Friday, 17 December 2010

Student fee 'savings' will fund windmills in Africa

Christopher Booker/Telegraph:

In the short term, the Government’s own projection as to how much it will save is that the funding of university tuition will be cut by £2.9 billion by 2014. As it happens, £2.9 billion is the sum ring-fenced, by the same public spending review, to be given to developing countries to help them fight global warming with windmills and solar panels. It is also slightly less than the £3 billion by which our public debt is rising every week. These much-vaunted “cuts” are not all we are led to believe.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Party like its 1969

Care of Adam Curtis

Here is a lovely documentary made in 1969 about that year's Christmas office party at a London advertising agency.

Prior knowledge of Swedish 'suicide bomb'?


On Sunday evening the Swedish news agency Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå (TT) reported that they had received information that hours before the bombings in Stockholm an employee of the Swedish Armed Forces sent a warning to an acquaintance that "something serious" could happen on Drottninggatan (Queen Street).

"The Swedish Armed Forces had no knowledge beforehand about plans or the circumstances surrounding the events. If that was the case, the Swedish Secret Service as the responsible authority in such matters would immediately have been informed," said Erik Lagersten, Information Director of the Swedish Armed Forces.

The police on Monday said they hadn't found anything confirming that this message was delivered as claimed..

Human Resources

An incredibly interesting film about pscyhology and human behaviour.

Pupil Premium

Up pops an email from Sarah Teather MP spreading the good news of the pupil premium that will give £430 per year to students on free school meals from April next year. This money goes direct to the school and can be used by the Head Teacher to pay for one to one tuition, after-school clubs or breakfast clubs.

I'm a little underwhelmed by the amount. Lets take a look at the sums: at an inner London primary school with 30% free school meal children that means an extra £50,000 per year. This compares to a typical annual school budget of just over £2 million pounds or £5000 per year spent on each child. For comparison the average fee for a private school place for age 5-11 is £8,000 per year. One key indicator that reflects this is that class sizes are half the size in private schools, who are of course very picky about taking children with learning disabilities.

For the individual child on free school meals who receives the benefit of the pupil premium, this means just over £10 will be available to be spent per week over a 39 week school year. This will pay for maybe one hour's one to one tuition or an extra after school club session.

However, it is to increase over the next three years. Judging the government figures it will rise from a total of £625 million in 2011-12 to £2.5 bn in 2014-15. An increase of £625 million each year. So in three year's time there'll be £40 spend per poorest child per school week.

The real elephant in the room remains the gap between state school funding of schools and the private sector fees. I can't see how the pupil premium as it is will bridge the gulf that starts at primary level and widens thereon.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Kettling causes aggression

A psychological reason why kettling or containment causes aggression. The frustration aggression hypothesis. I'm sure this is well understood.

Flinging a pot of paint at the Royals

There is no better image of the conflict between unearned wealth and young people whose education is being made more expensive than the paint attack on Charles and Camilla's car.

The attack or protest highlights a question not even being discussed on the rigged slate of what is on the chopping board. It is a given that the state can continue to give support the Royal family but in order to reduce the deficit it has to take away from the much less well off.

The Crown Estate, nearly 700,000 acres of land, generates an income that goes to the government, of which some is given back to the Queen as a grant known as the Civil List. If you find it hard to imagine 700,000 acres, the average private homeowning family who has just 0.18 of an acre for their home.

As Kevin Cahill wrote in his book Who Owns Britain:

"The Queen an her immediate family of just eight people, believe that to be comfortable they have to have, for their use in one way or another, a quarter of the land needed to house 45 million poeple in the private sector."

The government made no savage cuts to this Royal grant. In the June budget it was frozen at £8 million per year. To that annual cost we need to add extra state expenses for travel and security totalling approximately £120 million. This is balanced by a net income to the Treasury from the Crown Estate of £200 million. The Royal family is at best revenue neutral.

The Prince of Wales personally receives revenues form 140,000 acres of the Duchy of Cornwall. This earned him a post tax income of £17 million in 2009-10. As his annual accounts tell us, he pays tax 'voluntarily on the surplus of the Duchy of Cornwall' and generates £100 million for charity each year. As we're all in this together can we look at the part-privatisation of Royal land assets?

