Old Jock has a dream about the top-up nightmare

30th January 2004 at 00:00
As readers know, the Muddleshire College board takes its responsibilities very seriously indeed. Our self-evaluation process includes automatic expulsion for anyone claiming to understand education, and we were one of the first to introduce the rule limiting all submissions to the time it takes to soft boil an egg.

We rarely allow dispensations to the rule, but at yesterday's board meeting the principal begged for an extension. Perhaps he was gambling that members had been lulled into a mellow torpor by the traditional glass of sherry and mince pie that is our reward for another year of service.

He needed to update us about student funding and warned us of the domino theory much loved by American strategists. It seems the introduction of top-up fees to English universities will inevitably lead to similar action among Scotland's ancient sanctuaries of academic privilege, a consequential squeeze on the poly universities, and finally the demise of further education, as anyone with a school attendance certificate would be hoovered up by the polys.

Professor McPlum (Westcity University, retired) intervened to say that as usual the answer lay in the past. We only had to revert to the good old days of general arts degrees for all, funded by bursaries. The Ivy League would confine themselves to the lucrative market of postgraduate higher degrees paid for by middle-class professionals and the working classes would be able to go to the teaching universities and collect degrees that allowed them to take up posts in call centres. The remainder of the population who wanted to do something more than wait for their chance at Pop Idol could be trained as hewers of wood (building trades) or drawers of water (plumbers).

Ms Marie McQuiver (Freelance IT Counsellor) punctured the slowly inflating balloon of hot air. As our token non-male, she pointed out that the only real consequence of top-up fees would be further fat salary increases to ancient university male academics, a slow trickling down into middle-rank universities and despair among college lecturers who would find their pay compared even less favourably to the hewers and drawers they would continue to teach.

Warming to her theme, she argued that 50 per cent of young people would continue to attend university, and of these only a quarter would end up in jobs requiring graduate-level skills. Ms McQ further stated that the cost of providing these places at universities was a national disgrace and the money should be given to colleges to provide vocational degrees in useful jobs.

Sensing end of year ennui descending, Old Jock (Chair) then spoke: "Ten years ago, a great country, in whose service we all stand, granted the Incorporation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon of hope to those of us who had been in the thrall of stifling injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long years of servitude to local councils.

"But 10 years later, we must face the tragic fact that we are still not free. Ten years later, we still live on lonely islands of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of public expenditure. We still have servitude to a legion of bureaucrats who believe they know best for colleges. Yet I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the Scottish dream of education. It is a dream that college education and university education will be treated as equal. I have a dream that one day every college shall cast off the cloak of false incompetence.

"I have a dream that the last domino shall not fall and we will all be free at last."

How we cheered. Free at last!

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