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Entitlements Old and New

January 9, 2017


I’ve been trying to clarify my own thoughts regarding the word ‘entitlement’ and, as usual what with being a bear of such very little brain, I find I have to do a lot of my thinking out loud.

I was thinking about issues involving student entitlement while jawing with like minded folk last week, and apart from blessing my lucky stars that I was born when and where I was, it seems to me that my 1980s sense of student entitlement was vastly different to twenty first century concepts of the term.

As one of the last generation of young people in the UK to have s grounded sense of entitlement when it came to university education, we used to have a quaint old chant which went ‘education is a right, is a right, is a right, education is a right – not a privilege.’ To the tune of ‘London Bridge is falling down….’

Now of course, access to university was contingent on grades… The access was not open access and the entitlement had to be earned.  But one of the paradoxes of having no tuition fees was that young people felt far less of a sense of entitlement when it came to grades.  We had a sense of entitlement of access but not of outcome.  We tended to assume that a degree category was the reward of personal study rather than a commodity to be delivered.

Increasingly nowadays the reverse seems to be the case.  Given the expense of Higher Education, a sense of entitlement at the level of outcome is more prevalent.  A payment (or payment scheme) has been contracted – so a commodity should be delivered.  Regardless of the individual level of study involved, a significant financial investment has been made – one which demands a return.

The logical teleology of this process constructs academics as bouncers, offering streamlined accreditation to anybody whose cheque clears and effectively policing the gateways to professional advancement.  Steadily, a parental bank statement  and a degree certificate will become verso and recto within the same document.  They might even be printed back to back.

Of course, these opposed versions of entitlement within higher education are merely symptomatic of more general oppositions.  Entitlement  used to be attached to a human rights discourse (of the kind Theresa May has pledged to ‘free’ Britons from), whereby certain humane expectations were considered entitlements simply because humanity seemed capable and therefore obligated to fulfil them.  This entitlement is now stygmatised at the expense of a different kind of entitlement which treats access to wealth (nearly always inherited) as the basis of all entitlement…





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