UK Riots and Cuts to Public Universities: Any Connection?


Why did it happen and how to avoid it happening again? These are the questions that keep coming up about the riots in London and cities throughout England that started last weekend. While emphatically stating that there is “no justification for the violence, looting, and theft that has taken place in some English cities this week,” David M.A. Green, professor of economics and vice chancellor at the University of Worcester, in England, asks if there’s a connection between the riots and the drastic cuts to British universities, to educational opportunities:

Is there any connection between these riots and the big cuts to public-university support, the student protests at the end of 2010, and the sharp rise in tuition fees set to start in 2012? Just one. England appears to have turned its back on its young people.

Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Green explains specifically how he sees the connection:

Historically high youth unemployment, the abolition of the Educational Maintenance  Allowance, which supported students at the equivalent of community colleges, and the impending sharp hike in university tuition fees, combine together to give the impression that young people have few opportunities. This impression is supported by financial reality. Many young people feel that they have little to hope for against a backdrop of sharp reductions in university and college financing, job losses, companies going bust, and Europe on the brink of financial meltdown all in the name of the reduction of debts that they did nothing to accumulate. At the same time, they see the “greed is good” mantra exercised by those with power—from members of Parliament who abused their expenses to bankers who collected huge salaries and bonuses as the firms they led failed and bankrupted much of the economy.

A whole generation from less-privileged backgrounds has been robbed of the life chances anyone should be entitled. It is this situation, combined with the promotion of “celebrity culture” as a form of escapism, that has led to the rise of the GMQ gangs (Get Money Quick) and the prizing of designer clothes and shoes above education and regular employment. When the roots of alienation are deep, we are rightly appalled, but not so very surprised, to see children as young as 11 involved in the rioting. [my emphases in italics]

Green also argues that “a combination of better values, discipline, education, opportunity, and inclusion” is needed to prevent further riots. “Young people need to have something positive and attainable for which to aim,” he says. He doesn’t specify what he means by “educational opportunities” that might help this lost generation but, from his pointing out of the “sharp hike” in tuition fees and the cutting of the Educational Maintenance  Allowance, it seems that one thing would be affordable, accessible education for those from less-advantaged backgrounds.

In the US, many students now expect to go into debt to get a college degree, bargaining that the results will be worth it and they indeed are. Study after study makes it all too clear that higher lifetime earnings result even from attending some years of college. By not creating viable educational opportunities for all students, and especially those from lower-income backgrounds, young persons such as those who participated in the riots are, as Green writes, effectively shut out of those “life chances” to which “anyone should be entitled.”

The response to the violence and criminality has to go beyond “being tough.” This point of Green’s echoes a point made by former New York and Los Angeles police chief William Bratton, who has been hired as Prime Minister David Cameron’s new crime adviser (to the deep chagrin of the British police). Bratton has stated that communities cannot “arrest their way out” of violence and crime and must address underlying causes including racial tensions. Similarly, Labour leader Ed Milliband has said that what to do in the aftermath of the rioting is “very complex”:

“I think we need to avoid simplistic explanations either from the left or from the right, either saying it is criminality pure and simple and that is the end of the story or saying it is all about society and it is just that there are not enough youth services.”

Again, there is no excuse for the violence and crime that have gripped cities in the UK. But so far the response to the riots has been punitive measures such as Cameron’s proposal to evict rioters and their families from government-subsidized housing. Senior Liberal Democrats have been more and more at odds with the Tories, their coalition partners, by asserting that such “kneejerk” reactions must end and warning that “stripping those involved of their benefits could worsen crime on the streets.” Some of those arrested in the riots are college students: There’s no question that they’ve erred seriously and tragically. But does this mean that all educational opportunities are closed to them?

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Photo by lauraannechamberlain


Glenn M.
Glenn Meyer6 years ago

Cutting spending on so called entitlements means cutting spending on the middle class voters. Those that advocate this also advocate that the wealthy and fictional entity corporations not pay taxes. The only explanation for that is for the creation of jobs. But where?

