Dundee Uni


Browne – Destroyer of the Gulf of Mexico and British University Teaching

If you read through the official report on the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, you will find that it was Lord Browne who created the corporate atmosphere that led directly to the disaster with his low cost, high risk approach:

Returning to London in 1989, he reorganized BP’s exploration arm; Browne slashed expenditures, established a rigid—if not ruthless—performance ethic, and refocused on high-risk but potentially high-reward opportunities. Upon becoming chief executive in 1995, he directed a major part of BP’s upstream focus to the deepwater Gulf. In the deals he negotiated to acquire Amoco and ARCO, BP emerged with a greatly expanded portfolio of Gulf leases and assets.

There is an exact parallel between Browne’s tenure at BP and Fred Goodwin’s at the Royal Bank of Scotland. Massive risks taken for short term reward, costs slashed, huge mergers to add incredible fake book value, but in fact no proper management or integration of these assets. Unlike Goodwin, Browne had got out to count his cash before the inevitable result of the high risk, low cost, massive growth culture which he had instituted, brought the company crashing down.

Presumably it was his reputation for cost-slashing that led New Labour to appoint Browne to recommend on the future of university tuition fees. It annoys me immensely that people so readily forget that it was indeed New Labour who first introduced tuition fees for English students, who appointed Browne, and were committed to accepting his conclusions.

In a rational world a chancer (literally) like Browne would not be allowed anywhere near something as fundamental to society as the future of academia. But we live in an age where the political class of all main parties has fundamentally failed the people. And as three quarters of English universities have now confirmed they will be charging fees of £9,000 a year, we are in a system where the government will no longer be paying nett for any university tuition, only for research. As research grant allocation is competitive, academics have to concentrate on this, and we will see a continuation of the trend whereby undergraduates get very little tutor contact for all that money and debt.

It is heartrending. The system of free education which changed my whole life, has been destroyed. And my generation did the destorying.

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The Laws of Physics Disproven

The passing of wood through glass is a remarkable feat. There are those who believe that royalty can perform miracles – there is a well developed cult around the vain and vicious Charles I, for example. It now appears that the presence of the future Charles III also has the ability to suspend the laws of physics.

The police have now issued extensive CCTV footage of the attack on the vehicle of Charles and Camilla on the fringes of the anti-tuition fee demonstrations, and the media have been replete with more nonsense about Camilla being poked with a stick. Yet of all the CCTV footage and numerous photographs, there is no evidence at all of this attack and all the images show the car windows to be closed – as they would be. One gets cracked but not holed.

There is in fact no evidence at all of any intent to harm the persons of the expensive royal layabouts, as opposed to discomfiting them and damaging their vehicle. It is fascinating that the media continually repeats the “Camilla attacked with a stick” line when it is so blatantly untrue. There appears to be a closing of ranks by the whole Establishment to perpetuate the myth – both the Home Office and St James Palace have deliberately fostered the myth by refusing to confirm or deny.

Personally I would not touch Camilla with a bargepole. I dislike violence at demonstrations. Demonstrations, good, riots, bad is my basic mantra. Attacks on people in a civil demonstration are always wrong, including attacks on the police unless in self defence. I did not join in the outrage at the prosecutions of violent demonstrators after the big Lebanon demonstration in London, because I personally witnessed the group hurling dangerous missiles at police who were neither attacking, threatening nor kettling them. That is absolutely unacceptable.

But a policy as appalling as the withdrawal of state funding from university teaching, carried out by Nick Clegg by one of the most blatant political breaches of fatih with the public in history, , is bound to provoke huge anger. The government reaps what it sows. Demonstrators should not set out to hurt people. But all the evidence shows they had no intention of hurting Charles and Camilla.

I have personally worked closely with the royal family’s close protection officers in organising two state visits abroad, and plainly they too could see there was no intent to injure – that is why weapons were not drawn. They deserve commendation rather than the crap spouted out by Sky News, who seem to think they should have gunned down the odd student.

All of which serves to take the focus off vicious police attacks on students and the use of kettling to detain people who were seeking peacefully to express their views. Kettling people in extreme cold and with no access to toilet facilities raises questions on illegal detention which genuine liberals in government would wish to address. What is it? Is it a form of arrest? What is the status of the fenced pens into which people are herded? Should they not be formalised as places of police detention, and individuals booked in and given access to lawyers? If that is not possible, this detention – which can be for many hours – is not lawful.

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A Poisoned Consensus on Higher Education

Lord Browne was once well known for living an Elton John lifestyle. He still doesn’t have to go without lunch. His thoughts on the motivations and problems of poorer students and potential students are somewhat vague. He does however get along famously with University Principals and Vice Chancellors – spectacular beneficiaries of the incredible salary leap made by senior public sector staff under New Labour. Browne’s review reflects precisely the view of University Principals.

This group have bought entirely into the notion that universities should be viewed as businesses with turnovers of hundreds of millions. This is unsurprising, because it is the notion that they should be rewarded at the “market rate” for chief executives o fsuch businesses which justifies their own colossal salaries and emoluments. Governing bodies of Universities have swallowed the same fashionable line, as did New Labour, and as has The Guardian.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/13/lib-dems-university-fees-cable?intcmp=239

In my time as Rector on Dundee University court we were continually looking at ranking tables designed by the University administration to encourage us to axe poor performing departments, Performance was ranked purely on financial criteria – basically cost against amount of research income brought in. This was a consequence of under funding combined with the fact that research was the main source of variable income. It led to a dreadful under-appreciation of teaching and a view of students as paying customers rather than part of an academic community.

