Good question

Instead, we have thousands upon thousands of young people, often from poor backgrounds, saddled with £30,000 of debt after three years of gender realignment studies at the University of West Norfolk (formerly Downham Market Tech).

Where did he get this idea from?

28 thoughts on “Good question”

  1. Well, they’re not really saddled with debt because the thickies (and especially the female thickies) barely pay it back.

    The incentives are thoroughly fucked. Send your daughter to study photography because it doesn’t cost you much, and she wants to do it. The university gets £30K and expands, so bigger salaries.

    What should happen is that universities should collect the tax. Run a load of courses in Gender Realignment Studies and you aren’t going to get the money back.

  2. Isn’t it a bit like an amputee signing up for a two-week course in arm-wrestling? Isn’t it kind of inappropriate?

    Not if it is one or more legs that have been amputated.

  3. Rod’s a little out of date on the movements of Murphy it seems. Better would be

    Instead, we have thousands upon thousands of young people, often from poor backgrounds, saddled with £30,000 of debt after three years of gender realignment studies at the University of the Cambridgeshire Fens (formerly Ely Tech).

  4. Rather interestingly, the debt is likely to be more than £30k, because as well as the fees, there are living costs, usually away from home. But still, the debt is not typically more than a large car purchase (new).

    Absolutely correct that many graduates are unlikely to pay it all back – or in some cases, any of it, although there are some who will pay it all off.

    The real problem areas as far as I can see are the ones in the middle, saddled with paying off a debt while on a reasonable salary, and thus hobbled. But then isn’t that the same for all of us taxpayers (hobbled with debt we’ll never pay off)?

    My experience of higher education (well, actually, the lower part of it) is that the most senior folks do well out of it, and the parasitical classes become ever larger, but the academic staff get ever more work and don’t see the rewards. When I was teaching in a University, the student numbers blossomed while the staff numbers shrank, and the workload stopped being measured in how many lectures you delivered, and became a function of how much coursework you had to assess. I might point out that an hour-long lecture takes some preparation time, but delivering much the same stuff over a long career evens out to an hour plus something. When you start, that something is greater than an additional hour, but after (say) ten years may even amount to nothing. However, when I had to read and assess 10 reports, I could carry them home, and do them while my Missus watched Eastenders. 150 takes days. (It did. Fuck that for a game of academics!)

    The point of this, believe it or not, isn’t to complain about workload: it’s to point out that the student experience is a fraction of what it used to be, and (in STEM subjects) isn’t the preparation for a career that it used to be. Those debt holders aren’t getting value for their money.

  5. Saddled with paying debt while on a reasonable salary?

    £23k plus to pay even a tiny bit for the more recent graduates, £15k plus for us previous graduates.
    If I get a job paying £20k a year my graduate tax is tiny. If I reduce my hours down to £16k income then the tax is much smaller still.

    Even on average wage the newer graduates will pay only a small amount extra tax.

    Plenty won’t end up on average wage. But still, think of the free money for 3 years to doss around, attend odd lecture, write odd essay etc.
    I worked full time while doing my degree full time, the money was pretty good!

  6. ” When I was teaching in a University, the student numbers blossomed while the staff numbers shrank, and the workload stopped being measured in how many lectures you delivered, and became a function of how much coursework you had to assess. I might point out that an hour-long lecture takes some preparation time, but delivering much the same stuff over a long career evens out to an hour plus something.”

    That universities still do this stuff amazes me. Why not go the whole medieval route, abandon books and have some guy reading from handwritten parchment scrolls. Or maybe university entrants are so fucking thick they can’t absorb information like adults. What is it? A job creation scheme for academics?

  7. bloke in spain said:
    “That universities still do this stuff [lectures] amazes me. Why not go the whole medieval route, abandon books and have some guy reading from handwritten parchment scrolls.”

    Two reasons:

    1) it’s a cheap way of getting “contact time” – an hour’s lecture can be an hour for 150 students at the cost of an hour and a bit (max. two hours) staff time (mine aren’t, because mine are too specialised to get those numbers, but it’s true in general). So it’s a cheap way of looking like you’re giving the students something for the money. Unfortunately anything that’s actually useful (small group tutorials / seminars, commenting on individual work) doesn’t get that sort of multiplier.

