The last two days saw the annual meeting of the heads of universities at the Former United Kingdom States University Providers (FUKSUP) annual conference. That the heads of universities in Ireland joined for the first time was an acknowledgement of their growing influence since the (Western European Confederation of States (WECS) set up its headquarters in Dublin twenty years ago.
This was the 150th meeting since the first one in November 1918 and the Chair of FUKSUP, Dame Stella Artois (58), was keen to point this out. However, to sharp intakes of breath from the audience, she somewhat marred her address by noting that, “the 150th anniversary would have been last year had the meeting in 2019 not been cancelled because of the ‘incident’ that year.” It is rare for anyone to mention the ‘incident’ of 2019 and especially in a public forum. I cannot remember it being mentioned at all in the last ten years at least. Even people born after the ‘incident’ do not try to discuss what has become a taboo topic in polite circles. However, she might be forgiven since she arrived here as a child from Belgium in 2020 in the aftermath of the ‘incident’ with her family who were refugees. Her personal experience perhaps mitigates her deliberate faux pas.
This was soon set aside as Prime Minister, Margaret May, proceeded to give her first hologram speech since being elected. She spoke live from her Liverpool Central Constituency. Protocol for FUKS formal presentations dictated that her speech must be simultaneously translated into Welsh and Scots Gaelic (despite a majority in Ireland being Gaelic speakers, Irish was not included since their government dropped Gaelic as their official language after 2019). The translations were, however, interrupted somewhat by sniggers from the Wales contingent who were apparently fed translations that included chants from protesters in Liverpool that were heard faintly over the audio feed calling for the prime minister to be “taken away”. Speaking from the Lime Street Convention Centre (formally the main rail station before 2035), she reiterated her election slogan that we must, “Get England working harder through more leisure time”. But that this will be more “structured by education and learning for life”.
The meeting was held for the first time in the impressive London headquarters of the Alliance of Independent Providers (AIPs). Their influence is growing fast and, by managing over 6000 institutions world-wide and over 300 in England alone, it means that they hold many of the cards when it comes to government policy. They are easily the largest private employer in England and across the FUKS. By contrast, the heads of the sixty two Russell Provider Group (RPG) seemed keen to stay away from too much controversy. However, despite this reticence, the government’s proposals to make education compulsory to age sixty dominated the event. Could the system cope with the numbers and who would pay?
The Chair of the AIPs Board, former Higher Education Minister, Lord Knose of Long Rambling (92), laid out a lengthy but positive and bold strategy in his after dinner speech the evening before. It seemed to be more directed at the Re-Education Minister, Karl Corbyn Junior III, as it was to the rest of the audience in general. In describing a major expansion of facilities, he emphasised the “great opportunities ahead by embracing the challenge of universal education compulsory for all ages”. That he was himself well past sixty years old did not seem to deter his enthusiasm. No-one from the sixty two Russell Provider Group was invited to speak and all declined to talk further to our reporters; despite voicing considerable criticism of the proposals last week.
Karl Corbyn Junior III addressed the gathering with, “I appreciate that many of you will be concerned about how such a radical move will be possible given the cuts of the past few years. But we are a new government keen to make a fresh start”. He then went on to outline how the new life-long re-education system would be financed. Every citizen would be registered at two years old and upon completing their ‘Challenge Tier 2’ education in England (Level 2 in Scotland and Wales and Leaving Certificate in Ireland) everyone would automatically take up a lifetime “re-education and learning or REAL loan” to cover fees. The REAL loans would be paid off by adding a 10% tariff to general taxation for everyone working the full ‘Leisure Time Directive’ twenty hours per week. The effect would be that those working fewer hours would repay less pro rata and those few that are unemployed for any reason would be exempt. All people would enter the scheme at the end of 2069 and receive a 'REAL loan' commensurate with their age. This assumes that their lifetime tax burden would be smaller in the long run. The scheme would apply to England initially but it then it would be rolled out across all of the FUKS and Ireland within two years. With over 90 million people in the FUKS and Ireland compelled to take part in re-education for a minimum of twenty hours per week, it is estimated that it will immediately inject at least ₿1.5 trillion into the education provider economy per year and thereafter.
There is no doubt that the AIPs are rubbing their hands with glee. But the heads of the RPG fear that there will be massive internal dissent amongst their staff. The research role of their institutions has been well rewarded to date but this premium is now in doubt. The CEO of the Higher Education Providers Union (HEPU), Sally Forth, was not invited to attend the FUKSUP meeting but reiterated again her concerns, “Our members who are university staff in England are exempt from the ‘Leisure Time Directive’ and this is not the case across the rest of the WECS Confederation. There is a danger that they will have to work well over twenty hours per week to fulfil their research commitments as well as teaching. Questions need to be asked about where they will find time take part in ‘compulsory’ re-education”.
When this was raised with Lord Knose he shrugged this off with, “everyone knows that university lecturers have an easy time of it yet they still complain. Maybe they could defer their compulsory re-education to later in life and make it up upon compulsory early retirement”. Food for thought…..
Lois Pathway. Special reporter.