Browne brings us the apotheosis of this disastrous policy – a system where teaching will be 90% funded by the students, an almost total privatisation of higher teaching and learning.

The proponents – across all main parties – of this extremist doctrine are under the delusion that they are following the American model. They are not. Here are just a couple of little acknowledged but extremely important facts:

– The federal government in the USA already spends more per university student – 13% more – than the UK does.

– Seven of the top ten universities in the USA are state universities.

There is nowhere in the Western world a viable model for the almost complete withdrawal of state funding from University teaching as now proposed in England. This is a potentially disastrous gamble with the future of our country.

I am especially concerned for social mobility. Introduction of differential tuition fees will lead quite simply to rich men’s universities and poor men’s universities, with ordinary people simply priced out of prestige courses at top universities. This is socailly regressive reform of the worst possible kind. Those who claim that borrowing £70,000 is the same prospect to a family on £30,000 a year as to a family on £200,000 a year are talking self-serving cant – and tend to be in £200,000 a year families.

The Treasury fights tax hypothecation tooth and nail. You cannot have a separate tax for Trident missiles. Why, uniquely in the area of higher education, is tax hypothecation an acceptable option?

We are sagely advised that we cannot keep 40% of the relevant population in higher education from the public purse. Really? Yet we can keep 100% of the relevant population in school. A prisoner costs the state eight times what a student costs, but we can have unlimited numbers of those. We can afford any sum to invade and occupy countries across the globe. This small island apparently needs to spend hundreds of billions to have a nuclear capacity to destroy half the world. But we can’t afford higher education?

And higher education is an investment that pays well. Browne argues that a degree greatly increases earnings power, so the student should pay. If he were not so blinded by free market rigidity, he would realise that he has defeated his own argument. Degrees greatly increase economic productivity. Higher education is a vital component of a modern economy. That is why the state should make it a public good.

But the benefits are much higher than the dismal science. Knowledge is in itself a good, a great thing. Dispelling ignorance massively enhances the quality of life. A highly educated society is one worth living in, and one where old social distinctions are irrelevant. How have we come to forget all this?

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Brian Cox Elected Dundee Rector

My congratulations and best wishes to Brian Cox, who has been elected to succeed me as Rector of the University of Dundee. Apologies it will take a little time to get the banner above changed (I am still not up to much of the technical stuff).

All is fine: I haven’t been bloging much recently because I have been snowed under due to the radio dramatisation of Murder in Samarkand, to be broadcast a week today.

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Farewell to Dundee

I came back from Africa and have been in Dundee for some University meetings and goodbyes. To get a feel for this look at Andrew Smith’s posting on my Facebook newsfeed at 12.57 yesterday and the subsequent comments!

Then last night we had a dinner for Scottish University Rectors at Edinburgh University before a meeting today with the Scottish Parliament’s All Party Group on Higher Education. Then 6.30pm tonight still at Holyrood I am addressing the Scottish Independence Convention. Back to London tomorrow.

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Standing Down as Dundee Rector

My three year term as Rector if the University of Dundee comes to an end shortly. I have decided not to seek re-election. I was touched by the very kind observations on Subrosa’s blog including the comments.

http://subrosa-blonde.blogspot.com/2010/01/craig-murray-to-stand-down.html

I am not standing for re-election becuase I have come to the conclusion that it is essential that the Rector lives in Scotland to do the job properly.

When I was elected I did hope to move to Scotland. However Nadira has made it very clear she does not want to live in Scotland – or indeed anywhere but London. Personally, if I had the chance to live in any town in the entire world, plus the seventh circle of Hell and an oxygenless planet off Alpha Centauri, London still might be bottom of my list. But that’s family life for you.

I missed the December university court meeting because weather related London Transport problems meant I missed my flight from London City airport. I am flying back from Africa to make it to a university nominations committee on Tuesday (I’ll come to why shortly). Despite being non-resident, I have had a much better attendance record than any recent Rector. I attended over 70% of Court meetings to argue for the students – and that’s 70% more than Lorraine Kelly, my immediate predecessor.

We also have established the Rectors’ Group. All five Scottish University Rectors meet on a regular basis to agree joint positions – for example against student tuition fees – and to lobby for those postitions. We are meeting again on Wednesday, and then as a group meeting the Scottish Parliament Education Committee and the Scottish Education Minister Fiona Hislop on Thursday. A major theme will be that the public spending deficit should not be used to heap the costs of education further upon students.

The Scottish Rectors’ Group has been possible because we have achieved a situation where all five universities have Rectors who are really committed to doing the job. It is perhaps not a coincidence that, for the first time in history, all five were R|ectros of their own Alma Mater.

What I was not able to do was to spend as much time as I would like at the University, meeting individual students and dealing with their problems. I would not recommend anyone to become Rector unless they are able to devote twenty working days a year to the job.

Subrosa is quite right that the University authorities will be delighted to be rid of me. Lorraine Kelly was their ideal Rector. She never went to committee meetings, and allowed the University authorities to nominate her Assessor, who can represent the Rector. I nominated my old student friend Mike Arnott, described to me by a shocked University official as “A communist from the trades unions”. Pretty accurate, exactly. And just what they need.

