Prof Patrick McGhee

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Festival of Higher Education 2018

In Uncategorized on June 12, 2018 at 6:50 pm

The easiest way to contact me is via my twitter account:


So that’s the afternoon of Day 1 finished.

Well, to be honest I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but in the end this has been one of the best conferences I’ve been to in quite sometime. The debate and panel structure, alongside a genuine enthusiasm to get as many contributions from the floor as possible, makes each session fresh and unpredictable. This is not the sort of event where you can rely on reading the papers, or worse still, the PowerPoints at a later date. On the mental health in schools session we not only had 25+ contributions from the floor but also an impromptu collective mindfulness meditation when one delegate, quite reasonably, said the very pace of gather floor contributions was unsettling.

Sir Anthony Seldon appears to be in several places at once and fills each session with passion, insight, lived experience – and disruptive provocation – in equal measure. He is a proactive host. By my calculation he will have spoken to every delegate by around 11.23am tomorrow.

The themes of Artificial Intelligence, mental health, and The Future infuse all the sessions. Additionally, for a brand which draws heavily on the notion of the legitimacy of the contribution of the private sector at all educational levels, there is considerable recognition of the blocking of opportunity that educational marketisation can bring.

So this is not just a conference with bunting – though heaven knows there is no shortage of that around this lovely campus. This is indeed a festival.

And yet it is, to me at least, a fretful festival, in search of something to celebrate in fearful times.

In some cases, presenters and indeed delegates cannot resist advertorials in their presentations and questions. In that regard at least, this festival shares common ground with traditional conferences.

Still, there is, from speakers and delegates alike, a common conviction in the power of education. That indeed education is something worth being fretful about.

And, in a way, that in itself is something definitely worth celebrating.

Very interesting morning at the Festival. Beautiful setting and a much wider range of delegates than you would normally find at an education conference. The involvement of schools and universities, and focusing on themes that bridge the 14-18 with HE, makes the discussions much more interesting.

The debate session on Selection at 11 and at 18 was pretty one sided with the room decisively against selection and the two pro-selection speakers distancing themselves from current selection practices.

The panel discussion on curriculum barely covered content at all. However, we learned a lot about T-Levels and the lack of awareness in schools, the potentially overambitious timetable and the likely impact on university recruitment.

The session led by speakers from the Education Endowment Foundation highlighted the work of NFER and others in helping schools embrace research informed practice and avoiding ‘snake oil’ offerings. The story was told of one teacher who believed that merely ‘envisioning’ a very well behaved class would lead to a very well behaved class.

If only it were that simple.

And I think I’m starting to envision lunch.

Beautiful morning here in Buckinghamshire for the #HEFestival. First up will be @nickhillman chairing debate on the motion “This House believes that academic selection is wrong at 11 and still wrong at 18”. @miss_mcinerney speaks in favour with @JohnClaughton against. Thoughts?

So what questions do you suggest I put to @SamGyimah when he speaks to @HEFestival on Thursday morning? Fees? Gender pay gap? Free speech? TEF? REF? KEF? VC salaries? Brexit? Overseas students?

I will be writing a rolling blog here for the duration of the Festival of Higher Education. Things to bear in mind:

  1. There is a lot going on at the festival and I won’t catch everything
  2. I want the blog to be a chance to allow people who can’t attend to ask questions – so please do send me questions to ask of speakers
  3. The Festival offers a chance for competing ideas to get a hearing. There will be ideas we don’t like and don’t agree with. Civil disagreement is the order of the day.
  4. Feel free to ask me questions. I have a lamentably limited range of poor answers, but don’t let that deter you.

2015 in review

In Uncategorized on December 30, 2015 at 10:25 am

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 460 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 8 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Queen calls for Jeremy Corbyn’s powers to be weakened

In Uncategorized on September 1, 2015 at 9:07 am

The Queen has called for the Labour leadership contender’s powers to be weakened as she said that ‘Corbynmania’ should be subject to parliamentary veto.

‘Corbynmania’ is the traditional extrajudicial, quasiconstitutional practice of adopting unusual policy positions in the context of offering a new vision for Britain. According to historians the practice, and associated traditional ceremonial conventions, dates back to late spring 2015.

“So called “Corbynmania” is a series of powers officially held by leftist opportunists which permit them to advocate radical, often outlandish, policy proposals to be taken without the backing of, or consultation with, the Parliamentary Labour Party” said one expert last night.

It is understood that Her Majesty believes that no one individual should have such a level of authority without being accountable to parliament.

In her statement, Her Majesty says the Labour candidate’s policy positions should be subject to parliamentary veto in comments that are described as an “assault” on Corbynism. The comments will bring dismay to his devoted followers who regularly line the streets during his visits and walkabouts.

The powers involved range from the appointment and dismissal of left wing icons to the making of treaties and the accreditation of ‘friends’ . They also allow a prime minister to go to war on the media.

Traditionalists claim the proposals could undermine the British tourist industry and lead to less press coverage of the official state regalia of sensible shoes and comfortable cardigans.

Sir Anthony Ponsenby-Smythe, the historian, told BBC radio: “It’s hard to know what would be left of Corbynism. His role is very much a ceremonial one albeit highly cherished by loyalists. She is the first Royal leader who started talking about a reduction in the role of Corbyn. It would be very serious. Presumably she is saying it because she knows it will go down well with her supporters.”

Analysts believe the radical statements are an attempt to put clear blue water between the Queen and possible leadership contender, Prince Charles. Many also attribute the remarks to weariness amongst leading royals in the long drawn out succession period. “We feel as though this has gone on for years” said a close aide to rank outsider, Prince Andrew.

Karl Marx is 23.

The Leaders’ Debate – In Search of The Gospel Truth

In Uncategorized on April 2, 2015 at 4:38 pm

It’s a pity the Leaders Debate isn’t tomorrow, tomorrow being Good Friday; it would have made allusions to ‘crucified’, ‘passion’, ‘flogging’ and, depending on the outcome, ‘resurrection’ a whole lot easier. As it is Maundy Thursday as a reference point doesn’t carry the same kind of rhetorical resonance: “Miliband really gave Farage a right good handout of coins just then…” just doesn’t hit home in the same way. For really excoriating attacks on the poverty of political grandstanding dipped in the vinegar of sarcasm you can’t beat a symbolically-charged, politically-motivated public execution.