    2) Most academics like doing them. They’re easy, and we get to ponce around dispensing our wisdom to captive audience. A decent interactive seminar is hard work, to prepare and to deliver, unless your students are brilliant and hard-working.

    So since it’s good for the institution and the staff, everyone keeps quiet about whether it’s actually any use. To be fair, it’s probably some use for some students, but a very inefficient way of learning for others.

  8. “gender re-alignment studies” is a thing? Is that rated higher or lower than “Advanced Interpretive Dance” ?

  9. I did learn a few things in lectures. Books can present the information too dense at times or gloss over some aspect that a lecturer feels should be expanded upon.
    OK an hour lecture on the American civil war is not quite the same as reading the 100,000 books on the subject but can give a better overview than the details about the horses that pulled the cannon.

    Could scrape a pass in assignments and exams by just using lecture notes, though most of us added considerably more from different sources. And some students were incapable of even doing that.

    Back in 2010 I came across some students just there to get their MRS degree. Probably still the most common degree around.

  10. I sneeze in threes

    Don’t ignore the opportunity cost of time at university. They could be learning something in those years if working, looking at the world around them realising most people don’t get on if they have nothing to offer. You go from school, full of other children, to a world of adults of various ages that won’t put up with your childish ways. That could (should) be an incentive to buck your ideas up and think my “entry level job is shit, how do I get that better job that older guy has?” Except for the best and brightest (law, stem, architecture) I’d argue you shouldn’t be allowed near a university till 21. If you still want to go then you’ll work harder and achieve more (including picking a more worthwhile course). It would also help if we had some decent vocational training for 18 year olds to give another option.

  11. I sneeze in threes – first year we had an optional module of ‘How to write academically’. Was extremely popular with the mature students, they had to run 2 classes of it the first semester. Over 90% of the class was mature students.
    Helped a massive amount with the first semester assignments.

    The 18 year olds didn’t for the most part think they needed it. Until January when they got first semester assignments back and had to rewrite to get a D grade, the only possible pass on a rewrite.

    Though not everything was done by mature students – a lot of the study groups we had were set up by the 18 year olds. Not all immature, some had done more than simply be babysat at school.

    What exactly is a worthwhile course? Can you say 10 years in advance what is useful? Can you say what interests a person should have?
    I have a passion for history. Particular periods and types – the first time I formally studied WW1 and WW2 was at uni, was not covered at school unless you did GCSE history.

    In the field I worked in back when I was at uni I needed a degree, doesn’t matter what in. The only formal qualifications at the time in my field were all postgrad – and with no undergrad course it didn’t matter what you took previously. Something with writing helped, what with writing being a chunk of the job. 🙂

  12. “first year we had an optional module of ‘How to write academically’.”

    Huh? optional? We got a mandatory module in the first month, before hitting the juicy bits. Anything not written according to scientific standards, including keeping your notes in order, was simply not accepted. You were allowed to correct it during first semester, but from second semester on, if it wasn’t in proper form, you simply failed.
    Mind.. my alma mater was definitely ..conservative.. in its attitudes.. ymmv for other uni’s..

    And while for some “settled” fields physical college hours are not really necessary ( Law students had very few hours.. ( and TONS to read up on for them..)) , the basic literature on actual science is always behind, so you need lectures/workgroups to present the new insights from scientific papers to students. Because it’ll be in the next edition…

    For instance Genes IV ( the then current “bible” of molecular biology, nowadays on XII) was a hefty tome.. Which by the end of the second year was augmented by two boxes full of annotated copies… By which time came Genes V, with the process repeating…
    And what was in the exams was in the copies… not the book… so if you skipped lectures… wellll….

  13. “first year we had an optional module of ‘How to write academically’.”

    Yerwot? We had that *at* *school*.

  14. @jgh

    “Yerwot? We had that *at* *school*.”