Universities to New Labour were in one sense just another quango into which they could place supporters. The Chairman of Dundee University Court is John Milligan, close to Gordon Brown and biggest single donor to Scottish New Labour and its tax dodge, the “Charitable” Smith Institute. The Court is packed with businessmen, whose idea of the value of education is measured in pounds and pence. Teaching is viewed as vastly less important than income-bringing research.

What the University does not feel like at all is a self-governing University community exisitng primarily for the benefit of its students. I did my best to apply that view to all issues, and to remind others at least that this view still exists. Looking back, I remain proud of my Rectorial Address. The University refused to follow tradition and print it and put it in the University library, let alone give it to the media.

http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2007/10/freedom_of_spee.html

The University administration had put their press and public affairs office fully behind their candidate, former British Lions captain Andy Nicol, whom I beat in the election. Andy is a nice man, but he was precisely what the University would want – a local celebrity they could use for PR, but with no particular views on higher education and most unlikely to turn up to a string of committees.

On the day of the election itself, the Dundee edition of the New Labour touting Daily Record was being given out free around the University and extraordinarily the full front page was devoted to the Dundee Rectorial election, with a huge photo of Andy Nicol and a banner headline “I was born to lead Dundee students”. (Wrong!!)

It had been organised by the University press office, as had the front page endorsement of Andy Nicol by my two immediate predecessors – Lorraine Kelly and Fred Macaulay. The involvement of the University Press Office was completely out of order. I also believe that it was very bad form indeed, and against all tradition in all the Rectorial universities, for past Rectors to endorse a candidate and thus oppose others.

The University were plainly stunned and very unhappy when I won. They couldn’t understand how I had defeated their much more famous candidate. It is also worth noting that my immediate predecessor Lorraine Kelly made no attempt to contact me or offer advice – perhaps unsurprising as she knew fuck all anyway. The predecessors who did give me some advice were Stephen Fry and Gordon Wilson.

Which brings me back to why I am making a point of attending Nominations Committee on Tuesday. The committe is deciding on the appointment of two more members of University Court, and that learned body has already opined that “Finance and Pensions Experience” should be key qualifications, as a preliminary attempt to exclude from University governance anyone interesting.

My last act as Rector will be to attend the Scottish parliament to argue for continued investment in higher education and against tutition fees. But my penultimate action will be to create as big an unpleasant row as I can about the packing of Court with yet more balance sheet dullards. All entirely appropriate.

The election for my successor is now on. I am going to return to what I consider proper behaviour and not tell students for whom to vote. But I do recommend criteria to them.

Judge the candidates’ on their views on the funding of higher education and on tuition fees in particular. But also judge candidates on their views on the position of students within the university, how the university should be governed, and further on the purpose and value of higher education in society.

Then – and without this the rest is pretty worthless – judge whether they are both willing and able to actually turn up on a regular basis to argue for these views and values.

To my successor, please continue to fight cuts in the University and especially the pruning of arts and environmental subjects in order to concentrate on “Core” (ie money-making) activity. Be sceptical of all governments, and conscious that the value of education is much more than merely economic. Remember that the University has become essential to the remaining economy of a fine but shrinking old city, and that brings its responsibilities too.

I wish all the best to all the candidates.

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The Value of Education

I am deeply concerned that English and Welsh universities are now taken out of an education ministry and made part of Mandelson’s business and commerce ministry.

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=406877&c=2

This is not just an isolated administrative ploy. It reflects an entire attitude to higher education, as valuable only in providing vocational skills for students and marketable inventions to industry.

I am Rector of Dundee University. As this is in Scotland, Dundee is not affected by the specific administrative change, but the same thinking is evident there. In applying for “New Horizons” funding we have to show measurable benefit to the economy.

The wealthiest countries in the World have great universities. It is a complex interaction – the wealth doesn’t just create universities, and universities don’t just create wealth. But economic progress is in part a by-product of learning. Which is not to say that many contributors to economic progress have not been unschooled.

To make conscious commercial linkage a requirement permeating all university life is simply philistine. It is not just that we should cherish our philosophers and expounders of literature – although cherish them we should. It is also that research driven by pure desire to acquire knowledge and understand the world, often produces the most radical results which indeed prove to have economic effects.

The following are extracts from my Rectorial installation address:

A university must be a place of stimulating intellectual debate across not only the myriad topics of academia, but on the issues of the day affecting society as a whole. The best minds must clash and spark, and students must be fully and intellectually engaged. A university must constitute a vast whirring machinery of the mind, reacting to and operating on the wider society of which it forms an integral part. It must be a place of the liveliest and best informed debate, where no subject is out of bounds, or over-respected, or immune from the heat of debate. A university must be a democratic discussion. If it is not that, it is not a university.

We must be unapologetic that a University is about much, much more than training to get a job. The over-emphasis of vocational training bedevils higher education. Of course your career is important; but you have the entire rest of your life to be a slave to it. You don’t have to start now. The student who concentrates purely on his future career leaves here equipped for only a small part of life. I learnt vastly more in discussions with people of other academic, social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds in bars and kitchens, and from private reading, than I ever did in the lecture theatre. In my formal university learning I acquired skills of logic, analysis, ordering and debate. A University Education must teach you to think, not just to stack widgets. And that is true across every one of our disciplines ?” as relevant to nurses and dentists as to lawyers.

