Tuition fees – they’re a great idea? Aren’t they?

Facing the future - to pay or not to pay? for university.

Today was a proud day for me – my beautiful step-daughter embraced the spotlight and appeared on BBC1 in the West presenting a film about tuition fees.

In a short film for regional current affairs programme Inside Out West, she talked about the decision she faces when it comes to going to university or not. Pride aside, it’s an issue we’ve discussed a lot. We cannot pay for her to go to university so she would have to pay her way, through debt.

This has made me think of my own experience of higher education and question the whole issue of tuition fees. At a basic level, I hate the idea, I want all education to be free. It feels as if it’s something that all young people should be able to enjoy.

I’m not coming from a political view-point – I try to avoid that as I’m a journalist and am not keen on pinning my colours to the mast. 

It was 1984 when I was in my step-daughter’s situation. This was a time when just six per cent of those eligible – went to university.

In fact I wasn’t clever enough to go, I went to a college of higher education. I had a great time and have no regrets. I’ve always worked since, but I’ve never earned big bucks. However, for most years, I’ve earned more than £21k.

What have I got out of it? Huge life experience, a knowledge of how to seek knowledge effectively, friends from all walks of life, a worldview that means that life has no boundaries when it comes to career or travel, dreams can be chased, education is enriching. I also work in a career where a degree is essential, it gives you a head start – and that’s all.

But there is one big difference. I left with minimal debt – less than £1,000 after three years. Each year, my fees were paid and I got a grant of £2,200 to pay my bills. I did do a weekend job in my last year of study.

So it’s shocking to me that my own step-daughter or my other children could face a debt of up to £50,000 – and with interest this could rise to £75,000.

Now, almost 50 per cent of young people can go to university, is it realistic that we, as a society, can fund in the way that I was funded?

And is the cost really so high? Martin Lewis of Martins Money Tips says the actual cost will not be as much as that.  If you earn enough to pay it all back, then you will. If not, then you won’t. And there’s something in that. But it still feels like a tax on education.

And the fact that if you’re rich enough you can pay fees upfront undoubtedly gives young people from wealthier families an advantage. The price tag does put off young people from low and middle income families, so there’s another issue there for me. Applications are almost ten per cent down already, and it’s early days.

In all, I understand tuition fees, though I don’t like them. I’m not confident that poorer students will choose university and I’m pretty sure that those from middle income families will also think twice.

I’m not sure if that’s good for a society which wants to compete at the highest level –  but time will tell.  

Pontins – do you want to go there on holiday now?

Fancy having a holiday here? If so, send us a review...

Anyone watch Watchdog tonight?

You know the programme you ‘cannot afford to miss’. BBC 1 – Thursday?

If you are in business and you want to know anything about handling a negative story, you must tune in.


Tonught was a classic. Under the spotlight this time was Pontins holidays in general but the Somerset site at Brean Down in particular.

On the menu were stained bed clothes (yes,everything), mould, human hair in places which should have seen disinfectant and dusters.

All captured in stills and video, as well as the filming by the team featuring the alternative seven dwarves – Stinky, Grimy and Mouldy to name three.

Back to the studio with a woman representing the new owner Britannic Holidays.


Then followed a master class in how to make your company look as amateur and second class as possible. Even worse, how to make your business sector look awful.

Tip One – immediately be confrontational, especially to a presenter like Anne Robinson and try to make her look small. This makes Miss Robinson even more determined to undermine you.


Tip Two – use the tired excuse that you had 50 million satisfied customers and only ten had complained to Watchdog. Pointless. We aren’t going to hear from the satisfied customers. All customers should be satisfied, that should matter. Remember the adage ‘the customer is always right’? Well, when they’ve got photographs and video to support their case, they are right.


Tip Three – shout out and sound as if you are about to cry, quickly followed up by a suggestion that ‘we offer affordable British holidays’. Sadly, the message we hear therefore is that British holiday makers who are on a budget should expect poor standards. Shut up you whinging Brits with little money and taste…

Media training clearly went amiss here. If indeed any had taken place. 

Reading between the lines, I suspect that this lady is passionate about upgrading Pontins – it needs it!


But by taking it personally and trying to criticise Watchdog for covering the story, her message was completely lost and she spent valuable airtime trying to score points off Anne Robinson and the Watchdog team.

How would you have handled it if you had been Mrs Pontins in the hotseat? Would you have behaved differently. Do let me know……(I’ll share my advice if you are good enough to comment).

9/11 Ten years on – terror attack or not?

Question Time has returned and they are talking about 9/11 – not surprising given this weekend’s tenth anniversary.

But just before that on BBC3 was a programme involving a group of young people being taken around America who were all convinced that the attacks on the Twin Towers, The Pentagon and the other attack were all caused by the American Government or some other secret society.


Most believed that there was some undercover reason for the attack which was carried out covertly by people within the American Government (or somewhere else) for some greater gain.


Greater it seems than the lives of thousands of people. Greater than any amount of lives – as no one could have known how many people could have been killed. Ten thousand could have lost their lives, 20,000, 30,000….


A comedian, who I did not recognise, was given the task of trying to challenge their conspiracy theories by taking them to meet those who had knowledge of events and to see if their minds could be changed. Two of the group experienced a real change in their views.


I found the programme interesting but rather shallow. There were childish squabbles, tantrums, gnashing of teeth, that inability to listen to anybody else who doesn’t share your view.


