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Caveat Emptor

The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Friday, 7 July 2017

University Fees

I recommend this piece by Rob Ford on paying for higher education through student fees. 

One of the curious aspects of the current discussion of whether or not graduates should pay for the university education they have received (someone has to pay) is that the original thinking behind the current fee and loan system had very little to do with considerations of equity and redistribution. It was meant to solve a very practical problem: British universities were skint.  Opening the door to more undergraduates (which I assume most people agree was a good thing) could not be achieved under the existing funding arrangements without accepting an Italian or German style mass system in which all who are qualified can come but there are no guarantees there will be a seat  in the lecture theatre, or in some cases even a lecture theatre.

Nobody wanted or was advocating the Lidl version of higher education and it was clear that the Treasury would not be sending extra money in the direction of higher education. Anyone who knows anything about the way departmental negotiations with the Treasury  work  recognizes that when it comes to divvying out the cash, higher education is a very low priority. The clue is in the fact that the Minister of State for Higher Education does not sit in the cabinet. We might wish the world was different, but politics is about dealing with it as it is.

So, if universities were to expand they needed money immediately and if that money was not going to come from the Treasury the only place it could come from was the consumers. If they took out loans then the Treasury was happy to give universities the money up front and sell off the debt. 

As it happens there are also redistributive arguments for graduates paying what is in effect a graduate tax, tempered by debt forgiveness for low earners. There is also a case for financial aid for students from the very poorest backgrounds. But redistribution was not really what the current fee system was about.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Getting your tables right

It's that time of year when MA/MSc student minds turn to dissertation writing. In my neck of the woods that frequently involves communicating some numerical information to the reader. As I explain annually, at length, to anyone that cares to ask me, this is all about putting the needs of the reader first and downsizing  one's own egotistical tendencies. 

Tables that look like pieces of modern art are obstacles to understanding and demonstrate nothing more  than  a complete lack of thought by the person who constructed them. It's all about craftsmanship really, and if you can't be bothered with craftsmanship, then personally I don't feel terribly motivated to pay much attention to whatever it is you have to say. Which is possibly a pity, because what you have to say might be important. It isn't rocket science, it's just about caring enough to take a little trouble. Think of it as reciprocity. If you go to the trouble to maximize the possibility that I understand what you are saying, I'll make an effort to do the understanding, and if you don't I won't.

Well now I don't need to go on at length, because someone at Darkhorse Analytics has gone to the trouble to illustrate it  much better than I could (hat tip to Eric Harrison for alerting me to this). Happy table making and I hope you never use a colour fill or a jungle of lines again. By the way, it's all in Tufte, but those books are expensive...

Friday, 9 June 2017

Politics. It's a funny old life.

It feels a bit odd to be so pleased about the outcome of the election. The party I support, but didn't vote for, didn't win, but did  much better than I expected with a leader that I also didn't vote for, while the candidate that I voted for, whose party I don't support, stormed to victory and regained his seat. Was electoral politics so much simpler in the past?

Perhaps I'm just glad I didn't make a public prediction before the event. If I had, I would have been completely wrong, again. On the other hand I would have been in the good company of the  majority of  professional political forecasters and pundits. Talk about a ship of fools.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Kom Änglar

Also on the charming side of sentimental  are Lars Winnerbäck and Lisa Ekdahl. If you look around there is probably an English translation somewhere out there.  The first verse is roughly:

The most beautiful moment in my life is when you came (into it),
And nothing was allowed.
And everything that we did I want to go on,
Because it echoes in my mind.

You get the idea of where this is going... to inevitable tragedy. One thing though. You wouldn't take an English song seriously whose chorus began:

Come angels, come fairies...

I guess it just shows that poetic register can be pretty much untranslatable. What makes perfect sense in one language/culture does not work in another when translated literally. Yes, War and Peace in English is really not the same book it is in Russian.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

You can close your eyes

Little time to post at the moment as I try to get a few things shifted from my "to do" to my "done" list. But music is always good. I think this falls on the right side of the touching/sentimental divide. And I could listen to James Taylor play guitar all day.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Beam me up Scotty

I know I'm mixing my metaphors here but it's becoming increasing difficult not to reach the conclusion that I have slipped into a parallel universe where rationality works in some different and completely incomprehensible way. 

If you are applying for British citizenship you have to get your application signed by two referees one of whom should  be an "acceptable professional person". Helpfully you are supplied with a list of acceptable professional persons. It is a very interesting list. For example, medical doctors are not on it and thus I assume not regarded by the UK Border Agency as "acceptable professional persons". However, if you are a Christian Science Practitioner that's good enough for UKBA. 

Run that by me again. If you are a qualified medic you are not an "acceptable professional person" but if you believe  that sickness is an illusion that can be corrected by prayer alone then you are just the sort of person that UKBA thinks  can be trusted to certify a citizenship application.

I can't even begin to get into the mind of the person who made that decision.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Portes on Brexit books

Here is a rather informative interview with Jonathan Portes in which he recommends five books (actually 4 and a blog) to read about Brexit. Definitely worth the time it takes to digest it.