Archive for March, 2014

World Twenty20 Cricket Poll

Posted in Cricket with tags , on March 31, 2014 by telescoper

Following their comprehensive defeat to The Netherlands (yes, The Netherlands) today in the World Twenty20 Cricket after already having been knocked out of the competition, it seems appropriate to conduct an opinion poll on the subject of the performance of the England cricket team:




Tuition Fees, Ponzi Schemes and University Funding

Posted in Education, Finance, Politics with tags , , on March 30, 2014 by telescoper

Last week the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) finally released information on allocations for 2014/15. As expected, there are large cuts in recurrent grants pretty much across the board (a full table can be found here).  These cuts reflect the fact that government funding for teaching in many subjects is being progressively replaced by tuition fee income in most disciplines, the prominent exception being STEM subjects, which continue to attract a (small) element of grant support in addition to the £9K fees.  Grants for research are largely unchanged for the time being; the big upheaval there will happen when the outcome of the Research Excellence Framework is applied, from 2015/16 onwards.

If you look at the table you will see that some big research universities have relatively small cuts, especially if they focus on STEM disciplines; the obviously example is Imperial College which has a cut of only 3%. Typical Russell Group universities seem to be getting cuts of around 15%. My own institution, the University of Sussex, has been handed a cut of 24%, which reflects the fact that a large majority (greater than 75%) of students here are doing non-science subjects. Universities with less research income and a higher concentration on Arts & Humanities subjects are having to bear cuts of up to 60%.  These reductions are larger than anticipated as a result of the government’s decision to increase the total number of places by about 30,000 this year.

These numbers look alarming, but in most cases, including Sussex, the net income (FEES+GRANT) will actually go up next year, as long as the institution manages to recruit a sufficient number of students. The ability of a university to generate sufficient income to cover its costs has always depended on its ability to attract students, but this has previously been managed using a student number control, effectively applying a cap on recruitment to institutions that might otherwise corner the market.   This year some institutions who failed to recruit strongly have had their cap lowered, but worse is in store from 2015/16 as the cap will be lifted entirely, so that there will effectively be a free market in student recruitment. I sure I’m not the only person who thinks the likely outcome of this change will be a period of chaos during which a relatively small number of institutions will experience a bonanza while many others will struggle to survive.

As if this weren’t bad enough, there is also the growing consensus that the current fee regime is unsustainable. Revised estimates now suggest that about 45% of graduates will never pay back their tuition fees anyway. If this percentage grows to about 50% – and I am very confident that it will – then the new tuition fee system will end up costing the Treasury (i.e. the taxpayer) even more than the old regime, while also saddling generations of graduates with huge debts and also effectively removing the sector from public control.

Apparently, the response of the government to the level of default on repayments is to consider increasing fees to a level even higher than the current £9K per annum. It seems to me that the likely consequence of this would simply be to increase the default rate still further, largely by driving UK graduates abroad to avoid liability for paying back their loans, and thus drive the system into runaway instability.

The more one looks at the fees and loans debacle the more it resembles  a Ponzi scheme that’s destined to unravel with potentially catastrophic consequences for England’s universities; note that Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland are not covered by HEFCE arrangements.

So what can be done?

I’ll assume at the outset that the only really sensible plan – taking the entire system back under public control – is, by the very nature of the British political system, unthinkable.

My first suggestion reflects the fact that I am a scientist and that I think  science education and research properly should be a very high priority for any system of university funding. Whatever is done therefore must address the point I made a post about the threat to STEM subjects presented by HEFCE’s policies the essence of which is that the £9K flat-rate fee across all disciplines does not reflect the true difference in cost of teaching between, say, English and Physics. Differential fees would have a disastrous effect on recruitment into science subjects while the current system underfunds STEM disciplines so severely that it offers a perverse incentive for universities to focus on non-science areas. Under the current system, fees from Arts disciplines are effectively subsidizing science subjects rather than providing education to those paying the fees; in other words, Arts students are being ripped off.

Second, if the taxpayer is going to foot a significant part of the bill for higher education then HEFCE (or whatever organization replaces it in future) must have sufficient clout to manage the sector for the public interest, rather than allow it to be pulled apart by the unfettered application of market forces.

Third, any new system must be designed to reduce the level of graduate debt which, as I’ve mentioned already, simply encourages our brightest graduates to emigrate once they’ve obtained their degree.

I’ve actually never really been opposed to the principle that students who can afford to should contribute at some level to the cost of their education; I have, on the other hand, always been opposed to fees being set at the level of £9K per year. The Labour Party’s suggestion that fees should be cut to £6K would go some of the way to satisfying the third requirement, but would be disastrous unless the cut were offset by increased state funding through recurrent grants. I think a better suggestion would be to cut fees by a greater amount than that if possible, but to have a much bigger differentiation in the unit of resource paid to different subjects. I’d say that the net income per student should be about £15K per annum in STEM subjects, whereas for Arts and Social Sciences £6K probably covers the full cost of tuition.  So if the fee is set at £X across the board, STEM disciplines should receive £(15-X) from HEFCE while Arts subjects get a subsidy of £(6-X).






A Character

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on March 29, 2014 by telescoper

I marvel how Nature could ever find space
For so many strange contrasts in one human face:
There’s thought and no thought, and there’s paleness and bloom
And bustle and sluggishness, pleasure and gloom.

There’s weakness, and strength both redundant and vain;
Such strength as, if ever affliction and pain
Could pierce through a temper that’s soft to disease,
Would be rational peace–a philosopher’s ease.

There’s indifference, alike when he fails or succeeds,
And attention full ten times as much as there needs;
Pride where there’s no envy, there’s so much of joy;
And mildness, and spirit both forward and coy.

