Higher education no longer considered good value

The Student Academic Experience Survey, from the Higher Education Policy Unit and the Higher Education Academy, tracks the views of students about their time in higher education, based on a sample of about 14,000 current students. Levels of satisfaction with university “value for money” have now fallen for the fifth year in a row. Five years ago, 53% of students across the UK thought university was “good” or “very good” value – but this has now slumped to its lowest level of 35%.

Students from England, who have the highest tuition fees in the UK – rising to £9,250 in the autumn – had the lowest opinions of value for money. Perceptions of value for money have continued to fall, the number of students saying their university was “poor” or “very poor” value almost doubling since 2012. In England, only 32% of students thought their university represented good value. The report suggests that improving teaching quality is an important factor in whether students believe they are getting value for money.

The annual study also examines wellbeing and happiness – and this has fallen to only 14% of students saying they were satisfied with their lives.There are also negative outcomes for students’ sense of happiness and anxiety – with students having lower levels of wellbeing than young people not university. Young women and gay university students are particularly likely to feel unhappy.

The study also shows a wide variation in the number of teaching hours – with subjects such as history having an average of eight hours per week, while medicine had 19 hours plus many more working hours outside of the classroom. (BBC News)

When I first read this I thought, “too many people chasing too few dedicated and competent teachers/ lecturers/ professors owing to the huge expansion of higher education”. On second thoughts, there is another point of view: life is what you make it. If you really want to learn and you are dedicated to getting a good degree, then you will spend time reading round the subject and insisting on face time with the teachers. Proactivity, in other words. If, on the other hand, you are there on a jolly, for the sport and the booze, no doubt you will end up thinking it was all a giant waste of time. Is there an element of being spoiled, of having no work ethic, hidden away in this Student Academic Experience Survey? I would like a critique from a genuine student.

I was so concerned about failing at university that I worked like a dog, drank little, and avoided the playboys.  Forty years later, at an event in the French Embassy in Washington DC my favourite tutor (European History), who was there promoting a book, looked at me and instantly remembered my name. Could it have been due to his belief that my time at university had been worthwhile?.  Oh, and something else: it’s obvious that medicine, which is  scientific and complicated needs more hands- on experience and instruction than history, which involves more reading and personal interpretation. The surveyor ignores the processes of learning.

Being found out, French fashion

Volkswagen brought national shame on Germany when it was found to have cheated on diesel emissions. Now Renault is doing the same for France. The carmaker is now under judicial investigation after France’s anti-fraud agency found it was using secret devices to give false readings in lab emission tests – and may have been doing so for 25 years. At least when VW was outed, it took steps to make amends, paying as much as $20bn in compensation and fines. By contrast, Renault’s directors say they’re “confident” the judicial investigation will exonerate them – despite the “overwhelming” evidence against them – and see no need to set money aside to cover possible claims. The complacency is staggering. Renault is like François Fillon, the Right’s recent presidential candidate, who allegedly paid his wife for a fictitious job with taxpayers’ money, and who likewise insisted that he had done nothing wrong. Both seem to think they’re accountable to no one but the judicial authorities, forgetting the terrible damage they’re doing to France’s reputation. One hates to say it, but there’s “something very French” about the attitude that if accused of wrongdoing, one can tough it out, and that moral questions will “fade away” as long as one pays them no attention. (David Carzon, Liberation, Paris)

There are too many rich and powerful people who think they are above the law, and can dispense with middle-class moral scruples. We all make mistakes, but most of us realise that, if we do, we will (and should) pay a penalty for them. The truth is that many rich people become rich by, at the very least, skirting the fringes of the law. Trump made himself thus, partly, by refusing to pay his contractors, then doing a deal by paying half the original bill in Court. This he and his father called “winning”. Some admire him, most don’t, and Epicureans never. We would have to live with ourselves if we did.

The effects of privatisation

To The Guardian

National good

“Nationalised industries have had a bad press for some 40 years, especially from neo-liberal fundamentalists. Martin Kettle’s comments on the Royal Mail appear to come from a misunderstanding of the core principle of how the nationalised industries worked: cross subsidy. Any idiot can deliver letters in a town or city and make a profit, but it is very expensive to deliver to small villages and outlying houses and farms. So the profitable deliveries subsidised the unprofitable ones. Before Thatcher, the Post Office also included telecommunications that were highly profitable, and these profits subsidised the service’s losses, but Thatcher sold the profitable part. The same principle allowed profitable train and bus services to subsidise unprofitable ones that provided a necessary service.