I went on to quote at length Professor Lindsay Paterson of the Univeristy of Edinburgh:

The first premise is to insist on the emancipatory potential of intellectual, serious, theoretical and difficult learning. If secondary schools and universities are not about that, then they are barely worth having. “Relevance” is something we learn with experience, and experience can only be experienced, not taught; we cannot judge relevance unless we have already grasped the principles of a system of understanding. In particular, therefore, vocational courses are not what initial education should be about. They are about training for specific jobs. Where they are not best done on the job itself, learning from the accumulated wisdom of more experienced colleagues (whatever the line of work), they presuppose a body of theoretical knowledge and understanding that ought to be engaged with first. Practice without theory is blind.

… Second, since the building of an efficient economic system ought never to be an end in itself, but only the means to such goals as building a fair, democratic and culturally enriching society, an equally important premise has to be that programmes of general liberal education are better at preparing people for life as decent citizens than any other kind of learning. That was something which the old radicals understood well. You could make citizens for the new era of mass democracy by equipping them with the cultural capacities which the aristocratic or bourgeois ruling class had acquired through their education. Citizenship was not something to be segregated into discrete programmes, but should permeate many types of study ?” literature, history, geography, politics, science, religion.

And I then added this on the situation in my own univeristy:

I am entirely with Professor Paterson, but it is fair to say that almost all the contributions I have heard from others within the governing bodies of the University have been tending to the opposite, with an increasingly narrow vocational focus. The need for students to get a job on leaving has always been there. The lack of grants and the tuition fees paid by some of our students add to the pressures. But my generation graduated into a labour market with three and a half million unemployed and few opportunities. But the idea that our university experience should be solely about finding a job would rightly have been laughed out of court. People are marvellous things, so much more than simply machines for economic production. Indeed, I would say that is the aspect of them that has the least to do with a university.

Placing the universities in England and Wales under Mandelson devalues learning and is symptomatic of a mechanistic approach to the interaction between education and the economy, where the relationship is in truth organic. For New Labour to treat the universities as just an adjunct of commerce does not surprise me, because never have we had a less intellectually distinguished government.

This must be overturned.

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Warning: This Post Contains Sexism

The ridiculous panic that the media is trying to induce over flu, reminded me of this passage from Murder in Samarkand, p 217:

“We became the chief contact point for the EBRD permanent staff in London. of whom some scores of Brits were coming out for the Conference. This was also the height of the panic over the SARS epidemic.

…One female member of EBRD staff emailed me from London:

“Should I wear a face mask in the conference hall?”

“I don’t know,” I typed back, “How ugly are you?”. “

On Saturday I was invited to address Stop The War’s annual conference. This has shrunk down to what I might call a hard left core, with the other groups that used to be a prominent part of the coalition almost completely evaporated. The most obvious sign of this was the near complete absence of Muslims. But the christians, pacifists, environmentalists and others had mostly gone too. It is probably true that the Hard Left are the ones I am least at home with.

My speech centred on the recent fake bomb scare in the North West, and the relief it had temporarily provided the government from terrible headlines over the death of Ian Tomlinson and over Jacqui Smith’s expense claims. I threw in the following line because a speech needs jokes, and because I like to tease the left sometimes:

“You know, I make no claim to being politically correct. So I can say that, if I were married to Jacqui Smith, I would probably use a lot of porn too.”

Most of the hall laughed, but the feminists got most upset and started to interject. Points of order followed. When I had finished, a speaker from the floor said that my speech was such an important denunciation of the attack on civil liberties in the UK, that it should be copied to DVD and given out on tube stations. Then someone stood up and demanded that I withdraw my comments on Jacqui Smith.

I stayed and listened to an interesting talk on Iraq by Sami Ramidani, but when I left I was harangued on the stairs by a young woman who made Jacqui Smith look positively alluring. She told me I was a sexist disgrace. She seemed very proud of being the Chair of Glasgow Stop the War. I expect it too has a rapidly declining membership.

Anyway, the Stop the War Coalition has now put up videos of its conference keynote speakers on its website, but not including me. I shall take it I am not wanted in future.

Issues of gender equality arose at the Dundee University Court meeting on Monday. The University is in discussion to open a satellite campus in a Gulf state. It is potentially both interesting and a major source of revenue. However it seems that lectures would have to be segregated. There were two views on University Court. Some felt that we should respect local culture, and that the important thing was that women had education of equal quality. Others felt that segregation was so far removed from our values as a university that it was not something with which we should associate.

I feel strongly we shouldn’t do it. The issues are interesting, and cut across feminism. I expect that a few of the feminists who harangued at me at Stop the War would be quite happy with women being kept away from men. My thinking is not particularly feminist. I think mingling with all types of people is much more important to the university experience than anything a dull old lecturer will tell you. And I also pointed out to Court that, if a woman insisted on her right to attend a “Male” lecture, we could be in the position of enforcing segregation.

I have never been a fan of cultural relativism, so the argument of respecting local values cuts little ice with me. But I realise other will have a different view.

UPDATE

A view on the Stop The War controversy by someone else who was there comes on the Daily Maybe

http://http://jimjay.blogspot.com/2009/04/saturdays-stop-war-coaltiion-conference.html

I have no idea why they treat HOPI so badly. Do they get Iranian money?

On the “sexism” issue more generally, I added this comment in the debate below – I thought it might stir people’s brain cells a bit more:

Actually, I am against all forms of disadvantage on grounds of race, gender etc.

Where I differ is that I view sexuality (as opposed to gender) as simply another attribute and as open to use and to humour as any other.

As a teen I shovelled coal on a coalyard at weekends. In the course of the day men might easily lift and carry fifty tons of coal on their back, in hundredweight lots. I do not view that as any less exploitation of their bodies than the work a prostitute does. And I don’t view clerical drudgery as essentially different.

