Last Friday's Bagheot Blog recalls a Punch cartoon from just before the second world war which shows a military chap sprinting from a government building to a waiting taxi and crying urgently: "To the Royal School of Needlework – and drive like hell!". Miles Kington had this happening in the 1940s, but no matter.
It got me wondering where the military type would be going today; the Higher Education Academy, perhaps. After all, both the Royal School of Needlework, and the Academy, are significant social institutions about which the general public knows little (and probably cares less), and yet each in their very different ways has an effect on people's lives – if only they knew it. As it is, a quiet and polite indifference is likely to be a popular reaction. Some might also think that both ought to be more interested in sustainable development than they seem to be. I am one of those.
This may seem a harsh comment as far as the Academy is concerned. After all, it has a dedicated sustainable development advisory group (I should declare here that I am a member), an ESD project, and it has now agreed that sustainability is to be one of seven strategic themes within the its new service programme starting in 2011. The other themes are reported to be: internationalisation, assessment and feedback, employment, reward and recognition, retention and success, and flexible learning.
Some – pragmatists probably – will see this theming of sustainability as a significant indicator of a seriousness of intent: for example, it's being treated as seriously as assessment, etc. I am not so sure and I confess that my first reaction was a despondent one: that sustainability is only being treated as seriously as assessment, etc., when it surely needs to be elevated to a different plane entirely, where it informs the Academy and all its works, and is not just another theme alongside many others. So, whilst I am not despondent, I am certainly not delighted either … drifting, rather, in a choppy sea.