I believe in public education but....

The word 'but' is a slippery thing. Consider the usage, 'I'm not a racist but...'. In recent days we have started to hear something similar, 'I believe in publicly funded education, but...'



The orginator is, of course, A.C. Grayling. Last night I went to an event atFoyles, which has received a bit of media coverage because of a spot of bother the good professor got himself into:



What was interesting to me was Grayling's attempted justification of his money-grabbing scheme. In between the, entirely justified, shoutings down, he told us that in an 'ideal world', he'd believe in publicly funded arts and humanities accessible to all. Sadly, he continued, we do not inhabit an ideal world. Universities are being cut. And the only way to ensure that arts and humanities retain an honoured place is to set up institutions like Grayling Hall.

Happily for Grayling, iron economic necessity coincides with his own personal financial interests. And of course, it's not entirely clear that his research-free institution is preserving the arts and humanities in any meaningful sense. I do agree with Grayling on one point, though: education is under attack, and doing nothing is not an option.

As readers will be aware, I have not myself being doing nothing, and do not counsel inaction in others. There is an ongoing campaign against the government cuts to HE, fully supported by the trade union which represents Grayling's fellow academics. One figure who has been conspicuous in his absence from the picket lines and demonstrations of the past year, for all his talk of opposition to the cuts, is A.C. Grayling.

We are not in a position of strength: that is true. Yet we have to carry on opposing the HE cuts, not accommodating ourselves to them. There is, to ape a phrase of George Osborne's, no alternative if we want education accessible to all regardless of ability to pay, and if we want high quality research to take place.

The defeatism which smacks of bad faith on the lips of Grayling has a believing audience in the country at large. The left has yet to win the arguments on the economics of the cuts in the face of widespread resignation. We have the better case, and I applaud here the work of groups like False Economy, but we still need to communicate it.

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