But Thursday it is. Many scholars believe the derivation of ‘Maundy’ in Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin translation of the first word of Jesus’ statement at the last supper: “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” which means “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you”. I doubt we shall see much love amongst the leadership candidates tonight even if, in the end, the odds of a public humiliation and burial over the weekend are much higher.

Standing there is the harsh light of the studio arcs, side by side and pushed to recant and repent previous wrongdoings, some of the politicians will be reminiscent of the supporting cast on Calvary. It reminds me of what Beckett has Vladimir say in Godot about the evangelists’ accounts of the thieves on the cross: “one of the four says that one of the two was saved”. There is little doubt instant opinion polls tomorrow will give us somewhat more detailed breakdown than that. Instead we shall probably have conflicting and bewilderingly qualified polls spun literally left, right and centre, “43% of the viewers, aged 25-35 felt that Miliband was more persuasive than Sturgeon, except those who have switched to SNP during the Independence Referendum when that figure falls dramatically to 41%. Eamonn back to you in the studio”. Though it would be wonderful if a presenter on one of the rolling news channels said “Well, there you have it, viewers. One of the two of our reviewers of the papers says that one of the seven won the debate by a mile”.

And then we will no doubt have over the weekend Ed Balls as a born-again fiscally-responsible Chancellor appealing once more to the Office of Budget Responsibility to check that his figures add up – much as Christ said to Thomas, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.”

No doubt some journalists on Good Friday will say that they were all losers in the end. I estimate 27% of broadsheet journalists will claim that democracy was, in many ways, the loser. And all the while someone in the advertising sales department at ITV will have gone to bed with the powerful sense of consolation that only a large Scotch and the knowledge that it all happens just once every five years can bring.

Other scholars believe the derivation of Maundy is not from the ‘mandatum’ phrase at all, but more prosaically from the old English ‘maund’ which was a small basket used by paupers for begging. And beg they will, in each their own way, setting out what they intend to do with that most sovereign and sacred of political coin: a democratic mandate.

But the story of Holy Thursday of course ends much as the account of Christ’s adult life begins – with a search for truth amongst doubt and deficiency. What begins on the long campaign trail in the Judean desert comes to conclusion in Gethsemane. The exhortation spoken then amongst the olive trees is one which we should all bear in mind as we listen to politicians’ personal testimonies and read their manifestos: “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Patrick McGhee

No Election Turmoil as Nick Clegg says he will “not serve fifth term”

In Uncategorized on March 24, 2015 at 7:49 pm

Nick Clegg has told the BBC he will not serve a fifth term as Deputy Prime Minister if the Liberal Democrats remain in Government after the general election.

The Deputy PM said if re-elected he would serve the full five years of another Parliament and then only three more after that and then definitely step down. Mr Clegg tipped Vince Cable, Tim Farron and Simon Hughes, as three colleagues who had absolutely no chance of being potential successors in 2035.

Labour accused him of arrogance while the Conservatives called him presumptuous.

Leadership Campaign
BBC political commentator Tim Wiggins-Hopkins said the DPM’s comments would “completely fail to electrify the election campaign”.   Our correspondent highlighted the effect on the party: “Not only will this not kick-start a very, very lengthy Leadership contest, it will also fail to send a message to party members that if they back the Deputy Prime Minister now, that there will be any discernible consequences whatsoever” he said.
“It’s like a bowl of organic Alpen”, said Nick Clegg to a room rapidly emptying of journalists. “It looks quite nice on the box and when you open the box there is superficially a lot of mixed fruit, but after a short period of time there is the risk it will go very soggy. Unless you put in less milk than is recommended in which case you do of course run the risk of it being dry. Sorry where was I?”

Job Done
The Deputy Prime Minister said during the interview he felt his job was “1/20th done” with the economy “turned round, or in many respects at least, very twisted” and that he wanted to “finish off the job” of education and welfare reform.  “There are” he said “many promises to the British people which I have not yet been able to break. I want to rededicate myself to that level of public service”.

Long Hard Look
Reflecting on his closest advisors and confidants the Deputy Prime Minister was in a buoyant mood. “You know, there’s plenty of talent there. I’m surrounded by very good people in the party.  Many of whom voted for me.  I overhead one of them say the other day that I am sort of person whom they fully expect to go on, and on and on”.
He added: ” At my age you have to take a long hard look at what you want to do with the rest of your life. I’ve said I’ll stand for a full second term, but I think after that it will be time for me to stand again, and then just twice more after that”.

Balance of Power
Labour said Mr Clegg was “taking the British public for granted” by discussing a fourth term.
Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander, the party’s general election co-ordinator, said: “It is typically arrogant of Nick Clegg to presume a fourth term in 2030 before the British public have been given the chance to have their say in this election. I want to say unequivocally that I shall of course recant all that if the LibDems hold the balance of power on May the 8th”
A UKIP spokesman said: “Have I had my lunch yet?”

David Steele is 104.

How to Study on the Last Day of the Premiership

In Uncategorized on May 13, 2012 at 12:25 pm

BBC Football in the lead up to its online text based coverage of the last day of the English Premier League Football season has encouraged students and pupils torn between study and spectatorship to choose football over revision.

#BBCFootball  “if you don’t know your stuff now, then it’s not going to happen anyway”

Generally speaking I’m not sure BBC football should be giving advice on matters educational in any context, but advising GCSE students not to study seems surprising.

There’s no need to go into the fact that BBC Bitsize is one of the best study and revision websites in the country. The national broadcaster’s commitment and expertise in supporting study is beyond doubt.

But the basic question remains – what should you do the day before exams when there is some major distraction like football on television? A communal event for many and a highly emotional consummation of a season for some?

Here are my Top Ten Tips for football fans with exams – these are just suggestions and things to think about. No Golden Rules:

1 Do whatever your tutor told you

Your tutor knows you, your work, the syllabus, the assessment better than anyone. If they have given you advice on what to do in the final furlong, follow it.

