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Sunday, 26 June 2011

David Mitchell, We Salute You (not for the first time)

Here is a wonderful piece by David Mitchell which critiques in actually quite even-handed way government policy towards the public sector and education since, oh, at a rough guess, about 1979.  Please read.

I especially liked these bits:
Those are the sort of questions that Carl Lygo, the chief executive of BPP, Britain's only run-for-profit university, must have to bite his tongue to stop himself asking when talking to other educators. And he has been talking to them: he's been discussing the possibility of running the business side of at least 10 publicly funded universities, going into "partnership" with them. They'd still make all the academic decisions, while BPP would deal with the admin. But isn't this an uneven partnership? It lacks a shared aim. One half wants to run a good university, the other wants to make money. If a marriage is a partnership, isn't this like getting hitched to a hooker?

 [...] Lygo [...] says: "We have got a lot of universities in the UK and not all are in a strong financial position… the private provider would add expertise in the back-office functions." What expertise? Expertise in administering, say, Bristol University that the people currently administering Bristol University don't possess but a new company that's never done it before is going to be brimming with? Won't they just employ the same people to do the job but pay them less or sack a few? Is that what he means by expertise?

The private sector caused the credit crunch, the financial crisis, the global recession. The public sector bailed out the banks and brought the world back from the brink of ruin. When our railways were in public hands, they were shabby, unreliable and loss-making. In private hands, they still are but public money ends up in the hands of shareholders and the tickets cost vastly more. The NHS is the most efficient health service of its peers despite having, up till now, much less private sector involvement than they do. The armed forces remain in the public sector and people seldom have cause to criticise their efficiency or commitment.

Just one thing (as the late Peter Falk might have said) ... Why do universities need to reform themselves?  I thought we were doing a rather good job in very trying circumstances.