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January 12, 2010

“The impact on students of the proposed £2.5bn university spending cuts”

“The impact on students of the proposed £2.5bn university spending cuts”12/01/2010

Posted by opemipo3655 in Education PolicyPoliticsUniversities
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A post on the impact of the proposed cuts in university spending from Left Foot Forward written by the president of the Oxford University Student Union.

Left Foot Forward; The impact on students of the proposed £2.5bn university spending cuts:

Following today’s front-page articlein the Guardian, which warned that universities could be “brought to their knees” by £2.5 billion of Government spending cuts, Left Foot Forward takes a detailed look at the impact of the proposed cuts, on universities, students and fees.

In the last year, the Government has proposed cuts in higher education spending to the tune of £915m: £180m in “efficiency savings” in the 2009 budget, £600m in the most recent pre-budget report, and a further £135m announced by Lord Mandelson just before Christmas.

Students-in-lecture-theatreThis reduces the annual budget of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) annual budget from £7.291bn in 2010-11 to £6.376bn in 2012-13 – 12.5 per cent cutin funding over three years.If the Institute for Fiscal Studies is right in claiming that further higher education cuts of £1.6bn are required for the Government to achieve its target of halving the deficit by 2013, then total cuts will amount to £2.5bn. This is a massive reduction in the amount of money the UK spends in the sector.

As a whole, the UK currently spendsbetween 1.3% and 1.4% of GDP on higher education, less than the OECD average, and well below that spent by the United States at 2.9% of GDP.

To cut funding now will worsen that position as other countries continue to invest in higher education, as Wendy Piatt and Michael Arthur, Director General and Chair of the Russell Group respectively, have today pointed out. This has implications for both the competitiveness of our higher education sector and our economy.

The impact on students will inevitably be huge. Much of the cuts are coming from teaching budgets, which disproportionately hit undergraduate and taught graduate students. Capital funding is also being cut, which means buildings and infrastructure used by students will deteriorate.

Universities are highly unlikely to be able to maintain the current student experience, let alone improve it, if the amount of money they have to spend is so significantly reduced. They just can’t absorb a 12.5% cut in government funding without it badly affecting how students are taught.

Staff-student ratios will worsen, library and teaching resources will be reduced, and there will be increased pressure on the budgets devoted to widening participation in higher education, which will impact on the social mix of the student population at our universities.

Almost as bad will be the impact the cuts will have on the debate about how we fund higher education. In the context of the Browne Review, some universities, like those in the Russell Groupthat have made the news today, may well use the governments’ announcements to press their case for a lift in the cap on tuition fees. Government and many universities are hoping that students will pick up the tab by paying more and more in fees – this will result in students paying more to receive less.

A lift in the cap will burden students with debt; if the government introduces real interest rates on student loans in order to facilitate greater loans for higher fees – which will be necessitated by the national fiscal position – those who borrow the most will pay the most back.

At fees of £7,000, the student who funds their degree through tuition and maintenance loans would leave university with debts of £35,000 and would need to earn £30,000 a year – more than median income – just to pay off the interest on their loans, before they even start paying back the money they borrowed (Broke and Broken,NUS Report, p.7).

That is why Oxford University Student Union and the National Union of Students, among many others including Malcolm Grant, Provost at UCL, are callingfor a change in the way we fund higher education.

We think the government should abolish fees and introduce a graduate tax. Graduates should pay, according to their earnings after university, into a ring fenced national trust for higher education for a period of two decades.

Our guest writer is Stefan Baskerville, President of Oxford University Student Union

January 11, 2010

Summary of “History of Now: The Story of the Noughties”

Summary of “History of Now: The Story of the Noughties”06/01/2010

Posted by opemipo3655 in Uncategorized
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I really enjoyed watching thisyesterday on the BBC and the Demos blog has a very good summary of the programme.

According to Julia Margo, Director of Research at Demos, “Age is to the C21st what social class was to the C20th. It’s one of the major fault lines in our society”. She appeared on the BBC’s History of Now: The Story of the Noughtieson Tuesday night, delivering a bleak picture of the gap between where young people in their teens and early twenties thought they would be, and where they found themselves at thirty.

