By tradition my first lesson of the New Year is a time for students to predict the future. Whether in Geography or Politics, Perseans delight in rising to the challenge and speculating on what the New Year will bring. It is just the kind of synoptic, open ended task that bright students thrive on. Of course Heads must lead by example so here are my predictions for 2012….
In politics people power reinforced by social media will succeed in changing governments in Syria and Egypt, but in Russia and Zimbabwe the status quo will prevail. Putin and Mugabe have iron grips on their respective media and electoral systems, and the oppositions in both Russia and Zimbabwe are weak and divided. Without an obvious Republican candidate, Obama should win the race for the White House, whilst Nicholas Sarkozy will present himself as Europe’s saviour and engage in some more ‘Brit bashing’ to retain the French Presidency by the slimmest of margins. The Euro will begin 2012 where it ended 2011, lurching from crisis to crisis, and only the withdrawal of the weakest economies and the creation of a smaller more coherent Eurozone will calm markets. Despite increased in fighting the UK coalition government will survive, as neither Cameron nor Clegg will want to precipitate an election in such troubled economic times.
In education, this will be a difficult year for the independent sector. UK independent schools will continue to deliver the excellent academic and extracurricular results that routinely keep them at the top of world league tables of educational performance. However, hard pressed parents will delay purchasing independent education or dip in and out of the sector to save money. In some independent schools, pupil rolls will stagnate or decline and there will be a flight to quality. For small loss making institutions with limited reserves this could prove terminal. The withdrawal of a few pupils coupled with the non or late payment of fees by some parents can push marginal schools into insolvency. Schools tend to hide their financial problems as parents seeking continuity of education don’t commit children to institutions that may not have a medium term future. School guides will start advising parents to review annual accounts as well as meet Heads……..
2012 will also be a challenging year in higher education. From the autumn universities will start charging the new higher tuition fee of up to £9000 per annum. Although these fees will only be paid retrospectively once students graduate and earn more than £21,000, the arrival of higher fees will accelerate a cultural change in the university world. Undergraduates will be consumers and demand more from their universities in return for the £9000 fee. Substandard lectures, crowded seminars, and tutorials subcontracted to inexperienced post graduates will not be tolerated. Students paying £27,000 on tuition fees alone will expect university tutors to do more to help them achieve a first or upper second degree. Universities will find themselves under pressure to operate like the best independent schools offering revision classes and providing high quality educational resources available 24/7 via a virtual learning environment. This could all create quite a culture shock in some ivory towers.
I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but this year inspired by my very learned cleaner who retunes all the Elliott family radios to the BBC World Service, I will follow suit. The World Service is a real treasure trove of eclectic interests and opinions and it will be my radio channel of choice for 2012.