Laurie Taylor Column

May 16, 2003

I'm almost lost for words. I mean, what can one say about those remarks by the education secretary Charles Clarke?

I got so angry I learnt them by heart.

Try me.

He said the state shouldn't throw money at a bunch of medieval truth-seekers, apart from a few who were "adornments to society".

I mean, how on earth do you respond to that? Someone did call him a philistine and someone else did say he was proposing a nation of unthinking robots and someone else did say he was an inspiration to the Yahoos.

Not a bad start.

But it still wasn't nearly enough to capture the sheer brutal anti-intellectualism of his statement, the complete lack of understanding of the nature of a university, the absolute inability to understand the value of knowledge for its own sake.

You're doing all right.

And there was also that appalling defence of his remarks from the Department for Education and Skills. I've learnt that one by heart as well.

"Mr Clarke is saying that universities exist to enable the British economy and society to deal with the challenges posed by the increasingly rapid process of global change."

Did you ever hear such a crude materialist account of the purpose of higher education, such a crass, mindless declaration that we're only here to provide fodder for the national production line?

Indeed.

You seem surprisingly calm about the situation. How would you characterise those statements?

Rather more simply than you have.

What would you call them?

I'd simply call them what I've been calling various rather similar remarks made over the past six years.

What's that?

New Labour's higher education policy.

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