Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The Education White Paper Through The Medium Of Tory Cartooning

We're off on strike tomorrow in defence of our 'gold-plated' pensions, alongside such subversives as the ATL (first strike in 127 years) and their Eton College members.

I didn't get a full-time job until I was 32, thanks to the system of extra qualifications and university understaffing. I'm now 35 and still don't have a permanent post, so can't raise a mortgage etc. So my pension contributions won't furnish me with a gold-plated hearing aid, let alone a heli-pad.

I was looking for a cartoon by Matt of the Daily Telegraph (I have very reactionary parents) from the 1990s to illustrate the ways in which universities will now have to recruit. In it, two men walk past a doorway festooned with flashing lights and signs reading 'Girls Girls Girls' and 'Free Drinks'. One says to the other 'Careful: it could be a university'. If you've got it, PLEASE scan this in for me - it's not on the web anywhere.

Like America, there'll be sectors. Some will target the Swot Pound: oak panelling, libraries full of leather-bound books, cloisters. We'll call this Hermione Granger University. Others will market themselves on the en-suite jacuzzis in the accommodation and the hotness of the undergraduates. Giggs College. Yet more will advertise the lifestyle available in the bustling metropolis (in my institution's case, 'All The Grey Peas You Can Eat'. Our former use of a football stadium for teaching might yet be a selling point.

But there's a serious point. Ritzer's 'The McDonaldisation of the University' posited an HE sector in which everything becomes easier and more casual (our essay submission office is named - without irony - 'Here2Help'). No student will ever be made to feel like they've not worked hard enough. The glitz and luxury will take centre stage. Glossy brochures and peripheral attractions will replace the serious business of educating yourself.  Education is to become a consumer experience like a gap year with a few books sneaked in - not a process in which the adventure and the adversity is that of the intellect learning to make sense (or often not making sense) of oneself and the world.

This theme-park education will inevitably lead to exclusion. The poor and the black will come to places like mine to do business-friendly qualifications which gain them entry into the exciting world of data-entry and call centres. To these students, we won't be native guides in the forest of learning: we'll be the surly checkout assistants who impede their progress.

The mavericks will go to a small number of high-powered élite institutions before living meaningful lives in Silicon Valley or CERN. And the dim, over-privileged children of the Permanent Ruling Classes will carry on doing Fine Art in cloistered, honey-walled universities with a fleet of servants and punts for their leisured hours, secure in the knowledge that the House of Commons, Sothebys and the investment banks will welcome them with open arms.

Delightful, no?

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