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Clement Freud

My predecessor as Rector of the University of Dundee, Sir Clement Freud MP, has died. I very much doubt many of today’s students had ever heard of him. For the last two decades he had disappeared from public view, and it is difficult to recall just how very famous he was back in the 1970s.

He had the intelligence to see that a great salon and dinner party wit could be turned to wider use, and he pioneered the roles of media personality and celebrity chef, as well as being long associated with Private Eye and with all of those Radio 4 comedy programmes. His hangdog looks and completely deadpan delivery contrasted with a wit that was razor sharp.

But he was also deadly serious about his Liberal politics, which had a strong radical and libertarian streak that found a home in Cromwell’s old hometown of Ely, at a time when towns still felt a link to their history that was based in a continuation of traditions of thought and of local institutions.

He led the campaign against the compulsory wearing of seat belts, arguing that there were now so many intrusions on our liberty in this life, that at least we might be left to choose how we leave it. I recall at the Saffron Walden by-election of 1977, where we were both campaigning for the Liberals, he made a speech on the subject that was among the funniest I have ever heard. He improvised a sketch between a policeman and a motorist stopped for not wearing a seatbelt. Freud made fun out of the many exceptions in the legislation, including the one that said you did not have to wear it while stationary. He queried how a policeman could ever really prove you were not wearing it while moving, and feared accidents as officers craned their necks at speed to look into other vehicles.

I didn’t actually agree with him, but it was a comic tour de force. I wish he had still been more active to take on New Labour’s comprehensive dismissal of the very notion of individual liberty.

A few weeks after Saffron Walden, I was at Dundee University as a student listening to his Rectorial address as he was installed for his second term. He urged students to think radically. He told the tale of an engineering student who was set an exam question asking how he would measure the height of a tall building using a barometer. He gave this as the student’s reply. Where I put some dots, Freud was able just to rattle off the appropriate formulae without using notes, and sounding like he actually understood them:

“I could use four different methods. First, I could measure the air pressure at the bottom of the building, then go up to the roof and measure the air pressure at the top of the building, and using the formula…… I could calculate the height of the building.

Second, I could drop the barometer from the roof, time how long it took to rach the ground, and using the formula ….. I could calculate the height of the building.

Third, I could measure the height of the barometer, go up to the roof, lower it on a piece of string, measure the length of string needed for it to touch the ground, add the height of the barometer, and I could calculate the height of the building.

But I think I would use the fourth method. I would enter the building and find the janitor. Then I would say to the janitor “If you tell me the height of this building, I will give you this barometer.”

I was more than once the beneficiary of Freud’s largesse as he took groups of apparently random students out for boozy meals. Fot the student charities’ campaign he produced The Rector’s Cookbook, a collection of recipes that could be cooked in one pan on a single gas ring – in those days a not unusual sole cooking facility for a Dundee student.

He did a promotional piece for STV in a student flat in Springfield, equipped with a fold-away gas ring that swung out from the wall. Halfway through his cooking demonstration the cooking ring collapsed, the pan clashed to the floor, spraying everyone with chilli, and a jet of yellow flame shot across the room, setting fire to the bedclothes. Freud turned to the camera and said, in the slowest and most deadpan voice imaginable as the room blazed around him: “And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the perfect demonstration of the conditions which students have beed reduced to under the Labour government.”

I did not say so at the time, but my own Rectorial address in 2007 was in parts a deliberate hommage to Freud. The speech was imagined in his voice.

http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2007/10/freedom_of_spee.html

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Great News From Dundee

One of the most venial administrations in the UK’s many rotten boroughs was finally kicked out yesterday as New Labour lost power in Dundee City Council for the first time in my political lifetime.

It was Gordon Brown what done it. The day after Gordon’s speech to the Scottish New Labour Conference in Dundee earlier this month, New Labour lost a key by-election there to the SNP. Even then they had to be prised out kicking and screaming. For the last three years the SNP has been the largest party but kept out of power by a New Labour/Lib Dem alliance, with Tory voting support. Which illustrates perfectly the fact that the only actual choice in Scottish politics is between nationalists and unionists.

Manouverings to keep New Labour in power now included the offer of an OBE to John Letford, Lord Provost. I know John Letford, who is a good man from a trade union background. A Labour Party man his entire adult life, he has been so disgusted by the sordid dealings of Scottish New Labour in attempting to cling on to power that he has resigned from the party and offered his voting support to the SNP.

I won’t now go into the detail of the massively corrupt demolition and construction contracts, or the jerry built huge shopping centre and hotel that lasted fifteen years. Let us just be grateful we got them out at last, and make sure they don’t get back.

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A Really Stupid Policy from some Really Stupid People

A report today from Universities UK addresses the very real problem of underfunding in our universities, and suggests tution fees may need to double. In tandem, a BBC survey of Vice Chancellors and Principals in England and Wales finds that over half of them wish tuition fees to be at least £5,000 pa, and suggestions ranged from £4,000 to £20,000.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/7946912.stm

I feel called upon to make an ex cathedra pronouncement as Rector of the University of Dundee.

What a bunch of arseholes!

How did we reach the position where the people in charge of our institutions of higher learning are among the most stupid in the country? Only one third of them have retained half a marble. “Two thirds believed fees had not deterred applications from students from poorer families.”