2 Do do some revision if at all possible

It’s frankly nonsense to say that if you don’t understand it now you never will. There are depths of understanding and it’s highly possible that you’ll have a aha! moment as you review your notes.

3 At this stage focus on self assessment and how you are organising material for the topics rather than new material or details

Ask yourself which areas are you weakest on. Concentrate on those.  Also double check you know the structure of the exam paper. That can help you focus on what to prioritize at this stage.

4 Do make time for a break if you want to watch football

Studying non-stop is counter productive. After 30 minutes attention and comprehension can start to tail off. Organise your day so that you can watch all of the match. Treat yourself to two hours with no studying.

5 Do not drink alcohol the day before the exam

Obviously you don’t want a hangover during your exam but it’s more than that. If you start drinking around a sporting event, emotions and peer pressure lead you to drink more than you should; and you’ll finish up doing no more study after the match. Have a mocktail.

6 Don’t Panic

You’ll probably do better than you think, and likely to remember more if you have a sensible last day of study. Remind yourself that your revision now is a positive.

7 Treat Triumph and Disaster Just The Same

If your team lose today (or get relegated, fail to qualify for European football of whatever) don’t let it get you down. There’ll be other seasons and you are more important than your team.

Equally if your team triumph, don’t get carried away and go drinking (See above) Celebration can happen later.

8 Be inventive

There is a French exam tomorrow and someone has said online that they have amused themselves by translating BBC Football Preview website into French.  That’s a good idea and a bit of fun. But to be honest it can’t replace solid revision in areas where you might have already identified yourself as needing an extra refresher.

9 Think carefully about contacts with friends who are also studying for the exam tomorrow

Contacting friends can be helpful as it will provide you with that little bit of extra reassurance that you are not the only one struggling in some areas. And contact with others can always provide moral support. But be careful of those who say they have been studying ‘literally 24/7 for weeks’  (they won’t) or those who say ‘haven’t really done much revision it’s only 15% anyway’ (they are also fibbing).  There is also the risk of them persuading you to leave your studying when your really don’t want to be doing that.

10 Get a good night’s sleep

It really isn’t a good idea to be up until 3am trying to cram it all in. You’ll perform better if you had a decent kip.

Good luck. Both on the field, and off it.

Arts and The Creative Industries: Speech at the 2012 Professional Doctorate in Fine Art Exhibition

In Blogroll, Uncategorized on January 27, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Text of Speech for Exhibition Show for Professional Doctorate in Fine Art

27 January 2012 – Check Against Delivery

The UEL Professional Doctorate in Fine Art

Students, colleagues, external guests and practitioners:  Welcome to our Professional Doctorate Programme in Fine Art Exhibition. This doctorate is a practice-based research degree, pretty unique to UEL. With its greater emphasis on practice, it is more appropriate for many artists than a PhD. The programme aims to enable students develop and demonstrate a high level of professional practice through research and creative practice. The written element supports and reflects on the practice, which represents the main part of the original research. Many of the students on this programme are already recognised practitioners, and several students are experienced lecturers in Art at other institutions. This programme is a sign of the networks and the mobility of staff and students – and therefore of ideas and practice – around the capital. The roll call of students, staff, visiting lecturers, and alumni reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of London and UK art, design institutions and other specialist schools:  Chelsea, Royal College of Art, The Royal Academy, Slade, Camberwell, University for the Creative Arts and the University of the Arts, London and constituent colleges. Internationally, we have student representation this year from the  San Francisco Academy of Art University.

The Funding Landscape for Arts

Last year at the ukadia conference David Willetts made a commitment to small and specialist higher education provision in the arts and acknowledged the contribution of arts education to the UK economy and society. However, the direct teaching grant from HEFCE is becoming a smaller and smaller part of funding for Fine Art, Art & Design, Performing Arts and creative industries programmes. We should not forget that these studio based disciplines lose all of their teaching funding from next year, with the costs being met by students’ fees. The cost base of these studio disciplines is high, but so is demand and so is the contribution to our culture and our cultural economy. We have much world-class provision in arts nationally in this country, with a particularly high concentration in London. We find this excellence in larger Schools and Departments, as at UEL, where interdisciplinary developments can be developed, but also of course in the smaller specialist institutions with their distinctive cultures; both kinds of provision must be supported and protected. There is more work to be done by HEFCE, DBIS and UUK in ensuring that provision in the Arts does not fall victim to unexpected consequences of broad-brush policy initiatives. For example, this week’s announcements about AAB+ where students with high qualifications are effectively ‘up for auction’, threaten the stability of recruitment in these areas where portfolios are at least as important as paper qualifications. The last thing we need now is more uncertainty for students, for their advisors, and for universities.
I know there is also considerable concern in the university arts communities about how post-qualification admissions will pan out. The turn-around time implied by the UCAS proposals could throw into stark relief the potential administrative nightmare that is auditioning or interviewing entire cohorts of students over a few short weeks in the summer. Where institutions are small, resources are not as easily assigned to deal with such problems. We need to find a practical solutions together.

Excellence Through Diversity
The university arts community in London has a long history of working together through organisations like the National Arts Learning Network and the UEL-led Creative Way network, and now is a time when that mutual support is more important than ever.
In many larger universities creative arts are distributed across the institution potentially reducing critical mass and undermining distinctive identity. At UEL we have brought all these key areas together in one new School of Creative & Digital Media to build strength and raise visibility. Equally, specialist institutions in the visual and performing arts, who have over the years built up distinctive international reputations and paninstitutional cultures but now rightly reaffirm their autonomy in the new marketised higher education sector.  To my mind, the UK and London in particular is stronger for the excellence through diversity that such arrangements promote. We lose such diversity at our peril, and once lost may be impossible to recover.
We see here this evening the fruits of the labour of a wide range of talents, from all over London, the UK and globally. Let’s celebrate that community of practice and of achievement and resolve to promote its value even further.
Thank you.


