Universities are going, in terms of recruitment and funding, through tough times.
Which is a pity, because education is the one thing (well, excepting cycling, rowing and dressage for a start) that the British are good at, even though, for entirely political reasons, we have to agree that ordinary, local authority schools are utterly useless.
Otherwise there would be no point in constantly reorganising them so as to satisfy the vanity of ministers who want to educate children in their own image – and obviously I’m looking at Michael Gove here, although a succession of Labour education secretaries were no less vainglorious because it’s a job that allows you to play head teacher to the nation, just as becoming a health minister allows you to play doctors and nurses.
Gosh, they must think, this is a lot better than doing the jobs we’re fit for – which, in modern politics, means mostly policy advisor, PR person, consultant or some other post of no obvious use to the world.
The thing is that the government doesn’t want to shout about its achievements because that would mean giving credit to people who do proper jobs.
It’s fairly sure, however you count it, that children are getting better results and that crime has been going down over the last 10 years, so wouldn’t you think that ministers would like to take personal credit for that, while, as an afterthought, mumbling, not too loudly, some thank-you words to the teachers, police, probation officers, council staff and other public servants who actually brought about this very encouraging trend?
Well no...because how can government ministers (including David Cameron) make a great show of being tough on crime when, assuming the whole point of the exercise is fewer crimes, the professionals have already got there.
In education, where the policy seems to be that a policy more than a week old is in need of a shake-up, politicians have decided that former soldiers might be better at teaching children than teachers are. This may be because, having no specific and useful skills themselves, the politicians can’t distinguish between teaching and soldiering, or between lesson plans and ballistics, although I’m sure teachers and soldiers (and even small children) could.
Anyway, I think things have come to the point where people who love their careers in the public service should realise that governments will do everything in their power to make life difficult, so their best course, from a job-satisfaction point of view, would be to move some of their energies into the voluntary sector.
In education, this could mean teachers and lecturers moving back not to the 1950s – Michael Gove’s favourite decade – but to the 1850s, when, in mechanics’ halls and temperance institutes across the land, recently-literate workers were listening to enlightening lectures and lapping up knowledge without the need to collect certificates or enter a career path.
They just enjoyed the novelty of being told about things.
Now, with high unemployment, and even higher part-time employment, it could be time for a return to this kind of earnest, old-fashioned approach to education.
Obviously, it would be hard to justify on cost grounds, but since so many people have so much time on their hands, wouldn’t it be good for everyone if, through a programme of public lectures, teachers could ignore pompous curriculum arguments and remember their purpose, which is to inspire and inform the ignorant.