Thursday, 16 December 2010

Take That Took This

You may recall that earlier this year we released our Great Men: Springsteen VS Stallone t-shirt (stock left in all sizes!):

Take That may have returned to their original lineup, but unfortunately Robbie Walliams hasn't also brought some original merchandising ideas along with him; imagine R-Man's surprise whilst browsing in Tesco today when he spotted the new garment from Gary Barlow's boys:

Rumours that Take That's 2011 tour will be entirely instrumental have yet to be denied.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Fighting in the Streets (part 2)

Poor journalists may call this a rebuttal but that suggests a polarity of opinion on a subject which is more grey than popular press may give it credit for. So for what it's worth, here's what springs to my mind regarding the recent tuition fee increases and protests/riots. If you haven't already absorbed R-Man's ever-eloquent take on the subject, do have a read of that as well.

The common argument against these tuition fee increases is that it prices the poor out of going to university. I simply fail to see this point of view: students are given loans for the money, which they only have to pay back when they can afford it. I really can't think of a simpler way of putting it: it doesn't matter if you're poor now, you can have the money and give it back when you're no longer poor. If you stay poor then no worries, you'll never have to pay it back. Also, maybe it's just luck, but every protester I've seen interviewed seems to have been dropped off from their home counties mansion in their mother's Range Rover, failing to give credence to the arguments spilling from their lips.

In addition to the widespread misunderstanding of the basic tenet of the student loan, my blood boiled at the recurring cries of "Education should be free!". I agree - and what's more, education IS free. Go to a library. Go outside and look around. Talk to people. Get on the internet. Don't whine because the government won't pay for your bin of death anymore. I don't like to let too long go by without a reference to Frank Zappa, so here you go:

“If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.” - FZ

We're already lucky in this country to get a good quality of free education well into our teens. Nothing is free, and if we can't pay for universities with tuition fees then it will all have to come from taxation. I'm sure the moment another tax increase is suggested, or the relocation of funds from healthcare or schools is posited, the very same angry mob will rear its head again. As a people we have still learned nothing from the recession and cannot curb our greed and feeling of unearned entitlement.

On the subject of angry mobs, I find this sort of protest to be cowardly: it's brawn over brains. Any idiot with an ill-thought-out opinion and poor grasp of the facts can join a baying mob. If you want to make an intelligent difference then play your part in the democratic process. Write to your MP. Register to vote. Run for office. I wonder how many of the student protesters made it to their polling station back in April.

Affordability aside, I do recognise an issue with the underlying assumption that getting a degree increases your chances of earning a good salary. Going back some years this was a reasonable assumption, as a degree represented a high level academic achievement that only a minority of the populace could achieve. However since the Blair mandate to have 50% of people going to university, this has been watered down and a "degree" could be in anything from Mathematics at Oxford to Hairdressing at Wigston Magna Polytechnic. In fact there are many young people going to university now who would simply be better off getting a job or learning a trade; every year of school leavers has a handful of people who shun further education and are earning substantial sums by the time their peers don the cap and gown.

I think this leads us nicely to where R-man and I meet on our opinions: that the root cause of this issue is the "pile it high, sell it cheap" approach taken by the previous government. Now we need to realise that all we've poured money into a worthless investment, and need to return to paying the right price for the right fundamentals. Ring any bells?

Fighting in the Streets (part 1)

GM HQ has been reverberating to the sound of well spoken demonstration and anger this week as we've been watching the student demonstrations with a mix of amusement, anger and jealousy (they have so much hair and free time!).

Having been chatting about the why's and where-fores, its become apparent that this issue has caused a minor split in Camp Chrome - a split that highlights the subtle differences between C-Bomb and I. While we are united on drum machines, a decent pint and girls that aren't afraid of their brains - we do not always speak with one voice. Personally I'm a little french in my opinions on the relationship between violence and democracy...

C-Bomb will be loading up his thoughts shortly - in the meantime here's why I think the whole mess happened and what we can do to ensure further education that is both free and worthy.

Blair’s penchant for the double triplet was never more famously illustrated than in the run up to the 1997 general election he promised that his "government's passion" would be "education, education and education. Then, now and in the future."

This was followed by huge investment in infrastructure teachers and most fundamentally what higher education meant in the UK. Vowing that half of all young people should receive a University education, the number of universities and degree courses exploded and I feel created the circumstances that lead to thousands of current and future students pursuing the democratic process directly to every branch of government (including the future head of state).

The effort to bring much needed egalitarianism to the academic world seems to me to be have been confused. Its legacy has been the dilution in the quality of courses and inevitably that of graduates, as well as a grossly over weight system which we can no longer afford.

The increase of the numbers of people who can (with hopeful embarrassment) place a BA or BSc after their name has not been reflected in an increase of graduate jobs or in the lowering of standards and requirements in the world’s best businesses, research centres and academics.

The net result of this experiment is that we now have the most qualified and indebted (if sadly not most educated) call centre operators in the world…

It has created a situation akin to the evil machinations of Buddy Syndrome in The Incredibles – “If everyone’s super then no-one can be.”

I find the word everyone to be interesting in the context of further education and perhaps offers a solution to the funding issues that have created the need for fees.

Even the most hardened of left leaning ideologues must realise that there are differences between people, their backgrounds and potential contributions to society. The efforts in the 20th Century to treat people as equal homogenous units failed and lead to the almost unimaginable horrors of modern totalitarianism. The challenge for those that wish society to be fairer is now in creating equality of access and opportunity. In simple terms University should be available for anyone not just provided to everyone.

Piling higher education high and selling it on cheap credit solved neither the funding issues that universities had nor created any meaningful equality. The cost of the increased fees as well as living expenses while not working will simply put off many from attending. Their decision to go to university will not be based on ability or ambition but on grubby economics.

I understand that the loans will not need to be repaid until they are earning a “reasonable” amount at a time later in their lives. This will be the time when they will be hoping to start a family and buying their first all-too-expensive house. The prospect of a debt, second only to a future life-long commitment to bricks and mortar will be too much for the children of many ordinary families – who often will not have an older sibling or relative who has already been to university and whose parents may never have finished school. We have reaped the whirl wind of an economy based on debt – what will the provision of knowledge and understanding based on debt bring?

The personal result for those ordinary children that are still brave or smart or ambitious enough to go to university will be to push them into choosing “practical” courses with well defined and reliable earning potential. Thus securing the most regarded but more esoteric subjects in arts, philosophy and sciences, as well as the joy of learning for its own sake, to the elite where they are already over subscribed.

An alternative would seem to be to focus the funds available on quality not quantity. Understand how many good standard courses and graduates we actually need and provide them for free to all.

There are cultural barriers to having equal access to higher education and I have no idea what we can do to alleviate these. I think we can however start by removing the economic barriers and make the joy and benefit of higher education available to anyone who has the chops to take advantage of it.