“Today, private companies only operate profitable routes and expect councils to subsidise unprofitable bus services. But as central government cuts local council funding, services are cut, and it is the poor that suffer. Thatcherism still casts a dark cloud over politicians of all parties, but hopefully, the electorate will respond positively to Corbyn and finally start to bury Thatcher’s appalling legacy.”
Michael Gold, Romford

I cannot understand, and I’m sure Epicurus would have had the same problem, how Thatcher got away with her theft of the public services, paid for out of general taxation by the public for ages. (about two hundred years in the case of the Royal Mail). Whether the mail, the trains, British Airways, gas or electricity, these were all public utilities, designed for use by all the people, not just the rich.

I agree with Owen’s criticism (yesterday) that nationalisation created some monopolies that, were they under free enterprise, would have been better broken up. On the other hand, services like railways, electricity and water for instance, are natural monopolies – getting meaningful competition in those areas is a bit futile, as the British rail services currently illustrate ( maybe I can explain it to foreign readers by saying that with the railways the taxpayer is shouldering the expenses and cost of investment and the private train operators are pocketing the profits – a bit of a simplification, but the cost of a rail tickets has exploded since privatisation, causing a huge amount of dissatisfaction among travelers, most of whom have no realistic option but rail to get to work). There is no public benefit to rail privatisation., whereas British Airways was another matter – there is genuine competition in air travel, although that competition has now been hollowed out within the United States.

America – land of the giant monopolies

In an article entitled “The problem with profits” The Economist of March 23rd virtually agrees with American protestors who say that the whole American political and economic system, once so vibrant and competitive, is broken (amazing, but refreshing, coming from the rather right- wing Economist).

The article does, however, add something which gets little comment (except on this blog, which has frequently protested the monopoly power of corporations and the spinelessness of the anti-trust department of the US Government).

The Economist article says that in former times a very profitable company would eventually have its profits competed away. Now there are monopolies everywhere you look. Ten trillion dollars worth of mergers since 2008 have increased concentration. The attendant promises of savings seldom, if ever, materialise.  As a result the excess cash being generated domestically by corporations is running at $800 billion a year, over and above investment budgets. This represents 4% of GDP, and it is not being re-invested but is either hidden away in other countries, something the tax system encourages, or it is paid to the bosses. Monopoly means artificially high prices, which, were they at normal levels, would reduce consumers’ bills by 2% or more.

And then you have regulation. The Economist hates regulation, but regulation of companies and banks prevents fraud and cheating and theft from consumers. Unfortunately, regulations are a big cost to companies and are complex. This means that only the big companies have the resources to handle them, and this blocks the entry of smaller competitors. Neat, isn’t it? They complain, but actually the rules  help the big corporations to stay monopolies.

TTP or TTIP had little to do with trade and everything to do with extending patents and copyrights overseas, plus other dubious benefits and boondoggles, in order to further entrench the big rent-extracting monopolies. The lobbyists have seen to that.

The system is a self-perpetuating fraud. We need more small companies and more competition.

Why does this blog repeatedly focus on these economic and political boondoggles? Well, there may have been other issues that reduced the opportunities for ataraxia and a pleasant life in ancient Greece, such as famine and disease that simply had to be put up with. In modern life we don’t have famines (in the West,snyway). And we have prolonged and protected lives with modern medicine. Our modern problems are mostly man-made and with determination could be corrected. It is hard to have peace of mind under our corrupted system. All we can do is highlight the unjustnesses of the system so that we can dwell peacably in the Epicurean Garden of the mind, assured of social fairness and pleasant lives for both the rich and the poor.

Trump and the Russians: a simple explanation?

We now know that Trump’ income last yeat was $598 million.  The question is – is this sufficient to cover the interest payments owed to the Russians on their extensive loans?  I have a theory that the Russians were very nervous about Trump’s finances, and helped him win the election, knowing that he would make a huge amount out of being President, more than enough to secure the money they lent him.  Their strategy is proving correct.  He is milking the situation for all it is worth. And then there is the promised tax reduction, too.

The Russians probably volunteered to interfere in the election to get the outcome they wanted – he didn’t need to ask or collude.