Has the last university train left the platform?

News on squeezed university places, hiked up fees and general malaise in the higher education sector is pointing to an increasingly sobering future (if that’s what you can call it) for not only young breathless A Level students but also for the many mature students who up until recently were being encouraged to rekindle their studies and equip them with the skills for the mirage of the 21st century economic oasis.

Time was when the university train at the platform had more and more carriages and travelled to many distant and amusing destinations. You can buy a ticket pretty much any time and in some cases negotiate the time the train left the station and what state the buffet car would be in. Not any longer. The carriages are shrinking or being removed; security guards are assessing whether or not you can join the train and of course the tickets have become prohibitive. Is this anyway to run a rail road?

Of course not, but neither is it the only way to provide exhilarating journeys for old and young alike. Is high quality teaching and learning the sole preserve of large institutions who are having their budgets slashed and who are raising their drawbridges? No. Is international research and development confined to the academies and conservatoires of knowledge transfer? Transparently not. Are higher education institutions the only saloons in town for students to get wrecked up in freshers week and wake up 3 years later? I doubt it.

Some time ago we set up an arts employers forum which initially was negotiating with West Cheshire College to set up a Foundation Degree. If there was ever a time when that forum needed rejuvenating it was now. There’s enough experience, expertise and knowledge in the sector to design and run our own train track. There’s far more exciting learning journeys to make and a lot more memorable transformative moments to live in a tertiary education network that doesn’t snarl up at Crewe or Clapham Junction. All we need to do are lay down the tracks and get some rail stock rolling. Maybe one rail at a time – like the best Wallace and Gromit scene in The Wrong Trousers – but we have to start somewhere!

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