Wednesday, July 22, 2009

An open letter to the rt hon Alan Milburn MP

Dear Alan,

I can call you Alan, right? After all, in our egalitarian, best of all possible worlds, society I’m allowed. No glass ceilings here eh?

What’s that you say, disproportionate numbers of professionals come from moneyed backgrounds? And I’ll bet it’s more now than it was a few years ago. And I bet it’ll be more still in another few. And why? Well it’s obvious isn’t it? The universities are all shameless elitists who have it in for “ordinary” kids like you and me. They’ve erected this “glass ceiling” of yours to keep us in our place, yes?

Well no actually. You did that. You, with your failed policies and your failing government. I notice you had to slink away from health a few years back after wrecking that, and now you want to have a go at higher education. Well heaven help them. You see they didn’t put the ceiling there. You and your cronies did that all by yourselves. Whilst you were collectively milking a crooked system that “froze” your pay, quite wrongly I might add, and made up for it by doling out the swill in the expenses trough (and no I nether know nor care if you personally were implicated, this is satire and not libel), you thought it would be a good wheeze to introduce student loans and tuition fees.

Worse, yet, in your anodyne “no-failure” “non-competitive” school system you devalued the grades awarded in the bizarre system of GCSEs that teach pupils how to sit exams, not how to acquire knowledge. Now the universities, faced with a torrent of straight A students, have to find other ways of selecting the brightest and best. Applicants need at least a Grade 8 instrument (but we don’t do music or instruments in school), a Captaincy of a County XV or XI (but we can’t do rugby or cricket—we sold the field) and a plethora of other qualifications or aptitudes beyond what school can offer in normal hours (but we only have to teach the national curriculum).

A medical student qualifying this year will have, on average, a student loan debt approaching £50,000, sorry, didn’t you quite get that, I said FIFTY THOUSAND POUNDS. Lawyers and accountants might owe slightly less, but will still need to obtain post graduate qualifications in order to actually pursue a career in their degree subject, which they will pay through the nose for, with far less guarantee of a job at the end because you’ve blown all our money fighting “terror” and shoring up failed banks. Overall the medics have it easy don’t they.

So how dare I, a privileged member of this moneyed elite dictate to you, a veteran class warrior and striver for equality? Well you see my roots are about as working class as you can get. I was lucky enough to get to a grammar school, and to have grandparents who wanted badly enough for me to be the first of my family to go to University. The same is true of three of my four partners. You’re right, the students I teach now all have at least one professional parent, but it’s not their fault, and it’s not their University’s fault either.

This is the world you made. I imagine you all started with the best of intentions, but you’ve screwed up so badly it almost defies belief. Still you’re not in it for the long haul are you? A few soundbites and then it’s on to the next brief, or the wilderness of opposition where you can say what you like and damn the consequences. Or if it gets too hot again, back you can go to the bosom of your family. But if I were you I wouldn’t spend too long mulling over my dubious achievements when the time comes, or I might end up very tempted to take a long walk off a short pier.


Swiss Missus said...

It ill behoves me to criticise the internal systems of a country I'm not a resident of (which isn't going to deter me - I'm fond of the motherland and it makes me unhappy to see that, since I've left, social inequality appears to be on the rise) but I will say that I am profoundly grateful that my son and daughter are receiving the kind of education on the STATE in CH that money would have to buy in the UK (we aren't the kind of people who could afford it). Should they get to university (and university education is reserved for the brightest 20-25% here and for the academically-inclined!) she will be accepted by ANY uni she wishes to study at - we don't have 'elite' universities - they're ALL good (the Swiss wouldn't stand for less). Now *that's* what equal opportunity is about. There are no tuition fees.

The Swiss system differs from the UK system (and that of other English-speaking countries) in that it recognises that skills and knowledge can be taught in various ways on different paths to a high standard, which is why a plumber in CH is definitely middle class - in fact, plumbing is what we over here would call a 'profession'. Haha.

Right. I'll shut me gob now. ;-)

You give good rant, doc. Respect.

Swiss Missus said...

Gosh - it was late when I posted above comment. "She" refers to daughter, who is about to embark on the second year of her four-year Matura, i.e. the Swiss 'bac'. That's eight subjects including two foreign languages (English and French) and all three sciences. No opt-outs.

oliviascotland said...

