April 20, 2011

“British private schools are really good. But they’re the only institutions left in Britain that are really world class”

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Education, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:39

Niall Ferguson tries to find some nice things to say about Britain, as he packs up to head back to Harvard:

The first thing everyone always says about Niall Ferguson is that he’s far too glamorous to be an academic. So the surprise, when we meet, is his miserable little office — a bleak sliver of the London School of Economics, surely nowhere near sumptuous enough for the dashing professor. Lined with rows of empty bookshelves, it looks semi-vacated — but that’s because it sort of is. “I’ll be out of here in July,” Ferguson says quickly, with the air of a man for whom July cannot come soon enough. “This has been great fun, but . . . well, you know . . .”

The historian has been living back in the UK for almost a year, the first time since leaving for the US in 2002, where he now teaches at Harvard. From the outside, it’s looked like quite a successful stay; his Channel 4 series, Civilization, was broadly well-received, and the accompanying book is another dollop of vintage Ferguson history, devoted to the superiority of western civilisation. While here he’s also been advising Michael Gove on the history curriculum in secondary schools, and now that the Tories, of whom he approves, are back in charge of the country, he must have found the political climate more to his tastes. But when I ask him for the single biggest change he’s observed since leaving Britain, he replies with a kind of theatrical despair,

“I think the situation in British universities has gone from being parlous to being catastrophic. When you look at where British universities are going, and where Harvard’s going, you’d have to really love other things about England to take the hit.”

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