    I don’t see the issue with uni having it too. For one thing, different academic subjects have different writing styles and conventions. For another, they’re taking students from a variety of backgrounds including internationally so you can’t rely on what was taught at school or indeed even in a previous degree. When I did my postgraduate study it was run as an optional course; I didn’t take it but a South Korean friend of mine did. Their university degree (STEM subject) had been assessed entirely by multiple choice exam and they’d never been asked to produce a piece of assessed academic writing at university level before. So with students like that, the university felt obliged to run the optional course (indeed most of the people who took it were from overseas and had taken first degrees under different language of instruction – making the course optional meant staff could concentrate time and energy on the students who really needed it).

  15. bloke in spain,

    “That universities still do this stuff [lectures] amazes me. Why not go the whole medieval route, abandon books and have some guy reading from handwritten parchment scrolls.”

    Universities are a medieval invention. Books were ridiculously expensive, so you go to a place and hear someone reading to you. And for centuries after printing, it probably still made some sense because the cost of books vs cost of people was still high.

    I haven’t done software training with humans for nearly 20 years. The cost difference of CBT vs classroom is ridiculous. £100 courses vs £1500 courses. And because it replicates as many times as you like, everyone gets the best teachers and materials.

    There’s still areas where I think university is useful, but if you just like history, read some books.

  16. @bom4

    Acrually I think training as a historian is one of those things that universities do that can’t be easily done elsewhere. Though admittedly there isn’t massive demand for historians…

    Reading books and sitting through online lectures isn’t the same as engaging with ideas in a seminar setting, being assessed on your critical thinking and writing, training in working with sources (including how to use an academic library or archive) and so on.

    Reading a lot of books is useful for learning a lot of facts about history but that’s not the same thing as being a historian. It may, however, be close enough for someone who is just interested in history “for fun”.

    Teaching someone to write in general is quite tricky, I think. It’s definitely a skill that can be developed – people can improve, it isn’t a case of you have “it” or you don’t – but I think few people make the transition from school-level “knowing how to put sentences together with appropriate grammar and spelling” to actually being “a writer” (not necessarily novelists or poetry, I’m including technical writing, sales copy, reports, or indeed a satisfying essay about history) without some degree of human input and feedback. Practising helps, and reading about the art of writing helps, but there are plenty of self-published novelists whose tenth novel still shows tell-tale signs of amateur origin and lack of professional editing.

  17. MyBurningEars
    “Reading books and sitting through online lectures isn’t the same as engaging with ideas in a seminar setting, being assessed on your critical thinking and writing … and so on”

    Agreed, that’s where universities add value.

    Unfortunately that’s also the bit that universities are doing less and less of, because (see my comment above) it’s more expensive.

    Quite what the universities piss the £9,000 p.a. fees away on I’m not sure, but it seems to be a combination of middle management, mid-ranking “professors” who don’t produce much of value, and flashy buildings.

  18. MBE ‘Reading a lot of books is useful for learning a lot of facts about history but that’s not the same thing as being a historian.’

    Yes, being a historian is not so much knowing facts as knowing how to ferret the out: finding sources, weighing the evidence and, telling a coherent and interesting story.

    “plenty of self-published novelists whose tenth novel still shows tell-tale signs of amateur origin and lack of professional editing”

    And histories too: a sure sign of amateur history is the inability to leave anything out, to start with the earliest fact and just keep going on in chronological (dis)order, a tale woven without texture, warp and weft.

  19. Bloke in Spain, I’m sorry, I didn’t get your point.

    Mine was that despite paying through the nose, today’s students get less of the good stuff, and the academics don’t benefit: the Vice Chancellor & entourage do, and the ‘Admin’ has burgeoned.

    The reason why lectures, lab classes and field courses work is that with the right student:staff ratios they get motivated young people to the point where they can take over and get what else they want from self-tuition with books, online studies and so on. You’d be surprised how basic the content is in an undergraduate engineering course is to someone more advanced in their career. If you graduate at 21 with a good honours in a STEM subject your 3 years (or at 22 with 4 years) used to put you where it takes 10 to 20 years to teach yourself – the difference is probably less now.

    BiS, if it was that University is a waste of the student’s time, you might find me in agreement for some disciplines (if they are that), and indeed, even in a ‘worthy’ subject, much of what is learnt will have little relevance. Additionally, it is difficult to see how some students can make a living on the basis of their degree. But, a society of 60+ million people would be all the poorer if some subjects even in the Arts were completely culled, and some subjects that might get one fired up because they seem barmy, do actually get people jobs.

