Cardiff News

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about local affairs, but the emergence of three items of news in the past few days has given me an opportunity to remedy that.

First, and hot off the press this morning, is the news that Cardiff University has at last decided who its next Vice-Chancellor will be after the incumbent,  David Grant, retires next year. The lucky winner is Professor Colin Riordan, who is currently Vice-Chancellor of the University of Essex (which apparently exists). His background is in the humanities, and his speciality post-war German literature. Since his previous institution doesn’t have a Physics Department, we’re probably  safe for a few years until he finds out Cardiff has one and decides to close it.

Anyway, Professor Riordan became a Vice Chancellor for the first time at the age of 48, which is the same age I am now. Maybe I should be climbing aboard the gravy train? I hear there’s a vacancy as Vice Chancellor at the University of Essex. I would apply, but I fear I have all the wrong vices…

That brings me to yesterday’s news that Cardiff University, along with all the proper most other universities in Wales, is to charge annual tuition fees of, you guessed it, £9K. This is despite recent reports that the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) was set to refuse permission to set such high fees. I always thought it was inevitable that Welsh universities would want to charge as much as possible to bring funding levels closer to those in England, but it remains to be seen what effect the new regime will have on student recruitment.  The £9K level is substantially higher than the Welsh Assembly Government’s initial estimate of £7K so it also remains to be seen what the implications are for the WAG budget. We live in interesting times…

However, not wishing to end on a down note, I’ll finish by passing on a bit of up-beat news. Apparently – according to the esteemed National Geographic Magazine – Cardiff is one of the top ten places in the world to visit in 2011, coming in at Number 6 in  this rigorously compiled and totally objective league table. I’m usually a bit skeptical about such things, but who could possibly disagree with the ranking?

1. Muskoka Orange County, Ontario, Canada
2. Patagonia, Argentina
3. San Juan Islands, Washington
4. Minneapolis, Minnesota
5. Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska
6. Cardiff, Wales
7. Stockholm Archipelago Sweden
8. Azores, Portugal
9. Roatan, Honduras
10. Istria, Croatia

Hang on a minute. Minneapolis? At Number 4?

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9 Responses to “Cardiff News”

  1. I have visited 7 and 10; both deserve to be on the list.

  2. £9K is a lot of money—even to me, now. I would have been a huge amount of money to me as a student, and I believe for Peter as well (even adjusted for inflation). How are students supposed to pay this? It is obviously unrealistic to earn this much money on the side (except, perhaps, for female students so inclined (or should that be “reclined”?)—yes, I know of some who have financed their studies this way). If students get a grant for the same amount, surely it would be more efficient to give the money directly to the university. Parents expected to pay? Why not go back to the middle ages wholesale and ditch centuries of improvement in society? Graduate with a huge debt? Probably, parents of rich students will pay the fees, so that only those from poorer families will graduate with debt, putting them at a further disadvantage.

    It would be nice if some high-profile scientists moved to a country where there is a sensible method of financing education and make a loud noise while doing so. (Yes, one can argue that it is better to remain behind and improve things, but since the powers that be seem to be more interested in emotional wallop than considered arguments, such an action might make sense.)

    • telescoper Says:

      Students don’t pay the fees up front – they pay back after they have graduated. Essentially, they borrow the money from the government.

      Perhaps controversially, I don’t see the fees as the major problem. I’ve never been opposed to the principle that students should contribute to the cost of their education. The big problem is that maintenance grants have been scrapped, which has a big impact on students from poor backgrounds being able to support themselves through college. Even without fees, students without rich parents will graduate with debts, or be forced to drop out. That already happens now, and will get worse.

      • Phil Uttley Says:

        We’ve started doing taster days for the 2011 intake of students (the first to pay the fees) and have been looking into what to tell them. The conclusion is quite surprising. Since the interest on the loan is RPI+3 per cent and outstanding debts are cancelled after 30 years, and students pay it off at a rate of 9% of their income above 21k, they have to earn 70k+ to pay the whole lot off. That means that for most of them, unless they have *the whole debt* paid off up front, it doesn’t make sense to get contributions from their parents, because they still will have to pay the same amount over 30 years (since they can never get close to closing the debt).

        So people who would pay a fraction up front would basically be giving away their money to the govt. The other upshot is that it makes sense to get the biggest loan you can, and there is no downside to doing 4 year degrees instead of 3 (no difference in what you end up paying back). As long as the govt doesn’t change the repayment rules of course…. Our current advice to them is that if their parents want to give them some financial support it would be better to put that in a savings account for the duration of their degree so that they can spend it on a house or car further down the line (i.e. spend it on debts that are real long-term debts).

      • telescoper Says:

        2012 intake, you mean?

      • Phil Uttley Says:

        Oops, yes 2012 intake – they are applying this year. Since I’ve been involved in admissions the years have tended to roll into one continuous cycle of taster days, open days, UCAS visit days….

      • If the fees aren’t paid up front, then the situation is not as dire. However, since fees exist, maybe someone will decide that they should be paid up front. I agree that the lack of maintenance grants is a problem. Of course, if students have to borrow money just to survive, this creates ‘real’ debts.

        If the grants aren’t paid back in most cases, and the money for the fees comes from the government anyway, why not just do away with the fees altogether?

      • Phil Uttley Says:

        Although the debt is not paid back, due to the interest (3%+RPI), I suspect the actual cost of the loan to the govt is paid back (and probably even more). It’s basically a graduate tax.

  3. […] was a mighty kerfuffle around these parts last week, stirred by an email from the Vice-Chancellor “designate”, Prof. Colin Riordan. The incoming Vee-Cee doesn’t take over until September, but he’s clearly planning to […]

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