Tonight we are off for dinner to Auberge Michel, just the two of us, old married people by now, after more than three months of legal cohabitation, and coming up soon for five years of fun-and-games.

It is, as you might have guessed, a celebration of sorts – any excuse will do, though none is needed. I am very happy indeed to have landed a five-month contract with the Engineering Council of South Africa, to investigate ways in which throughput rates in Engineering Bachelor degrees can be improved, especially for disadvantaged students in mainstream engineering programmes. The work will be interesting, useful I hope, and will keep me busy (and paid) until August.

That is cause enough for celebration; but, as it happens, I have also just completed (with invaluable assistance from Ian Scott of the University of Cape Town) a chapter for the World Bank, on higher education and skills in South Africa, the main argument of which is that our universities are going to have to adapt their traditional three- and four-year degree programmes and curricula to deal with the students they have, from our failing school system, rather than the students they would like to have, or think that they should have. The fact is, the kids who get into university are in the top 10 per cent of their cohort, even if their level of academic preparedness is shocking. There is talent and potential amongst this group, even if their results are unfortunate, and it is this base metal that our universities are going to have to learn to transmute into gold.

If I had planned it deliberately, the World Bank chapter could not have been better timed, or more useful in framing the inquiry into engineering throughputs for ECSA. Nor could the contract have been better timed to suit my cash flow.

Rob, when I point this out, simply sighs and smiles. ‘Haven’t I told you this will all work out?’ she says. ‘This is what the life of an independent consultant is like.’

Indeed. Still, after more hard work and time than I care to remember, the huge relief and satisfaction, at this moment, is simply to have finished the chapter and – after Ian’s final comments and emendations this weekend – to be able to send it off to the Bank on Monday.

And to be able to treat my wife, just once in a while, to some fine dining at a place like Auberge Michel.

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