With the recession hitting young graduates hardest, this disparity will probably amplify. It’s a bitter pill for the children of the good-time ‘baby boomers’ who enjoyed an expansion in university education – bolstered by grants – adding to the growing of the middle class. Their degrees counted for something and they entered jobs and finished them with final salary pensions. They rode the wave of the property boom and are now enjoying living their retirement to the full, spending their cash on foreign travels and grown-up gadgets with a grown-up price tag.

The programme was critical of the baby boomers and their quest to be the Peter Pan generation, refusing to let go of youth culture by adopting gadgets like the micro scooter and clinging on their teenage rock heros with paying through the nose to see them at the O2 arena. On the other hand, Generation Y are struggling to get jobs and loaded down with student debt. They will be in their thirties before they are even able to get on the property ladder, let alone think about having children.

The Guardian’s Economics Editor Larry Elliott commented “If you think about what’s happened to young people … it is somewhat surprising I think that young people aren’t angrier than they are about this.”

And here the contradiction lies: society is critical of older generations for being ‘middle youths’ but critical of the recession-hit younger generations for not wanting, or not being able, to follow in their footsteps. It’s a mark of maturity that younger generations aren’t having a tantrum over their lost ‘entitlements’. So perhaps as well as the age divide, a History of Now has shown an attitude divide – between generations that never want to grow up, and generations that are forced to do so.

Labour Leadership Challenge

Labour Leadership Challenge06/01/2010

Posted by opemipo3655 in ElectionElection 2010Gordon BrownLabour PartyPoliticsUnited Kingdom
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One thing I’ve always wondered/ worried about is the way the media report politics. It makes it seem like a trivial game instead of determining the fates of millions. Talk of “political positioning” and “support for the PM” bring to mind “political football.” I think the only reason they do this is to make politics “easier” to understand/ explain/ report.

Anyway, there is a new challenge to Gordon Brown’s leadershipAndrew Wells of UK Polling Reportlooks at polling to determine whether electoral prospects for Labour will improve with a new leader. Conclusion: can’t really say;

The moral is, don’t look at hypothetical polls of how people think they might vote with X in charge. People are rubbish at predicting how they will react, especially how they would react to a politician most of them know little about, becoming PM and doing things none of the respondents can predict. We don’t really know how the public would react in practiceto Alan Johnson, or David Miliband as leader, but we do know what they think of Gordon Brown.

Sunder Katwala at Next Leftbelieves the

… moment of maximum danger for Gordon Brown’s leadership of the Labour Party into the General Election was the evening of Thursday June 4th 2009 when James Purnell resigned from the Cabinet, as the polls closed in the local and European elections, and other Cabinet members declined to follow him.

and that the decision of other Cabinet members to support Brown saved Brown’s premiership.

He also believes that this challenge will fail:

Firstly, it is much easier to present as a "Blairite" intervention, in contrast to (say) a Hewitt-Cruddas or Mullin-Hewitt intervention, which would have been much more impactful were it possible. So that would imply that non-Blairite support has failed to respond to calls to lead a revolt. Rumours of a right-left pact, involving Compass, would seem to have been much exaggerated (and, indeed, denied by Compass).

Secondly, and probably crucially, it suggests that they have failed to get any Cabinet minister to be part of the, following unfounded rumours last night about Tessa Jowell, who has dismissed the possibility of a resignation, as the New Statesman reported first.

Thirdly, the timing of the interevention hasn’t helped it, though it is very unlikely this could be thought decisive, except in demonstrating the lack of ruthless assassin like abilities which have been a consistent feature of these sporadic attempts.

I think the timing here refers to proximity to the election (16 weeks), Gordon Brown doing well in today’s PMQs, and Labour having some success in early January campaigning. A leadership challenge just seems odd and capable only of hampering Labour’s chances as they begin to “navel-gaze” instead of fighting the Tories and dealing with the country’s problems. It also leads to a public perception of an uncontrolled and ill-disciplined party which doesn’t help electoral prospects.

