Sociologist cannot do numbers

Surprise, eh?

On the same day that news broke that staff at the University of Birmingham are protesting the obscene pay of their vice-chancellor, I opened an email asking for donations to a food bank that my university, Birmingham City, has started for students. This Dickensian contrast in fortunes demonstrates the widening problems of inequality in universities since fees have been introduced.

I have seen firsthand how hard some of our students struggle to make ends meet so I understand why the university offers emergency food services. I’m sure we are likely not alone. The initiative was started by those on the frontline of student support and is a valuable effort to provide help in a broken system. The very fact that staff have had to reach out for food charity demonstrates the failure of higher education “reforms” to provide for those that need it most.

When my sister went to university, tuition was free and there was a generous maintenance grant. When I went a few years later, my fees were minimal and the grant was still intact for the students who needed it. I now teach in a sector that charges some of the highest fees in the world, and the maintenance grant has been replaced by a loan, with an interest rate far higher than that of most mortgages. It is chilling to think what future generations of students will have to overcome in order to participate in higher education.

There is no claim upon cashflow either or interest or capital repayment until graduation. Thus the existence of the loan and or the interest rate make no difference at all to student lifestyles while at university.

Sigh.

54 comments on “Sociologist cannot do numbers

  1. And when the dick’s sister was at Uni on grants far fewer people went. Mostly those smart enough to benefit. Not fuckwit socio students–though there were some of them.

    Before Bliar and his 50% bullshit–wanted mainly so leftist indoctrination could get at them.

    Purge, purge,purge and purge now. Staff AND students.

  2. Of course he is talking rubbish.

    I wonder how rents have increased compared to grant/loan income.
    I know someone who was at University of Kent in 1988 the hall fee was £25 per week according to the bank of England that is £62 per week at todays prices.
    Actual cost £121 per week (I divided £4,802.20 by 39)
    https://www.kent.ac.uk/accommodation/canterbury/accommodation-fees.html
    It is a massive increase

    It is a rubbish uni – don’t go, it was not even worth the UCAS fee in the 90s.

  3. This Dickensian contrast in fortunes demonstrates the widening problems of inequality in universities since fees have been introduced.

    What it demonstrates is that certain universities aren’t worth attending.

  4. How about a ‘tax’ on prices in the Student Union bars (or a reduction in the subsidy if there is one)? Proceeds to fund the “food bank” they have set up. Those students happy to get pissed help fund those who cannot. Collective action, social justice, everything they claim to believe in. So why not?

  5. Member when students like Mike, Neil, Rick and Vyvyan used to live in the lap of luxury?

  6. > … make no difference at all to student lifestyles while at university

    No, student lifestyles have changed since the introduction of fees. There is considerable evidence of this.

    Today’s students drink less, work harder, and are more focused.
    The presence of fees has concentrated minds wonderfully.

  7. Hallowed Be – best bit of The Young Ones

    (Introducing the band Amazulu)

    Rick: Amazulu!

    Vyvyan’s talking Scottish hamster: Ahma Glasgwegian!

  8. The wonders of the markets of course excuse the ridiculous salaries paid to all-purpose bureaucrats who don’t do any teaching.(Remember kiddies : bureaucrats only proliferate in the public sector; bring in the disciplines of the private sector and the same kind of people will demand very much more money so can’t be called bureaucrats, rather executives or arseholes.)

  9. DBC Reed said:
    “Remember kiddies : bureaucrats only proliferate in the public sector”

    Universities are so heavily regulated that they are effectively public sector institutions.

    The answer is to de-regulate them, have more competition and see the fees driven down. Then there will be far less spare money sloshing around for self-important middle-managers.

  10. ‘Inequality’ is a CM scum reification fallacy; a tool to beat the opposition.

    Save time: purge anyone who says the word.

    “Political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” – George Orwell

  11. ‘obscene pay of their vice-chancellor’

    Conspicuously absent is the chancellor. Is he a Lefty, so his pay is reasonable?

