London – A Beacon of Hope to Students

By: Paul Tavares, Independent candidate for the Mayor of London



According to Horace Mann, a renowned US politician and education reformer, education is the greatest equalizer and social liberator ever invented.

It is the one thing that has given those with the hope, will and determination to succeed in life the means and tools by which to fulfil their dreams of aspiration and thus transcend all social and economic barriers.

In many ways, free education opened those same possibilities to the masses and thus paved the way to the self-belief that we can all be equal in the eyes of society, irrespective of who we are or where we come from.


The Conflict Between Politics & Education
It is widely known and understood that the young are the future. They hold the keys to the prosperity of this nation and this great city of ours. Yet for some reason, as a demographic, students are amongst the most hard-pressed and persecuted group of individuals in our society.

Since the introduction of tuition fees by Labour, and the continued betrayal of students by the subsequent Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government who substantially increased tuition fees whilst cutting education funding and grants, higher education is once again becoming a privilege for the social and financial elite.

But it seems rather bizarre, don’t you think, that the present Conservative government, so determined to reduce national debt through severe austerity measures that negatively impact so many, should consciously and willingly place a mountain of debt upon the shoulders of students.

In their eyes, it seems that national debt = bad, yet personal debt = good.

One could say that it smacks of hypocrisy of biblical proportions.

So where does that leave students?

Well, up the proverbial creek without a paddle, it would seem.

At a time when employers place more value on experience, soft skills and personal / psychological characteristics than on academic certificates, it certainly begs the question of whether accumulating up to £27,000 plus compound interest of student debt for a 3-year degree course that offers no employment guarantees is worth it.

And so therein lies the eternal dilemma that faces many school graduates today, particularly those from ordinary and under-privileged backgrounds: to study or not to study, that is the question.


By placing financial barriers to entry, as all of the main political parties have, there can be no doubt that it limits higher education opportunities for so many, which in turn has a greatly negative impact on business and the economy.

One thing is certain: the day free higher education was abolished was the day that our politicians destroyed social mobility, delivering a detrimental hammer blow to the poorest families in society.


The Role of Education
I believe that an effective and successful education system teaches you to think for yourself and to question all that is around you. It teaches you to look upon the world and see it for what it is and what it could be, both through your own eyes and the eyes of others.

It also prepares and teaches you how to overcome the challenges that life will inevitably throw at you.

Most importantly, and in practical terms, a good education gives you the vocational tools, skills and practical experience needed to help you become all that you wish to be, and more. However, this last yet critical point is the one area where our education system seems to be failing students time and time again.


Looking to the Future
There currently exists a huge chasm of difference between the ideologies of the academic world and the needs of the practical world. This disconnect between the two is very real and rightly gives cause for concern.

It is only by bringing these two disparate worlds ever closer, where business and academia collaborate and work in partnership with one another to redefine the education curriculum, that we can hope to secure the future of the young and aspirational.

We must take the time and effort needed to better understand the nature of London’s businesses and vocational career paths, and ensure students are given the practical skills, knowledge and experience needed to succeed and excel in the real world.

We must ensure universities and colleges, to some extent, afford business and industry leaders the platform to share with students the valuable knowledge they’ve gained from years of real-life experience and to inspire the next generation to follow in their footsteps and then going to the next level.

Only then can young people dare to once again look to the future with renewed hope, excited by the prospect of the great opportunities that lie ahead of them.



This successful model is openly adopted by the US’s top universities, one where they invite leading experts in their field to teach students as part of a diverse education system that greatly benefits the student alumni.

Although it pains me to do so as I’m a Liverpool supporter, let us take the example of ex-Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. Here we have one of the most successful managers in the history of football teaching American students, tomorrow’s leaders of industry and business entrepreneurs, about success and leadership at Harvard University.

The practical benefits for those students are immeasurable. It gives them a head-start in life that our students are denied.

Now imagine we adopted the same approach to higher education here: How would you feel if someone like the late Steve Jobs walked into your classroom to give a lecture on leadership and innovation, or Sir Richard Branson teaching you about how to build a successful global business? How about someone like Simon Cowell teaching you about what it takes to succeed in the music business?

The list of possibilities is endless in a world and city filled with such exceptional talent and experience.

Now ask yourself this: how much would you benefit from learning these lessons from such inspirational leaders of industry?

The London Mayor has the power to introduce innovative participatory programmes that will achieve that aim; initiatives that will help focus our education system and deliver maximum benefit to students, to society, to business and to the economy.


As your London Mayor, I can and will deliver that, and in the process, give back to you, to all students, control of your futures.
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