From the Daily Telegraph, apparently a think tank is proposing that we should have a competition to find the location of a new University to be named after Queen Elizabeth II. There’s now a competition under way it seems to find ways to “honour” the late Queen on the basis that it would be “fitting” or “what she would have wanted” without regard to whether that is so and whether these memorials will be helpful
This includes the need to over cancel. This has included the Met Office announcing that it would only do one update per day during the period of mourning. Why? Was the late Queen one of that small group of us who get’s fed up of 24 hour news and hourly weatherly updates and long for the days when you watched the news and the next day’s weather at 10pm? Meanwhile Center Parcs have backtracked on plans to kick everyone out of their resorts on Monday. A more fitting tribute from them might have been to start spelling their name correctly!
On the other hand, there have been those wo have attempted to adapt anything and everything to justify its continuation during a time of mourning from having the national anthem and a minute’s silence at football games to adapting the Last Night of the Proms. You would really have to feel for the poor guy who was remembered for getting sent off or missing a penalty at the memorial premier league game.
My take is that mourning, including national mourning should include time to pause from some things. If we are desperately attempting to find excuses for why entertainment must go ahead and to adapt it, then that’s probably a good clue that we need to give it a break. However, there can be an over the top response the other way and if everything is a fitting memorial, then nothing is.
However, I want to respond specifically to this proposal. You see, there have been three major problems with higher education during my life-time. The first is that the value of a University education has been downgraded. Looking at some of the contributions to public debate at the moment by academics I suspect that in many places the quality has too.
You see, a process was started by John Major and escalated by Tony Blair to try and get everyone studying for degrees and to massively increase the number of Universities by reclassifying polytechnics and colleges. There were a few consequences of that. The first was that pre-existing Universities needed to find ways to distinguish what they had to offer hence a greater emphasis on Russell Group universities as a class. In other words, the move just found new ways to encourage intellectual snobbery. Secondly, if you have more Universities and students, then you have to find ways to increase capacity. That means bigger class sizes, with less space for small tutorials and more emphasis on cramming people into lectures. It means that we have to produce more lecturers, meaning more PhDs so that their value declines. It means that professors have to spend more time in the classroom where they don’t want to be and less time in research where many of them want to be and where their skills and talents may be more needed.
The second consequence was that higher education needed funding hence we now have a situation where students come out of University with a degree that doesn’t particularly guarantee a well paid job but also with a massive amount of debt to pay off.
The third consequence was that not only did we manage to devalue degrees and academic learning but we also further devalued other forms of learning and training. If the only real status for an institution was offering degrees and being a University -if we wanted everyone to have a degree, then what did that say about the many brilliant, talented and clever people who had been through apprenticeships or had learnt a trade informally to continue the family business. We devalued other skills.
So, I don’t believe we need another University. What we do need to do is to look at how we resolve the graduate debt crisis. We need to pay attention to restoring good academic standards. We also need to learn again to value other forms of training and learning, other skills and gifts.
Now, perhaps there is one vacancy. I don’t know what the Prince of Wales intends to do with the Prince’s Trust? He may hand it on to his son. If not though, perhaps it could be renamed after the late Queen. However, I’m sure that over time, there will be plenty of people, organisations and places wanting to use the late Queen’s name to show respect. That should probably be left to individual choice.