  12. Reed–Your visits to this blog the mental equivalent of the regular need to physically expel ordure.

    There you are, getting on with the laughable misery that you call your day and you are struck by a sudden call to stool. The stool in front of your computer that is. To download mindless and meaningless filth on the rest of us. Like some scabies-ridden, meths-swilling dosser of the Internet.

    As you yourself expound “executives” are not bureaucrats. And the staff of state-controlled fucking Unis are not businessmen despite the fact that the charge money.

    They are slightly closer to being businesses in that the “services” they offer are options in that their “customers” could refuse–unlike say tax/licence thieves of various types.

    But the state still checks out the urinal before the Uni management use it.

    They –as creatures of the state and cucktural Marxism–are certainly arseholes. But that class also has you as a member Reedy so don’t get to full of yourself. They at least are arseholes making a lot of money by crawling to the state–which is very likely not the case with you.

  13. Universities are so heavily regulated that they are effectively public sector institutions

    Third sector, innit?

    They behave much as Big Charidee and the lamentably-still-unbonfired Quango Archipelago does, and with exactly the same sort of people running the show.

    If any industry is ripe for disruption, it’s our bloated higher ed sector. Why are students paying/being subsidised for small fortunes when subject matter experts can teach classes online from anywhere in the world?

  14. Richard

    I am not sure deregulation would see a cutting of fees. It’s a large part of each university’s income for one!

    The main reason though is that no one will move first. Because reducing fees will indicate that said uni is ‘cheap and nasty’.

    We saw this when the fee ceiling was raised to 9k. I think only about three unis didn’t raise it to the maximum immediately.

  15. I had problems learning how to budget effectively when I was a student – luckily I was on a monthly salary and had some (irregular, other students also having problems budgeting effectively) rental income.

    That was back in the no fees and grants days. Although grants were somewhat more parental means tested than in the high days of the ’60s.

  16. I went at the end of the 80’s and at the time was very bitter that I had to sell some possessions and blow all my savings to make ends meet.

    I didn’t get a (means tested) grant, although friends and other students in similar circumstances got £2-2.5k per term. And it was a grant; not a loan.

    It seemed that every time I became qualified for a grant, they’d change the rules to ensure I got nothing. This happened 4 years in succession.

    * awaits nano-violin and sympathy from JuliaM *

  17. Student lifestyle has definitely changed since I was at Uni in the 1980s. From observation from the bus, today’s students are spending for a lifestyle they want and demand entitlement to, not the lifestyle they can afford.

  18. And doing a quick search for news articles on student debt, many are people saying “I owe £70,000 in student loans, I’ll never earn enough to pay that off!!!!” Well,exactly! That means you *will* never pay it. Well done, four years uni education for free.

  19. When I went to uni in the 70s, maintenance grants were means tested (your parents) and fees were discretionary. Thus I received £50 per year and a bill for fees. My parents were generous and supported me, but I knew of people whose parents refused to complete the means testing forms and wouldn’t support their children in order to stop them going to uni.

    It’s a better system now as it’s up to the student. However, the bit about food banks is irrelevant as the maintenance part of the loan should be sufficient to support you.

  20. @Gamecock, The Vice Chancellor is the salaried head of a University, the Chancellor is normally some august celebrity . As to whether the Chancellor gets paid, well I’m sure there is an Honorarium of some kind, but that’s what you have to do to get the celeb to turn out. It may well be obscene too. You can be sure that there is a lot of politics involved.

    As to fees and living costs, I looked at a course at a US University, and they recommended putting aside $92k for a 1-year MSc!

  21. “And doing a quick search for news articles on student debt, many are people saying “I owe £70,000 in student loans, I’ll never earn enough to pay that off!!!!” Well,exactly! That means you *will* never pay it. Well done, four years uni education for free.”

