If you can’t beat them…

On Wednesday last week, thousands of students took to the streets of London to protest against the coalition government’s plans to allow university fees to rise dramatically over the next few years.

And who could blame them? As anyone who is presently at university studying for a four-year engineering degree will tell you, the cost of a college education is already rather exorbitant.

That’s right. Aside from the (more than) £3,000 in yearly tuition fees, students also have to pay the cost of accommodation too — and in some of the more expensive areas of the country, this can be as high as £5,000 per year just to rent a besmirched flat in a dilapidated house. Throw in a minimum of £4,000 a year in living expenses, and it soon becomes obvious that the cost of obtaining a degree comes pretty darned close to £50,000.

Needless to say, the National Union of Students is justifiably alarmed at the thought that the government now plans to allow tuition fees to rise to as high as £9,000 a year.

The union believes that the government’s ideas represent an exceptional onslaught on knowledge and learning for people of all ages and from all backgrounds — despite the fact that deputy prime minister Nick Clegg claims that plans to allow the fees to rise represent a ‘fair and progressive solution to a very difficult problem’.

A minority of students were more than just a little peeved by the whole idea. And they were the ones that took it upon themselves to disregard the advice of their union to conduct a peaceful protest against the cuts last week. Instead, they marched down to the Conservative party headquarters, where they made a rather more antagonistic, violent form of protest.

These particularly belligerent students might have been better off staying at university instead of taking to the streets. There, they might have learnt that exploiting the fiscal policies of the government can be more advantageous than making an ineffective protest against it by smashing a few windows at the Conservative party headquarters.

One engineering student I know did just that. That’s right. This time last year, when large quantities of gilts were being purchased by the Bank of England under its policy of quantitative easing, he took out a rather sizeable interest-free student loan, which he also used to purchase a sizeable sum of government debt.

This year, after the value of the government gilts had rocketed up by more than 10 per cent, the scheming student sold off the investment, paid back the debt and used the profits he had made to pay off his student fees, effectively using the fluctuating price of the government debt to his own benefit.

Sadly, that particular engineering student is now being headhunted by an investment bank and it’s likely that — with the enormous salary on offer — he’ll spend the rest of his life in one of the magnificent towers in the City of London, rather than practising engineering. Still, at least he won’t have a lot of student debt to pay off.

Dave Wilson
Editor, Engineeringtalk

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