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The review of student support #1: the etiquette of being introduced

November 20, 2017

Towards the end of Through the Looking Glass. Alice, very hungry,  arrives at the final banquet.  However, just as she is about to dig into a leg of mutton, or a plum pudding, she is introduced to it. And, as the Red Queen says “It isn’t etiquette to cut anyone you’ve been introduced to”.  “I won’t be introduced to the pudding, please,” Alice says, “or we shall get no dinner at all.” “Pudding – Alice; Alice – Pudding” the Red Queen persists.

This has long struck me as explaining the tone of much public policy debate in the small policy community that is Scotland. Everyone has been introduced, repeatedly.

It came to me again today at the launch of the report of the Scottish Government’s Review of Student Funding.   First, it was good of them to invite me. Second, everyone was of course really lovely, and the staff who had supported it gave me their time at the end to deal with a whole lot of technical questions I had, which were dealt with patiently and straightforwardly. And now I feel as though I am standing over the plum pudding, with my cutlery in mid-air.

So before digging into the report, it’s important to acknowledge that whatever criticisms may be made of the report, or the process, or particular findings, or the presentation, the people involved deserve recognition for having put a lot of time, over and above their usual duties, over the better part of a year, to try to make sense of what was a very constraining remit. Within that, they have made some recommendations which have potential to have a lasting impact for the good.  I’ve read through the minutes and you cannot fault the earnestness with which the group approached all this. We should be grateful that people are willing to take on this sort of work.

The story of this review is above all the story of its remit. Limited by that, the review has made its case over 84 pages.   As the Red Queen says, after the pudding gamely chats despite having lost a slice (Alice finally loses patience with etiquette), “it’s ridiculous to leave all the conversation to the pudding”.

The next post will attempt a critical overview of the main recommendations.


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