That is a terrible condemnation of how remote these people are from their students in particular, and reality in general. The macho management culture that beset these isles led to these people becoming vastly overpaid and cosseted.

The Thatcherite New Labour system of a mass market for higher education, in which students pay, has never been tested in this country in a period of recession. It ran as a model only during the artificial boom of the Brown South Sea Bubble. At present it is mostly the very poor who are put off university by the levels of debt it entails. Whether demand will hold up as it becomes increasingly clear that the choice of whether to go to university will be between unemployment now, or unemployment in three or four years saddled with a huge debt, is still unclear. My money is that demand will be affected. To increase fees at the present would be a ridiculous gamble.

There is also, of course, the very real loss of social mobility. The deterrence to potential students from poorer backgrounds will worsen as the debt mountains become higher – and the number of people who have poorer backgrounds is about to rise substantially.

I regard the ending of the social mobility that came from free university education as the biggest single disaster of the Thatcher/Blair era.

The tragedy is that our universities could be fixed with under 1 per cent of the money that has been poured into the insatiable maw of corrupt financiers. Scotland’s universities need only an extra £200 miilion pa to return to financial soundness. For the UK, the figure is about £2 billion.

The failure of this stupid government to realise that universities are in fact more economically essential than the speculative wings of banks, is criminal.

The money must be found. But not from the students. And those leaders of universities who favour screwing the students further should be sacked en masse.

How the hell did they get the job in the first place?

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Castelvecchio Pascoli Rules Scottish Academia

COLETTIS4.jpg

The lady on the right in the less elaborate hat is my grandmother, Valentina Coletti. The gentleman next to her is her brother Leonardo Coletti. They look pretty exotic for Edinburgh, as they were immigrants from Castelvecchio Pascoli in Italy.

I am Rector of Dundee University. At a recent meeting of Rectors I was speaking with Kevin Dunnion, the Rector of neighbouring St Andrews University. We were astonished to discover that his grandparents also came from Castelvecchio Pascoli.

Perhaps it explains our amazement if I tell you that Castelvecchio has a population of 509. For this tiny Tuscan hilltop village to produce Rectors of two of Scotland’s finest universities – at the same time – is pretty mind-boggling.

Castelvecchio is in the municipal district of Barga. There was a mass exodus from Barga to the central belt of Scotland around the start of the twentieth century. A recent study of Scots Italians was entitled Barga No More. I recall some years back an exhibition in Chambers Street Museum which suggested that some 20% of modern Scots are at least a quarter Italian.

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Light Relief

I had a very enjoyable and relaxed weekend. I am very grateful indeed to more than four hundred people who have so far emailed the parliamentary joint human rights committee to ask that the committee accept my direct witness evidence on the UK and US governments’ use of intelligence from torture.

There are still 30 hours before the committee decides whether to hear me. If everyone can email round the appeal and encourage others to write, it would be very helpful.

Meanwhile, my weekend was cheered by small things. Nadira is now entering the eighth month of pregnancy. She still occasionally makes delightful little slips of English in her lovely light accent. Yesterday we had “Hot crutch buns” for breakfast, which made me giggle a lot in a Homer Simpson kind of way.

On Friday night I met some lovely people at a dinner party at my friend Elsie’s. They included the Turner Prize winning artist Grayson Perry. I was surprised to find he was not dressed as Marie Antoinette but was in fact completely down to earth in manner and appearance. It led me to recall that there is an old fashioned craft in his ceramic making which has little apparent relationship to his perfomance art (I presume that’s what his appearances in wedding cake outfits is).

We discussed art education, which has become a great inerest of mine as Dundee University includes the Duncan of Jordanstone Art College. Perry’s view was that you can neither teach creativity, nor can you expect it to reveal itself in great bursts. What you can teach is skill. I was very impressed by him.

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What Is A Student Union?

The recent wave of student occupations over Gaza has spread truly across the whole country, and constitutes a most welcome return of student interest in international issues. I attended University Court in Dundee yeaterday, and without any opposition the University divested from BAE Systems as the start of an ethical investment policy. This was a student-led initiative.

But I also walked into a furore which for me carried strong echoes of my own student days. An extraordinary general meeting of Dundee University Students Association had passed motions on BAE and on Palestine, but the student executive were refusing to implement the motion on Palestine. They had obtained a legal opinion that, as a registered charity, the Students Association could not take political stances.

This question of whether students unions could take an interest in the outside world – known as the ultra vires debate – recurred frequently when I was a student. The legal principles remain unchanged, although the precise legislation has altered. The generally accepted view was that the students association was quite entitled to express strongly held views on behalf of its members, but it would be wrong for it to spend any of its charitable funds for extraneous purposes.

That seems to me still a sensible position now. The bogey that the Students Union may lose its charitable status over a pro-Palestinian declaration is a nonsense. For one thing DUSA already has existing and longstanding pro-Palestinian policy that still applies. Student bodies have been making declarations on the state of the World for over a hundred years at least, and no students union has ever lost charitable status because of it.

The threat is a fiction, and the suspicion must be that pro-Israeli supporters – not one of whom turned up to oppose the motion democratically – have resorted to legal subterfuge.

Much more dangerous is the idea that the executive can ignore the will of the students expressed by a general meeting. The notion that students are not trustworthy in democratic process, and that the executive know better when guided by professionals, is something that actually is inimical to the whole idea of a students union.