    Well yes, but if they’re never going to earn enough to pay of the loan, then the ‘education’ they got was wasted wasn’t it? The problem with the current system is that it doesn’t incentivise people to choose degrees in areas that will pay well afterwards and ignore the basket weaving and tapestry ones that don’t. At the moment you can study anything you like as a freebie – if you never earn any more than if you hadn’t gone to uni then you don’t pay any extra.

    I think a graduate tax is better – pass a degree at a British Uni and get an extra X% slapped on your income tax for life. If you work abroad and don’t voluntarily pay the tax on your income abroad then it gets rolled up and will be due the moment you land back in the UK. Your choice – never come back, never have to pay it, come back once, get arrested and held until you pay your back taxes.

    For one thing it might make foreign students bugger off a bit quicker.

  22. When exactly does our sociologist begin campaigning for a reduction in his salary and benefits, as well as an increase in his teaching load? You know, so the kids don’t have to borrow so much…

  23. ‘On the same day that news broke that staff at the University of Birmingham are protesting the obscene pay of their vice-chancellor, I opened an email asking for donations to a food bank that my university, Birmingham City, has started for students. This Dickensian contrast in fortunes demonstrates the widening problems of inequality in universities since fees have been introduced.’

    So kill the vice-chancellor and take all his stuff. What do you do the next week when students get hungry again?

  24. @GameCock
    So kill the vice-chancellor and take all his stuff. What do you do the next week when students get hungry again?
    Kill the provost and take all his stuff.

    rinse – repeat

  25. “At the moment you can study anything you like as a freebie – if you never earn any more than if you hadn’t gone to uni then you don’t pay any extra.”

    Jim, if I haven’t cocked the maths up, student loan drawdowns per year will max out at £7.4bn-ish.

    If 50% of the students never earn enough to pay the loan back, or enough to make a dent in it, then about £3.7bn pa is being pissed straight up the wall.

    That is, oddly enough, roughly the amount the licence fee raises for the BBC each year, so £147 per household, per year.

    Marvellous.

  26. Rob Harries said:
    I am not sure deregulation would see a cutting of fees … no one will move first”

    Rob, it’s more that without the regulation new entrants would come in, commercial organisations setting up new, cheap universities. That would mean that the lower-ranking existing ones would have to either follow suit or fold.

  27. I had an NCB scholarship so I was a ‘rich’ student in the 70s. My parents didn’t have to shell out anything.

    In Australia, we have taken the stance that the deferred fees are the kids responsibility but we pay for accommodation, food and a modest living allowance. It is not a small commitment when you have a four kids and not one all parents can make. Many young people in Australia are limited to going to university in their home town, which is fine if you live in a capital city, not so great if you are in a regional town like Mackay.

    When I took our laat lammetjie to an information evening at her school, she listened attentively as we were told college (hall of residence) fees were about A$20k per year. She was very quiet on the way home, but eventually said: “so do you pay the A$20k and I pay you back later?”

    I replied: “No, we pay the A$20k and you don’t pay us back.” Her response was a rather understated: “Oh, thank you.”

  28. “Member when students like Mike, Neil, Rick and Vyvyan used to live in the lap of luxury?”

    Wasn’t it Mike, Neil, Owen and Vyvyan ?

  29. I opened an email asking for donations to a food bank that my university, Birmingham City, has started for students.

    That’s a fairly poor football team, isn’t it?

  30. @Solid Steve 2: Squirrels of The Patriots, December 8, 2017 at 11:35 am

    Member when students like Mike, Neil, Rick and Vyvyan used to live in the lap of luxury?

    Their rented house was luxury compared to the rented houses/flats friends lived in when I was at Uni in 80s.

  31. Deregulation isn’t the answer. Private US universities are horrifically expensive.

    Competition only drives down price when you are competing on price. Top universities compete on prestige, and it is important that they are expensive because that raises prestige. Selective admission is also key to prestige.

    The same way that there are cars out there that sell for hundreds of thousands. Ferrari don’t compete on price, so a new cheap entrant to the market is zero threat to them. A new expensive manufacturer might be.

