Mike Vickers' Blog

June 25, 2011

Value of Higher Education

Filed under: World Class — derryvickers @ 9:33 am

I recently added the following comment to the Virtual Coffee Shop within the Leaders and Thinkers Group on LinkedIn – a great group by the way.  I welcome readers comments also.

You may not know that government in Scotland is devolved in a number of respects from that of the UK government as a whole but England isn’t; this makes life interesting in the UK and Scotland in particular.  In the recent elections to the Scottish Parliament the SNP won a hansom majority over all the other parties.  SNP stands for Scottish National Party, and their ultimate goal is to break away from England. 

One consequence is that the Scottish Parliament can decide on spending on education and in particular Higher Education ie Universities.  In Scotland fees for students at Universities are met by the government whilst the UK Parliament has decided that the English Universities may charge students up to £9,000 per annum. Not surprisingly most English Universities are putting their fees up to the maximum.

So back to Scotland; to maintain the quality of Scottish University education to that of the English Universities, the Scottish government is having to face funding their universities to the tune of £9,000 per student per year – and this they are committed to do.  And of course the cost of meeting this commitment reflects on the tax payers in Scotland or if taxes are not to rise at the cost of provision of other services.  It is well to note that Scotland prides itself on the quality of its education.  However notwithstanding this pride the public (or as colloquially known as ‘Joe Publics’) is starting to question the value of higher education in particular.  And also unsurprisingly higher education tends to favour the middle classes.

So I would welcome the Group’s thoughts on what they believe is the advantage of higher education – excepting as a passport to the better jobs.  Incidentally I understand from one of the articles in the Edinburgh newspaper, The Scotsman, which is recently debating how higher education should paid for, that the students attending universities has raised from 3% after WWII to close on 50% now.

Personally I believe that education per se is good but are there other ways of achieving it?

June 6, 2011

Stirling Castle – The King’s Palace restored

Filed under: History in the making — derryvickers @ 9:55 pm

Palace Rooms - Kings inner and Queens' bed chamber

The newly restored King’s Palace at Stirling Castle is not to be missed. All the Royal Apartments are sumptuously refurnished – no, not just refurnished, rebuilt from floor to ceiling. There are six rooms in all, Outer, Inner and Bed Chambers for both the King and the Queen.

Last time we went round, the walls and ceilings were crumbling – now just look at the pictures. Particular features are the ceilings with in the King’s inner chamber wooden roundels all newly recarved and decorated. And while the Kings Chambers are largely unfurnished the Queen’s are as they would have been. You see artists sketches what  the rooms would have been like but its only when you see it in reality can your really appreciate the sheer lavishness of how the nobles ate the time lived. In the Queen’s bedroom there was the Queen’s attendant whose duties started at 5 am and finished at 2 am the next day and she was expected to sleep on the floor next to the Queens’ four poster – Noblesse Oblige!

For a little of the history, the palace was created by James V of Scotland for his newly wedded second wife Mary of Guise or perhaps by Mary of Guise for a place fit for herself as a French Noblewoman to live in. In practice that’s what it turned out to be as James V was defeated in battle by the English – returned and rapidly gave up the ghost. Mary Queen of Scots was born just five days before the King died.

But enough of history – the Palace and the Great Hall which was finished some 10? years ago are a reminder of what Scotland can get done if it really tries. Not just the architects and renovators but the staff and guides who show off proudly their new possessions.

Dunsinane – a familiar story ?

Filed under: History in the making — derryvickers @ 6:30 am

An interesting new play by David Greig, first shown at the Hampstead Theatre in 2010 came to the Lyceum and we saw the last performance. 

It is a sequel to Shakespeare’s Macbeth.  Malcolm is King but Lady Macbeth, Gruach, is still alive and well and has held on to the title of Queen.  She has a son, by a previous husband, and considers him the rightful heir.  Siward, the real force behind the downfall of Macbeth is portrayed as a do good English general resolved to bring peace to Scotland (in practice Siward was Earl of Northumberland and probably Scandinavian).  He tours all of Scotland talking to all the warring chiefs and eventually corrals them to come to Dunsinane where Gruach still occupies the castle.  There he harangues the chiefs and pronounces that the only solution to Scotland’s warring is for Malcolm to marry Gruach and for Gruach’s son to be proclaimed the heir.  Both agree but the first act finishes with Gruach, who had guessed at such a proposal,  having her forces capture both Malcolm and Siward. 

The English army intervenes and in the second act both are freed and Siward having recognised the failure of his grand alliance undertakes a gruelling search for Gruach’s son to have him put to death.  After slaughtering many Scots the son is found and Siward murders the son.  Siward is verbally attacked from all sides, his own troops who just can’t stand a winter in the Scottish climate, and from Malcolm who although weak survives because he plays the chieftains off one against the other, and they recognise him as not a leader and of little threat to their independence.  Siward, who is growing weary and  suffering mental anguish, is increasingly  recognising his attempts even with the power of his English army, that he is on a hiding to nothing and heads off to find Gruach with his wide eyed young solder (good King Wenceslas like) .  He eventually finds Gruach and has brought Gruach’s dead son for her to royal bury  but finds that a young local girl has already conceived of a son by Gruach’s son.  Siward threatens to kill the baby if Gruach doesn’t give up her right to be Queen.  She faces him out, saying ‘Oh, how in love you are with your good intentions’, the snow falls and he is defeated and retreats with his boy soldier.  The solder asks where they are to go but he has no answer – a wandering Jew.

Many have commented on the analogy with Iraq and Afghanistan – Afghanistan I think.  There is even a maid who entices an English solder to join her and knifes him only to kill herself.  But without this analogy the play stand on its own; it brings out the folly of occupying forces, high intentions collapsing into barbarity when good intentions fail;  that there is always a role for the conniver and that the ones who have strong beliefs will carry the day even if they are wrong.

Gruach was played by Siobhan Redmond with appropriately fiery red hair, Jonny Phillips as Siward and Brian Ferguson as Malcolm.  Not Shakespeare but a plausible and welcome sequel.

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