Boris Johnson

Oh dear oh dear. The lecturers’ pay dispute is over it seems, though if the comments here are anything to go by the ballot of union members will be close. The sense of relief is palpable, but I’m not convinced that anyone sees this as a long-term fix. One thing the dispute has done is reveal serious problems with British higher education. Teaching staff are demoralised, management have shown themselves to be insensitive, unprincipled, and cack-handed, the government has demonstrated that it doesn’t care, and students and parents have shown what they really think: they want a degree on the cheap and are not really interested in quality. They certainly don’t want to pay for it anyway.

Much more worryingly though, yesterday I found myself agreeing with Boris Johnson, the shadow minister for higher education. Worse, I even felt respect creeping in. Johnson is a very English creature; a professional buffoon who plays the bumbling fool to get his way. Some time ago Johnson appeared in the media to order lecturers back to work. It didn’t go down well. Now this may just be political expediency, but this post on his blog suggests he has learned a few things about the way HE works. I’m impressed that a politician is finally recognising that British universities depend heavily on very low paid, part-time teaching staff; in fact they could not operate without them. I’m not sure I would go as far as Johnson in reforming British HE along market lines–though I would allow a free market in fees as long as bursaries and scholarships were properly provided–but he is right that radical and wholesale changes are long overdue. It won’t be cheap.