, are maintenance loans, since most do not even cover soaring accommodation costs. That means poorer students either can't afford living costs, or have to compromise their studies by working to cover their costs.

The issue with poorer students' grants become loans is that they really will be saddled with debt - as their borrowing will need to be far higher - discouraging the less privileged from further education. Arguably, that one cruel tweak will be more damaging than the tripling of fees in 2010.

The difference with five years ago, as far as media coverage goes, is the lack of a juicy broken pledge by the Liberal Democrats or a bunch of students going nuts on the streets.

This time around, there's little sensationalism to chatter about. Why bother talking about Cameron screwing the poor (again) when you can talk about him allegedly screwing a pig? Why talk about Corbyn promising to scrap fees, via a slight corporation tax increase, when you can talk about him not singing the national anthem?

Aside from hoping that the press fulfil their duty to report on these regressive changes, a more media-friendly hubbub needs to be kicked up about them. Far from being worn down by years of fighting Tory attacks on students, anger merely simmers beneath the surface - someone just needs to tap into it to get people talking.