Posted tagged ‘UK election’

Labour’s higher education

April 13, 2010

As the British general election campaign gets under way, it will be instructive to see what election promises or plans are published by the political parties regarding higher education. First out of the blocks is the Labour Party, with its manifesto A Future Fair for All (clearly drafted by someone with a fondness for alliteration). It contains a section on higher education entitled, well, ‘World Class Higher Education’.

The key messages: the party wants to expand further the number of those taking higher education programmes, and wants universities to reach out to disadvantaged schools and communities in order to widen access. Thrown into that particular objective is the intention of encouraging ‘highly able students from low-income backgrounds to attend Russell Group universities’. Why, you’d have to wonder, the specific reference to the Russell Group? Even if you subscribe to the view that the Russell Group’s member institutions are all most excellent, there are a good few other universities that can match and beat universities from the Group.

The other key statement in the manifesto is this:

‘In the coming years, priority in the expansion of student places will be given to Foundation Degrees and part-time study, and to science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees, as well as applied study in key economic growth sectors.’

This reinforces the trend that can be observed globally of governments persuading and cajoling universities to develop their strategies to support current national economic priorities. I strongly believe in the need for most universities to focus on specific strategic objectives, but I would be less confident that these will work if they are in fact nominated by government.

Of course British trends often travel quite quickly in our direction, and so it will be interesting to observe what gets said on education during the current campaign. Tomorrow I’ll be looking at the Conservative manifesto; always assuming that it will say something about higher education.

Philosopher rulers

April 9, 2010

Here’s an interesting idea. Angie Hobbs, who is Professor in the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Warwick, and who writes a really good blog and some rather good tweets also, is running an alternative UK election. She is assuming that people are sick and tired of the politicians on offer, and so she suggests instead that people should vote for their favourite (dead) philosophers to be prime minister and indeed to occupy all cabinet posts. I suppose this is on the principle that a dead philosopher is better than most live politicians. If you follow her tweets, you’ll see how the voting is progressing.

When I saw what she was doing, I contemplated for a moment turning the idea into something broader, and suggesting academics from any discipline. You know, Einstein for Minister for Enterprise Trade and Innovation, John Henry Newman for Education (I don’t think he would accept ‘…and Skills’), that kind of thing. But as I was doodling with my own hyper-IQ cabinet, I did notice that I was always driven back to the philosophers. It’s not that there aren’t well know historical figures from other disciplines, but that the philosophers somehow seemed to be more obvious choices for this particular purpose.

Maybe this gets us back to a topic that arose in the comments on one of my recent posts, about the need for philosophers in universities. Certainly even DCU has always had a philosopher or two, though not a philosophy department.

But then again, we should celebrate the fundamental role that all academics play, or at least can play, in the growth of a society or nation. Maybe we should have a cabinet of all the disciplines. But perhaps led by a philosopher.