Contradictions In Selective Immigration Policy

Contradictions In Selective Immigration Policy06/01/2010

Posted by opemipo3655 in ImmigrationPolicyPolitics
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Chris Dillow (Stumbling and Mumbling) has a good post on the dilemma between immigration which doesn’t depress domestic job prospects and immigration which maintains social cohesion.

Chris Dillow: What Sort of Immigrants?

Lord Carey’s remarkson immigrationraise an issue for those who favour immigration controls: is there a trade-off between the immigrants you want on economic grounds, and the immigrants that would promote social cohesion?

Here’s what I mean. From the point of view of the labour market, we want immigrants who are as unlike us as possible. We want people with different skills and tastes from us, who’ll do jobs that we can’t or won’t do. These sort of people don’t compete with us in the labour market and so don’t threaten “our” jobs and wages.

However, from the point of view of social cohesion, we want people just like us, those who share our values. 
Isn’t there a contradiction here?

You might think not. It’s quite possible that people can differ from us in labour market aspects and yet share our values in other respects.

Possible, but not certain. Indeed, some research has found that, among Muslims, labour market success is associated with stronger religious views. In this respect, immigrants who are good for the economy are bad for social cohesion: Kafeel Ahmed, who died trying to blow up Glasgow airport, was the sort of highly-qualified man who appeared to be an ideal economic migrant.

You might think the solution to this dilemma is simple: we should simply stop trying to pick and choose who enters the country.

True. But I fear instead that it has another implication. It implies that opposition to immigration will always be with us. If immigrants were just like us, Carey and his like would moan about how they are depressing the job prospects of indigenous workers. And if immigrants were so different as to not jeopardise indigenous wages or employment, they’d moan about them being different, not sharing our values, or creating uncertainty amongst native people.

Hostility to foreigners will always exist. All that changes is the shabby nature of the justification for it.

Execution of Akmal Shaikh– IR Theory

Execution of Akmal Shaikh- IR Theory31/12/2009

Posted by opemipo3655 in Capital PunishmentChinaForeign PolicyHuman RightsIR in the NewsInternational LawInternational Relations TheoryLiberal IR TheoryPoliticsPower (IR)RealismState SovereigntyUnited Kingdom,World Politics
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Akmal Shaikh, 53, from North London was executed in China for drug smuggling on the 30th of December, 2009. The UK government and Reprieve, a legal charity had remonstrated with the Chinese government against an execution due to the mental illness suffered by Mr Shaikh, a personality disorder, which made him amenable to criminals who convinced him to transport 4.030g of heroine into the country.

Now, while there are legitimate questions to be asked about the use of capital punishment and about the its use on someone who is “not himself” (I know this is pejorative, but I think it best captures the illogic of executing someone who by virtue of his being ill can be duped into doing something that anyone in their right mind wouldn’t), I do not want to focus on this now; I will instead look at what it says about international relations (IR) especially from his cousins’ comments on the response of the UK government.

In their letter, Amina and Ridwan Shaikh:

• Accuse most of the media of ignoring Akmal’s case until it was too late. "We were shocked that apart from Sky News, his case received only sporadic media attention during his two years in prison. Only when news was released of his imminent execution did it get the coverage it deserved. Wouldn’t more media attention at an earlier stage have applied more pressure to the Chinese authorities? Wasn’t this lack of coverage an injustice in itself?"

This doesn’t have much to do with IR, however, it shows how the short-term focus of the media can, does, and in this case did lead to a loss of focus on longer term issues in favour of what sells in the short term. Example; before Copenhagen Climate Change Conference 2009, there wasn’t (and this is anecdotal from my perspective of the news) as much focus on Climate Change until an explosion after emails of climate scientists were hacked and released into the public domain. Afterwards, there were complaints about it’s weakness and then all sign of it disappeared. You also rarely hear about the EU until there is a “scary EU or wasteful EU” story or whenever elections come around. The public then doesn’t get the information about these issues that it needs to understand them fully and have to rely on provocative sound-bites (which are ubiquitous when the issue is current).

