Postcard from the Staterooms-on-Sea

Dear Reader,

Well… a most enjoyable Christmas Day and Boxing Day but now, mercifully, it is time to move on.  There was a very interesting article in the Observer this morning…

Call for universities to charge well-off students £30,000 a year

Former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee says poor have been subsidising the rich for too long

Having been in the private sector of legal education for 25 odd years, and recently an observer of developments, it is worth pointing out that  students are used to paying market-rates for legal education at the Legal Practice or Bar Vocational Course stage with fees for those courses coming in at between £8500-£14500. Danny Blanchflower, a former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, said the “poor have been subsidising the rich” for too many years.  He is, I’m afraid, whether the rich middle classes like it or not, correct. He makes the point that universities are strapped for cash at the moment, that well off parents have been been paying substantial fees for private education and primary and secondary level for their children but resent paying for the most sophisticated education of all – the university degree stage; the stage that determines, more of ten than not, the future career and success of the student.

It is astonishing that those from poorer backgrounds pay the same at ther university stage as those from richer backgrounds. It isn’t fair and Blanchflower makes some valuable points – most, I suspect, unpalatable to those from richer backgrounds.  Will a future Labour or Conservative government have the courage to drive through reform so that the real cost of high quality education is divided more equably?  I am not holding my breath on this.  If anything, it will be a very long and slow burn.

In legal education at the LPC and BVC stage the fees are the same for all students – but some institutions do provide fee reductions in the form of scholarships and bursaries which, of course, cost the institution very little in real terms once the break even has been reached.  Interestingly, few, if any, institutions provide cash grants to students – so the institutional generosity is, arguably, more window dressing than natural charity to help good students – from any background. The big law firms pay GDL and vocational course fees and subsistence for their students and there are some fairly hefty scholarships available through the Inns for the brightest students. Other students have to fund their own education.   There is (or was) a reasonable prospect that students taking on substantial loans to pay for the vocational stage of legal education would get a good job or career at the Bar and be able to pay the loans back over time.Very few LPC and BVC providers, I suspect, run their courses at a loss and if they do, they should close them if public money is being used to support these unprofitable courses and students should be re-directed to other public or private service providers.  It is madness, in this time of austerity and cut-backs for universities to prejudice their position and resourcing in profitable or break even courses by running loss makers.

Before we start the serious stuff… my Tweet of The Week goes to Steve Shark for this…

A man who has been described as Britain’s most prolific shoplifter was jailed for one day yesterday after committing his 321st offence.

I marvel sometimes at the sheer incompetence of some people.  Here is a story about Britain’s worst shoplifter. Hopeless. “David Archer, 54, from Rhyl, north Wales, has served the equivalent of two life sentences as a result of his addiction to petty crime. He has been unable to spend 14 out of the past 15 Christmases with his daughter because he has been behind bars. Yesterday, Archer admitted in court to stealing two bottles of whisky from a store at Abergele. David Mainstone, prosecuting, said Archer had a “quite horrendous” list of previous offences and 155 court appearances.” Observer

I can only assume that the man pictured left is American and some form of judicial intervention, other than prison, was handed down.  I can’t see this catching on in Britain – boozed up blokes dressing up in women’s underwear is a British hobby  at Christmas Parties every year and in Pantomime…. I am advised.

Another ludicrous example of political correctness?

I am grateful to Fark for reading the Daily Mail – to save me having to do so…

The Daily Mail reports:

British Transport Police have dropped the word ‘Christmas’ from a national publicity poster to avoid upsetting people who do not ‘buy into’ the festival. The word was proposed as part of a slogan on the poster, which is designed to alert people to the extra number of transport police on duty over the festive period.The slogan – devised by an advertising company commissioned by the Transport Police – read ‘Christmas presence’, a pun on the word ‘presents’.

