Author Archives: Simon Perks

We must protect our universities’ freedom

Image result for universitiesIt is rare that governments get to do exactly what they want. Opposition parties, the judiciary and others have traditionally also wielded significant influence, tempering the more extreme ideas of those in power and highlighting the pitfalls of proposed policies.

This era of moderation is, however, coming to a close. Those who once held our governments to account are being systematically declawed.

Politicians who deviate from their party line are subjected to torrents of abuse and the threat of deselection. The House of Lords, with its essential powers of scrutiny, is ridiculed as stuffy and out of touch. And then there’s the Labour party, which is currently offering as much opposition to the Government as a hermit crab would to an Apache helicopter gunship.

The saving grace in all of this has been our universities and their academics, who have argued consistently on the side of reason and reasonableness.

But now our universities, too, are under threat.

It started with the gradual move – in which we were, sadly, complicit – from government funding to student tuition fees, turning higher education from a public into a private good and unleashing market forces into a domain in which they do not belong.

But it did not stop there. The new sector regulator, the Office for Students, has lost the policy-setting powers of its predecessor. The Prime Minister has launched a review of higher education funding that has more ‘red lines’ than a London bus map. And Vice Chancellors, who are forced to bear the brunt of this onslaught, have been demonised by MPs and the media for their salaries and expenses.

Whether or not this represents a concerted effort by the Government to emasculate our universities, the effect is the same. And we risk losing some of the last sane voices in the debate of our lives.

We have long been the party of thinking people, of academics and of students. We messed that up with our ill-advised coalition capitulation on raising tuition fees. But it is not too late to make amends.

So what should we do?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 14 Comments

The Tories’ populist agenda seeks to silence the voices of reason

The Conservative Party conference has opened the floodgates to a torrent of populist policies aimed firmly at what Theresa May calls ‘ordinary working-class people’. The NHS is to become self-sufficient in British doctors. British firms will come under increasing pressure to hire British workers. Our military will ‘opt out’ of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The hard-working people of Britain, says Theresa May, will no longer be ignored by ‘the powerful and the privileged’. And she rails against those who see their patriotism as ‘distasteful’ and call their fears about immigration ‘parochial’.

The message is clear: If you’re working hard to make ends meet, the Tories are the party for you.

I have to admit that it’s a clever strategy. This pro-British, anti-foreigner approach appeals to the many people who feel that previous governments have left them behind, while also being a sort of political catnip to Tory stalwarts. And it cleverly taps into the popular sentiment underlying the Brexit vote, without needing to refer explicitly to the shambles that is the Government’s Brexit policy.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 21 Comments

Grammar schools are not the answer

The Prime Minister claims that her plans to create more grammar schools will enhance social mobility and will help to bring about a truly meritocratic society. They will, she says, create ‘a country that works for everyone’.

Sure. Because grammar schools proved so good at doing just that the first time around.

What Mrs May’s proposals will do, of course, is appeal hugely to the seething mass of baby-boomer Tory voters who just can’t wait to get us back to the good old days of the 1950s and serve as a temporary distraction from the Government’s shambolic approach to all things Brexit.

We should, I suppose, perhaps be grateful that the Prime Minister is at least talking about introducing selection on the basis of academic ability, rather than the religious faith, parental wealth and ability to move to a more desirable postcode that determine how many schools currently choose their students.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 18 Comments
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