The sad thing is that the Executive are under great pressure from “the Establishment” and are being told that they would act illegally if they acted on the resolution passed. It is very hard for them not to bow to the general move to dumb down and restrict student activity. It takes courage to rebel – but that is why we have youth. If not now, when?

As it happens, for the first time in many years DUSA has an executive who are genuinely active, altruistic and concerned, and doing a pretty good job. Then they found themselve faced with this situation, which puts them under pressure.

The Executive must act on the letter of what the General Meeting passed, until and unless they get it overturned by another general meeting or referendum (and interestingly it appears that what the general meeting passed may include seeking advice from the Scottish charities commissioners). That they have to obey the general meeting really should go without saying, but DUSA has become so unused to student activity and democracy that it is disturbingly not being taken as axiomatic.

The charities commission in Scotland is, of course, a New Labour body, as witnessed by its scandalous indulgence of the Smith Insitute.

http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2008/07/the_smith_insti.html

The idea that it tolerates the fake charity that is part and parcel of Scottish New Labour, but would remove charitable status from DUSA over a few words on the massacre of Palestinians, is appalling.

I do hope our students find their backbone.

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New Labour’s Britain and The Silencing of Dissent

We all need to take a step back and see what kind of society we have become; in particular the Stalinist silencing of voices of dissent – even within our universities.

I have seen my past server host pull this website and my publisher pull my book, in attempts to silence my dissenting opinions. We overcame those, but they should never have happened. Now I have been telephoned by the University of Cambridge to be told that security staff will physically prevent me from entering the University of Cambridge to give a talk there.

What have we become? I have responded thus and am now off to Cambridge.

Dear Dr Elliott,

As I told you on the telephone, I was invited some weeks ago to speak this evening in a debate on the merits of the Afghan War. I learnt this morning that plans had changed due to a student occupation of a university building over University policy towards Gaza, and as the organisers of my debate were involved in the occupation, I was requested to switch my talk to the Law Faculty. I agreed to do so.

I then heard from you that the authorities had decided to exclude non-University members from the law faculty, and should I arrive to give my talk I will not be admitted; and indeed be physically prevented from entering.

I have given this some thought, and I have decided that the threat not to admit me to the University building is unwarranted.

As you may realise, I am Rector of the University of Dundee (and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Lancaster School of Law). I am not personally intending to occupy your building for longer than it takes to give a talk, and certainly intend to cause no damage. I am not a health and safety risk.

I am invited to lecture at Universities and other prestigious institutions worldwide; normally universities are urging me to come, not seeking to turn me away! I understand that a number of people are looking forward to hearing me this evening. To threaten to exclude me is a denial of freedom of speech which I find very peculiar behaviour for the University of Cambridge.

Student occupations are hardly a new phenomenon, and normally can easily be resolved through amicable negotiation. I was quite astonished to learn that Cambridge University had responded by attempting to starve the students out. To try also to ban a guest speaker seems to me likely to inflame and prolong, rather than resolve, the dispute.

It seems to me that the easiest way out of the current difficulty of my visit is for you to extend to me an invitation to speak this evening on behalf of the Faculty.

With all best wishes,

Craig Murray

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A Day in the Life

Haven’t blogged much in the last week, so I thought I would take you through my day yesterday to show the kind of stuff I’m doing. It was a slightly busier day than usual, but really not much.

04.16 Helped Nadira start her day’s Ramadan observances

04.45 Got up and dressed properly

05.15 Left home in Shepherds Bush

07.00 Flew London City Airport to Edinburgh

09.30 Meeting of Scottish University Rectors at University of Edinburgh to discuss reaction to Scottish future funding paper. Key points we make:

– Overall funding for Scottish University sector inadequate compared to rest of Northern Europe

– Lack of opportunity for student input in the “Consultation” process

– No discussion of the key question of student support. Average debt for students leaving Scottish Universities now £13,500 even though most don’t have to pay tuition fees. Students whose parents can’t afford to support them tend to have higher levels of debt. With recession looming and job prospects looking bleaker, real danger of poorer people deciding not to go to University.

– “Additional” funding linked almost exclusively to research; danger that good teaching is neglected and under-rewarded.

We also agree –

We are against the government’s daft proposals to raise the age for purchasing alcohol from off licenses to 21

We will campaign for the democratic Scottish tradition of elected rectors as Chairman of University Court to be introduced in every Scottish University

10.30 Joint Press conference of the Rectors – first in five hundred years. This goes well. Times Higher Ed were there and others who hopefully will run features. The only paper that reported it as news was the Scotsman. They have slanted it as an attack on the SNP, but then they slant everything as an attack on the SNP.

http://news.scotsman.com/latestnews/Universities-funding-war-flares-again.4461953.jp

The only reference to anything I said was a joke in the diary

http://news.scotsman.com/politics/The-diary.4461884.jp

11.30 Post press conference meeting to discuss future strategy for Rector’s group

12.00 Walk to National Library of Scotland. Order up manuscripts relating to Alexander Burnes (whose biography I am writing)

12.50 Leave library. Phone calls from immigration lawyers and the Guardian about a defector from the Uzbek security services, Ikram Yakubov, who I am helping. Ikram has brought valuable information from a security analysis centre close to President Karimov. Much more on this to come, but here is some of his evidence:

– On a visit to an Uzbek security service detention centre he saw a CIA officer named Andrew actually present as alleged members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan were tortured

– Richard Conroy, British head of the UN in Uzbekistan, was assassinated on the orders of President Karimov when the passenger plane on which he was flying blew up near Tashkent airport

– The Tashkent bombs of 2004 were an operation by the Uzbek security services to discredit the opposition

– Karimov personally ordered the Andijan massacre. Lists of those killed were carefully compiled and amout to over 1500

– SOAS lecturer Shirin Akiner does work for the Uzbek government

Obviously I have great concern for Ikram’s safety. Normally such a defector should be of great interest to MI6, but of course this is all stuff the British government denies.