First look at the Skandia Report: ‘First Steps to Wealth’

In Uncategorized on January 15, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Discussion between student and advisor

The Skandia Report

The report by the financial investment company Skandia First Steps to Wealth has been covered in the press in terms of the impact on the tax payer.  However, the report contains a lot more than this headline, covering the relative benefits to young people of different routes to employment post-16.  This first look at the report seeks to look at all aspects and not just the impact on the perceptions of the affordability of the Government’s current financial arrangements for tuition fee loans. Nonetheless, that element of the report is clearly very significant. The report estimates that the recurrent annual liability to the Government of the current fees regime is approximately £9bn, and that this could grow depending on the level of economic growth, the number of students and the rate of inflation. That there would be a shortfall has never been doubted. Even when the fees legislation was being passed in November 2010, it was accepted by the coalition that only a third of graduates would pay all of their loan back with a further third paying nothing at all. But the size of the shortfall has never been estimated to be this high. To put this in some perspective £9bn is more than the total amount currently being spent on incapacity benefit, five times the Criminal Legal Aid budget and four times the amount set aside for all academies in England in 2011-12 . It should be reiterated that the shortfall is recurrent. Overall the lifetime of the 2015-20 parliament this approaches £50bn. That figure is the total cost of the November infrastructure boost announced by the Chancellor to kick-start growth. 

However, the Skandia report itself is primarily focused on the impact for young people of different life choices. The relatively new data analysis and the report itself – unlike most of its type –  consider options related to pre and post-A level entry to the workforce, apprenticeships and university entry side by side. It also seeks to look at subject and sector differences, an angle which gives an additional edge to the data. But what might universities make of these analyses?  If potential applicants and their advisors take the messages on board then universities might want to think about how they present their offer to young people.  There are certainly issues here for careers advisors and college advisory schemes generally. However, there are caveats to the figures and to the interpretations we are invited to make of them, some of which are more clearly highlighted in the report than others.  The report looks only at young people and to that extent fails to cover the full range of student experiences. This is particularly important in the context of decline in university applications from mature students and arguably the role of education, further and higher, at a time of economic restructuring and ‘rebalancing’ where upskilling and reskilling is key issue.   Additionally, some of the data sources are difficult to track down in detail and could have been better referenced. However, what the report does cover it covers well and makes an important contribution to the ongoing debate on higher education funding. 

The Graduate Premium

Let’s consider the key findings for students first of all. According to Skandia the ‘graduate premium’, that is the total lifetime earnings difference between a graduate and someone who does not go to university post A-levels, is higher than had been previously thought:

An average graduate should earn (at today’s prices) £1,611,551 over a working career of 45 years compared to £1,023,840 for an 18-year old entering the workforce (48 year career span) and £783,964 for a 16-year old (49.5 year career span).

The comparison between A-level entry into the workforce and graduate entry to the workforce is obviously an important one. However, we need to remember that there are still many young people who, although capable of going on to A-levels, opt out of school at 16. These data remind us how critical to life chances is the advice and guidance given to young people in the period 14-16.  The report (p5) highlights that someone entering the workforce at 16 will earn 10k per annum less than a graduate.  It is also important to compare graduates with A-level workforce entrants with similar qualifications.

The other key graduate related findings from the report include the observation that the range of student debt at graduation post-2012/13 enrolment is £33,975 up to £48,750, (reflecting in this analysis the differential loans available, not the pricing system of different institutions and courses)

Of course this focuses only on tuition and maintenance related debt. As the report makes very clear, and as everyone in the sector is well aware, this ‘debt’ is only repayable when the graduate starts earning over £21k and even then only at a rate of 9% of the margin between that threshold and total annual earnings. However, many students have other debts which are not subject to these generous terms. Students obviously run up significant overdrafts with banks which need paying off no matter what earnings are secured post graduation and there is certainly little or no prospect of banks writing those that debt off. Additionally many students borrow money from family members with repayment terms that are undocumented.

The Implications for the Treasury and the future of Funding Arrangements

The report goes on to point out that graduate starting salaries are not only well below the trigger of £21k but that the earnings threshold at which the debt would be repaid in full is very much higher than £21k and higher than had previously been assumed:

Despite this being a personal debt, unless a student starts earning £50,000 per year immediately upon graduation, it’s likely that a significant amount of this debt will be written off by the Government. The average first year salary for a graduate is £19,653.

As a consequence says Skandia there is a significant hole in the funding model:

In 30 years’ time the UK Government is likely to have to write-off debt of between £30,649 and £64,935 for every full-time university student who graduates in 2015.

As I wrote in a piece for The Guardian online last summer the current overall funding model is probably unsustainable for precisely this reason. This raises the prospect of this Government, or a future one, being unable to offer 100% deferred contingent loans for tuition. The temptation to get students to pay something up front might be irresistible. This would be funded from savings or borrowed as real loans at market rates, with repayment liabilities that were not earnings contingent. Such an arrangement really would deter applicants from the financially less well off. Setting up the machinery for the recovery of income-contingent loans and raising the ceiling on tuition fees was the hard part; making students pay something upfront is just a matter of political will. That has always, in my view, been the real danger of the privatisation of university funding: that we would move into a real loan system as in the United States. One other model is to reduce the number of students the Government is prepared to fund upfront. This is politically unpalatable especially in terms of the size of cut that would be required. Alternatively, a future administration might seek to combine these two models, guaranteeing deferred income-contingent loans for a fixed number but supporting self-funding through commercial ‘real loans’ for others. This would be a hugely socially regressive move, and should be contested at every level, but the logic of the privatised funding regime creates a momentum in that direction.


The report also looks at apprenticeships and interestingly finds that there is a huge range within this option in terms of lifetime earnings. For the construction and public service/health care sectors the figure is just over £1.5m while Retail, Manufacturing and Media sectors just under £1.2m.

