Yesterday I went for a walk in south London. I verified Adam’s statement that there are bluebells there, though I didn’t see the wonderful displays that the Chilterns provide. I’ll just record a few other impressions.
I saw a builder’s van which advertised on the side that the owner’s specialities were partitions and ceilings. What else might a builder provide for mathematicians, apart from floors, the obvious partner of ceilings? Perhaps lattices? Or indeed, why not buildings (with the terminology invented by Abel Prize winner Jacques Tits, such as chambers, galleries and apartments)? I was reminded of a time in the early 1970s, when sporadic simple groups were being discovered at an incredible rate, when I saw a van in south London which had on the side, “The Cameron group”, followed by a seven-digit number. Unfortunately, it was an odd number.
On the train on the way home, there was an advertisement for The Spectator in the carriage, which read, “Once we had pay-per-view TV. Now we have pay-per-view PM.” There were an elderly couple sitting opposite me. The man read it out to his partner, but mis-read PM as MP. She corrected him, and he said, “What’s PM?”
On the same train, I picked up a copy of The Bridge, the newspaper of the Anglican diocese of Southwark, in which I had been walking. The centre spread, featuring interviews with several university chaplains, was headlined, “What are we doing to our universities?” It featured a quote from Stephen Heap, Churches National Higher Education Adviser:
There is little government understanding of the public good higher education brings, no understanding of the public role of universities as places where society is helped to reflect on itself, no concept of higher education being about holistic development. A generation is to be consigned to beginning adult life in debt and seeing debt as normal. Whilst it is important to affirm what is good in what is being proposed, the likely effect will be a diminished higher education experience which fails to equip graduates to be good citizens in an increasingly complex world.
What more needs to be said? When I reflect on the contrast between my own experience as a student and what my students now get, this rings true. But maybe I am not comparing like with like; maybe my contemporaries were just marking time until they were forced to step onto the treadmill. I am not so sure; debt is the big difference. My generation were debt-averse in a way that is impossible now.