Sunday 28 October 2007

Mini rant for October


I had occasion to be on the Forbes business website today- someone had told me that the Quinn School of Business of UCD is one of the best in the world, and I wanted to check this out. Insofar as I can tell from the various rankings out there, it must certainly isn't- although Smurfit came in at 20th in Europe in the Financial Times list for 2006.

"Ahhhh... the smell of ambition", was the remark of an engineer friend of mine on his first visit to the Quinn School building down in Belfield. It's always been hard for me to accept that some people choose to do their degrees based on the salary they can expect in a few years time. Rather like joining Ogra Fianna Fail, it's a pretty naked admission that one is primarily motivated by power and money. So the "Thought of the Day" on the Forbes website was a welcome confirmation of my prejudices. A quote from no less a man than Napoleon Bonaparte: "The surest way to remain poor is to be an honest man."

I won't call it a totally rational opinion, and I'm sure some business students do in fact have souls, but I'm confident in my own mind that the road to hell is paved with MBAs.

Friday 26 October 2007

I like this

From The Phoenix. Excuse the breach of copyright.

Picture the recent scene. One of the security guards employed within the last to monitor all access into the Four Courts stands in the path of a bewigged gentleman, barring his way to the Law Library as the flustered legal eagle burrows fruitlessly in his gown, jacket and pin-striped trousers in a quest for his identity card- without which entry in strictly verboten.

The security guards are composed mainly of non-nationals who themselves have had to negotiate strict bureaucratic obstacles to their progress in Irish life- most of them created by an unforgiving ex-minister for justice and Attorney General, Michael McDowell. They know that in this, their new country, rules are made to be obeyed.

As another eminent legal eagle hoves into to, he recognises the gentleman who had lost his identity and so he rushes to his assistance, explaining to the non-national security guard that the person in front of him is none other then Michael McDowell, ex justice minister, former AG and current advocate in the Four Courts.

"I can vouch for him; I know who he is", the barrister eagerly offers. The security guard leans sideways to the helpful barrister and in quiet, reasonably good English, says, "I also know who he is."

Saturday 20 October 2007

World Cup Final

Well, I've been predicting England's demise since before the Tonga game, but surely they must bow out this time. South Africa have played far more expansive and more entertaining rugby throughout the competition, and deserve to be champions. I've played on some bad rugby teams in my time. I know the genre well. England are a bad, ugly rugby team, and brave though they have been, they'll get what's coming to them this evening.

There are a few individuals I sympathise with: Brian Ashton, who seems like a very genuine bloke; Jason Robinson, whose performance against South Africa was worthy of 300 (had the other 299 Spartans been rubbish), and Mike Catt, the Grand Old Man of international rugby. And of course, hoping that England lose because they play negative rugby has me in agreement with Neil Francis, who even as I write is smirking his way through another tour de force in smug punditry, self-satisfaction roiling out of him like the noisome fumes from a gutter-bound drunk. It is, naturally, impossible to stop watching Setanta as a result.

Sunday 14 October 2007

Knock knock

Who's there?

Not Madeline McCann.

There must be dozens of these jokes by now. It doesn't make you feel very good to know them all, let alone to find most of them funny.

Monday 8 October 2007

Teaching private schools a lesson

Mary Hanafin has announced that new fee-paying schools will get no assistance from the government. The Indo seems to have an exclusive with this one; the Minister was reportedly answering a query from Ruairi Quinn, as if to remind Labour that Fianna Fail can be as lefty as anyone, thank you very much indeed. Existing fee-paying schools- of which there are 56 in the State- are to be left alone, but new ones will not receive funding henceforth.

This is an intelligent move by the Minister. Freezing public funding for rich kids is hard to object to openly, and by guaranteeing existing schools any middle-class outcry is stifled. Incidentally, this is also a sign that the new coalition mix is producing some policy changes. The weakened PDs are in no position to block an attack on parental choice in education- which they surely would have in days gone by- and the Greens presumably sympathise with Hanafin.

Whether private schools have a place in Irish education at all is a question that has never aroused the passions that continue to attend the grammar school issue across the water. Anthony Crossland's famous pledge to "destroy every fucking grammar school in England" is a reflection of ideological strife that, for better or for worse, never really got in the way of civil war politics over here. Besides, in Ireland the issue is complicated by the fact, noted by the Indo, that Protestant schools continue to get a hefty dollop of funding in recognition of their minority status. Hanafin will not want to involve these establishments in a tug-of-war between pluralism and social justice- so quite apart from middle-class ire, this consideration should keep existing arrangements in place in the long run.

The English debate may prove instructive in one area, however. There is concern that private (a.k.a. "public") schools there are not doing enough to justify their lucrative charitable status. The link is to an old article, but there have been more recent rumblings that I've been unable to find online. In any case, perhaps private schools here should be asked to do more, in terms of social outreach and serving the community, to justify their funding. In addition, more could be done to address the gripes that these schools avoid taking their share of special needs pupils. Unfavourable coverage of the gap in standards between State and private schools may already be forcing some boards to take stock. Gonzaga College, one of the most sought-after in the country, has already changed its admission policy so that "inability to pay should no longer be an obstacle" to gaining a place there.

But don't look for a full-scale, Crossland-style attack on those lucky 56 any time soon. At the end of the day, a reduction in or end to funding just means that fees rise, putting them out of reach of ever more people. Minister Hanafin evidently believes it better that some get an elite education rather than only a few- or, indeed, all.