First blog post

A little introduction


First blog post. What an awfully uninspiring title. Hopefully what follows is different. As this is my first post I thought I’d introduce myself briefly. I am a language graduate of Sheffield University where I studied German, Russian, and French. I am now half-way through a two year Politics degree: my first year was at UCL in London, and in September I begin the second year in Prague at Charles University. This may/probably have influenced my strong Remain position – I love the fact that, currently, we can up sticks and hop around the EU, travelling, living, and working. I will just have to make the most of it while I can!

Price versus Worth

I recently read in timeout that people often Google, “Why is West End theatre so expensive?” You’re kidding me, right? I regularly go to the theatre and have never paid more than £30. OK, I sit in the balcony, but the view is generally great and I thoroughly enjoy myself. 
There is an argument that seats could be cheaper to allow more families to enjoy the theatre, and to persuade reluctant theatre-goers to give theatre a chance. However, when you compare theatre prices to the cost of the cinema, I do wonder why there isn’t more complaint about the cost of cinema tickets.

I used to love going to the cinema with my parents and my sister when I was younger, but how many families can afford to do that these days. At almost £10 a ticket outside of London, we would now be paying almost £40 for us to go as a family! That is absurd! Even more so when you consider just how much Hollywood’s leading men (That’s another article) are paid. I wholeheartedly object to paying what amounts to a large chunk of my weekly budget on watching a film, where the lead actor has earned more than I could earn in five. 

Where I come from, in the Welsh countryside, kids don’t have a huge amount to do. We are lucky, for a small market town, to have an independent cinema, however tickets are £8 a pop, for all. No wonder the kids spend their time hanging around the town doing nothing. If you only have your pocket money to spend, £8 in one go is a lot of money. Actually, for a student on a budget, £8 isn’t the cheapest form of entertainment. Netflix’s appeal grows by the day…

And anyway, I last went to see The Mummy, admittedly towards the end of it’s run in the cinema, but I was one of six in the theatre. Six people they screened the film to. Perhaps if they lowered prices, gets have a lot more people in the cinema and, consequently, earn far more overall. Surely I am not the only person to see an economic as well as social benefit to reducing prices? 

But compare cinema to the theatre. Granted, live theatre doesn’t offer you CGI monsters and unbelievable special effects. But it offers so much entertainment in other ways. The subtleties the theatre allows, the intimacy created in the theatre, if the piece provides it, the moving quality of live music. If you are lucky enough to be watching a particularly good play with excellent actors, you have the knowledge that no one will see the performance you see, as the actors react to the audience and what is happening around them. Improvisation, reacting to mistakes or accidents, and interacting with members of the audience gives you a one-of-a-kind experience. For me, the cinema cannot compare. The skill involved – there are no do-overs, you have one shot and one shot only. Theatre actors earn their wage, a modest amount compared to cinema, and do not earn extras from re-runs or merchandising sales.

I’ve seen such fantastic actors in the theatre – Andrew Scott, Daniel Radcliff, Griff Rhys Jones, Lee Mack, Simon Bird, Anthony Head, the list is endless. From Shakespeare and Moliere to 21st century plays, opera to musicals, ballet to comedies. I am happy to pay a little more for a night at the theatre, which provides much more value for money than the cinema, and with discounted and tiered pricing, offers a treat for everyone. 

A Fair Wage For All

Jeremy Corbyn has recently declared that there need be equal pay across, not only different genders, but also age groups. No longer should under 25s be paid less than those over 25, and no longer should under 18s be paid less than those over 18. Hear, hear!

As a 24 year old who has been working for £6.95, and then £7.05, an hour for the last year while studying, this is a welcome statement. And also seemingly to me, a fair statement. Imagine my surprise upon my sharing the article on Facebook, along with the comment “why do I deserve less for performing the same job”, that the first comment was “what an arsehole, where does he keep his magic money tree?” I realise that finding the money to fix the NHS, fund a fair minimum wage, and fund schools is a little like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack, however, the sentiment hardly strikes me as coming from an arsehole. If so, the one maintaining the wealth of corporations and the richest 5% must be positively satanic! It is particularly abhorrent to me that this statement came from a woman, who grew up with free education and training, and whose mother is of the generation who had to fight and campaign for her right to equal pay. 