• Say that while they are "indebted to Reprieve and others for efforts they made on our cousin’s behalf … we were not comfortable with the strategy pursued". They say: "We didn’t say anything as we respected the wishes of those concerned. We understand the strategy was based on expert advice that, as the Chinese regime is a brutal one, the best approach is to not criticise it as this may make things worse." They cite the high-profile campaign by Moazzam Begg’s family to secure his release from Guantánamo Bay.

I think this can be best understood using Liberal IR Theory and especially theDemocratic Peace Theorywhich points out that no two democracies (and definitions of differ thus weakening the theory) have gone to war with each other and posits that relations between and among liberal democracies will always be peaceful. There may be disagreements, but since in domestic politics, statesmen are used to disagreement, discussion and compromise in decision making, it is assumed or expected that they will use these skills in the international arena and thus forestall war. Other things which constrain democratic war include public opinion- seen as always or generally peaceful except when war is undertaken in self defence- which is needed for politicians to remain in power, and the effects of checks and balances created by separation of powers which (should) make it virtually impossible for a government to go to war at the whim of any specific group. Also it claims that when dealing with other democracies, states know of these constraints and the likely actions that will result thus giving them the peace of mind to bargain instead of looking for the zero-sum win.

Arguments against the theory include problems with defining a democracy; was Germany under Hitler a democracy since the Nazi party won elections. “For example, one study (Oren 1995) reports that Germany was considered a democratic state by Western opinion leaders at the end of the 19th century; yet in the years preceding World War I, when its relations with the United States, France and Britain started deteriorating, Germany was gradually reinterpreted as an autocratic state, in absence of any actual regime change.” There have also been post-hoc reclassification of states as non-democracies or conflicts as non-wars (no true Scotsman fallacy) to “fix” the history of democratic peace. Other arguments include the effects of political similarity(there has also been an autocratic peace with no wars between autocrats), effects of economic interdependence as liberal democracies also tend to have liberal economies which are involved in free international trade; as two states trade together, they become linked and begin to share cultures, understand each other and just generally get along. Also, for economic growth to be sustained and in line with its long run average, the absence of shocks to production that wars bring is necessary.

With this we can explain the quote by saying in dealings with the US, the Begg family was able to run a vocal campaign because they knew that, even though Guantanamo Bay was illegal, a democratic US state would/ could be brought to see reason and to release the man while an autocratic (“brutal”) China would not be brought to discussion (according to the experts) as there are routine human rights violations and this one would just be the next.

• Accuse the government of hypocrisy in its dealings with China. "One of the justifications we are told for invading countries like Afghanistan is ‘human rights violations’. If it is accepted by all that there are gross violations taking place in China, why aren’t they too invaded? This is purely to do with the fact that China is a powerful country economically. Britain’s economic dependence far outweighs these ‘individual cases’."

Ah, the bane of liberal/ humanitarian intervention. Why thereand not there. The answer is simple, “It’s POWER stupid!” You do not intervene, liberally or illiberally, in an area or state where you will get beaten and leave yourself open to attack. Power is the most important concept in Realist and Neorealist IR theory is defined as the summation of all the capabilities of a state; size of army, state of military technology, tactical acumen and advantages, size and strength of the economy (to support build up of arms and troops), effectiveness of diplomatic service, possession of vetoes at international organisations especially the UN Security Council, population and demographic trends (ageing=bad because of increased dependence on the labour force) among others.

Comparing Afghanistan and China on these criteria; troops: 240,000 to 7 millionnominal GDP per capita: $400 to $3000; it’s ridiculous (and impossible, for me anyway) to compare the state of military technology and the list goes on. The figures place China at the level of the UK (except GDP per capita, but then they do have a population of 1.3 billion) and suggest that while we were falsely gung-ho about going into Afghanistan and liberating them “quick as a flash” that expectation was a realistic one at the time given the weak capabilities of the Afghanistan state, the Taliban and al-Qaeda compared to the combined force of the western nations and our inability to see the future (shame).