  20. History/historians.

    My late uncle, for whom I am named, was a prominent history professor at a mid-west university. I wish now I had been able to take some of his classes. Which never occurred to me while he was still living/teaching.

    The greatest historian of our time – for the U.S., at least – was Shelby Foote. His “Civil War: a Narrative” is legend.

    What made him great? He was a NOVELIST. A book writer. HE KNEW HOW TO TELL A STORY!

    The backstory is that he went to Washington to read the 125 volume government history of the Civil War. He distilled it down to 3 volumes with about 3,000 pages total. Because Foote was at first a novelist, the set is quite readable. And interesting. It has virtually no footnotes. He said just about everything came from the government’s official history, so all footnotes would just be to it.

  21. Excavator Man said:
    “Mine was that despite paying through the nose, today’s students get less of the good stuff, and the academics don’t benefit: the Vice Chancellor & entourage do, and the ‘Admin’ has burgeoned.”

    The admin staff did burgeon in the ’00s, but they’ve really cut back in recent years (I think widely across the sector, not just my lot).

    Sadly they’ve only cut back on the admin staff, not the admin. What seems to be happening is that more academics are being given low-grade middle-management roles as part of their job, whilst still being partly (and therefore recorded as) academics. This makes the staffing figures look better, but I shouldn’t think it’s very cost-effective

  22. Gamecock said:
    “Because Foote was at first a novelist, the set is quite readable. And interesting. It has virtually no footnotes.”

    I rather enjoy the Flashman books, which are historical novels with footnotes.

  23. @RichardT

    “This makes the staffing figures look better, but I shouldn’t think it’s very cost-effective”

    Other problem is that it makes the job far less attractive. When I was a lecturer, decades past, the paperwork and meetings were the worst part of the job – and I was just employed for teaching, people who also want to work on the research side (which comes with its own bureaucratic hurdles for grant applications, ethics and so on) must be really squeezed.

  24. @EM

    “But, a society of 60+ million people would be all the poorer if some subjects even in the Arts were completely culled, and some subjects that might get one fired up because they seem barmy, do actually get people jobs.”

    There’s definitely some truth in this, and the creative sector definitely generates some serious revenue and exports, even if the rewards are highly skewed towards the big winners, and a good STEM degree is likely a gateway to a more secure career path. Martin’s point about not being able to access a postgraduate-only course without having to do an (irrelevant) undergraduate degree is the flip side of this, though – a sort of mindless credentialism where people have to get a degree to get a job (or even get a degree in order to get another degree to get a job) which could probably be addressed in a saner way (though comes up against the economic issue of credentials serving a value purpose as “signalling” – https://www.econlib.org/archives/2006/02/mixed_signals.html etc).

  25. @ Martin et al.
    “How to write academically” – would have driven me round the bend. i have tried “Harvard Referencing” just once, under my wife’s intermittent supervision, and more-than-I-should-advise alcoholic consolation [OK, twice – the second time I quit because it really wasn’t worth it.]
    Like most boys I had dreams of being a sports superstar but my genetic inheritance was diluted (the peak of my mother’s sporting career was “Captain of Boats” at her college) and my family insisted that I take advantage of my academic results to earn a good living and limit sport to my spare time. If this had been applied to my Maths studies I might well have quit and failed dismally as a professional sportsman.

  26. ‘Martin’s point about not being able to access a postgraduate-only course without having to do an (irrelevant) undergraduate degree’

    Not so fast. You don’t want someone who doesn’t know the basics to drag the whole class down.

  27. @GC

    It wasn’t about knowing the basics, it was about having a bachelors in anything whatsoever being the gateway to a postgrad-only professional course. So none of the undergrad content need be relevant. Can’t even say “they’ll have learned essential skills like academic writing and referencing” because they could have taken BSc Mathematics and done no essay writing whatsoever. There was no good reason I can think of not to allow Martin to just go straight to the professional course, and if that meant rebranding it as an undergrad course then so be it.

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