University demand a thorny issue

IPSWICH needs a university – everyone in the town seems to agree that would help lift the town to a new level.It would bring in more money, especially if research companies followed a uni into town.

IPSWICH needs a university – everyone in the town seems to agree that would help lift the town to a new level.

It would bring in more money, especially if research companies followed a uni into town.

It would transform the entertainment life of the town – a large student population would ensure many more bands came to the Regent and Corn Exchange.

And it would help attract new blood into the area – students often tend to settle in the area in which they studied.

It seems that many people in and around the town are becoming more and more confident this will happen as the government seeks to attract more people into higher education.

From the point of view of Ipswich, and Suffolk as a whole, I really hope they're right.

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But on another level I'm far from convinced – is trying to increase the numbers of people at university such a good idea?

Universities were always designed to be centres of excellence, teaching the most academically able people.

But is there really any point in having three-year university courses for everyone if there aren't enough appropriate jobs for them at the end?

Don't we just end up with over-qualified pen-pushers and find there's nobody trained to unblock your drain or cut your hair?

Until the early 1980s there clearly weren't enough places at universities – and it was right that polytechnics should be rebranded as universities.

And over the last 20 years the reputation of the "new" universities set up in the 1960s has improved immeasureably – the university I went to 26 years ago which had a reputation for "layabout leftie" students is now recognised as one of the finest in the country.

When people ask which I went to, I now tell them with pride and hope they don't realise it was easier to get into in 1977!

But I digress.

The university sector has now expanded and is probably as large as it needs to be.

Rather than persuading us that university is the goal all youngsters should aim for, wouldn't it be better to invest more in practical training so there are more plumbers, electricians, carpet fitters, carpenters, and builders coming through?

And if there wasn't this headlong rush for more universities, it would destroy the government's argument that top-up fees are necessary to fund this expansion.

So if there's no great expansion in new universities, where does that leave Ipswich?

Of course if the government is talking about opening new universities civic and business leaders from the town have to be in there fighting its corner.

If, however, we end up in a period of consolidation, the best we can hope for is scraps from the table of other universities – and perhaps that's the best we can realistically hope for.

LEAST surprising news of the week was that Paul West was reselected to fight Ipswich for the Tories at the next general election.

He knows the town, and he did reasonably well in the by-election two years ago.

But the invite I got to his unveiling brought a smile to my face.

"Great news!" it started, explaining that the selection process was nearing its conclusion.

A press conference was arranged with "all the major media organisations in the Eastern Region covering the Ipswich area."

I understand only one journalist was actually able to turn up in person.

Welcome back to the tough world of getting your message across to the world, Paul!

HEARD of spam? Not the processed meat but unwanted e-mails.

Alongside invitations to visit dodgy websites from teenagers who apparently want me to look at their webcams, I've started getting e-mails from a new spammer – Tony Blair!

It's all part of the government's Big Conversation campaign – and it proves that Private Eye's St Albion's Parish news is coming true.

Take this: "Six and half years in, Governments come to a fork in the road.  One signpost says 'settle back'.  The other says 'advance'. 

"We can be very proud of what we have done in these past years.  This is a great country but it could be much better. 

"We owe it, I owe it to people, to tell them honestly what are the choices we need to make now, to get us there; and to listen to what people say back."

Is this a genuine comment from the prime minister, or a parody from a satirical magazine? What do you think? 

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