Thursday, December 9, 2010

What I think about the governments vote on increasing university fees in the UK

When people ask me what I do I usually say, I write and illustrate books and I am an artist. That is the short answer.

This is the long answer.

I work at home in a small house in Pembrokeshire. For the most part I illustrate books. At the moment I work for only one publisher, Frances Lincoln in London. They employ about ten people directly, designers, editors, sales people, pr people. Indirectly there are freelance sales staff also.
The books are scanned in the UK so in an indirect way part of my painting also helps keep people at the repro house in work.
The books are all printed in China, which then takes me into the import export business for the first time, and shipping. So printed and bound books are shipped back to the UK where they are housed in a warehouse distribution point in Oxfordshire, Bookpoint. I know that by this stage they are a tiny drop in an ocean of books, as Bookpoint is huge, but it is all the drops gathered together that keeps all the people working in that place and each drop is important.
From there my books go out to book sellers, usually independents in the UK as the chains these days only ever seem to stock the really big sellers, but none the less my books give content to these shops and therefore indirectly again keep people in work.
Meanwhile the sales staff have been busy at Frances Lincoln. British children’s books are some of the best in the world and my latest book is selling very well in France and also in Denmark, Spain ( in Spanish and Catalan) and in the USA and Australia, New Zealand and Canada. I tried to count up how many books at one time but my head gets confused after so many hundreds of thousands, all printed and shipped and sold around the world and in the UK. ( Can You See a Little Bear alone sold in excess of 230 000, The Greatest Gift over 100 000- I liked the Greek edition best).
I also sell paintings, privately and through a gallery, which again is a contribution to the income of another family.
In the past I have worked designing card for card companies and helped those companies grow from tiny companies to turning over millions.

More important than all of this is that if all goes well the books end up in the hands of families who then share the stories. If I am lucky then they are taken into the hearts of those families, children sleep with the book tucked under their pillow, dream with the stories and wrap themselves up in the world of books.

I went to college for 4 years. I had the minimum grant, despite the fact that my parents were not well off, and my fees were paid. Last year I paid more in tax in one year than the sum total of my fees and 3 years grant.
If I had not had my grant, just enough to enable me to pay for my digs, a part time job paid for food and paint, I would have left school at 18 and got a job in the porcelain factory in Worcester.
The Royal Worcester Porcelain factory did offer me a job when I left school, but they also said they thought I would do better to go to college and follow my heart.
The factory is now closed.

If I had faced having to take out a student loan to pay for my fees, food, accommodation, materials there is no way that I would have even considered going to college. Debt was simply a thing you did not enter into.


  1. It's tragic that there appears to be a concerted effort to remove everything that adds colour to our lives.

    Lately I've been making my answers long too, posting about my local council's plans to take music tuition away from the very children who desperately need to be reminded that life isn't grey.

    I know that it's different (for now anyway) in Scotland, but I'm heartened that Scottish students have come out in support of those further South. It isn't just about increasing fees, it's about being inclusive and seeing the arts as something worthwhile.

  2. This is happening world over I think.
    All you have done, all you have paid in taxes and all the taxes that others have paid on money earned while working on/contributing to the publication and distribution etc of your work, the families that have work because of your books and books of others like you ....all would have been lost if you hadn't gone to college to be the very best that you could be ...and are.
    Give others that same opportunities and the whole country would be better off.
    And little children (and big children too) are able to tuck your books away under their pillows and in their minds.

  3. Of all the things to be jacking the price up on! Education shouldn't even be on the list. How about closing Parliment for a couple of weeks, or trade in Prince Charlie's Rolls Royce. Where are peoples's priorities?

  4. Well said Jackie. This is about seeing the bigger picture. Education is about giving people opportunity to develop and grow. I'm sure I have paid back my grant many times in tax, as have most of us who went to university in the glory days.

  5. In my 50's now, and like you, the recipient of a grant which enabled me to live with the help of a part-time job, and no college fees, I almost despair at the plight of the young these days.
    So much seems to be against them, and at the same time, they have been raised to have such high expectations of what constitutes the essential.
    A few months ago I witnessed a young man in my local bank. He was trying, with the help of the teller, to adjust payments out of his account so that he could actually pay the necessary ones. We couldn't help but overhear. One of the payments was for fancy TV services. He said he couldn't drop that one because there was a clause on the contract. Another was his mobile phone payment. After about 20 minutes he was satisfied that no payments would bounce in the coming week, and left, saying he would need to repeat the process the following week. He was in work, ran a car and paid rent. Somewhere along the line he had not appreciated that he just could not afford all the things that he had taken for granted.
    TV doesn't help. Property shows encourage people to believe that they must have new kitchens and bathrooms, fancy showers, fancy furnishings. We had second hand. (I still have lots of it!) People are led to believe that they will be better cooks with new kitchens. Rubbish! And as for the advertising around the fashion industry!!! Throw repayment of student loans into this mix and the whole thing becomes impossible.

    Thank you to anyone who has read this. I've been wanting to get this off my chest for ages!

  6. It's a dark day. For students. For young people who would have chosen to become students and now probably will not. For anyone who hopes that some politicians might from time to time act with integrity and with passion for someone other than themselves.

    I feel sad for the young, too. I am 44, went to university in the 80s. We protested then at the cutting of funds for universities, and various assaults on the grant system. Now there is no grant system. . .

  7. It is distressing to me always when a federal or state government chooses to either raise fees for education or cut out some education altogether. The art and music programs in the elemetary school level in the US has been all but eliminated. The focus is on math and science. Just what the world needs--more science, less imagination. Likewise, our public and school libraries are taking a hit. It is a totally different world from the one I grew up in. And it makes me both sad and grateful; grateful that I was able to pursue an education when it was a lot easier to do so.

  8. What an interesting post! I don't agree with what the government has done, and yet I am totally in agreement with Veg Artist. Some people seem to want so much these days, and don't expect to have any sacrifice to make to get it. So many people want to be a 'celebrity' and if they can't be one, they want to live like one.
    Even so, I think this decision will be bad for the nurturing of talent and skill in the UK though, not just in the arts, but business and science too.
    Like Urban Wild, I'm grateful to have had the benefit of having my tuition fees paid and a small grant to help me live whilst studying. I didn't leave education with the equivalent of a small mortgage!

  9. My folks were not well off by any means, but they put both me and my brother through university (a state supported school). My tuition costs for a semester were less than a tenth of what they are today. Just unbelievable.