Common Values In our Classrooms | 14.12.10
Join the campaign at Liberty.
Shane Chowen on EMA | 13.12.10
Shane Chowen, vice-president of the further education wing of the NUS, writes well in the Guardian opposing the EMA cut.
EMA | 13.12.10
It's hard to endorse the logic of the government's decision to axe the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA). The EMA is a payment made to students in Years 12 and 13 who are from a low-income background. The scheme aims to incentivise poorer pupils to continue in full-time education, and to provide material financial support to enable them to do so, even against the wishes of their parents.
The reason fr the cut given by the chancellor George Osborne is basically that it is an inefficient system: it does not make, he claims, a big enough impact on participation rates to justify the outlay. This is in and of itself a reasonable point to make, I suppose. But it misses a more important one, I think: if we suppose that education to age 18 is a right, it follows that fair opportunities must be provided to allow young people to actually receive that entitlement. Whether it actually achieves an increase in participation is kind of immaterial. What is important is that under the EMA, a fair opportunity currently exists for the poorest students; and if the opportunity exists, the responsibility for failing to exploit that opportunity shifts to the student. The EMA also has the nice side effect of meaningfully empowering young people by asking them to decide whether to continue study. And if they decide they do, there are clear conditions attached to the EMA (such as, showing up to your classes). It encourages personal responsibility for learning, ironically, to a far greater extent than the largely dysfunctional university sector.
The difference between the EMA issue and the university funding issue is also an important one to note. The idea that education to 18 should be a right is, I suggest, widely accepted. Scrapping the EMA makes leaving school at 16 the more profitable option and reinforces the cultural reflex, prevalent in many poorer families, that further education is an unproductive and self-indulgent option rather than an investment in a student's future. This amounts to a reduction in access for the poor which to my mind is simply incompatible with the idea of secondary education as an unqualified right. University attendance, by contrast, is not so straightforward: even if it is a "right", this right is qualified by having to get the correct grades. I do, however, agree with the left (and with Lord Browne!) that your financial background should not constitute another qualification for undergraduate study. So much the better, then, that parliament has now passed legislation that 1) increases the amount of money available to the poorest (both through the loans system and through grants and scholarships), 2) raises the thresholds for any repayments on those loans to above the national median wage, and 3) establishes a progressive tapering system to those repayments when they apply.
When it comes to education funding for the poorest, the cold hand of conservatism is as threatening as ever. But we left-wing and liberal progressives must, I think, pick our battles carefully.
IFS tuition fees assessment | 9.12.10
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has assessed government proposals on higher education funding. The document is wide-ranging, but it headline conclusion is:
By decile of graduate lifetime earnings, the Government’s proposals are more progressive than the current system or that proposed by Lord Browne. The highest earning graduates would pay more on average than both the current system and that proposed by Lord Browne, while lower earning graduates would pay back less. By decile of parental income, graduates from the poorest 30% of households would pay back less than under Lord Browne’s proposed system, but more than under the current system. While all graduates from families with incomes above this would pay more, graduates from the 6th and richest (10th) deciles of parental income would pay back the most under the proposed system.
Perhaps there are still good reasons for opposing the government proposals, but if there are, it isn't the Labour Party articulating them. Openly claiming that a graduate tax would be "fairer", given the manifest falsehood of that statement, is simply a bankrupt position (in every sense) for Labour to adopt. And Alan Johnson must know it.
Vacillation left and left | 8.12.10
Nick Clegg has copped it for supporting a rise in tuition fees after signing a pledge to do exactly the opposite. And why shouldn't he cop it? Any U-turn this brazen in politics is legitimately susceptible to ridicule. However, the important consideration when assessing a U-turn is whether it is a turn from the wrong direction to the right one, or from the right direction to the wrong one. Clearly, in the estimation of most left-wing pundits, Clegg has made the latter. You can make your own mind up. What is certain, though, is that Clegg has clearly explained that he previously thought a graduate tax to be the more just policy, but after taking a closer look at the sums, concluded that a modified system of fees and loans is the only practicable solution. You might disagree with his reasoning, and indeed with his conclusions, but he has at least given a public account of them.