There’s freedom, and sometimes a diffident stare
Of shame scarcely seeming to know that she’s there,
There’s virtue, the title it surely may claim,
Yet wants heaven knows what to be worthy the name.

This picture from nature may seem to depart,
Yet the Man would at once run away with your heart;
And I for five centuries right gladly would be
Such an odd such a kind happy creature as he.

by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

Countdown to Equal Marriage

Posted in Biographical, LGBT, Politics with tags , , on March 28, 2014 by telescoper


So, from midnight tonight, same-sex couples have the right to marry in England & Wales. Not surprisingly, one of the first gay weddings in the UK will be in Brighton: Andrew Wale and Neil Allard (below) will marry just a few minutes after midnight:


Nice beards! I’d like to take this opportunity to send my very best wishes to Andrew and Neil and indeed to everyone (straight or gay) taking the plunge this weekend.

I find the fact that this has become reality absolutely amazing. When I came to the University of Sussex as a graduate student in 1985, Brighton was one of the most gay-friendly cities in the UK, if not the world. However, the veneer of tolerance was really very thin. Homophobic prejudice was still commonplace, and it was by no means uncommon for that to turn into violence, as I know to my own cost. The Local Government Act of 1988 included Section 28, which enshrined anti-gay attitudes in law. I would never have imagined at that time that, just 25 years later, a law would be passed allowing people of the same sex to marry. It still seems barely comprehensible that attitudes can have changed so much in the second half of my lifetime. Equality in marriage doesn’t mean equality in everything, of course, and prejudice obviously hasn’t vanished entirely, but it’s a start.

And what’s this tripe about same-sex marriage “threatening” of “devaluing” traditional marriage? Is the function of marriage simply to make married people feel superior to those who aren’t allowed to be married? That’s what that argument sounds like to me. If that’s what it’s for I think the state should withdraw legal recognition from all forms of marriage and let us all be treated equally by the law, as individuals.

For those who don’t approve of the change in the law, it’s all actually very simple. If you don’t approve of same-sex marriage, don’t marry someone of the same sex.

It’s all come a bit too late for me to get married. I think I’m destined to remain forever an ineligible bachelor. I will however be spending this weekend wandering around Brighton randomly asking men if they’ll marry me. This isn’t because of the change in the law. It’s what I do anyway…

I hope at least I’ll get invited to quite a few weddings in the near future. I think there’s going to be quite a lot of catching up going on…

Introduction and Polonaise Brillante

Posted in Music with tags , , , on March 27, 2014 by telescoper

Yet another very busy day with no time for a proper post. However, I did notice this morning that today was the birthday of the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich (who died in 2007) and that gives me the excuse to post this recording, which I’ve loved for years and which gets played very frequently on my iPoD, especially in times of stress. The Introduction and Polonaise Brillante is a very early piece by Frederic Chopin; it’s his Opus 3 in fact and was composed when he was about 20 years old. He later dismissed it as “a bit of froth for the salon ladies”. It may not be an enormously profound piece of music – and I’ve heard many insipid versions that have almost put me off it entirely – but I think this performance is great. The combination of Rostropovich on cello with another iconoclast Marta Argerich on piano was never going to produce insipid music, and it’s abundantly clear that, though it’s not a particularly challenging piece, they both had a whale of a time recording it!

AAA Day in the LIfE of the 137 SS Mystic – August 3, 2013 – N, SHE, and NUN … where Egypt hid the swastika

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags on March 26, 2014 by telescoper

Oh my…

Alternative Thinking 37

August 3, 2013

So where did Egypt hide the swastika?

How was it vEILed?

UPDATE March 24, 2014

The Smoking Gun and the Gravity of the Situation

Jesus positioned between the two thieves RED and BLUE
a.k.a. the two B-mode gravitational waves

polarized RED and BLUE gravitational waves

On March 17th, 2014 an announcement was made that confirms what I AM now sharing.
The announcement apparently confirms Einstein’s musings about gravitational waves, an expanding universe and an early ‘imprinting’ that took place.
There are rumors of a big bang Nobel prize.

But inflation came with a very specific prediction – that it would be associated with waves of gravitational energy, and that these ripples in the fabric of space would leave an indelible mark on the oldest light in the sky – the famous Cosmic Microwave Background.

The BICEP2 team says it has now identified that signal.

Scientists call…

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Beard of Spring nomination list bristles with Spring promise

Posted in Beards, Biographical with tags , , on March 26, 2014 by telescoper

The other night somebody asked me if I don’t watch TV how do I keep up with current affairs? The answer is, of course, that I don’t. I do however keep up with important things via Twitter. Yesterday, for example, I heard that there’s a possibility that I might make the nomination list for the Beard Liberation Front’s “Beard of Spring”. Since I’ve never been nominated for anything in my entire life, I thought I would offer my readership (Sid and Doris Bonkers) the chance to boost my vote. And if anyone accuses me of blatant self-promotion, all I can say is “Vote for Me!


Kmflett's Blog

Beard Liberation Front
Contact Keith Flett 07803 167266

Beard of Spring nomination list bristles with Spring promise
The Beard Liberation Front, the network of beard wearers that campaigns against beardism, has said that the nomination list for the Beard of Spring 2014 Award is bristling with Spring promise.

The nominations list is now open to suggestions from the wider public with a poll starting on 5th April and the winner announced on 19th April

The Award one of four seasonal hirsute accolades that leads to the Beard of the Year in December celebrates the coming of Spring and the growth of beards new and old.

BLF Organiser Keith Flett said the initial nomination list contains several names who have never been honoured because of their beard and we are keen to receive further suggestions from the wider public

Beard of Spring nomination list
Moeen Ali, cricketer

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