It would be foolish to go to war against China, they have the largest army,nuclear weapons, a strong economy (rebounding quicker than anyone else from the recession), state of technology not too far from the rest of the world if not close to the front, 20% of the world’s population and most importantly a seat at the UN Security Council with a veto meaning that no resolution can be passed calling for military against China (why would it agree to be liberally intervened in when it can just say no).

Also as the article notes, the UK strategic interest is in keeping relations “sweet”, so that UK businesses can still operate in China and wealthy Chinese tourists continue to flock into our overpriced shops and their students continue to study here benefitting our economy.

• Condemn the government’s approach to the Chinese. "Did the British government pull out its diplomats in protest? Did it have a hard-hitting strategy to persuade the Chinese authorities to change their decision?"

The British government has made clear there will be no formal diplomatic retaliation beyond criticism. The cousins say in the letter: "This is an example of Britain’s powerlessness in the world. Their strategy of being shoulder to shoulder with the US in the ‘war on terror’ has not given them the status they so desperately desire.

Since the end of the WW1, the UK’s status has been falling, from being the only superpower and a super-empire in the 19th Century, to a middling power, along with the other European old powers, in a hegemonic world (US) with rapidly rising powers (BRICs). With this in mind, it is difficult to see what the UK could do that would make the Chinese take note and change their stance. Right now, it seems that UK needs China more than they need us.

Realism and Neorealism; Who you know counts for nothing in the international system. The international system is a self-help arena. If you do not improve on your capabilities there will be no international “Good Samaritan” state or world government to help further your interests. If the UK government thought (and I doubt they did) that joining the ‘war on terror’ would bolster their status in the world then they would be mistaken (they might be thanked for going along but nothing more). There is no such thing as a Special Relationship. It is only a special relationship if special means friends-when-it-is-in-my-interest-to-be-friends, though that doesn’t roll off the tongue quite well, but I’m sure it will catch on.

"We are not mourning simply for our cousin as a lot of other people, including Muslims in China, have experienced and will continue to experience the same fate, without any real justification; our hearts pour out to them too."

The Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis has said that as well as official representations, ministers made 27 separate appeals on Shaikh’s behalf in the two years after his arrest. Brown, Lewis and David Miliband, the foreign secretary, all delivered critical statements yesterday. Brown said he condemned the execution "in the strongest terms" and was "appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted".

The realist “catch-phrase” comes to mind: The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. As long as China remains a strong nation, and no one can see this changing, there will be no outside intervention to bring about respect for human rights or democracy in China, no matter how much western citizens and their governments claim to want it (Realpolitikrules). Everything will continue to be said “in the strongest terms” and people will continue to be “appalled and disappointed” but it will all come to nothing unless Chinese citizens themselves rise up.

Lewis said: "Engagement with China is non-negotiable and any alternative strategy is simply not credible. But by being so clear in our public criticism of China’s handling of this case we are demonstrating that it is not business as usual."

Engagement is compulsory, but I believe it is futile in the area of human rights. I think the only other mechanism through which public criticism can have an effect is in the Chinese leadership’s reaction to Global opinion and I think they have really thick skins. I mean to become a leader in the Chinese Communist Party, you must be hard as nails (I’m guessing, I’m not a member). Also theirreportedbehaviour at the Copenhagen Summit suggests they take no heed to the rest of the world and focus only on what will keep their citizens content.

The issue also shows the failure of international law to regulate the international system as long as long as states can act with impunity because courts act in an advisory capacity and do not have the power to coerce states into acting in accordance with international law.

It also brings up the issue of state sovereignty. Should the UK be interfering in the affairs of another sovereign state’s judicial system? (linkand link). I think in this case they were well within their rights to remonstrate on behalf of their citizen in a foreign country as long as they were not asking for a pardon (he did commit a crime).



Posted by opemipo3655 in Political PowerPolitical TheoryPoliticsSocial Justice
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What is political power and how is it distributed?

A report by Demos on the power gap in the UK. Linkto the pdf.

Two posts on the report from the Demos Blog: Oneand two.

Also see this map showing the power gapin the UK.