  32. My mother got me a copy of Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor. Yikes. It’s an eye-opener. Mayhew was a contemporary of Dickens and the tales of woe in the books are toned down compared to the real thing. If Andrews is using the word “Dickensian” to describe the gap between today’s productive members of society and the dole scroungers then he needs a slap.

  33. “Deregulation isn’t the answer. Private US universities are horrifically expensive.”

    Because they know students will always be able to borrow and the risk isn’t with the university.

  34. “Top universities compete on prestige”

    That is what fuels the vast outlays for sports. Head football coach makes many multiples of what the governor of a state does.

  35. University is not worth attending aged late teens to early 20s on your own (borrowed) money. It is an incredibly inefficient way to learn anything- the purpose of it is the box tick of the qualification for certain professions (and some measure of prestige, more or less depending on your line of work and the qualification).

    Far better to start working, be good, and get your employer to pay for you to go through some courses. If you are good enough then they will pay, because they will need you to have the qualification in order to tick a box.

    Paying the money yourself first, in the vague hope that you will in fact be good enough to merit what it costs, is insanity.

  36. > That is, oddly enough, roughly the amount the licence fee raises for the BBC each year, so £147 per household, per year.

    Ironically, you’d learn more from the BBC’s late-night Open University lectures than from a modern institution.

  37. Chester Draws: “Competition only drives down price when you are competing on price. Top universities compete on prestige, and it is important that they are expensive because that raises prestige.”

    Top universities are only competing on prestige because it is a student-pays rather than an employer-pays system. If students stop paying and employers start then top universities will compete on results rather than prestige.

  38. Chester Draws said:
    “Deregulation isn’t the answer. Private US universities are horrifically expensive.”

    Some are, some aren’t. Brigham Young, mentioned elsewhere here recently, charges around £4,000 a year. Lots give discounts and scholarships so the actual fees are a lot less than the headline price. The average is dragged up by some ludicrously expensive places, but many charge similar or lower fees to UK.

  39. John M,
    We don’t have conscription (thank God). Military training is limited to a few tens of thousand and so the cost implication is a different scale. Our Chancellor thinks the British army can get by on 50,000 in total.

    I’m sure you could close 50% of university courses without a significant impact on productivity. You could easily compress a 3 year degree to 2 years for the non-lab based subjects. That you’ll bring the price down.

    From my experience we’d be better off teaching people simple arithmetic, how to use Excel and what opportunity cost is.

  40. “We don’t have conscription (thank God).”

    WRONG! Julie Bindel needs to go through basic training and AIT.

  41. I went to uni from 2009 to 2012.
    Full student grant and loans, around £2k paid 3 times a year.
    I also worked full time for 2 years and part time my 3rd year.
    Hey, I had mortgage and bills to pay.

    Usually it was the mature students who could manage, that had part time jobs and often families to support. And managed.
    The youngsters, given £2k, had most of it spent within a couple of weeks.

    I cannot recall any student who wanted to work that was unable to get a part time job of some kind. There were always a ton of vacancies in the student support centre, at the start of academic year there were literally thousands advertised.
    The ones that didn’t want to work… well, not able to hold down a job.

    My wife works nights parcel sorting, lots of agency staff there – including students. Some of the agency staff work just 2 or 3 nights a week.
    3 nights, say £30 a night, £90 a week – and working until 2am. Getting back to accommodation / houseshare around the same time as the drinkers.

    There are some who turn their nose up at work, they want to party – just don’t have the money for it.
    One guy didn’t like the idea of doing jobs for others so got together a band and did the local clubs scene 3 nights a week. He was pretty good, his bandmates not so much. 🙂

    And yes I sneeze in threes you could compress some courses into two years. That would cut down on the time available to work however.
    Lets see, 30 hours reading a week, call it 8 hours of lectures and seminars, call it an average of 7 hours a week in assignments – so that’s 45 hours a week already.
    Make the degree two years and increase that by 50% – and you are looking at almost 10 hours a day on average.