Now then, what have we here?
Oh, and for goodness' sake, don't pursue a graduate tax. We should be proud of our brave and correct decision to introduce tuition fees. Students don't pay them, graduates do, when they're earning more than £15,000 a year, at very low rates, stopped from their pay just like a graduate tax, but with the money going where it belongs: to universities rather than the Treasury.
Yes, that's shadow chancellor Alan Johnson, writing to Ed Miliband the day after the leadership contest concluded. Only last week Johnson was continuing to describe a graduate tax as "unworkable", putting him at odds with his leader's policy. And, lo and behold, today he says there is a "strong case" for a graduate tax. Pretty dramatic U-turn there, then. To be fair, he does try to convince us that this is a reasoned view:
We are now seeing how casually the variable fees system can be distorted with such damaging effects. It is in these circumstances that there is a strong case for a graduate tax, which may offer a fairer way of sharing costs between individuals and government.
But it makes no sense. Much of the existing analysis of a graduate tax model demonstrate it to be a far less fair system of funding. For example, there would be no living allowance provided by such a system, so poor students would have to fund themselves from commercial loans, and then still pay for their education through taxation. Johnson is clearly parroting a brief that he doesn't believe.
Why can't we cut the crap and actually clash about the nitty gritty of the present proposals? The vote is tomorrow, so it's probably too late. The preference for ideological posturing over reasoned policy has dragged this debate into the abyss.
Browne Report Summary | 7.12.10
I hope to find time to post in depth about the proposed reforms to higher education reform soon. In the meantime... the debate seems to be focusing on three key questions:
These are certainly the correct questions to be asking. But I wonder how many of my fellow students have actually read the proposals made by the Browne Report. (An executive summary is available.) Of course, I don't know the answers to those three questions. But based on the proposals themselves, I don't yet see a good reason to answer them in the affirmative.
Page 10 of the executive summary gives a comparison of the Report's proposals with a graduate tax model, which opposition leader Ed Miliband supports. Without even considering the broader arguments against a graduate tax, it is clear that it is unworkable. So why do Labour support it? (Well, the shadow chancellor doesn't, but never mind that for now.)
If there are problems with the Browne proposals, then modifications surely need to be made within the fees-and-loans model. Discovering those modifications means engaging in a considerably more nuanced debate than is presently taking place.
This is the record of John | 5.12.10
Jeffrey John's sermon delivered at the funeral of Colin Slee:
The papers and his detractors always portrayed Colin as an arch-Liberal, as if he were the leader of a faction obsessed with a secular agenda. It was never true, and it misses the whole point. For Colin it began and ended with God. The truth is that he was a traditional Catholic Anglican, thoroughly disciplined and orthodox in his faith, a man of profound prayer and penitence. His idea of inclusiveness was not that ‘anything goes’, but that we are all equally in need of healing, and therefore the Church must equally be a home for all. Colin welcomed people because Jesus did.
And that didn’t just mean welcoming gay people and women bishops, important as that was and is. He welcomed everybody. The first thing he did in Southwark was to take down the notice that said ‘Worship in progress – Cathedral closed’.
Poor | 5.12.10
Here we go. One of the finest episodes of Ab Fab for the "nouveau pauvre".
Christmas cheer | 4.12.10
Far be it from me to forego a little Christmas spirit, which I gather is customary at this time of year. And so to bring to you a little seasonal cheer, dear readers, I hereby offer a six-pack of the winner's choice of inappropriately flavoured maize snacks to whosoever cometh up with the most original way to tell Charlotte Metcalf how to shut her stupid, ignorant, self-obsessed trap.