The margin therefore between graduate earnings and apprenticeships though clear and significant is in some cases not as great as might have been imagined. However, there are some notes of caution that have to be sounded here. These lifetime figures in both cases are calculated on the basis of the assumption that all individuals enjoy an “unbroken work career”. This is a strong assumption to make both in terms of the idea that those trained in different sectors as apprentices, and that apprentices and graduates are equally likely to face unpaid unemployment. While the report acknowledges in a later section (p23) that unbroken employment is unlikely for anyone, it does not address the differential probability of broken employment for apprentices versus graduates. Nor does the report address the related issues of likelihood of accelerated promotion or of successfully setting up businesses/working freelance. In neither of these areas should we assume that all graduates have a clear benefit over all apprentices, of course. Further, in terms of the salary projections across different sectors for apprentices, the data reflect the fact that in the UK both construction and the public sector have been relatively buoyant over the last decade. In the future it might well be that the prospects for Arts, Media & Publishing and Tourism & Leisure apprentices will increase more than for other sectors. Beyond this is the need to recognise that apprenticeships and non-graduate entry are differently structured in the different sectors. Apprentice training and employment in construction is relatively well structured while the corresponding arrangements in the media and arts are much less so. This means that we are not comparing like with like, yet it is difficult to assess what this means for salary projections or security of employment. Like so much else in sector-related analyses, the salary data in this area are not necessarily as robust or stable as we would want them to be.

The November 2011 DBIS report Returns to Intermediate and Low Level Vocational Qualifications indicated that 

The lifetime benefits associated with the acquisition of Apprenticeships at Level 2 and 3 are very significant, standing at between £48,000 and £74,000 for Level 2 and between £77,000 and £117,000 for Level 3 Apprenticeships.

The Skandia report suggests a greater premium for those who enter apprenticeships especially in construction and the public sector.

Of course many apprentices seek to go on to higher education, so in some cases the apprentice route to the workplace could well be via university. 

Lifetime earnings calculations

There are some observations that need to be made about some of the detail around these lifetime earnings calculations. They do not perhaps undermine the broad message of Skandia but are likely to become more important as we look at specific sectors or degrees. And of course for individual young people the overall pattern is not really the main issue.

The first issue is the London factor. In the report the impact of study, living or working in London is reflected only in the higher rate that will be borrowed by students for maintenance if studying in the capital. What the report does not cover is that young people based in London not only receive higher loans but have higher starting salaries if they go on to work there. This obviously raises the net lifetime earnings premium, particularly in the context of tuition fees not being London weighted. 

The 2011 High Fliers report confirms that 86% of the top 100 graduate employers have vacancies in London but only 56% have vacancies in the next highest region, the North west. Only 41% have vacancies in East Anglia. According to the most comprehensive survey by HECSU in 2010 the average salary nationally in 2009 was  £19,695 but £22,228 in London. 

Similarly the 2011 HECSU report indicated that the average salary ranged from £17,720 to £23,335 with London reporting the highest average salary of £22,480.

This relationship between location of study and employment is increasingly an issue given that according to the 2011 ‘High Fliers’ report up to a third of all graduate jobs in blue chip companies go to “undergraduates who have had previous work experience with their organisations, such as internships, industrial placements, vacation schemes or sponsorships” (p12). 

However, these data also need putting into context more generally in terms of the data source for salaries. HECSU quite understandably use the DLHE (Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education) survey which only measures the status of graduates six-months after graduation. It is widely recognised that this survey fails to fully capture the true early employment outcomes of those from non-traditional backgrounds or in non-traditional subjects or careers. For example, many graduates will accept low paid work in the media industry to get a foot in the door, some practical experience and to develop of networks. Other graduates take any employment in order to pay off bank or parental loans. Students with families who can pay off the bank overdraft or are able to subsidise children without an urgency to be repaid do not have this pressure. It would be interesting to examine the extent to which the DLHE overestimates or underestimates true graduate salaries (and consequentially the lifetime earning premium) in London compared to other regions.

Lifetime unemployment

The grimmest statistics in the report relate to long-term unemployment. The report estimates that:

If an 18 year old were to remain on Job Seekers allowance for their whole ‘would-be’ working life with zero part-time work, they would receive a total of £166,876 at today’s payment levels – a mere 10.3% of what an average graduate can hope to earn during their working life.

Further, those who work the minimum part-time hours  to supplement Job Seekers allowance would only earn around a quarter (25.6%) of a typical graduate’s income over the course of their working life.

Implications of the Skandia report

Overall this useful report will be seen as providing supporting evidence both for those who support young people entering higher education and those who argue that apprenticeships are a viable and undervalued alternative.

The report confirms that a university degree remains a strong predictor of higher lifetime earnings compared to non-graduate entry. This premium appears higher than had previously been estimated compared to A-level entry but lower than had been estimated in relation to the apprentice route. While all such salary calculations and projects are complex and depend upon a range of assumptions it can be argued that in the current economic climate with historically high unemployment particular youth unemployment, the geographical uneveness of the recession and public sector cuts and the changing structure of employment in different sectors, as those sectors change, we might need to reexamine some of our assumptions in relation to lifetime earnings calculations. In any event the overall burden on the Treasury through the Student Loan Book, is on the basis of this report likely to be higher than had previously been anticipated. Given the coalition’s focus on reduction of the deficit and the Opposition shift to supporting the need for austerity, the implications for higher education funding are significant. It would be easy to argue that focusing on cost, fees, earnings, taxation and deficits as this report does, drives the debate into consideration of a university education being purely a commodity to be bought, sold and paid for, it remains that a recurrent subsidy requirement of £9bn or higher is unlikely to be countenanced as sustainable by this or future administrations. What has to be put alongside this report and the kind of argument it makes, is the significant economic benefits to a nation a highly educated workforce provides. Almost any estimate with almost any reasonable assumptions would set a figure far in excess of £9bn in terms of domestic productivity and export earnings. Beyond the direct economic benefit are the multiple indirect benefits linked to reduced welfare, custodial, healthcare and other costs. And of course the inestimable public benefits for a society and its citizens of a nation that treats the value of education seriously and is recognised globally for so doing.

© Professor Patrick McGhee

Twitter: @VC_UEL

Higher Education in 2012 – Some Predictions

In Uncategorized on December 30, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Predictions in higher education are notoriously precarious at the best of times. Looking forward to 2012, the endeavour is even more thankless than usual given the volatility, fragility and timidity of the sector. Universities and other HE poviders have over the years certainly shown themselves liable to do all kinds of weird and wonderful things.  Such as giving football clubs honorary degrees, running courses in surfing, dressing in ever more funny robes or educating the offspring of tyrannical despots. In fact it is wholly conceivable that a wide range of things will happen to the sector that the sector did not see coming. Nonetheless, I’m pretty much certain that all of the following things will definitely happen. What’s that coming over the hill? It’s Higher Education 2012.

