It is with some trepidation that I tip-toe on to the dangerous and emotive territory of university tuition fees.
A week or so ago, I was at a reception attended by Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills (it was the innovation bit that I was interested in). With an election looming, it was perhaps inevitable that someone asked a question regarding the introduction of tuition fees and the prospect of a whole generation of students leaving university with large(r) loans to repay.
Cable was pretty blunt, “we used to have a system where tuition was free, but less than 10% of the population could go to university. We now have a system where nearly 50% of the population can go to university, but they have to pay fees. Which system do you want?”.
Ouch. I immediately looked around the room for a response. There was pretty broad demographic, so I was expecting at least a few fiery responses. What I heard was – nothing. Now I’m not sure if that was because it was so unusual for a politician (disclaimer: I am a fan of Mr Cable’s no-nonsense approach) to give a brutally direct answer to a direct question or if Mr Cable had actually given people food for thought. Who knows – it seems to me that we are so used to evasive answers from politicians that we’re perhaps taken aback when you actually get an answer. But one thing’s for sure – it was the topic of most of the conversations for the rest of the evening.
This may seem a little strange, but I love maths. I’m not alone in loving maths, but we maths-lovers have to admit that we’re in the minority. So I can’t help but promote this Q&A Hub questions as my questions of the week:
Who are the 30 greatest mathematicians?
My vote? Fermat.
Leadership is a popular topic: much discussed in business school, much missed in politics and not much in evidence in the world around us. All too often we hear media stories of those we previously thought of as capable leaders revealing their monumental feet of clay. There are exceptions: Pope Francis is one who clearly springs to mind – a man with a solid feet of values who’s not afraid to speak his mind and lead his flock in what he sees as the right direction. That clarity of thought and action seems rare, when most politicians seem hell bent on promoting policies derived from focus groups and data mining exercises, rather than high minded principle.
Sport is an arena where we frequently (and perhaps unjustifiably) demand more, but with a Premier League dominated by money, it has fallen to the England Rugby Team to demonstrate what it really means to be a leader. Two names: Lancaster and Robshaw. If you want to know what it means to be a leader, then just watch them. Robshaw says little but always makes more tackles than anyone else on the rugby pitch: a prefect case of leadership by example. Lancaster is a man who sticks to his word, promotes those that perform and radiates a love of what he does.
Has anyone got a bank that these guys can run?
Every so often, we get a question posted on the Tutorhub Q&A that kicks off a whole debate amongst the tutors on what the correct answer should be. A good example: what is the probability the sun will rise tomorrow? A simple enough question and the initial reaction reflects a simple answer: the probability is 1. But then you can see people starting to think about it: the sun doesn’t actually rise, it’s just the language we use to describe the phenomenon as we see it, there is a small chance that it could blow up and it wouldn’t appear (although the explosion would take us with it, I presume). But what’s great about this is that the student has started a conversation that goes beyond a simple answer to a simple question; you can’t help but feel that this is where the thinking really starts.