Pipe dream or pear-shaped future?

January 10, 2003

Tradition demands that The Diary's new year message outlines the shape of higher education for the coming year. This year, given the imminent release of the government's strategy paper, we are excited to bring readers an exclusive peek at the document. It contains the following plans.

• A return to free university education for all, paid for through increased taxation. Prime minister Tony Blair, chancellor Gordon Brown and education secretary Charles Clarke have accepted that it was wrong for the many to pay for the few, as happened when they were students. However, since half of young people are now expected to experience higher education by 2010, the many will pay for the higher education of the majority. Student grants will be reintroduced for all, in recognition of the wealth that graduates generate in the knowledge economy.

• All institutions will be expected to engage wholeheartedly in four core areas: teaching; research; widening participation; and business and the community. Simultaneously, all institutions will be expected to play wholeheartedly to their strengths in one or more of these core areas. The strong symbiotic link between excellence in teaching and research will be emphasised. The strategy document will provide measures to lighten the teaching and administrative roles of academics, enabling them to spend up to half their time pursuing research goals.

• The government will recognise that the university system was established hundreds of years before the ascendancy of Parliament and will stop interfering in its operation. Sadly, calls for the new "lighter touch" quality assurance audits to come with a lighter and blue touch paper have been rejected. However, the burden of accountability will be reduced through the introduction of 1,001 initiatives for cutting red tape.

• The erosion of the pay scales of senior staff will be addressed with huge salary hikes, particularly for vice-chancellors who are leaving their posts. But everyone else will be expected to adhere to the terms and conditions of their contracts and pay will be frozen in real terms. To offset the cost of living in London and recognise the diversity of the region, free pizza will be offered to every London-based member of staff plus a discounted rate for their families. New recruits to the profession will receive a £20 Virgin Megastore voucher. The strategy document also promises an unprecedented 220 per cent pay rise for all staff if the Conservatives win the next general election.

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