Archive for February 20, 2019

Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann – Havfruen

Posted in Art with tags , , , , on February 20, 2019 by telescoper

Something else I discovered in the Glyptoteket in Copenhagen on Saturday was the art of Polish-Danish painter Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann, who lived from 1819 until 1881. There are many of her compositions on display in Copenhagen. I found some of them very conventional and even a bit sentimental, but she undoubtedly had a distinctive way of handling light and some of her paintings are very fine indeed. I thought I’d pick this one to share as it is a large and striking oil painting that greets you when you enter the first room of Danish art (upstairs).

The title of this is Havfruen (`The Mermaid’).

Incidentally, one of the few things I know how to say in Danish is Den lille Havfrue (`The Little Mermaid’), largely because of the famous statue which is a local Copenhagen landmark. This illustrates an interesting feature of Danish grammar. Instead of adding a definite article, as one would do in English, a singular definite noun is denoted by adding the indefinite article en (or elided form) as a suffix at the end of the noun. This is the rule unless the noun is qualified by an adjective, in which case a definite article `Den’ is put at the front. Hence `the Mermaid’ is Havfruen but `the little Mermaid’ is Den lille Havfrue, owing to the presence of the adjective lille. The Mermaid above may or may not be little, but the painting certainly isn’t!

Danish grammar isn’t really all that hard – quite similar to German, actually – but the pronunciation is very challenging!

Cardiff Blues: Sustainability and UK Universities

Posted in Cardiff, Education with tags , , , on February 20, 2019 by telescoper

Just before I left on my travels last week I saw a rather depressing news item about Cardiff University. It seems that, after posting a deficit of £22.8 M last year, the University is planning to cut about 380 staff positions. According to the news item:

“The university plans to reduce current staff levels by 7%, or 380 full-time equivalent over five years,” said vice chancellor Colin Riordan in an email to staff.

Since I left Cardiff University in the summer I didn’t get the email from which this is quoted and I don’t know the wider picture. (If anyone would like to forward the V-C’s email to me I’d be very interested.)

The news item also says

Its aim is to get back into surplus by 2019-20 and it wants to cut staffing costs from 59.6% of total income to no more than 56% of income by 2022-23.

Between you and me I was quite surprised that a University can be spending less than 60% of its income on staff, since staff are by far its most valuable resource. Bear in mind also that academic staff will be responsible for only a fraction of this expenditure. In some universities this fraction is only about half. Cutting this still further seems a very retrograde step to me, as it means that student-staff ratios will inevitably rise, making the institution less attractive to prospective students, as well as increasing the workload on existing staff to intolerable levels.

I sincerely hope none of my former colleagues in the School of Physics & Astronomy is affected by the deterioration of the University’s finances. At least the news item I referred to does mention new investments in Data Science, so that is presumably a positive development for the Data Innovation Research Institute with which I was formerly associated.

Incidentally, best wishes to anyone at Cardiff who is reading this, and good luck against England in the Six Nations on Saturday!

I’ve mentioned Cardiff here just because I noticed a specific news item (and I used to work there) but it seems a number of other universities are suffering financial problems. There are cold winds blowing through the sector. Many institutions (including Cardiff) have committed to ambitious building programs funded by a combination of borrowing and on optimistic assumptions about growth in student numbers and consequent increases in fee income. Although I no longer work in the UK Higher Education system, I do worry greatly about its sustainability. Even from across the Irish Sea the situation looks extremely precarious: the recent boom could easily end in some institutions going bust. I don’t think that will include Cardiff, by the way. I don’t think the Welsh Government would ever allow that to happen. But I think the English Government wouldn’t act if an English university went bankrupt.