Well said!! The state system these days is a complete joke, and bright children in it struggle to keep themselves occupied, with many classes teaching at the speed of the slowest member.

I showed my eldest (who is coming up to GCSEs) my old O Level papers, and she reckoned that they were more along the lines of today's A Levels, which really shocked me. So much for standards remaining the same .....

Doctor Jest said...

swissmissus-- indeed, there's something peculiar in the anglo-saxon regard for education as a necessary evil to be endured and not enjoyed. And in the snobbery that puts Doctors and Lawyers "above" Plumbers and Electricians and Makers of Things purely by virtue of their job.

OliviaS-- welcome. Thanks for the input. I share your anxieties.

ageing student said...

Welcome back, Doctor J; you've been missed. And what a blog to make your comeback with ....or should that be 'with which to make your comeback'? I too went grammar school you see and do know proper grammar, though not to University - girls didn't much in the sixties. I always regretted it and was glad when my eldest daughter went - not so happy when she ended up with a £10K student loan after three years. Second daughter started last year and the tuition fees have tripled in the interim - also holiday jobs are few and far between thanks to the recession, even though we live in a 'holiday area', so we are having to support her out of our meagre earnings and b****r the chances of saving anything for our retirement. She sees so little chance of getting a decent job when she graduates that she is already considering staying on and taking a post-grad qualification. More money from the bank of Mum & Dad. Jaded, me? Why should you think that? At least the boy decided to go straight to work. Even so he can't afford to buy a house yet and he's 30. If I wasn't so old, I'd emigrate.

Nostrumdammit said...

As I now fritter away my last decades reading newpsapers, surfing the net, absorbing the blogosphere's unedited offerings, I am amazed at how many people are incensed by the governing institutions of this country. I wonder how long before there is a massive backlash against Whitehall, Holyrood, that Welsh place, the town halls and the ecoMentalistas bent on ruining the world as we know it.
Good letter Dr J. It's just a shame that Milburn will never read it and even if he did would be unable to comprehend it, and even if he could comprehend wouldn't care less and would do nothing since he's alright with his porcine appetite being slaked and his pension securely signed off, with his forthcoming memoirs the cheery on the cake. I hope he chokes on the lot before benefitting.

oldgit said...

Yes Dr Jest well said. Newlab have built a wall around the more respectable bits of higher education whether intentionally or just through incompetence I’m not clear. Also they have given rein to more dubious institutions to offer dodgy degrees in weird subjects to not very qualified people. These places seem to be run more like money generating enterprises than academic institutions. God help their alumni when they are looking for work. Prominent NewLab types seem often to be composed of well healed middle class types who have a horror of sending their offspring to state schools (T.B, Patsy Hewitt, Harriet Harman and etc,) To be a little less cynical they may not understand life at the bottom. I remember, with embarrassment, when I once, naively, asked my wife, who came from a large family with a father who worked on a building site, whether they had ever holidayed in the West Country when they were children. I won’t bore you with the response but contained things like “not knowing whether there would be food on the table” and “have you any idea how much it would have cost by rail” and etc,. I, of course, had a sheltered middle class upbringing. Perhaps Blair and co are the same.
Swiss Missus said “It ill behoves me to criticise the internal systems of a country I'm not a resident”. Don’t worry about this I would guess that you like me (I am resident in France), but unlike the chairman of the Daily Mail who is domiciled in France for tax reasons, are domiciled in the UK. Comment as much as you like, Jonathan Harmsworth does through his newspaper; I don’t suppose they would print anything he disliked.
The kids here in France also do a baccalaureate and if they pass they automatically get the right to a university place, although there is big sort out after year one. However to be an artisan here in France like in Switzerland is and honorable job and a good baker, plumber or carpenter is respected occupation.

Doctor Jest said...

A.S. Nostrum' and Old Git--

Ooops. Sorry folks. Been away, and things a bit hairy back at the ranch lately so apologies for the radio silence... You are all, as ever, far to kind in your comments to me, though perhaps less so to poor old Alan. Ho hum....

Thank you all for keeping the faith. I think I may be back now, but only time will tell.

angel said...

If I were to wager a guess at why, I’d say that users don’t “browse” forms. The interaction style users engage in with forms is different, and requires its own study and design best practices. This is a very interesting post, and the comments are also fantastic to read. I’ll have poses to have a little re-think about my own contact form on our new website, as this some interesting questions!
degree home