Friday, 9 December 2011

Narnia and the Norn Iron Executive

ROLL-UP, roll-up for yer extra student places! Step forward young man, step forward young woman, because the largesse of the Norn Iron Executive knows no bounds.

Welcome one and all to the wonderful, weird world of Higher Education in Narnia, otherwise known as Stormont.

Just one step through the magic wardrobe at Parliament Buildings and you could get one of the extra 700 places being created in Norn Iron’s universities. The wonderful generosity of Employment and Learning Minister, Dr Stephen Farry means that not only are degree fees £5,500 cheaper than England, but there are even more places!

Excuse us if we swoon here with all this beneficence coming to our young people, it all is a little too much.

But, here comes the proverbial fly in the ointment (go on, you knew there had to be one!). It seems that at the same time that many parts of Belfast will henceforth be known as ‘Student City’ there may be no-one to fill the places.

“Surely not” you say! “Surely so”, we say. Because, Dr Farry’s Executive colleague, Education Minister John ‘High Tower’ O’Dowd is talking about drastic cuts in, not only the number of schools, but of each school’s budget...

So we may have loads of extra places in low-cost science, technology, engineering and medical degrees. But too few teachers and schools to make sure that the young ‘uns get the ‘A’ Levels necessary; that is unless the grammar sector gets some more...oh wait a minute! There be a political minefield ahead.

Monday, 5 December 2011

One and one equals WHAT!

WE are being told constantly that the resource we have amongst our educated workforce entices global companies to adopt the mantle as Foreign Direct Investors with a little Invest NI help and the possibility of Corporation Tax cuts at some stage in the future.

There is no doubt that we have a workforce available to start at the drop of a hat. In fact drop one near a dole office and you’ll have a ready made staff group clambering over each other to grab a pay cheque.

Whatever the rights and wrongs about the current education system, or your political perspective, a well-educated work force is pretty much needed. And to have a good well-educated work force you pretty much need schools.

So, what better way to prepare for the future than to cut back school budgets? Sure it all makes sense when you think about it. Or, maybe it doesn’t.

The reality, according to the Education Minister, John ‘Too Tall’ O’Dowd, is that Dick Dastardly (David Cameron) and Mutley (Nick Clegg) have teamed up with Skeletor (George Osborne) to impose cuts. That dratted British Administration has been blamed for each school having to cut five per cent off their budgets.

So, we have a bloated school estate, and no-one wants to see their local school close; we have at least five types of schools (well we can only remember five, but there are sure to be more); and there is a curriculum that doesn’t even seem prepared for 21st Century computing challenges.

A plan for the way forward? Audit the schools, cut budgets and well that seems about it.

According to most commentators (well those that manage to get on the media) we have a lot of high achievers and a lot who leave without qualifications. This seems to have existed for some time. And a plan to sort it all out? We’re sure that there is one, but in the meantime let’s cut schools’ budgets.

As we said it all sort of makes sense when you remember that we live in the Twilight Zone that is Norn Iron: do not adjust your sets you’re watching Stormont TV…

In other news more children are falling into the poverty trap. Sure at least they’ll be warm and fed in school, if it hasn’t been closed already!