  1. January – In a shock move, DBIS and DfE are merged overnight, with Michael Gove becoming Minister for All Education. All  HEFCE memoranda to be written in Latin and universities to hold weekly Parents’ Evenings. All institutions in receipt of SLC funding to provide free milk between 11am and lunchtime. For all STEM and SIVs afternoon lectures there is to be compulsory ‘heads on desks’ at 3.30pm.  All Art & Design institutions to become ‘Free’ universities, ie. free of any discernible form of public funding whatsoever.
  2. February – Labour publish ‘radical alternative’ to Coalition HE White Paper reforms. All existing measures retained but fee cap reduced to £8,900.  “This is a bold move and opens up clear blue water between us and the Coalition. Some will say ‘How can the country afford it? I say how can we not afford it? What is the price of ignorance?’
  3. March – Following pressure from Martin Lewis, Government announce new arrangements for student support funding. Henceforth students will be issued with 20 free National Lottery tickets every Saturday morning and can keep whatever winnings come their way.  The move is greeted with surprise across the sector but NUS state “We welcome this long overdue reform which will provide a more predictable and reliable payment schedule than students had previously experienced with SLC”
  4. April – A C Grayling makes application for New College of the Humanities to join Russell Group. Application dismissed on grounds that NCH is insufficiently elitist. Million+ launch new hard-hitting, evidenced-based report “You’ve All Got it Wrong And This is What You Should be Doing”.
  5. May – HE Bill Presented to Parliament.  In shock departure from protocol a Committee of the Whole House insist that David Willetts be required to submit four hard-bound copies of the Bill and be subjected to a viva voce examination by one UK MP and someone from another legislature, with no previous association with the work. After a gruelling three hours interrogation the Bill is passed into law subject to minor corrections, tidying up a few typographical errors and the correct labelling of the axes in Chapter 4 (‘Increase in SLC debt 2014-2020’).  Questions are raised about the thoroughness of the examiners however when The Times Higher subsequently reveals that on page 582 of the Bill is the phrase “If you really read this far I’ll buy you a bottle of whisky, David”
  6. June – Pearson sells KL educational publishing arm, buys Nottingham’s Malaysia Campus. “We believe this to be a key milestone in our higher education Asia strategy”. Home Office deny that UKBA online immigration procedures are too complex, amid claims that application software is “already too sophisticated for its own programmers to predict what it will do next”.
  7. July –  In a desperate attempt to get tougher with selective universities on social mobility, David Willetts and Vince Cable occupy the Russell Hotel.  “We have a number of general grievances with the system which we are not necessarily able to articulate at this time. We do believe we are capturing the public mood and we will not be moved. We are the 2.6%”. UKBA online application process achieves self-knowledge and rudimentary consciousness on 3 June 2012 at 04.17hrs GMT.
  8. August – In a move widely regarded as misjudged, 1994 Group hire chauffeured limousines for all AAB students on A-level results day to drive them to local cashpoints to collect free cash. “We reject any allegation that we are engaged in inappropriate recruitment practices. UCAS and OFFA have fully  endorsed our Bumper Bonus Banknote Bundles Bonanza Bursary Scheme.” UKBA online application process narrowly defeated in attempt to become Conservative Party candidate for Hull. 
  9. September – Youngest ever Noble Prizewinner announced, Professor of Nanotechnology at the University of Seoul aged 24.  “Of course this is for work I carried out almost a decade ago”.
  10. October – Pearson sells Nottingham’s Malaysia Campus, buys Malaysia “We believe this to be a key milestone in our higher education Asia strategy”
  11. November – Following news of abolition of the Tuesday Education supplement, The Guardian reject claims they are reducing HE coverage.  “We are committed to a tweet every third Thursday whether there’s news to report or not”
  12. December – Pearson sells HEFCE. Advised by DBIS that it does not own HEFCE. Buys DBIS. “We believe this to be a major milestone in establishing a visible presence in British Higher Education. As was.”

The Complexities of Tackling Discrimination in Football

In Uncategorized on December 22, 2011 at 7:55 pm

I remember watching a friendly match between England and Holland live on TV in the late 1980s. Every time Ruud Gullit touched the ball sections of the crowd launched into a low, menacing booing that was clearly audible in the broadcast. “Gullit getting some good-natured ribbing from the crowd there” said the commentator. At the time I thought the commentator was naive, later I suspected he was all too aware of the racist connotations and was seeking to locate the behaviour in an underdeveloped narrative of friendly Anglo-Dutch sporting rivalry. As far as I remember nothing was said subsequently in the press about either the booing or the preference of the BBC to play it down.

Winter 2011 – A Point of Crisis? 

Times have changed. Football faces several challenges now and is responding in different ways.  Suárez and Terry face allegations of racist abuse on the park, charges which both of them emphatically deny.  But racism is not the only challenge for football authorities as we move into 2012, UEFA Championship and Olympic Soccer year. There have been specific incidents of homophobic chants from ‘fans’ of both Brighton and Southampton recently and police and clubs, commendably, have taken action.  In Scotland, after a period of seeming dissipation of explicit sectarian hostilities, incidents have grown both on and off the park leading to new anti-bigotry legislation.

There is no doubt that racism, homophobia and sectarianism while sharing some damaging, discriminating and distasteful features, are also different in character.  They have different historical roots, political underpinnings and overtones, different relations to economic and political power, and to a range of cultural and media narratives both regional and national.  However, the overall reaction to these incidents and developments to some extent provides grounds for guarded optimism about changing attitudes to discrimination in football.  It is just the case that behaviours which would have been tolerated only a few years ago are now dealt with relatively swiftly and robustly, supported seemingly by an establishment consensus that underpins not just condemnation but also  action beyond mere censure.