Liking much of what is put out on BBC3 and BBC4, I was up for watching this programme but I did feel it was a project which was out of step with all of the other programmes about 9/11 at the moment.


Watching the contributors throwing eggs onto the ground, or throwing stones into piles of flour to show what could happen when a plane hits the ground at speed and is then swallowed up by the impact, somehow felt all wrong. This is just a personal feeling, it seemed without heart.

The only moment when I saw what 9/11 means to me was when they met a woman who’s son had called her from the plane where passengers overpowered the hi-jackers and through their bravery, saved lives on the ground. A son who was just recognising that he was about to die.


Stand in front of a mother who’s received such a call and tell her about your nebulous conspiracy theories. In the face of such dignity, yet so much pain, this group of people appeared pathetic.

What did their theories matter to this woman? Her son is still dead. She is still without him for the rest of her life.

I can’t criticise the way the programme was made in any way. But it seemed to belittle what 9/11 meant.


It was a human tragedy and crime carried out in front of our eyes where thousands of people were killed and the effect of those deaths sent out ripples of misery which are still being felt today. It’s not something that’s over and done with – dusted. Just as I can still feel the pain of the Holocaust, so I feel the pain of this awful event. And I was not directly involved.

9/11 – whatever caused it – was a visible example of human misery and terror being carried out across the media. There have been many since – that were less visible.


For me, it was something that showed how powerful the media can be – we’ve seen that since with the uprisings in Egypt etc.

It also shows how helpless we are in the face of such terrorist attacks (yes, I do believe it was a terrorist attack)

Ten years after 9/11 - Question Time

The way terrorists behave during an attack make them virtually impossible to stop, so early prevention has to be the key. Otherwise it’s too late, there’s no control.

Gadgets, Stephen Fry and me!

I can’t help but watch this Channel 4 programme about Stephen Fry’s 100 gadgets.

I’m falling for this latest in a long line of ‘Top 100 this or that’ and I can’t help it.

Does someone as intelligent as Stephen Fry like the same gadgets as me, does that make me intelligent too? I don’t think so!


Our ages are only a little different – less than a decade – so I can be nostalgic with his permission.

What is it about Mr Fry that makes him so full of gravitas – if he says it, it must be true.


What gadget stands out for you?

Yes, I do follow him on Twitter in the vain hope that one day he might be bothered to tweet back. Perhaps then I can be smug in the knowledge that I must have said something vaguely interesting. Then I might write that book I’ve been promising myself.


Don’t cringe, I recognise that it’s mad to measure myself against someone I don’t know other than by their public persona. Yes, even journalists have their icons, even with a strong pinch of cynicism.

So far in this programme, I’ve agreed with so many gadgets – scissors, the garlic press, the iPad, the smartphone, the transistor radio, the lawn mower, the tin opener. I’m amazed how many great gadgets are in fact so old, but oh so brilliant.

There are also a few that I hate, one in particular –  the soda stream. When I was a kid, my friend’s family had one.

It always made something still,  taste fizzy and odd at the same time. It never tasted quite right to me. I can’t imagine what would possess anyone to buy one now. In fact watching Heston the scientific chef pretending that his ‘soda streamed’ wine actually tasted okay – well, let’s just say I think my instinct is right.

The one thing I don’t like about the programme is the comments by the celebs who’ve lined up to comment.


Once again it’s subjective, I love some, bring on Suzie Perry, Jason Bradbury, Krishnan, Gok Wan but please go away Rufus Hound, some woman who looks like an over-the-hill model and a woman with stripy hair. I don’t know these people but why should I care what they think any more than Joe Bloggs on the street. In fact….


Wouldn’t it be refreshing to have comments from John Smith from Swindon, or Fred Bloggs from Basildon. Ordinary people who’s views are just as interesting, or not, as celebrities. John Bishop does it on BBC1 and it works. Probably cost less too.

But here we are at 10.45pm and I’m waiting for the top five – do I agree with the choices?

Five – Typewriter – I agree, I passed my typewriting exam in the 1980s and it’s the one exam that I’ve done that I’ve used almost every day of my life ever since. The exam I did was secretarial course (and I was never going to be a secretary) but how strange that my somewhat random choice to do a course that none of my peers were doing, has worked out so well. It was a morning a week at a local tech college with me like a fish out of water. A lonely experience but extremely worthwhile.

Four – Television – how could I not agree. I watch, love and work around tv land. It’s the ultimate in entertainment, education and is full of information. The choice now is amazing compared to the three main channels when I was a child – black & white, and the test card. Now it’s unthinkable that there’s nothing on the tv. But of course, that doesn’t mean that everything is good – but at least there’s always choice. You can always turn off or turn over.

Three – iPod – not sure. It’s great but would I put it above tv and the typewriter. Not for me. I love music, I love its capacity, its size but for me personally, it’s not as great. Also I use my smartphone for music so my iPod is rarely used. I feel its days are numbered.

Two – wristwatch – of course, don’t you feel undressed without it. Doesn’t it control our day, our thinking, our schedule (yuk!). People love wristwatches and there’s a huge snobbery around watches – Breitling or Rolex?

One – cigarette lighter – brilliant to have fire at your fingertips but if it’s truly a way of harnessing the power of the gods, I don’t have it.

I’ve never smoked so I’ve never carried one. If I knew I needed a light a fire I suppose I would.  So his number one is a lighter – I understand it, I get it, I can see it’s value, it might even save a life. It’s the intelligent choice but for me,  I don’t feel it.


Recent Comments