These two videos are quite good, they are arranged in chronological order.

More on power later.

University Tuition Fees (Thoughts On Public Good Provision)

University Tuition Fees (Thoughts On Public Good Provision)27/12/2009

Posted by opemipo3655 in EconomicsEducation PolicyExternalitiesPolitics,Public GoodsRedistributionSocial JusticeUniversities
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David Blanchflower (former member of the BoE Monetary Policy Committee [MPC]) thinks richer students [students who have rich parents] should pay tuition fees more in line with the market price for education (Link). That is closer to the £30,000 paid by Ivy League students in the US (elite private colleges eg. Harvard, Dartmouth). He wants the cap on tuition fees to be raised from £3,225 p.a. so that better-off students are charged more while (or so that?) financial aid is given to students from poorer backgrounds. An analysis can be found here.

This comes against the backdrop of the government’s decision to claw back £135 million on top of the £180 million savings they had to make over 18 months (a favourable analysis based on the incentives for innovation it gives to universities can be found here) as well as the funding review which is expected to recommend an increase in tuition fees.

Education as a (net) Public Benefit

It must be noted that university education has significant positive externalities (social benefits). For instance, if a significant amount of a country’s labour force is university educated,the growth potential of the country should increase. This is because the workforce becomes more productive; being able to produce more with the same resources- a better educated workforce is better able to generate innovations in production and administration which improve productivity. A better educated workforce also increases the flexibility of the economy- if and when a sector of an economy fails, the workforce can transfer quicker to another sector if they are well educated as it takes a shorter time to train [This is very simplistic and requires elastic demand for labour in all other sectors of the economy so wages do not fall and the extra supply of labour can be absorbed]. Flexible economies tend to be resilient to shocks as easy movement of resources to sectors with the best potential for growth works against shocks in any sectors. [Resilience does not mean that recessions or sector failures will not occur, it just means that even if they do, the economy is able to bounce back quicker and stronger than in a less flexible economy].

When looked at with this background, I think it should be plain to see that increased participation in university education (meaningful degrees) should be encouraged and indeed facilitated, for the public good, through loans, grants and price caps among others (as the UK has been doing so far- Thank you, Britannia and Labour of course). This has led to an increase in government university funding of 25% over the last decade. However, with the revenge of the CDO economic crisis , government bailouts and fiscal stimulus we have reached a political equilibrium on spending somewhere between savage cuts now or savage cuts later. This has led to the aforementioned cuts and savings in university funding.

With cuts in funding I think it’s only fair that richer members of society should pay a higher price for education so as to subsidise the less well-off. This could leave the amount of “university education” (a good) the same or even raise it from the level it would be if the cuts were imposed at the same time as a rise in tuition fees as these would lead to a fall in participation by students from poorer backgrounds. As a reduction in a public good is harmful (leads to an efficiency loss) to society, anything that would leave the good demanded (and supplied, although this would have to be brought about by other means) unchanged or could raise it is useful.

I think this is a good argument for subsidising poorer students by richer students (I might be biased right now). However, it loses all weight if you’re a fiercely individualistic libertarian (“No such thing as society”- M Thatcher). Then you would believe that whatever is yours cannot and should not be used by others for anything other than your good so you should not be subsidising anyone (Read Nozick’s ‘Anarchy, State and Utopia’ for reasons why whatever you own is fairly yours if it has been traded legitimately etc. as well as arguments against redistribution). However, I believe that part of what makes us human is our ability, even our need to work together and help each other for the good of the collective. Now, while I do not dispute that what everyone owns is theirs and they should be left alone to enjoy it, I do think that the source of everything we own or will own can in some way be traced back to the society we live in, be it respect for property shown by others who do have incentive to steal what we own or the maintenance of the rule of law by the state. In most countries, public provision of primary and secondary education, maintenance/ provision of education standards in both public and private institutions by government and even (until recently in the UK) free university education through grants also show that at least part of what we own cannot be attributed to our individual genius. With this in mind, I think that the haves should help the have-nots so as to improve social welfare (which benefits all).

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