Higher Education Minister Does Monty Python: Stop That, It’s Silly!

“Now, I’ve noticed a tendency for this programme to get rather silly. Now I do my best to keep things moving along, but I’m not having things getting silly.”

These are, of course, the words of Graham Chapman’s Colonel in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Part of the Anti-Silliness Patrol, The Colonel would often march from sketch to sketch complaining about the descent into ludicrousness, often telling people to “Stop that! It’s silly!”, or words to that effect. You would be forgiven, however, for thinking these words came not from a forty two year old comedy sketch, but from the heart of British government. The Higher Education Minister David Willetts has said that universities which charge the maximum tuition fee of £9,000 may look risk looking “silly” when students decide they will go for cheaper alternatives. Perish the thought!

"Stop it! That's silly!"

This is of course not the first time the Conservative Party has allied itself, directly or indirectly, with the Python Manifesto. Back in the early 90s Tory figurehead old Margaret Thatcher soundly killed one of the troupe’s most celebrated sketches, to a rapturous response of fellow Party bigwigs, by describing the Liberal Democrats’ new symbol of a flying bird, and the party it represented, as an “ex-parrot” (although timing is everything, and in a few years she might have had it spot on). Fortunately for the British electorate they did not go the whole hog and introduce a Ministry of Silly Walks, but seem content to draw comparisons with the comedy titans wherever they can. But for a moment let’s indulge them. For a moment, let’s see if we “know what [they] mean! Eh!”

What, for example, is so silly? Is it silly for a university to be told by the government they can charge up to and including £9000 and when they do it, be labelled silly? Is it silly for universities to be slapped down by such mealy mouthed words from condescending prigs who seem to think no one understands the policy when in reality they don’t understand it? Or is it silly that to charge £9000 in the first place, particularly when the report commissioned into tuition fees recommended a level of £6000 to £7000 per year would be needed to keep current university spending economically sustainable the government chose to whack another two grand on top? “This is getting silly!” If, for instance, a government department was told they had up to £50million to spend, would they be expected to save some of the 50 or spend it all? If a limit is there, surely any university would prefer to charge up to the hilt if they can afford to do so. Surely they must have expected this to happen? But “No one expects the [universities to charge the maximum rate of top up fees when they are well within their rights of doing so and in actual fact it’s the policy itself that is silly rather than the universities]!”

But considering this is a coalition of lumberjacks who are not alright, ok, do not sleep all night, or, it seems work all day, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at such an ill thought out policy being given a fish slap around the face. The truly silly thing at work here is the fact that mere months after the increase in fees, the government seem surprised when universities should attempt to capitalise on it. Maybe they’re not used to policies catching on…

And now for something completely different…

…or more accurately, for something completely the same. My short film Graduate Decline, motivated by increasing levels of anger about higher education, imagines a world where graduates are left to beg on the streets and fight for jobs. “Very silly” I know. For those who are regular 279 Acolytes you will have seen it many times. For those who have not, give the film a watch at its dedicated webpage, or right here if you prefer. And don’t forget to let us know what you think. We are of course a listening government website, not content with top down targets and [insert random platitude here]. Enjoy!

(With apologies to all members, fans, and experts on Monty Python’s Flying Circus)

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2 thoughts on “Higher Education Minister Does Monty Python: Stop That, It’s Silly!

  1. Very insightful Dave. Perhaps we are the silliest of all for thinking that white, middle class, middle aged men would truly see the needs of a diverse culture or even see the irony of charging such large amounts for higher education, the same education that they enjoyed free of charge!

    1. Thanks Luke, I do try my best. It is indeed ironic that they charge highly to today’s youth when they got it for nowt, but if they were around today their mad bucks would sort themselves out no problem. So many millionaires in the cabinet after all. But as the forests thing proved, they don’t think these things through, so we shouldn’t be very surprised.

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