But is Winter 2011 a point of crisis for football? I would argue that it is. This is principally because whatever the increasing commitment to tackling discrimination, we still lack a consensus on a clear model for intervention. Interventions in sport are historically complex but it is important to get it right as far as we can. One aspect of rising to that challenge is to look in detail at the ways in which intervention, and in some cases lack of intervention, is a complex business.  This review is not meant to be exhaustive, but will highlight some features of some recent and ongoing anti-discrimination interventions in football.

The Politics of Intervention: The ‘Round Against Racism’

Looking at global and local reactions and initiatives to discriminatory behaviour we see of course that football is just one locus of a complex matrix of historical, economic and cultural issues. The range of actual or advocated educational, financial, technological and legislative interventions are complicated by the multiple consequences of such interventions.  However, all of the responses and reforms raise difficult questions to which there are no easy answers.

For example, Tim Vickery as part of an excellent recent piece on the Suárez case comments on this year’s Brazilian FA ‘Round Against Racism’ Day, where all penultimate day league matches were declared to be a statement against racial discrimination. But there was no follow up, no initiative, rather, says Vickery,  “The Round against Racism” was nothing of the sort. In reality, cynically and opportunistically, it was the “Round against Blatter”.  As Vicker reports, there was no attempt to put anything on anti-racism in context, and behaviours by fans did not seem to be treated any differently during or after the event.  This was clearly a tactical intervention to position the Brazilian FA against Blatter.

We need to be careful here. Assuming Vickery is correct, this will not have been the first time a supposedly progressive anti-discriminatory intervention has reflected instrumental or self-serving motivations. Additionally, while there can be no doubting that many Brazilians inside and outside the FA are opposed to racism, it is just that such calculated interventions cannot necessarily be taken as evidence for that opposition. However there are genuine voices of opposition. Perhaps most notably Brazilian footballing icon Socrates, who died last month, in one of his final pieces of writing condemned high profile Brazilians such as Pele for not speaking out against racism. We have to remind ourselves that an instrumental intervention is possible by those who genuinely oppose racism, and that there are debates within as well as across national bodies and cultures.

Regulation, Fines and Awareness Raising as Intervention: FIFA and ‘Anti-Discrimination Days’.

As has been pointed out by the Observer Said & Done column (which highlights with no little tenacity and wit alleged hypocrisy and lack of resolve in sporting bodies) FIFA itself has a long history of public commitments to anti-racism but in practice imposes arguably limited fines on clubs and associations found guilty of any violations. This being a consequence of the self-imposed ‘cap’ on fines set by FIFA (see below).

It is worth looking in detail at FIFA’s Disciplinary Code which puts a cap on the amount clubs or national associations can be fined for discriminatory behaviours:

Anyone who offends the dignity of a person or group of persons
through contemptuous, discriminatory or denigratory words or actions
concerning race, colour, language, religion or origin shall be suspended
for at least five matches. Furthermore, a stadium ban and a fine of at least
CHF 20,000 shall be imposed. If the perpetrator is an official, the fine shall
be at least CHF 30,000.

FIFA Disciplinary Code, Section 58, 1 (a)

(CHF 30,000 is just over £20,000 as of December 2011)

This maximum amount for example was the fine handed out to the Croatian FA by FIFA in 2008 for racist chanting in the Croatia vs England World Cup qualifying match. It could be argued that FIFA have resisted percentage-based fines (of gate receipts or turnover) due to the political pressure and consequences. However, in terms of ongoing initiatives FIFA’s engagement has been focused on FIFA Anti-Discrimination Days.  While it is clearly important to raise awareness across the full span of world football activities under FIFA’s remit, and while all World Cups have one day set aside for this initiative, it is difficult to see what will be really changed through declaring some of the following rounds as vehicles for awareness raising:

2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™ (semi-finals)
2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa (quarter-finals)
2009 FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009 (semi-finals)
2008 FIFA Women’s U-20 World Cup Chile 2008 (semi-finals)
2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007 (quarter-finals)

For example, the average attendance at the 2008 Women’s U20 semi finals was just over 14,000 and even the  official FIFA Match Reports do not reference the anti-discrimination status (though all 12 corporate sponsors get a name check).  Similarly, neither the official Tournament overview report or the narrative match reports on the Semi-finals day mention the anti-discrimination day.

But perhaps things have changed more recently? Alas, not. The 2011 FIFA day of Anti-Discrimination Day took place on semi-finals day at the Women’s World Cup in Germany this year. Disappointingly, the FIFA overview of the tournament makes no reference to this activity amongst the 60 or so news items showcased.  Similarly, the FIFA match reports  from semi-final day do not mention the Anti-discrimination aspect.  Now, this is not to say that there was no promotion of the status of the matches at the grounds, or elsewhere in FIFA management of either of these events. Nor is it evidence in itself that FIFA do not take discrimination seriously, even less does it suggest that individuals within FIFA do not take the initiative seriously. What it does suggest is that if Anti-discrimination days are to have credibility then they need to have more enduring visibility. Such promotion as there was appears to have left no legacy, whatever happened locally on the day has, seemingly, not engaged a larger audience or registered significantly within FIFA itself.

In fairness, in an in-house interview with Sepp Blatter during the semi-finals, strong reaffirmations were made around FIFA’s commitment to opposing discrimination. However, in answer to the question ‘What can FIFA do in the future to tackle discrimination?’ the response from Sepp Blatter was essentially ‘Education’.  Now, no-one, surely, would want to argue against education of future generations of player and fans as being a necessary part of any serious attempt to tackle discrimination of any kind at every level. However, there appears to be no serious role in FIFA’s stance for challenging current practices of discrimination or reforming existing structures.  Without such real and urgent interventions the inevitable outcome will be slightly more tolerant youngsters populating enduringly discriminatory cultures. FIFA cannot do everything and they most surely did not create racism or other forms of discrimination in society, but they occupy a unique position within the sport and their responsibility cannot be reduced to facilitating exclusively educational interventions.  FIFA’s other initiative in this area Football for Hope, also seeks to look to the future. As commendable as it is we need to ask some critical questions.  FIFA is the world authority for the sport – what is it they want young people to hope for?  That the world body finds the resolve to reform the very game for which it is the sole global regulator?

