Prospects

I try to go for a walk early every morning – a half hour turn around the streets near home.  Although it’s an urban walk, as the mornings have got lighter, there are unmistakable signs of spring: bulbs in verges, trees coming into leaf and into blossom, birdsong.  It’s a reminder that behind the timetables…

A year

On Monday 16 March 2020, a group of the university’s senior staff met in the Vice-Chancellor’s office to work through the changing coronavirus situation and emerging government guidance.  We knew the Prime Minister was to address the nation the next day.  We’d worked through information on students, courses and the campus, and had already made…

Metaphors

The most important and interesting ideas in politics and policy are abstract.  ‘Opportunity’, ‘equality’, ‘freedom’, ‘fairness’, ‘choice’, ‘quality’ and so on are all ideas which are powerful driving forces but need to be given context and meaning in order to make a difference to people’s lives and to society.  A good deal of policy disagreement…

Free speech

In 1642, as the English civil war broke out, government control of printing presses collapsed.  In this new censorship-free environment, all sorts of ideas, previously suppressed were published.  Many senior figures became worried, and it was that worry which lay behind the pamphletAreopagitica, by John Milton – later the author of Paradise Lost.  Almost four centuries…

Departures

There was an inexpressibly sad story reported a few weeks ago.  Helen Jackson died in December 2020 at the age of 101.  She had been a teenager in Missouri in the 1930s, one of ten children in a desperately poor family. She took to running chores on her way home from school for a 93…

Lessons and skills

In 1942, at the height of the second world war, the British government published a report prepared by the economist William Beveridge. Despite its somewhat austere title – Social Insurance and Allied Services – Beveridge’s report sold vast numbers of copies, and is widely regarded as having laid the foundations for the post-War Labour government’s…

Unpredictable

There used to be a market for almanacs of predictions about the year ahead. Perhaps there still is. These almanacs were always frankly unbelievable, not simply because the future is by definition unknowable but because the predictions were always on the apocalyptic side – the way to sell these things is to veer towards the…

So this is Christmas

The 1970s were the apogee decade for Christmas hits: by turns cheesy, embarrassing and, very occasionally, memorable. They still get piped endlessly in shops each year. John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s was from 1971. The lyrics are far from Lennon’s best, but the song essentially begins with “So this is Christmas/And what have you done/Another…

Connections

Universities are complex organisations. Sheffield Hallam – 4500 staff and 32000 students – is the size of a small town. That remains true even if, over the past few months, the town has become a series of connected hamlets as we have all become used to working in radically different ways. Our core purposes may…

Fairy tale endings

In November 2016, following the unexpected victory of Donald Trump in the American presidential election, I wrote a blog on election outcomes and the values of the university. Now that the Trump era has been brought to a close by the 2020 election, it seems right to come back to American politics and what they…