What implications will raising tuition fees have for current students?

January 31, 2011

An article I’ve written for Graduates Anonymous, about the impact of the tuition fee rises on current students.

First, the good news. The amount that current students will pay for university remains unchanged. Changes to university fees won’t actually come into effect until 2012, which means that even if you start university in September 2011, you will still be paying fees of  £3000 a year for the whole of your degree. Although there will be no direct consequences of increasing current fees, there’s a few possible indirect consequences of raising fees to £9000 a year that could affect students at university at the moment.

1) Funding shortfall

In their infinite wisdom, the coalition government has decided to cut university funding before increasing fees that were intended to make up for the cut in government funding. This means a 6% cut to the university budget – about £400m – effective from this April; one year before the money will come in from the tuition fee rise. This comes after a £449m cut to the universities budget in February 2010, where the Research budget was frozen and buildings cost cut by 15%.

If research funding is cut, this could have implications for current students who want to do postgraduate study after their degree. These cuts mean that university staff with have to do “more with less” – which could affect staff morale and the quality of teaching they give to undergraduate students.

2) University/Course closures

A survey from the University and College Union found that one-third of universities were “at risk” as a result of government cuts. This is because those 49 universities are dependant to a large extent on government funding to survive. These universities could therefore be forced into mergers with other institutions or to close altogether.

Obviously those institutions that UCU have labelled as “high risk” are disputing this status, saying that they are popular with students and will survive regardless.

The Vice Chancellor of Chichester University has said that his institution should not be regarded as “high risk”; saying the UCU’s report was “politically motivated” and “completely fails to gauge the capacity of a university to thrive in the new framework”.

Perhaps more likely are courses closing at individual universities. Course closures have been happening for a while now,  and not just in so-called “Mickey Mouse” courses. Lecturers’ Unions have been concerned about the closure of physics courses for some time, as it could leave some parts of the UK unable to provide courses in science and maths.  

Course closures will obviously have implications for undergraduates on those courses at the moment. If you are studying at a course that, say, is going to close at the end of your degree and admit no more undergraduates, it is likely that those lecturers at those departments will leave for other academic departments before it closes. This leads on to my third point…

3) Brain Drain

David Blanchflower compared the current situation to Higher Education in the 1980s in a New Statesman column from a few months ago:

University heads and the president of the Royal Society, Martin Rees, have warned of an academic brain drain… Less scientific funding is likely to lower the country’s economic competitiveness. I was among those who left the UK in the 1980s because of low academic salaries and poor research funding. Here we go again.

This could affect the quality of teaching at universities for current undergraduates, if some of the better staff decide to go abroad, or even leave academia altogether.

4) Postgraduate Fees

What if current undergraduates want to stay on after their degree and do a masters, or even a doctorate? Do the fees increases have any implications for them then?

There is no word of whether postgraduate fees would increase. The postgraduate fees market is a relatively free one anyway, with little government funding and universities able to charge what they like. It is therefore possible that there will be little change to postgraduate fees, because at the moment they are the market price: between about 4,000 and 5,000 a year on average.

However, I would be very surprised if postgraduate fees did not rise as a result of these proposals. If charging £9000 a year for university fees becomes socially acceptable, perhaps this could encourage universities to raise their prices. Especially since they might have to raise these to cover the funding shortfall that I mentioned in reason 1).


Fantastic Headlines 37-40

January 27, 2011

Here is the latest batch of Fantastic Headlines. Suggestions are coming in thick and fast now. Thanks to everyone who keeps sending them in. I like to think of it as Paperback Rioter’s contribution to The Big Society.

The first one I found on the Daily Express website. It’s about an ongoing court case that I’m not even going to try and summarise in a sentence:

Swingers’  club link to ‘firebug police love rat’

A “firebug police love rat” is surely not a description of a person, but four random nouns put next to each other. If you want to know what one is, you’ll have to read the article.

