‘NO to everything that turns our dreams to rags,’ was one of the slogans on a big banner carried by university students during Tuesday afternoon’s demonstration outside the finance ministry. What had turned the students’ dreams to rags, apparently, was the government’s decision to slash a little less than €8m from the expenditure on student grants in the 2017 state budget.
This cut was inevitable given that €7m of the amount allocated for this year had not been spent, presumably because there were not enough students satisfying the criteria set by the government for cash assistance. Predictably, the students argued that the money not spent should have been used next year so the eligibility for state assistance could be broadened and more dreams could be turned to gold.
It was fitting that Akel had sent representatives to lend the party’s support to the demonstrators and urge them to demand more money from the state. When we had an Akel government there were no income criteria and all students, no matter how wealthy their family may have been, were given generous state handouts. Everyone knows the results of the mindless spending of the Christofias years, but it seems nobody, not even the perpetrators, have learnt anything from it.
The sense of entitlement that has always afflicted our society has emerged unscathed from the collapse of the economy. It is most demoralising when it is displayed by youth who have been encouraged by parties like Akel to believe that taking money from the state is a human right. These are the youths, who have contributed nothing to the economy and have been provided with free education all their life, but it is not enough. Their dreams depend on cash handouts by the state.
Perhaps we should not be too harsh on them as they are only following the appalling example set by their teachers who are constantly staging work stoppages and demanding more money and benefits from the state. And the politicians encourage these attitudes because they do not have the guts tell any interest group that their demands were unreasonable and that our state did not have limitless funds.
The system in place now, by which only students from families on income support are eligible to state grants, is both sensible and fair. The state has no obligation to give youths that want to study at university cash assistance, especially in the current economic conditions, marked by thousands of unemployed graduates. Economic reality suggests we need fewer graduates, so the state has no rational reason to offer students money incentives to attend university. Logically, it should offer grants to youths that want to become plumbers and electricians as there is a shortage of these professions.