13.10 Quick lunch with senior friends from the Scottish Lib Dems and SNP, to quietly forward agreement on the replacement of Council Tax by a local income tax.

14.00 Back in National Library for delivery of manuscripts. Include two fascinating letters home to Montrose from London from the 15 year old Alexander preparing to sail to India as a Cadet. I have to make copies by hand in pencil.

Some extracts from Alex to his father, April 1st 1821

“Would that my birthday were come for from that day I hope never to be a burden to anyone. Fortunately my birthday happens on Wednesady which is account day so I will be entitled to pay the very day I am sixteen…

I am astonished by your silence for except for a few lines from (illegible) and a letter from you returning the certificates I have not received a scrap from father, mother or brother.

Mr Hume [Joseph Hume] has given me a state of James’ expenditure in London which I now transmit you as also the gross anount of our equipment.

Jame’s amounts to £84 & mine to £101 odd, but the reason of the disparity is my getting all my accoutrements such as sword, cap & so in London, which James has not. This is really a great sum…”

NLS Mss 3813 ff 114-5

A PS to his mother is poignant:

PS I hope you make them feed the hawk & crow & also take care of the tulips & other flowers I had.

NB William Ross had my Greek dictionary which you can get from him when he’s done with it but not till then for you know well the circumstances of his father.

NLS MSS 3813 ff 112-3

His mother was to see Alex only once more, briefly, ten years later, when he was one of the most famous men in the country, and then never again before his death in a futile invasion of Afghanistan which he had put his career on the line to try to stop.

17.30 Leave the Library for the airport. On the bus I make calls to organise some Freshers week student meetings (anti-war and Amnesty) in Scotland.

20.30 Arrive London City. DLR malfunctioning.

21.45 Go to Madame Jojos for evening at burlesque show. Some discussions of African development projects, but mostly just relax in a group that includes some breathtakingly beautiful women – including of course Nadira. Drink a large amount of Veuve Cliquot.

02.00 Home to bed.

The rather scarey thing about this day is that not one of the things mentioned earns me a penny. I also did not get round to the very urgent task of last minute changes to The Catholic Orangemen of Togo, changes wanted by my publishers to appease the FCO and Schillings (Tim Spicer’s lawyers). Hard to settle to this because I really don’t want to do it. But that is the priority for today, together with Ikram.

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The Smith Institute: New Labour’s Corrupt Tax Dodge

The corruption of our institutions under New Labour is evidenced by the fact that the Charities Commission have yet again given only a warning to New Labour’s most blatant tax dodge, the Smith Institute. Everybody active in Scottish politics recognises full well that the Smith Institute – named after ex-Labour leader John Smith – is part and parcel of New Labour. It is run by Brown’s close friends and often meets in Gordon Brown’s home. Its board are all New Labour – the supposedly “Neutral” members are John Milligan, New Labour’s biggest Scottish donor, http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2007/12/john_milligan_a.html, and Jack Straw fan Paul Myners. Under Myners’ watch the Guardian has finally broken with the terms of C P Scott’s trust. which stipulates that it must pursue the causes of liberalism. With its support for the New Labour’s “War on Terror” and its pathetic equivocation on the War in Iraq, the Guardian has been a cheerleader for the biggest move away from Liberalism since 1821. Are there any lawyers out there up for a legal challenge in terms of the Scott Trust acting ultra vires? There can be no argument that support for New Labour is compatible with liberal values.

The Smith Institute would be perfectly fine, were it not for the fact that it has charitable status as an independent research organisation and thus dodges hundreds of thousands of pounds a year in tax. There is a good report here from Bloomberg

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?

pid=20601102&sid=a40bVP9nqITA&refer=uk

But the article fails to hit the real point. This is the most transparent bit of crookery imaginable. Plainly the Charities Commission in Scotland is fully aware that this is part of New Labour. And yet for years the Smith Institute has been given chance after chance after chance to meet the regulations, without ever having its charitable status removed. No other fake charity would be treated so leniently. Is the Charities Commission yet another quango that has been stitched up by New Labour?

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Queen’s Visit to Dundee

The new Education building at Dundee University does seem an excellent facility, and I was pleased to be there today when the Queen opened it. I am a firm republican, but have had the occasion to meet the Queen (I mean individually for conversation, not in a crowded room) a few times, and she is a very pleasant and above all conscientious person. An accident of birth should not make you Head of State, but neither is an accident of birth her fault personally.

I was particularly impressed by Tayside Police. I was very worried that, after recent events, security would be a nightmare, but in fact it was very thorough and very efficient while still being friendly and helpful. It really was well done.

It was, however, simply appalling that the Queen was not introduced to any students. Three student office bearers were placed firmly on the back seat of the thanksgiving service, but that was it. The Queen hobnobbed with the Chancellor and Principal and various other bigwigs, but evidently mere students were not considered important enough to be introduced (and this may be summer, but there are still plenty around). That is certainly different from previous Royal visits here and, while it does not surprise me from the current University administration, represents a severe dereliction by whichever of the Queen’s Private Secretaries agreed the programme.

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