But in a move branded ‘bonkers’ by Christian leaders, the police’s marketing department decided the word Christmas could anger non-believers or people from other faiths who disliked its Christian connotations.Instead of scrapping the poster, however, the department merely swapped ‘Christmas’ for ‘Holiday’, so the slogan now reads ‘Holiday presence’.
The whole thing is ludicrous given that the shops are stuffed to the gunnels with Christmas tat from October onwards and, in any event, atheists, people from other faiths are more than happy to give presents to each other on Christmas Day… This Happy Holidays nonsense ‘started in America’ and is now a global problem’. (Gordon Brown phoned to tell me this.) Christmas is whatever you make it.  Does anyone really get offended in this country by seeing the word ‘Christmas’ ?

I quite enjoy taking pictures from the Conservative Flickr photostream and putting apprpriate or inapprpriate captions to them… but with this marvellous photograph I will use their own caption…. it isn’t political… it sends out a good message about british spirit and resilience, rings true and I liked the pic.

And finally… Afghanistan and a fascinating website I came across through friends on Twitter… well worth bookmarking for now and the future….

The Helmand blog is run by Major Paul Smyth from the UK Forces Media Ops team. The team is located in Helmand at Camp Bastion and the Task Force Headquarters and works to support the coalition forces together with the other government departments such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development.

Fascinating stuff – and a very interesting blog.

If you do fancy giving a bit of supportplease do have a look at a fantastic idea from the Royal Air Force which I posted on my blog on Christmas Eve… it really is a great idea.

That’s it for today… off to do another ‘black painting’…. a bit of maths and geometry….

Best as lways,


8 thoughts on “Postcard from the Staterooms-on-Sea

  1. How much offence is caused to the great majority by the bizarre circumlocutions adopted by idiots who assume that mentioning Christmas is unacceptable? I imagine that it’s a great deal more than is caused by continuing to use the word that has done for hundreds of years.

  2. I believe in progressive taxation and that the state should redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor. But I don’t believe in means testing. The state should decide on the level of wealth redistribution and do it through the tax and benefit system. Means testing is not necessary for wealth redistribution and has at least two major drawbacks: it adds a bureaucracy and so a cost (resulting in less wealth to redistribute) but more importantly the means-testing apparatus has a tendency to exclude the poor as well as the rich from the benefit that is being means tested. In particular there is gross unfairness to the poor who have just enough to be above the means test threshold.

    The statement that “the poor have been subsidising the rich” is disingenuous: higher education is mainly paid out of taxation and the rich are taxed more.

    I have thought quite a bit about government taxation, spending and fairness. My conclusion is that the fairest system is that of progressive taxation coupled with universal (ie non means tested) benefits and services.

    I would like to know why you believe that means tested education is fairer than universally provided education.

  3. Martin… as far as I am aware there are more poor people than there are rich. The [percentage of income to the less well off left after taxation is, obviously, in terms of pounds and cash in hand, rather less than many well off.

    There is, of course, another issue – that those who have no children at all are subsidising everyone… and so the argument goes on.

    Interestingly, large corporations, Banks, Law firms, Accountancy practices, the Military and many others are providing grants, scholarships, full coverage of fees and expenses to recruit the very best students. That is, of course, prudent financial planning for the future of the business.

    It is a very difficult topic – but I am fairly sure of this – the universities are cash strapped and while I accept that there are some fairly shoddy courses about which could be closed down – someone is going to have to pay if we are to have a truly world class education system. Other countries are overtaking us.

    In a Utopian world – health, education and many other services would be free – but Utopia, Britain is not…. yet… despite the wishes of those many of us who sing Jerusalem!

  4. CharonQC – you haven’t answered my question, namely why you believe that means tested education is fairer than universally provided education.

    I thought I made it clear that I’m not against rich subsidising the poor, only that means testing is an inefficient and unfair way of doing so. And means testing is especially unfair to the marginally poor.

    I’ve also not argued that higher education should be free, only that it’s provision should be universal (ie not means tested). Universal provision is not the same as free provision.

