There are an increasing number of protests happening at universities around the world – in Canada and the Netherlands for example, and two at London institutions, the LSE and Central St Martins. The overarching themes behind these protests are the commercialisation of education, where corporate needs are put above those of students and staff, and, of course, the cuts. Meanwhile, a number of teacher training schools in our universities have closed down, there is a growing gap between how teachers are educated in our four countries, and the UK is investing less and less in education research. What will the future for education be – and thus, the future for our children?
It won’t have escaped your notice that there’s a general election in the offing, and the political parties are putting forward the shape of their manifestos, including their education policies. My colleagues on this site will doubtless be commenting on them, and so, I expect, will I. At the moment, however, I’d find that difficult. I don’t know what those education policies are, because they have been given very little coverage. I listen every day to the news on BBC Radio 4, I read newspapers and I watch the television news. But all we’re hearing about at the top of the news, as Parliament closes for the run-up to the election, is Labour demanding that the Conservative party freeze VAT, and the Conservatives demanding Labour freeze National Insurance. If not that, the headline coverage is (rightly) about the overloaded NHS or the other (apparently) great question, immigration, and what various marginal politicians are saying and how many people they have offended today.
Most of this talk, it seems to me, relates to personal gain. Which party’s policy can I get the most out of? Of course, we all think like this at election time, it’s natural. But once upon a time, a future prime minister famously said that the direction of his party would be about ‘Education, education, education’. Whatever one feels about the success of that prime minister and his government, I wish that the current crop on all sides would bring education into the foreground of their thinking again. And instead of slashing or freezing taxes, perhaps they could show the sense and have the charisma to put across the idea that our education system is facing extreme problems in the future, and that all of us might have to pay a tiny bit extra to fund its improvement? Forgive me for ranting, but being upfront about true social responsibility used to be a vote winner.