The Society for Research into Higher Education

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Reputation in Ashes


Rob Cuthbert – Editor, SRHE News

This editorial is in affectionate memory of policy
making for English higher education, whose
demise is deeply lamented.

The signs of decline had been evident in the recent series of policy decisions, especially the ‘Not-the-Higher-Education-Bill’ series in 2011-2013. England had claimed a dubious victory in the infamous ‘White Paper Test’ by simply telling everyone how marvellous the result would be, without actually playing the game. In the legislative series after the White Paper Test, matches were repeatedly scheduled then cancelled with nothing more to show than the odd shred of policy, until England captain Alastair Willetts finally announced that the series had been won and it would not be necessary for his team to take to the legislative wicket at all. Nevertheless he was repeatedly caught in slips without scoring…

Willetts’ strategy was to bring in alternative players to increase the competition for places. However the rapid promotion of untried newcomers went wrong as they proved to be far too expensive when brought on. 23 new players had to be told to stop playing because they were operating at too low a level and giving away too many runs: to save the money lost on them the management decided to cut back on their support for new players from outside the public schools.

The policymaking team’s precipitous loss of form led to calls for a reshuffle, and the team lost some key players – the long-serving Hayes trotted away, and leading spinner Hillman swanned off. Willetts had been criticised for poor on-field tactics and tipped to lose the captaincy over the summer, but defied his critics by not only holding on but also persuading team coach and chief strategist Andy Osborne to increase the number of places available in the Autumn Test. Initial surprise gave way to scepticism about who would be paying for the increase, and the team’s critics said the numbers didn’t add up. The plan seemed to assume that the openers could bat again after they’d already been out in 2014-2015, but this was ‘nonsense’, as the Institute for Batting Studies and the team’s own Office for Cricket Responsibility pointed out. After an embarrassed silence the management sent out junior squad members to deny that they’d made any mistakes, only for Osborne to admit the next day that they had, while trying to claim it was normal practice. Then Willetts, quizzed by the  Parliamentary Selection Committee, claimed there had been no ‘schoolboy howlers’, everything was in order, and he would be glad to explain it to the Committee – later. He was also asked about the controversial selection of RAB as the key competitive weapon; he had expected RAB to average about 30, but most experts had predicted the uncompetitive 40 plus which Willetts now admitted was most likely.

The overall performance was described by some as a ‘whitewash’, but not with a final score of five nil, because everyone thought Willetts would be lucky to get nil. His early performances in the think-tank league had earned Willetts the admiring soubriquet ‘Two Bats’, but as his form declined he rapidly became known simply as Bats. Policymaking for English HE will be sadly missed, but if there is a cremation the ashes will probably not be taken to Australia, where it is widely believed that HE policymaking died some time earlier.

Author: SRHE News Blog

An international learned society, concerned with supporting research and researchers into Higher Education

2 thoughts on “Reputation in Ashes

  1. Depressing on two fronts: what’s happening to (higher) education and the debacle of the cricket (well done the women, though). While the cricket can easily rise from the Ashes, the devastation wreaked on education will take a lot longer to repair — if ever.

  2. A delicious read and we must all hope they have some cricket buffs at BIS who will appreciate the metaphor in all its aptness.

    As well as editing the invaluable SRHE News, Rob Cuthbert is the Chair of our Board at the Improving Dispute Resolution Advisory Service ( Glad he has time to watch some cricket too .

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