NB: Maize snacks must be available from Poundland. (thx, N)
She has previous. Oh, and part of the current article is self-plagiarised from the August one. I'm starting to wonder if Metcalf is herself made up, such does this stuff beggar belief. OMG IM IN POVERTY!!!!111 LOL JK
Woolas appeal fails | 3.12.10
Baines 4Thought | 2.12.10
If you define yourself by your victimhood, you've got a massive problem. I do not believe that Christians are a persecuted group of people in this country today. We live in a society which has what I sometimes call a "hierarchy of victimhood". That is, that sometimes people say, "Well, I'm more hurt than you, [...] and I'll get my retaliation in first." That's very debilitating.
If people feel that the job they're doing requires them to go against their Christian conscience [...] then they have a choice to make. And if you feel that what you're being asked to do is incompatible with your faith, then you shouldn't do it. But that isn't persecution. You have a choice; you can go and do something else. [...] I hardly think we're a beleagured minority. We're everywhere. Christians need to be more confident about who they are. You don't have to look at the mosque and say "how intimidating"; why not look at the church and say "how encouraging -- let's get out and do more".
Baines's contribution is an encouraging stimulus package in this global downturn of Christian wisdom. He has more on his blog. (thx N)
Slee obituary | 2.12.10
The Guardian's Stephen Bates writes a full obituary of Colin Slee, who passed away last week:
When I visited him in hospital a fortnight ago, he said wonderingly: "I have received so many get-well cards, even from my enemies." "Colin," I said, "Surely you don't have any enemies left?" No, he replied gently, he was beyond all that, and turned to discussing a book he wished to write. It would have been on the episcopacy, arguing against the appointment of bland bureaucratic types in favour of troublemakers. "Peter and Paul weren't smooth men," he said.
Faith under attack? | 1.12.10
A few quick thoughts on this story.
1. Carey's remarks consists of clichés and crude stereotypes. All that "Season's Greetings", "winter lights", stuff... I'm yet to see the evidence that these practices are widespread, or that they are new. And as for Christianity being "airbrushed out of the picture" -- convenient that. It's obviously not Carey's view that the Christian faith could be responsible for its own decline. No, it's the fault of "secularists", which is another way of saying that it's the fault of people who don't share your beliefs. This is bizarre. Should the Lib Dems complain that the history of liberalism in British politics is being undermined by all those silly Tory and Labour voters? Of course not. The Lib Dems are responsible for their own profile, practices, and beliefs, just as the church should be responsible for theirs. "By their fruits you shall know them."
2. The recent cases referenced are of very different natures:
The campaign highlights a series of cases involving Christians who have claimed discrimination.
These include Nadia Eweida, a British Airways worker from London, and Shirley Chaplin, an NHS nurse from Kenn, Exeter, who both lost high-profile discrimination claims over wearing crosses at work.
Ms Chaplin lost a discrimination claim against her employers, in which she had argued the cross "ban" prevented her from expressing her religious beliefs.
Christian Concern has also highlighted the fact that Catholic adoption agencies no longer have the right to refuse gay couples as prospective adoptive parents.
And it features the case of Gary McFarlane, who was sacked as a Relate Counsellor for refusing to give sex therapy to gay couples.
The issue of wearing religious symbols at work is open for debate. Whether restrictions are legitimate depends on what version of political liberalism you subscribe to. You could take the American view (like me) that persons should be entitled to wear religious symbols on their person without any statutory restriction; or you could take the French view that public space is a space of basic political consensus, and therefore restrict said symbols. Personally, I don't see how the French model has any claim to "liberalism". Anyway, the point is -- this is a question of civil liberties, not a question of attacking the Christian faith.
3. The other issue -- ie being dismissed for refusing to carry out one your contractual duties -- is simply a non-starter. As I've said before, if your convictions prevent you from fulfilling your duties in a particular post, you need to find a new job. It is not religious discrimination to enforce contracts with employees.