    Making it much more difficult to work full time. And impacting ability to work part time.
    But yes, could be done.

  42. I sneeze in threes – I did war studies, which shared some of the same modules as history. 30 hours reading a week was pretty common among the students I was with. 3 or 4 books. Per module per week. Only occasionally being given a particular chapter of a book. Most were very lecture specific.
    And four modules per semester.

    There were probably those who didn’t bother reading anything. Could use just lecture notes and a few things found in books for assignments. If wanted to scrape a pass or sometimes fail an assignment.
    Redoing a module, a semester or even a year doesn’t bother some people. And walking out without a degree probably happened.
    Those of us with a bit of ambition, who wanted to get on, who wanted something from all the effort – we were probably the ones doing the reading.
    Still got a chunk of the books I purchased. Uni library was nice but some books were 2 or 3 copies between 30 of us.

  43. Martin,
    I wonder how typical your experience is of the now much enlarged student body who cry out for funding. I really don’t think some of the less rigorous courses and universities should be trying to emulate the Russell Group in their structure and offer.

    I’d be interested to compare those types of university to say students at BPP in how much effort they put in and how efficiently their courses are organised (BPP offer an accelerated BSc in accountancy and finance that takes two years).

    If you can knock a year of a degree then that is at least a year’s living costs saved.

    http://www.bpp.com/bpp-university/home?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI-bKCzqb91wIV1oqzCh365g54EAAYASAAEgKQ1fD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds&dclid=CPips9Cm_dcCFZytUQodh9UIDw

  44. @ I sneeze in threes
    Back in the 60s, my maths tutor warned us that we should only be able to do five hours work a day if we were working flat out so we shouldn’t leave everything until the day/evening before our tutorial. He was pretty much right. More than 30 hours a week was pushing it – and I’ve managed 70-hour weeks as a highly-paid consultant on occasion (although any hours over 8 per day on any contract were unpaid: I wanted to get the job done right) so I’m not a particularly delicate flower.
    Asking someone to do a three-year degree course in two years means you think he is in the wrong university and should be in Harvard or Oxbridge (or in a Russell Group provincial university instead of a ex-poly).
    Incidently, I wasn’t impressed by BPP when I looked at them but that’s some years ago so they may have improved.
    Of course, you may say that everyone studying political economy at Islington poly should leave and try to join a better university but generally if most people can do the course in two years then the uni should upgrade the course so that it is worth three years of study. I once did a course in less than the expected time and the university upgraded the course for those starting when I finished (I don’t think that was the reason why they did it – I was almostcertainly the last guy to take the course while they were working on the upgrade).

  45. john77 – did three of my assignments in one day once, a 7 hour stint in the library. The last was unfinished and still got a high B grade for it, with another 20 minutes would have got an A.
    10 hour days were pretty common, a few 12 hour days too – we worked the local markets at the time so I’d go in with the wife for the morning then leave to get to lecture.

    There are advantages to doing a degree in 2 years, there are downsides too.
    For those courses involving practical elements there’s less time to get things right too.
    My wife chased rabbits and sheep as part of her course. Hands on work being a major chunk for her degree. She did get a trained cat out of her course…

  46. Solid Steve,

    “If any industry is ripe for disruption, it’s our bloated higher ed sector. Why are students paying/being subsidised for small fortunes when subject matter experts can teach classes online from anywhere in the world?”

    Because there’s incentives still supporting it, some of which is based on people’s flawed thinking (that was built up and reinforced by the liberal elite of media, academia and politics) and also by people who are just doing the job to please the people with the flawed thinking. So, HR people try and get graduates. Not because they’re better, but because it covers their arse. If they’re crap, they can point out that the person had a degree, so they did their job.

    It’s going to take some time, but people will wake up to it and a lot of degrees will be considered worthless.

    When you look at small software houses, none of them pay for classroom training today. It’s all e-learning and has been for years. £25/course instead of £1200, and provided by some of the best experts rather than someone who is just telling you what they’ve been given.

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