I have heard complaints that small businesses could not cope with the increase, but surely they could be given support, particularly in the form of tax breaks while they adjusted to the new demands. And if long-term it still wasn’t feasible, then how solvent was their business initially? Funnily enough, people complained when the minimum wage was first introduced and when women fought for equal pay to men. Oh there isn’t enough money, companies will go bust, we haven’t got the resources. Well, they found the money somewhere. Perhaps we should ask for a cutting from their magic money tree. And why does equal pay apply only to gender? You can (according to the law if not biology) have a child at 16, at 18 you can marry without your parents’ permission, and you can rent (usually with a guarantor, but still). But you cannot receive a fair wage.

I am 24. I have a Bachelor’s degree, speak 4 languages, have an English teaching qualification, music qualifications, and am studying for a Master’s. In order to have achieved these, I have needed to earn money to pay for the education  that is no longer free. So I earn at a lower rate than others, despite doing the same job. 

Imagine the uproar if the degrees of pay were mirrored at the other end of the age spectrum. £7.50 for under 55s, £7.05 for 55-60, £6.70 for 60-65, and a measly £5.95 for 65 and overs. Yes, they have experience which youngsters lack, but arguably lack the adaptability and quickness of mind of the younger generation. 

I am not asking to be paid £40k a year for waitressing. I am asking that fairness prevails, and the discrimination that has been criminalised in cases of gender be mirrored in cases of age. This does not make me a communist. I am not saying hand out free cash and give everyone the same wage. But, fairness and morality dictate that those performing the same job be paid the same wage, regardless of gender. Regardless of age. 

Universities need a consumer culture

This may seem counter to what universities should be about. And I would agree. Universities are meant to be these great centres of learning, places to achieve, places to learn for the sake of learning, places to discover you and your values. Even I can read the idealism in that. Universities are, unfortunately, no longer about the pursuit of knowledge. They are, of course, about the pursuit of cold, hard cash. 

I am coming to the end of my year at UCL. I was so excited this time last year; I’d been accepted onto a fantastic Masters course at one of the best universities in the UK. What a thorlughly disappointing experience. I feel like I was there to provide the money for the lecturers’ research and the pay for ineffective administrators!

We, as students, have to start demanding more. Lecturers should have teaching qualifications for starters. They are expected to teach on taught courses rather than only to supervise research students. So why can some of them get away with such poor teaching that a maths graduate just out of university that year has to teach you the entire module?

We, as students, have to start shaping the courses that we want, not simply the courses that are handed to us. Why should we accept compulsory modules that are little more than timetable fillers and box checkers? Why should we accept remaining in sub-standard modules because too many other students will then want to change? Incidentally, if that is the case, the module needs looking at!

We, as students, didn’t come out to vote in the election that brought the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition to power. The ‘compromise’ reached between the parties who wanted respectively to put fees up and abolish them was a six grand hike. All I can say is, I’m glad my sister didn’t know that kind of compromise when she was little! We are now paying in excess of £9,000 a year or an undergraduate degree and more for a Masters. What do we get for our money?! What we do get is not good enough. And that little we do get, is becoming too much for a lot of students.

It’s time universities recognised that we are paying too much to accept what they deign to give us. And for some it’s too much. I love learning, I love researching politics and related topics in the Russian and post-Soviet sphere. I am slightly concerned that I will never pay off this debt. I am even more concerned that it won’t have been worth the money. But I refuse to let myself think about that too much and instead focus on the fear my dissertation instills in me!

Modules are poorly taught, marking and grading is thoroughly inconsistent leaving students’ grades at the mercy of the armed rather than the quality of their work, lecturers are rarely available for students – by email or in person, and the little things like accommodation, printing, and textbooks rocket the costs up without limit. This is not what we deserve and lay for.

Students as a group are always being criticised for being too materialistic and consumerist, too glued to our phones, and too willing to spend money frivolously. Because those are, of course, characteristics shown only by our generation. Then let’s make it true. Let’s have a revolution, led by social media, demand more from universities for the huge sums of money that we are handing over to them. And then we can get back to enjoying the true purpose of university: to broaden our horizons, increase our knowledge, and achieve all that we can. Well, a little idealism never hurt anybody…