Chancing upon the hyena's cage in Regent's Park Zoo the other day, I began to wonder what it must be like for them. To be on the inside peering out. Do they envy us our freedom or just despise us for our obvious inadequacies? Poor sods! Never gnawed a wildebeest in their lives. And laugh? No chance with that lot!
But then I suppose life is like that. It all comes down to your standpoint. The perspective from which you see things. This monthly column will be viewing the world from the perspective of the FE lecturer - a creature a notch or two above the hyena perhaps in the great chain of being. But then perhaps not, given the view from the inside of our cage these days.
Well, all right, it's true that not all lecturers are going to see eye-to-eye on everything. But I'd be prepared to wager a lot of non-existent 2.9 per cent wage increases that there'd be precious little disagreement on the way the job has gone downhill over the last two years, How many lecturers would dispute that their lot is now significantly worse than when colleges left local council control in 1993? Worse in pay, security, job satisfaction, stress levels, paperwork. Not to mention the hours upon futile hours we now must spend on make-work tasks that take us away from our real work of teaching.
Worst of all, of course, is the on-going contracts dispute. Good word that on-going. Because that's exactly what it does: goes on and on and on. From the perspective of the lecturer the dispute has been a disaster. Nasty, wearying and divisive, it has sapped morale to the point that the term career development has become synonymous with getting out.
Yet others obviously see it quite differently. From a different perspective. A colleague handed me a back copy of the Ham and High recently. For the unenlightened who live outside of the posh part of north London, it should be explained that this is the local paper for Hampstead and Highgate.
"Look at Page l0," he hissed, dropping the crumpled sheets on to my desk "he's on it."
I looked. He turned out to be Roger Ward, boss of bosses, or chief executive of the Colleges' Employers' Forum (CEF), to give him his official title. That explained the hiss. If lecturers have a natural enemy then surely Mr Ward, chief architect of the plan to make them work longer hours for no more pay, is it.
The story told how Hampstead resident Mr Ward had been named in the New Year honours' list for his services to education. Clearly someone on the Ham and High had a nice sense of irony. Beneath the headline CBE for the man who cut lecturers' holidays it read: "Mr Ward was granted the honour after a year marked by a wave of strikes and lecturer and student unrest across the country."
But if the hacks of the Ham and High detected a whiff of paradox in giving of an honour to him, it was obviously lost on the Government who gave it him in the first place. No doubt he only had to shut down the whole system and they might have made it a knighthood.
The paper went on to reveal some other interesting snippets about FE's boss of bosses. Mr Ward, it seems, is another in the long line of poachers turned game keepers: the leftie who went right. One-time chair of the Hampstead Labour party, it reported Mr Ward was now a 'lapsed' member of the party. To show quite how far he had travelled, they even provided an all-purpose quote about his wish to provide taxpayers with value for money.
Space did not permit a picture - there are a lot of recipients of honours to report on in Hampstead and Highgate - but should one have appeared readers might well have concluded that the former defender of the huddled masses of Hampstead was a bit of a smoothie.
Recent photographs reveal features that wouldn't be out of place modelling in the windows of an old-fashioned barber shop - a sort of Roger-Moore-with-toothache look. But then Moore may be a bit of a misnomer for the boss of bosses. Roger Less perhaps? or even More-for-Less. Because isn't that it? The CEF (and Tory Government) philosophy to a 't'. More for less. Take more and give less. At least from the lecturers' perspective, as we peer hyena-like out from the recesses of our staffroom cages, that's how it appears.
As for those still unable to comprehend how a gong can be merited for what the CEF's leader has done to further education, I'd ask them to remember the be-ribboned generals of the First World War. They earned their honours for sending a generation of young men out to die in the mud of Flanders. Compared to that Roger More-for-Less's little bit of killing is very small beer indeed!
Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a London college.