Of course all the FIFA statements and stances are difficult to take seriously when Blatter himself, dealing with questions directly without the shield of remote publication, makes such unacceptable remarks about sexual orientation and gender. But understanding FIFA is more than deciding whether Blatter himself is serious about discrimination, or understands it.  Disappointingly and perhaps surprisingly global corporate sponsors appear unable to go beyond initial statements of concern and commitments to monitoring the FIFA situation.  This is despite such issues being dealt with swiftly in the US where many FIFA sponsors are registered.  Yet again however we need to be careful in looking to mobilise corporations to shape sporting bodies’ behaviours, while boycotting and problematising sponsorship often has a role, in extremis it degenerates into a potentially dangerous form of privatisation of accountability.

UEFA have already indicated what looks like a more direct approach to managing discrimination at Euro 2012. This builds on an interesting initiative from 2009 when Poland/Ukraine were awarded the tournament involving an anti-racist Eastern European Monitoring Centre. It is difficult to assess the work that has been carried out under its auspices, and in some respects any final assessment needs to be deferred until after the tournament, but this does seem like an initiative with a different and promising agenda.

Surveillance Technology as Intervention: HeadCams for Stewards 

This week we hear of Tottenham Hotspurs taking a more interventionist approach to tackling homophobia and racism at White Hart Lane with reports that stewards will be wearing headcams to identify spectators making homophobic or racist chants with effect from 22 December 2011. This is not an isolated measure, Spurs have already implemented a texting notification service in place for fans to report inappropriate behavior. As stated on the club’s website “We do not tolerate discrimination of any sort at the club, on the pitch or in the stands.”  By any reasonable measure the ‘zero-tolerance’ orientation of Spurs is to be welcomed. And yet the further utilization of surveillance technology in a leisure context raises questions about governance and legitimacy of  such interventions. What kind of concessions to new boundaries of observation are wrought from those who come to watch and do not abuse and never had any intention of doing so? Whatever the benefits – and many argue there are benefits – of such monitoring, they further legitimise the authority of private companies, as football clubs are, to monitor and judge citizen behaviour, in the context of a further blurring of the role of consumer, spectator and citizen. What price is worth paying? Who owns the benefits?

Legislation As Intervention: The Scottish Anti-Bigotry Act

In Scotland,  the SNP majority government’s rather inelegantly entitled ‘Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications’ Bill was passed by 64 votes to 57 this month in the face of widespread opposition.  Some have argued that existing legislation was sufficient, others not and others that in any event it was important to sharpen the focus of the legal position and ensure prosecutions could be easier to realise. Others, principally in the SNP itself, argue that the Bill does not go far enough. The Bill covers not only behaviour at football grounds but in pubs where games are being watched an on social media.   The Bill does not however cover watching football in private houses, even if a group of fans are present. Scottish newspapers published the next day a list of key points on what the Bill would and would not mean for the average fan. In particular a list of songs likely to be construed as offensive was published by the Daily Record.  Critics make the point that interpretations as to whether any particular instance of chanting or singing would be construed as potentially offensive would, inevitably, need to be left to police officers in situ.

Again the Bill is not an action in isolation. There is ample evidence of a range of political parties in Scotland tackling sectarian abuse over several years and across administrations.  However, the empirical evidence on bigotry in everyday life is arguably uncertain. Steve Bruce, Professor of Sociology at Aberdeen University has argued that “Scotland’s disgrace is not religious bigotry. It is the unthinking way in which sectarianism is assumed.” Referencing a 2001 survey Bruce suggests 1% of those surveyed thought they had been victimised because of their religion. More recently however strong claims have been made that Old Firm games lead to a significant upswing in domestic violence. 

What next?

This is a complex area and there is no attempt here to offer even preliminary proposals, but we can try to identify what might usefully be reflected upon.  Clearly, there are several types of complexities around assessing interventions in response to individual and collective discriminatory behaviours.    Potentially, interventions can be hijacked, have significant debits on civil freedoms and can place a burden on law enforcement which is neither manageable or welcome, and therefore unsustainable.   The evidence base for both the need for such interventions and their effectiveness can be uncertain and is often contested. A wide range of influential stakeholders can be mobilised including journalists, players, schools, politicians and clubs themselves. And indeed beyond that corporate sponsors, international associations and governments. But such mobilisations hinge on multiple and potentially contradictory motivations under a fragile and instrumental alliance. It is too trite to say that cradle-to-grave arrangements are necessary – that still leaves a lot of ground to be mapped out. However, it does seem that a combination of education, contractualisation and legislation is likely to work better than any one approach alone.

  • Education has to be about discrimination in general and not just discrimination in football.
  • Contractualisation, as a form of financial normalization has to be about mainstreaming challenge and compliance in contracts including players, managers and media contracts, because that’s what drives football as a business.
  • Legislation has to be about specific behaviours as far as possible because that is what causes offence and is provocative.

Beyond this there is surely a debate to be had on the forms of justice to be applied to offenders. What kind of community and restorative justice options might be explored here? In terms of challenge, authorities need to grasp the nettle. There are basic questions to be asked of youngsters and others at ‘awareness raising’ days: Why are fans chanting racist slogans despite knowing they are offensive and illegal? Why do so few gay footballers want to be open about their sexuality? One way of opening up that aspect up is to reconstruct the perfunctory ‘Fair Play’ initiatives. Ask young players why professionals sometimes play unfairly. They know why. We are also going to have to recognise that for too many young people, racism, sectarianism and homophobia are not some ‘other’ territories to be navigated around. In some cases they are already inside such discourses, and too often mouthpieces for them. This is not of their own making but it cannot be ignored for that reason.

We have come a long way over the years in recognising the complexity of intervention, and for that matter, non-intervention.  The current positive focus on anti-discriminatory initiatives is obviously to be welcomed but we have got to think carefully about what criteria for judging such initiatives are appropriate.

We have, at least, come a long way too from racist chants at the national stadium, against one of the most talented players of his generation, being spun by the national broadcaster as “good-natured ribbing”.