Unfortunately the aging grey cells have been triggered into mild action having written about Prof. P. T. Landsberg and the University of Sussex. This is a long way from deep-sky imaging, but this is my blog and I can write what I like – especially at age 55 (56 approaching rapidly), on a particularly miserable day, and me in a particularly grumpy mood. I would like to bring to your attention a most amazing con, almost at the same level as decimalisation. In fact I’ll start with decimalisation as this one seems to have passed most Brits by entirely.
From 1966 until 1968 I was extremely fortunate to have lived in New Zealand. I spent virtually all my time on the beach either fishing, spear-fishing or surfing, I didn’t go to school much, got into all sorts of trouble and basically had a wonderful two years. However – while I was out there, New Zealand went decimal – and even your average dopey Kiwi seemed to realise almost immediately where this was leading. So the New Zealand Pound and Pence system (same as the U.K. system) went to the NZ Dollar with 100 Cents to the Dollar (again, similar change to the UK except they still called the unit a Pound). New Zealand also had the half Cent (the closest thing to the old Penny, but still out by 20% in guess who’s favour?) and just as in the U.K. this was also the first coin casualty not very many months down the road after decimalisation – in other words the Government had effectively managed to halve the value of the currency overnight without anyone batting an eyelid. Except the Kiwis did bat an eyelid – they were perfectly aware of what was going on, especially as on the day of the change items in the shops which cost pence were suddenly seen to have the same value in cents (just as in the U.K. if you can remember back that far) – and they were furious. There was a helluva stink for well over a year, but of course it eventually did die down and everyone grudgingly accepted that the pound in their pocket was now worth 50 cents (or 50 pence). My parents & I watched in detached cynicism when back in the U.K. and just 3 years after we had returned, the same con was pulled, with much less public outrage – but I digress.
I really want to talk about Universities, U.K. Universities in particular (and also Industry), and the Government’s most brass-necked con to date.
I went to the University of Sussex to study Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy from 1975 – 1978. For the two previous years (1973 – 1975) I worked at the Culham Laboratory in Oxford and also managed to get an H.N.C. in Applied Physics with Distinctions (day release) at Oxford Polytechnic – now called Oxford Brookes University. My Dad had been retired for 10 years when I went to Sussex, so although I was eligible for a grant, Dad was expected to pay something (I think it was around £100 per year) as his pension was above the minimum that allowed me a full grant. I didn’t take the £100 of course and found that the student grant paid for my food, lodgings, books and clothes quite adequately for the 3 years. There are two things in this paragraph (at least) which have long gone of course – student grants, and Polytechnics.
Up until last year the big Government push was to try and get 50% of school leavers to attend University – and why not? The second great con was already in full flow. Not only had the student grant long gone, but students (or their parents) were now expected to pay fees in order to attend University at all. What a great wheeze! Not only do you push up the number of students that qualify to go to University (by dumbing down the “A”-levels*) you then add a double-whammy by charging them to go there as well – and once again, just as with decimalisation, there is very little in the way of public outrage – amazing! Oh, and another thing, you don’t have sufficient jobs for the fresh out of school kids to go to either, so rather than have them wandering the streets or go on the dole – what do you do?
Under present-day conditions I would not have gone to University, I would not want to create such debt and future uncertainty for myself – and as a consequence the University system would not have spat out someone who ended up with a First Class Honours Degree. But then again – this has nothing at all to do with higher education, this is simply about money. And the Polytechnics? Well, those that survived became Universities, and a vital stratum of our education system was wiped out almost overnight – but as stated before, this has nothing to do with higher education, this is simply about money. The Polytechnics had a vital role to play in higher education, providing high quality teaching to youngsters (and the not so young) in Industry amongst other things. As you know, the Polytechnics were swallowed up into the University system where they now had to compete for the same pot of students that were preparing for University courses (the jobs in Industry for the young were fast disappearing anyway, as was Industry itself) and the Polytechnics also had to compete against the Universities for grant income – the dice were heavily loaded against the Polytechnics! Yet, thankfully many survived, and Oxford Brookes University at least is still going.
Last year in case you didn’t notice the Bankers’ basically bankrupted the country and as a result, this year the Government plans to cut over £900 million from the University sector, oh and by the way they won’t be shouting quite so loudly for 50% of school leavers to attend University while we attempt to ride out this little glitch. Two things you should note here. As it took over well over 10 years of complete incompetence and mismanagement to get into this dire situation, we aren’t going to recover from it in one or two. Secondly I note that those responsible for our demise are still receiving nice bonuses as we apparently don’t wish to lose these financial genii to institutions abroad. Excuse me? Would any decent financial institution abroad want to employ the people who just brought this country to its knees? Why?
The rot set in a number of years ago when another economic genius (or genii) thought that we could simply computerise our society and as a consequence there would be no need for a manufacturing Industry. The second brilliant thought that arose at the same time was that the country could make virtually all its income from the City – though how you make money by passing a finite pot of cash around the place is beyond my economic comprehension – well, no it isn’t, the fact is you don’t of course. To make money you need to manufacture and sell something and that’s where our rapidly disappearing Industry comes in. Oh no – it’s not just hardware that you can sell, the die hards chime in – we can sell software too, all you need is a computer on your desk. Well yes, I guess India is already very well aware of that and doing quite nicely thank you – and for a number of reasons we simply won’t be able to compete. And in the meantime all the REAL stuff, which sells and makes money, is being manufactured in China and the Far East. So when we arrive at the logical end state of no manufacturing Industry worth talking about existing in this country any more – what do you think will happen to the price of goods coming in from the Far East?
*I have a 23 year old son who has gone through the school and University system, so I am more than aware of the current state of our educational system. For all the time he attended school he did not have 2 consecutive years of stability – something changed – whether it be the exams they were expected to take, or the subjects (or both), SOMETHING was always changing. No stability, no cohesiveness, just barely controlled chaos. And as for the standard of “A” levels being as high as they have ever been, well I guess that has everything to do with what you understand by the word standard. What I can say is that the LEVEL of understanding required to get a good “A” level grade during my son’s time was nowhere near the level required in my time. But then again, the level of mathematics teaching in MY time for those of school leaving age was similarly lower than those students who had completed their education decades earlier – so this is just a continuing downward trend, and nothing new.
A few years ago the third of my 3 brothers left for life on the other side of the World – saying as he went (in the local newspaper) – “Last one out please turn off the lights”. He was quite correct in his observation. Decades of mismanagement in both Government and Finance have created the current dismal situation. We are broken, and we will not be fixed by creating yet another layer of paperwork with a long list of “target outcomes” – it doesn’t work like that, it never has worked like that and it never will work like that.
End of rant.