‘Malcolm Tuckered’ – A tale of long lenses and documents on show

This week, Justine Greening, Education Secretary, looks set to bring about the return of the Grammar School. This idea was originally floated in the press following a photograph of a document carried by an unnamed official walking into Downing Street. Generally this kind of incident happens relatively regularly; civil servants, political assistants and MPs themselves seem to forget that the large scrum of photographers lined up opposite the black door to number 10 often carry lenses strong enough to see through a polly-pocket folder.

The offending document, hot off the press from the office of the top civil servant in the Department for Education.

Analysing the photo, it appears to me that whoever the person carrying this document is, they certainly seem to be trying to make the document far more visible to an onlooking photo journalist. Sound familiar?

My favourite political comedy, The Thick of It, has already satirised this exact situation. Series 4, Episode 2; Leader of the Opposition Nicola Murray is photographed holding notes from a meeting, outlining a policy that she hoped would bring benefit for ‘quiet bat people’. In the programme, this incident is all a ploy by the illustrious Malcolm Tucker to take Nicola Murray down from the inside, by alerting the press to her apparent stupidity at the helm of her party.

The image that brought down Nicola Murray, and eventually, Malcolm Tucker himself.
The image that brought down Nicola Murray, and eventually, Malcolm Tucker himself.

The plot by Malcolm backfires; on closer inspection by an inquiry launched following a political disaster, the photo incriminates Malcolm in having illegal acquired an NHS number.

Anyway, back to the real world. Grammar schools are a massively emotive issue, and there are arguments across the political spectrum both for and against them. Some argue they improve social mobility for pupils from right across communities. Others argue that they serve no purpose and are a relic of the past. It’s not limited to Tories voting one way, Labour voting the other. Imagine if someone working the Department for Education wasn’t too keen on the idea? A peeved civil servant? A grumpy political assistant? Or even a rogue MP?

One shuffled pile of paperwork to be taken to the PM’s office and suddenly an idea not yet fit for public consumption has been shouted out from the hills. I don’t think Justine Greening or Theresa May (definitely not Defence Secretary Michael Fallon) thought Grammar Schools would be on their to do list, but someone decided otherwise. Now Justine Greening stands before parliament, defending the government’s previously unknown plans to bring Grammar Schools back from the dead. Though despite unnamed attempts to scupper Grammar School plans, I don’t think this will develop into the ‘Quiet Bat People’ moment a conspirator might have hoped for.

It’s my birthday, so be nice!

Want economic growth? You need STEM!

 

You would be forgiven for thinking that A Level Results Day (Today, 18th August) was all about teenagers finding out whether or not they need to take out £40,000 (possibly more) of student loans to fund a degree. What we often neglect to remember is that these bright eyed and bushy tailed graduates to be, or more specifically their degree subjects, matter a great deal to the future success of our nation. This has never been more true, especially considering the UK’s recent decision to leave the European Union.

The United Kingdom has always been at the forefront of engineering innovation. Manufacturing is the back bone of a strong economy; powerhouse giants like Rolls Royce, Jaguar Land Rover, Dyson, all need technology minded graduates. Yet with ever increasing numbers of students heading to university, these big companies are crying out for more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) graduates.

It isn’t just top engineering firms that need graduates; technology companies, at the forefront of innovation in computing technology are also struggling. The verdict from all this? Not enough people are going to university to study STEM subjects.

Of course, the answer in years gone by would have been to recruit the skills we lack from overseas. Yet now the UK suddenly doesn’t look half as attractive to young european graduates as it once did, especially given that some EU nationals have already decided to leave following Brexit. But to my mind, the problem with STEM is not just about recruiting for industries that are vital to our economy.

We have always had a very touchy relationship with STEM, especially mathematics. Despite the UK bringing the world mathematical greats like Isaac Newton and Alan Turing into the world, we seem to associate mathematics with nutty professors and boffins locked in darkened rooms. As a mathematics student (hopefully soon to be a mathematics graduate!) I completely reject this ideology.

Maths, and more generally STEM, are at the basis of the modern world. Everything from the device you’re reading this on, to the chair you’re sat in have made use of STEM at some point in their operation or manufacture. STEM isn’t nerdy, STEM isn’t boring. STEM is the creative forefront of British innovation, solving problems and designing world beating products to make the world a better place.

STEM matters. On this results day, lets hope that STEM can start to regain the place it deserves amongst students, and that we can start to fight the ‘STEM Gap’ that is growing in the UK.

 

Brexit: A disaster for our universities and students

The UK boasts some of the best learning and research institutions in the world. Leading the way in a variety of disciplines and developing key technologies for the modern world. Everything from Graphene and MRI to the Internet and the Computing architecture 98% of our mobile phones use came out of the UK. Research and the development of new professionals for our industries is vital to our economy and advancement.

Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov  discovered the new material Graphene
 whilst working at the University of Manchester

But Brexit has caused a huge headache for our Institutions for many reasons. Firstly, co-operation with other institutions around the world is clearly vital for continued prosperity and leaving the EU may a hinder the possibility of involvement of future European research projects with concerns already being raised. In addition, ERA funding currently provides 11% of the research income to Russell Group universities, if the access to this funding changes under our renegotiation this could increase the funding gap many of our universities are already struggling with and may increase pressures for further rises in the tuition fee cap.

Research funding is not the only income that will suffer. Currently all EU nationals are eligible for ‘Home Fees’ when studying in the UK, this has attracted some of Europe’s brightest to our universities with over 125,000 EU nationals studying in the UK if fees and it is predicted these students contribute £3.7Bn into the British Economy supporting 34,250 jobs. This also ignores the EU nationals that continue to live in the UK after their studies and help make further advances in research. If we don’t continue to support EU students wanting to study in the UK we may find less come to study here again reducing income if this gap isn’t filled by our own students.

Russel Group universities, our leading research institutions may struggle
 to receive funding sufficient funding for projects

But less about the universities themselves, let’s talk about the students. Leaving the EU could be detrimental to the opportunities available to us. Firstly, it may hinder our chances of studying in Europe if we are required to pay Non-EU rates. Also many of my university colleagues have had the opportunity to undertake paid industrial placements in Europe, a great life experience. But If the ability for Britons to work in the EU changes this could affect the opportunity for us to have this experience. In addition, The Erasmus programme currently offers scholarships enabling EU students to travel abroad to study for a year, if these links are broken between our institutions It would be very difficult for our students to undertake a year abroad especially without the Erasmus grant.

Overall the UK needs to be careful on how it implements Brexit to avoid huge issues for such an important industry in our country. We have already seen some work with Philip Hammond announcing plans to continue funding for EU backed research projects but so much more work will be needed to done in the years to come to keep the bonds between our universities and the EU together and protect the quality of education we enjoy.