The next headline comes courtesy of Selina, and helps answer that often-posted conundrum: what happens if you’re walking in a forest and you’re attacked by a pack of wolves, and all you have to help you is some heavy-metal music?

Creed Song Saves Norwegian Boy From Wolves

The previous Fantastic Headlines on animal stories has prompted a couple of headlines. As ever, RedheadFashionista knows a fantastic headline when she sees one. The story itself is a quite serious one: the use of animals in cosmetic experiments, which is an issue that needs to be taken seriously. It’s hard to do that, however, with headlines like:

Why mice are being gassed so YOU can look younger

The Daily Mail is bringing attention to mice that are being gassed and having their backs broken in the name of cosmetics. Nice to see them standing up for animal rights, although by the sounds of “Now even spiders, squid and lobsters could have rights” and previously equating the concept of animal rights to “nonsense upon stilts”, this is a bit of a late conversion.

Lastly, this headline comes courtesy of Charlie, and it’s another animal story:

Live chicken thrown at KFC staff in Nuneaton

You’ll be pleased to know that although the chicken was a bit distressed, it didn’t suffer any harm.


Because of this…we are feminists

January 26, 2011

I’m planning to write something about Dominic Raab, Melanie Phillips, and equality. For now, I want to just post this. I read this on a poster on a friend’s parent’s toilet wall. It’s my favourite writing on feminism:

Because…

woman’s work is underpaid or unpaid & what we look like is more important than what we do & if we get raped it is our fault & if we love women it’s because we can’t get a real man & if we expect community care for our family we are selfish & if we stand up for our rights we are loud & if we don’t we are typical weak females & if we want to get married we are out to trap a man & if we don’t we are unnatural & because we aren’t deemed responsible enough to decide if, when and how we give birth

we are feminists.


Ed Miliband should lay off the personal smears (that’s our job)

January 25, 2011

Ed Miliband’s main problem at the moment is that he doesn’t come across as Prime Ministerial.

I don’t mean this in the superficial sense, by how he looks or how he speaks. People can make fun of him all they want, and it’s pretty puerile, but the simple fact is that amongst the factors that will govern whether Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister, appearance is fairly low down the list. If this becomes a factor, that will only become apparent in the Leaders’ Debates. Even then, the issue will not really be about how Ed Miliband speaks, but about what he actually says, and what he does before 2015.

Take Gordon Brown for example. It’s easy to forget that he was actually riding high in the polls for the first four or five months of his premiership. People didn’t mind the sagging face and creepy smile when they thought he was actually competent. The tide turned for Brown when he failed to call the snap election in October 2007. It was stonkingly obvious to anyone that he had changed his mind because of the opinion polls, yet Brown denied this was the case in an interview with Andrew Marr. This started the rot for Brown: then the financial crisis finished him off.

Much of the debate in the Labour leadership contest last summer focussed on the fact that the party was not just picking a leader, but a potential Prime Minister. Ed Miliband needs to remember that, and act accordingly. So far, he has not acted with the necessary gravitas required.

In the first PMQs of the year, Ed Miliband came out with his trump card: fungi.

We know that the Business Secretary is not a man to mess with; he told his surgery before Christmas that he had a nuclear weapon in his pocket and he was not afraid to use it, so we should listen to him. He said: “If you keep people in the dark, you grow poisonous fungus.” On this occasion, he was not talking about the Chancellor of the Exchequer – he was talking about the bankers.

I would venture to submit that if you want to convey gravitas, and look Prime Ministerial, what you do not do is compare senior members of the government to poisonous mushrooms. Let’s face it, it’s not very big or clever.

It’s not as if that’s the only Tory Ed Miliband childishly insulted in that PMQs:

He even put the Vulcan in charge of his policy on the banks – planet Redwood and planet Cameron.

Does Ed Miliband want people to take him seriously?

The real problem with Ed Miliband resorting to personal insults is: where does that leave me?

Or rather: us, the political bloggers.

