… about the proposed “reforms” to higher education funding. I’ve started a couple of times to write a blog-post adding my two-pennyworth of comment. But firstly, I get too depressed musing more generally about the awfulness of various education “reforms” over the last forty or so years (at my most charitable, let’s say they are quite spectacular object lessons in the Law of Unintended Consequences). And second, much of what I might say has in fact already been said, and said very well, by others — e.g. by Stefan Collini on ‘Browne’s Gamble’, John Sutherland, writing under the cheery title English degrees for £27k – who’s buying?, and particularly by Iain Pears on ‘How the Humanities’.
Iain Pears’s point about re-centering the business of humanities departments on teaching strikes a real chord with me, as I approach the finishing-line with my job. It is difficult to credit now, but when I started as a lecturer we really had only half a day’s “induction” course — and one element of that was a talk on Arnold, Newman and Leavis on the idea of a university (can you imagine?). Yet that didn’t seem out of place. We did mostly thought of ourselves as university teachers with a commitment to “pass it on” (as Alan Bennett puts it in The History Boys). So we took it for granted that we would spent a lot of time talking with our students. ‘Research’ (as opposed to ‘scholarship’, i.e. keeping up our reading and thinking to inform our teaching) was something to be done in our — admittedly generous — spare time. Certainly, the idea that research in the humanities — yet another article in some minor passing debate, yet another unnecessary book? — should be at the very centre of everything, and teaching something to be avoided as much as possible (by getting research grants) was a long way in the future.
It wouldn’t be such a bad thing — and will be the least we owe to the kids who have to mortgage more of their futures to study with us — if in this one respect at any rate we went forward to the past.