Corporations have over-powered our government which now believes that out-sourcing and off-shoring is inevitable and necessary with expectations that the middle class should just fall on their swords.

The eroding of U.S. jobs from out-sourcing and off-shoring will continue and measures to cut spending on entitlements will only marginally reduce the deficit. It does very little for the middle class voters and the jobs and tax base being artificially removed from our economy.

The financial collapse borders on national security with the loss of our middle class tax base and yet this nation does nothing, not even protest against out-sourcing and off-shoring and demand it be restricted by whatever method. International businesses are doing the un-American activity of destroying U.S. salaries, U.S. businesses that hire within this country, and destroying the U.S. marketplace as an end result.

Infrastructure spending and tax breaks will not create enough jobs to keep up with out-sourcing and off-shoring.

Neither party will do anything about it and unless we begin grass roots efforts to protest out-sourcing and off-shoring of U.S. jobs we will deserve what we get.

If nothing is done, it will get a

Berny P.
berny p6 years ago

...0 TOLERANCE will get Britain back on track...HOPEFULLY!

This SHOULD apply to matter WHO they commit the crime you do the time!!

Lindsey DTSW
.6 years ago


- or will BE dead in his tracks. His choice.

Lindsey DTSW
.6 years ago

mj, you state that Britain is still a safe place to live since carrying weapons is illegal. Of course, criminals in Britain (like everywhere else) still sometimes carry weapons) - and law-abiding citizens (their victims) in Britain are the ones who are disarmed.

But although gun-related homicides are lower in Britain than, say, in the U.S., violent crime is much higher than the U.S. and many other nations:

From 2009: "Britain's violent crime record is worse than any other country in the European union, it has been revealed. Official crime figures show the UK also has a worse rate for all types of violence than the U.S. and even South Africa - widely considered one of the world's most dangerous countries. The figures comes on the day new Home Secretary Alan Johnson makes his first major speech on crime, promising to be tough on loutish behaviour."

When criminals know that their potential victims will be unarmed they know they're likelier to be able to commit violent crimes - since the victims are less likely to fight back effectively. Whereas in the U.S. (especially in the South where I live), breaking into someone's home, say, is a real gamble for a criminal - the homeowner is very likely to be armed. Anyone who breaks into my own home when I'm here will either stop dead in his tracks at the sight of me pointing a shotgun at him - or wil

m j.
michael jackson6 years ago

when I say because of it I meant because of their part in the riot. Not clear above.

m j.
michael jackson6 years ago

The riots have nothing to do with cuts or education. These gangs think they can do better for themselves by criminal activity than within the system. They are not going to look for jobs as long as crime pays better. That is what has to be addressed. This is unlikely to happen again on this scale if the majority are caught and seen to be dealt with but the gangs behind it were always there even in the good times and will continue as long as we fear them. Don't forget many of the looters were people who had a stake in society and have lost out big time because of it. And don't forget the massive wash of support for those who suffered. Britain is still a safe place to live compared to many countries due to the fact that carrying weapons of any sort is illegal.

sb kidde
sb k6 years ago

The basic problem includes the misperception that education has no value in business. Arch-conservatives don't understand the social value of an educated constituency. They like to believe that everybody should just agree with decisions that support business leadership, irrespective of social value.

Pablo D T.
pablo T6 years ago

By now we should know what is the plan and do something about it.
The people in power and money are 24/7 dedicated to keep poor people in the same standard.

Susan Diane
Susan Diane6 years ago

I see that the rich getting richer on the backs of the ever day people will eventually lead to more riots and a revolt. A revolution is coming and needed and not just in England. History has shown this time and time again. The young people maybe middle or class or poor but generally speaking they are not stupid. Taking any chance of a future away from them means they have nothing and therefore nothing to lose.The capitalist patriarchy has to go but it will not go easily so the end will be bloody.

Scott M.
Its wonderful e6 years ago

Boredom and free TV's etc are the cause