Democracy is a Beautiful Thing

Today I’m going to talk about politics. I know, I know, it’s a sketchy topic and I don’t aim to offend but the events of the past week have really grinded my gears. Last week I posted my vote for the British general election but the results left me more than unhappy…

First of all, I am proud to be European. I am proud to be English/British and I am proud to be Portuguese. I love multiculturalism, travelling and meeting new people from all over the world. Today, it seems that the interests of the rest of Britain don’t quite align with mine. They want a referendum on leaving the EU, they want privatisation of our free national health service and they’re cutting welfare for most of the vulnerable and disabled. Anyway, I’m not going to go into too much detail about that, you can read it all for yourself online, but what I am going to discuss is something close to my heart: education.

The fact that almost 4 million people voted for a racist Eurosceptic political party (the third largest in our election!) means that a lot of people would rather that we said goodbye to the EU, propped up our sails and pushed our little British boat out to sea.  Not only that, the party with the majority (the conservatives) will hold a referendum on our membership here in the EU in 2017.

A cancellation of EU membership will see a sharp decrease in the number of students coming to the UK to study since every EU student would be classed as an overseas student and therefore required to pay extortionate fees. Not only that, but students (like me) wouldn’t be living elsewhere, experiencing a new culture and getting a free world class education without a hefty price to pay. Education isn’t free for students outside of the EU and soon that could be true for Brits (oh and goodbye ERASMUS!)

Now let’s say I was born a good few years later, let’s say I am 16 and hoping to go to university in two years. There’s speculation that the current conservative government are to increase tuition fees EVEN MORE. You’d think that the London riots were enough to show politicians that we found this unacceptable when they trebled the fees in 2010 to £9,000/year. Now let’s not forget that these politicians had a FREE university education and if anything, received FREE MONEY from their government to study. Me? I was ‘lucky’ enough to have the £3,225/year fee rate and a loan… no free money for me; I have to pay every little bit back. Now I didn’t feel too opposed to paying for my education until I came to Sweden. When I could see that everyone had a free education and, even better, free money given to them to live on, I couldn’t believe it. How is it fair that I pay and they don’t? What upsets me more is realising that even Scotland, which is part of the UK, have free tuition also and it’s free for other EU students but not for the English, Welsh or Northern Irish (Unbelievable!). It sucks to be an English student…

I’m evidently passionate on the matter, there’s gross inequality for English students despite being part of Europe where we are united.  I was even interviewed and personally wrote an article for a British paper called The Telegraph on these matters (which surprises me on how they were published since my liberal views are surely too left-wing for them!). I now have a government I didn’t vote for, imposing laws I didn’t ask for. Don’t get me wrong but England is known for having some of the best universities in the world, however, the lack of government support and funding means students have to pay the price for an education.

I know these fees aren’t paid up front, but what 21 year old wants the deadweight of a £50,000 loan hanging around their necks? Think of what 50k could buy! All we want is an education, the freedom to learn, grow and discover. If you’re poor, it’s more likely that you go to university to study a subject that leads to a well-paid career rather than a passion just so that you get your ‘worth’ out of this degree. Since students pay so much, they are consumers now; education is now a purchased item.

Now, Sweden believes that free education is a human right and rightly so! Society cares about younger generations and provides them with as much support as they need in order to provide a life for themselves. I came to Sweden for freedom and that’s what I got. Freedom to study, freedom to meet non-judgemental people from all over the world, the freedom to write whatever I want and to get away from the obsession Britain seems to have with the class system. There’s a huge divide between the rich and the poor and you’re particularly reminded of that at university.

Here in Sweden, no one cares how much money you have, it doesn’t matter where you come from, gender, sexual orientation, religion, race, everyone is equal. I love the feminist movement here in Sweden, women are absolute equals to men and I never feel inadequate for voicing my opinions. There’s no one here to tell me to ‘calm down dear’ like our prime minister famously did to a female MP in parliament in 2011.

I voted in the general election for policies that focus on the bigger picture, I don’t want to sit back and watch public goods such as education and health become privatised as they slowly line the pockets of wealthy shareholders. This is wrong and we need to go back to how it was – free for all, a public good in the hands of the people. How will we pay for it? Well the tax breaks for the rich aren’t helping and the tax evading large corporations are making everything more difficult. Priorities: that’s where the matter lies, you can either tax the rich or the poor, but which one makes more sense?

As I now approach the end of my education and hope to find long term employment, people may say, but why are you so upset with a conservative government? They will give you tax breaks and pay rises. The truth is, I don’t vote selfishly, I’m not voting for what’s best for me. I want free healthcare and education, support for the most vulnerable so that everyone has a chance to make something out of their lives, not just the richest percentage. I’m not a communist or a champagne socialist but it’s just basic human decency.

I see a growing proportion of middle aged voters who’ve become bitter over the years with the way their tax money is spent and voting for right wing parties is simply their way of saying ‘I’ve had enough’. However, despite their best intentions for themselves, this is simply punishing younger generations, most probably their children, for crimes they didn’t commit. My experience in Sweden has opened my eyes to politics, it’s reassured me that if I’m not happy, I have every right to voice my opinion. Life can be fairer as I have seen for myself in Sweden, and I know it can be much worse, but I hope to take Swedish values with me wherever I go.  I love my country and I miss it, I certainly do, but I’m worried about the direction in which our politics is going and how much more the country will be divided over a gap increase between the rich and the poor – is liberalism truly dead?

 

Francesca

An English student studying biology at Uppsala University. Francesca finished her studies in Sweden in June 2015.
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