Archive for Vodafone

Farewell to Blackberry…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 24, 2014 by telescoper

I’m not really a great one for gadgets so I rarely post about technology. I just thought I’d do a quick post because the weekend saw the end of an era. I had been using a Blackberry smartphone for some time, the latest one being a Blackberry Curve, and even did a few posts on here using the WordPress App for Blackberry. I never found that particular bit of software very easy to use, however, so it was strictly for emergencies only (e.g. when stuck on a train). Other than that I got on pretty well with the old thing, except for the fact that there was no easy way to receive my work email from Sussex University on it. That has been a convenient excuse for me to ignore such communications while away from the internet, but recently it’s become clear that I need to be better connected to deal with pressing matters.

Anyway a few weeks ago I got a text message from Vodafone telling me I was due a free upgrade on my contract so I decided to bite the bullet, ditch the Blackberry and acquire an Android phone instead. I’m a bit allergic to those hideously overpriced Apple products, you see, which made an iPhone unthinkable.  On Saturday morning I paid a quick visit to the vodafone store in Cardiff and after a nice chat – mainly about Rugby (Wales were playing the All Blacks later that day) and the recent comet landing – I left with a new Sony Xperia Z2. I feel a bit sorry for turning my back on Blackberry; they really were innovators at one point, but they made some awful business decisions and have been left behind by the competition. Incidentally, the original company Research In Motion (RIM) was doing well enough 15 years ago to endow the PeRIMeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, which was one of the reasons for my loyalty to date. The company is now called Blackberry Limited and has recently gone through major restructuring in its struggle for survival.

The Xperia Z2 is a nice phone, with a nice big display, generally very easy to find your way around, and with a lot more apps available than for Blackberry. I’ve got my Sussex email working and got Twitter, Facebook and WordPress installed; the latter is far better on Android than on Blackberry. The only thing I don’t like is the autocorrect/autocomplete, which is wretched, and which  I haven’t yet figured out how to switch off. The other thing is that it’s completely waterproof, but I haven’t taken it into the shower yet.

I feel quite modern for a change – my old Blackberry did make me feel like an old fogey sometimes – but since I’ve now signed up for another two years of contract before my next upgrade, there’s plenty of time for technology to overtake me again.

 

 

Did HE fall, or was it pushed?

Posted in Education, Politics with tags , , , , , , on October 30, 2010 by telescoper

One of the other scary bits of news to emerge last week concerns proposed changes to the arrangements for tuition fees in English universities. According to the Times Higher, the Minister responsible for universities, David Willetts, has admitted that the cuts to university budgets announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review, will occur before any new money flows into universities from whatever new fee arrangements emerge from the government’s deliberations following the Browne Report.

One of the recommendations of the Browne Report was that central government funding for arts, humanities and social sciences be scrapped entirely. Although I’m a scientist and I do think Science is Vital this is a very bad move, as I think other forms of scholarship and learning are vital too, for a wide range of reasons including cultural ones. It was never clear whether arts & humanities departments would be able to recoup the money lost as a result of cuts to central funding, but now it appears they will have to survive for an indeterminate time without any prospect of extra income to offset the shortfall.

The upshot of all this will be a huge and immediate cut in the budgets of many university departments, a  state of affairs about which Willetts commented only thus:

You have to expect that there will be pressure on universities to save money, and we don’t think they should be exempt from the pursuit of efficiencies.

Can an immediate 40% cut in teaching income be made by efficiency savings? I don’t think so, Mr Willetts. Even making large-scale redundancies won’t help there, as that costs a lot of money up front.

So why is the government pushing through cuts to university funding before ensuring that the new fee arrangements are in place? A variety of answers are possible. One would be incompetence, always a possibility when politicians are involved. However, although this government has tried to rush things through very quickly, I do not believe that this is something that hasn’t been considered very carefully. I think it’s deliberate.  I believe that this government wants some universities to fail, and has found an opportunity to push them over the edge.

It’s not about efficiency savings, it’s about survival of the fattest. Only those places able to dig into their reserves for several years will be able to weather the storm. Some will cope, some won’t. That’s the point.

It’s well known that several universities, most of them post-1992 institutions, have been struggling financially for a considerable time. In the past, special procedures have always been implemented to protect organizations of this type that have been close to insolvency. This government has said that will do things differently, and that universities that go bust will now be allowed to fail. This may involve them closing altogether, or being taken over by private companies. If I were working in a university heavily dependent on income from arts, humanities and social science teaching, I would be extremely nervous about the future. I mean, more nervous than I am anyway, working as a scientist in an institution which is financially sound. And that  is already very nervous indeed.

The other side of this particularly nasty coin, is that more “prestigious” institutions specialising in non-STEM areas, such as the London School of Economics, are already considering the option of going private. If the government gives them no support directly, yet insists – as seems likely – in capping the fee students pay at a figure around £7K per annum as well as strangling them with yards of red tape as HEFCE is wont to do, then why not just withdraw from the system and set fees at whatever level they like? It’s unlikely that an institution with a strong science base will go down this road, as the taxpayer is going to continue supporting STEM subjects, but it seems to me that it would make sense for the LSE to opt out of a system whether the costs of membership exceed the benefits received.

In the longer term, the squeeze is set of continue. According again to the Times Higher, the net revenue from fees will only replace part of the funding withdrawn over the CSR period. It looks like five years of struggle during which many departments may go under. The more you think about it, the worse it looks.

However, perhaps a better question than the one I asked a couple of paragraphs ago is the following. Why is the government intent on slashing the budgets of HE institutions, when it appears to have  let Vodafone off without paying a bill for £6 billion tax?

That amount would have been more than enough to tide the HE sector over until the new fee stream came online…


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