Flinging a pot of paint at a car is something the Suffragettes would have done to draw attention to their cause. I don't know what the thoughts and beliefs of the paint flinger are, but they've drawn attention to an elephant in the room.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Tuition fees

Martin Luther King spoke of the 'fierce urgency of now' when fighting for freedom and warned against the 'tranquillizing drug of gradualism'. I'm bemused by the rush of this government into drastic changes in many policy areas where sudden change threatens to rip apart the consent necessary for peaceful civil society. Where is the rush to change the behaviour of bankers and international speculators whose derivatives sunk the world economy? Their banking levy rate is being adjusted downwards in case, horror of horrors, it actually raises too much money from the speculative financial sector who caused this sudden retrenchment of the state.

But let's celebrate – tuition fee reform plans will allow students to have a free university education, provided they earn less than a £21,000 salary for the next 30 years. Then the government will write the outstanding loan off, so that you can start planning for your retirement the following decade.

The doubling of student tuition (or course) fees to up to £9,000 per year will not make much difference to the 7% of privately educated students who presently make up 15% of those at university. Their parents have been paying on average of £10,000 each year for their education. The children of the very rich, whose family wealth has ballooned in the last ten years, are largely immune to high fees. The more they pay the better the chance of an 'exceptional return' on their investment. The most expensive public schools skew the result. Half of the students at Westminster School (£30,000 per year) get into Oxbridge. That's an advantage worth paying for. The golden ticket of an expensive education will give them a high chance of becoming an MP – one in three of whom were educated privately. (Nearly half of Conservative MPs were privately educated.) Privately educated students are also disproportionately represented at the higher levels in journalism, the legal profession and the military.

Of course, there is no reason why the 22 of the 29 members of the cabinet who have assets and investments worth more than £1 million should not appreciate the extra burden that increased tuition fees will place on students from middle income families who graduate into jobs earning little more than the £21,000 repayment threshold.

Once this earnings threshold is crossed, the debtor must pay back at a rate of inflation (the higher RPI measure) plus 3%. Repayments for a graduate earning an average of £30,000 per year with a total loan of £40,000 will be £70 per month. Under the Browne proposals the payment depends 'only on the income of the borrower, it is independent of the interest rate and the size of debt outstanding.' After 30 years £11,000 of the loan would be repaid. The rest of the loan would then be written off. Psychologically it will be very strange for a person of 50 to still carry a debt of £30,000 around their neck from 30 years ago. They might feel a bit ashamed that they haven't managed to pay back their debt. If only they'd become a banker...

Why should 100% of the tuition fees be charged to solely to the individual? The skills gained from the degree are not the property of the student. They are employed to achieve a greater earnings potential which is taxed at a higher rate if they earn a high salary. The company they work for gets the benefit of a skilled employee who earns a profit for them. Are we happy to be a society that has taken selfishness to a new level as if neither society nor their employers benefits from their education?

When was it decided that we can't keep 40% of a generation in higher education without them paying for it, yet we can afford to keep 100% (or more accurately 93%) of the same generation in school up to the age of 18? What does it say about a society when it won't give all it's young people access to higher education. Does it fear an educated citizenry? Maths graduates who won't waste their money buying lottery tickets. History graduates that can spot the next illegal war. Economists who know that a Robin Hood tax on city financial transactions would raise enough to provide free education and a lot more besides.

This education in individual accounting opens the door to personal 'profit and loss accounts' for citizens, tracked by your NI number, where what you are able to take out of a system (for example, in terms of health care or social security) is defined by how much you've paid in over your lifetime.

Welcome to a selfish, individualistic, highly unequal, profit and loss society. Higher education - not so much 'know thyself' as 'know thy economic worth'.

Dear Nick Clegg

Dear Nick Clegg,
I'm dreaming of a Robin Hood (Financial Transaction Tax) £4bn raised at 0.1%
on derivatives trades, I'm dreaming of higher council tax on properties banded E-H raising £2bn. And I believe in a social contract where the state provides a free education.