Surely it’s our job to fling personal insults and lower the standard of debate? You’d certainly think so if you listened to certain journalists. If Ed Miliband starts by comparing George Osborne to a poisonous mushroom, where can bloggers go to lower the tone? We’d have to spread rumours that he was sexually involved with horses, or something.

Anyway, all this does raise a fairly serious point. It’s one that Andrew Rawnsley made yesterday, when analysing Miliband’s reaction to the resignation of Andy Coulson:

Among those saying that this raises “real questions” about David Cameron’s judgment is Ed Miliband. He may be right, but it is also a misjudgment by the Labour leader to enter this fray. It is a sign of a weakness on his part to want to score quick tactical hits on the Tories. That sort of character attack is better left to the media and his juniors. He would be a more prime ministerial-looking figure if he held himself aloof.

Also, when one takes into account the appointments of Alan Johnson as Shadow Chancellor (and making Phil Woolas a shadow front-bench spokesman) one wonders whether people who live in wooden huts should be firing incendiary bombs.

Given Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign, it’s not surprising to see him resorting to this sort of opportunism. Especially since at the moment, because of his policy review, Labour doesn’t really have any policies that he can talk about. Yet he should still be aiming to get the tone right, and come across as a potential Prime Minister. He’s not doing that at the moment.


Fantastic Headlines 33-36: Man Bites Dog special

January 24, 2011

As I mentioned in a previous Fantastic Headlines blog, “Man bites dog” is given sometimes as an example of what news is. It’s no surprise, then, that media outlets tend to cover “Man Bites Dog” stories because of the, ah, significance involved. Here are four of the favourite “Man bites dog” stories I’ve found:

Strangely, it seems to be poor old police dogs that keep being on the receiving end of a man’s jaw. For instance:

Man bites dog (and a policeman)

The sub-editor on this Connecticut website wanted to put a bit more vim into this Fantastic Headline, which is much more flowery than your standard “Man bites dog” fare:

Man sinks teeth into police dog

This Canadian news story tickled me:

Man bites dog biting dog

And finally, because it’s nice to end on a high, a story with a happy ending. I love the jokey exclamation mark on this, too:

Man bites dog and wins compensation!

As ever, if you find any Fantastic Headlines please let me know.


Fantastic Headlines 31 and 32

January 22, 2011

A couple more Fantastic Headlines for your titilation.

First up is this from the BBC. You don’t often expect to see “laser” and “pirate” in the same sentence, which is precisely why this headline is fantastic:

Laser Cannon set to blind pirates

Our second fantastic headline comes from an Australian news source. Picture the scene. Your country is being devasted by tragic floods. The rivers are swelling up, and people are fearing for their lives, their possessions and their family.

What in the name of Phil Woolas would make you do this?

River rescue as sex toy ditches rider

Of course, you’d just ride a blow-up doll down a stormy river. As you do.

Just in case you were thinking of trying that at home, a police spokesman has said in a statement that “blow-up sex toys are not recognised flotation devices”.

It’s good to be reminded of that occasionally.


That resignation blog post in full

January 21, 2011

It was surprising/inevitable/necessary/amazing

that Alan Johnson/Andy Coulson resigned, because these:

continuing revelations/unusual circumstances/scandals

just showed that:

he was useless at his job/he was too good at his job/his position was untenable/the speculation would never stop/it was a wonderful day to bury bad news.

Furthermore, the resignation casts doubt on the judgement of Ed Miliband/David Cameron since he:

should have known he was a liability/looks like one of the chickens from Chicken Run/should never have appointed him in the first place.

Now Ed Miliband/David Cameron will have to find someone else who can:

remember what the tax rate is/suck up to Rupert Murdoch/do his sums/run communications at Number 10/attack the spending cuts with the savagery of a pack of psychopathic hounds on speed.

What this means is that life will go on as normal, but with:

more Balls/less phone-hacking/fewer gaffes

and the whole sorry affair will be:

swept under the carpet/quietly forgotten about/pursued by certain journalists and bloggers to its unseemly end.


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