    I’m not taking a Utopian view and I agree that there is a problem with paying for our higher education system. We need to pay for higher education, and do so fairly. As you say, our education system is falling behind that of other countries (I know members of the Indian diaspora who are considering returning to India to get a better education for their children). The problem of how to pay for our education system is complex, and I am not proposing simplistic solutions.

    In this discussion I am merely asking a question about fairness, which I reiterate:

    Why you believe that means tested education is fairer than non means tested education?

  5. Martin…

    1. If we argue a position that parents are not responsible for their children when the child reaches the age of majority (18) – then one can argue quite successfully that all students, from whatever financial or social background, should be treated equally. To require the better off to be under a duty to pay for their children after majority, while exempting those with less disposable income, would, arguably, be unfair.

    2. As a nation we have to decide what our priorities are. There is a finite limit to how far taxation revenue will go. We are seeing the practical effect of this in modern Britain today following the credit-crunch.

    3. If the State cannot afford to keep universities going at the present levels of expenditure and wish to run the quality of provision down because there is not sufficient money to maintain the status quo or improve quality – then we have to face the fact that Britons will become less well educated and less qualified than counterparts in many other countries throughout the world. the consequences for the British economy could be serious.

    4. If the state cannot provide further money, because the competing expenditure demands, then we have to raise money. it seems to me not unreasonable that a duty should then be cast (a) on the student to take on the apprpritae level of debt and repay it back over a lifetime cvareer or (b) place all parents under a duty to contribute each according to their means – a percentage of disposable income might be a model which could be adopted. Would that be unfair?

    5. This is a potentially serious problem because universities do cost a great deal of money to run. Academics are not that well paid – although, to be fair, many are able to supplement their income through research, consultancy, writing and the like – which is fair enough. We certainly should examine the university finances to see if economies can be achieved by amalgamating specialist, but possibly unprofitable, courses. There is a fantastic amount of duplication in Britain in the law degree sector. Perhaps the better universities could take more students, allowing us to close the less successful university law programmes. Unfortunately, we have a situation in the UK where students from some of the lesser universities simply are not getting the jobs and a First Class or 2.1 cuts no ice with employers when students present with such awards from the lesser universities. That is a hard fact of the market – and there is little government can do to change that.

    I don’t have the answers – but, Blanchflower’s piece in the Observer and your questions have prompted me to think a bit more deeply. I am not ducking out – I am all too aware of the difficulty and complexity of a fair system and shall do some thinking. Whether this will result in anything of value, remains to be seen.

    Your point about means testing being unfair to the marginally poor is a good one and noted. Whether a percentage of objectively determined disposable income would be fairer? I don’t know. I’d need to do a bit of maths on that one and model it.


  6. Why does any Police Force have a “marketing” department? Answer – to come up with nonsense about Christmas and non-Christians being offended. Nevertheless it reveals a certain unattractive mindset within these public bodies.

  7. I think it fair that someone who benefits from higher education should pay towards that education. (As I have stated before, I don’t think it fair that parents should be under a duty to contribute according to their means.)

    I don’t think the student should pay by taking on the appropriate measure of debt. This disadvantages the poorer student. It also disadvantages the student who chooses a less lucrative but more altruistic career (teaching, say). I prefer a system where a graduate pays a slightly higher level of income tax for life. I’d have to do the arithmetic, but I’d guess an extra 1% income tax for life would be about right.

    You say that as a nation we need to decide our spending priorities. I agree. One of the things I think we should do is to reduce the quantity and increase the quality our degrees. I think the current target of getting 50% of young people into university does not benefit our national competitiveness and, somewhat paradoxically, reduces the prospects and social mobility of the remaining 50%. And while we are talking about national competitiveness and social mobility I’d like to see an increased focus on continuing education – money spent here, I believe, would bring more economic and social benefit than trying to further expand higher education for the young.

  8. Martin – the 1% tax for life would be fair…. but will the politicos grasp the nettle!

    Thanks for commenting on this issue – certainly made me think – and I need a bit of that with the general fuzz of Christmas!

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