Poverty as described by Australian students

This article on the appalling poverty suffered by Australian students found its way into my Twitter timeline:

Molly Willmott, 19, has been going to job interviews fruitlessly for a year and a half now.

Retail. Hospitality. Spends her time trawling employment websites. She went for one job as a telemarketer. Another as a warehouse assistant.

She’s in Melbourne. Most of these jobs are held by people whose names are hard to pronounce, brought in under policies favoured by Australian progressives.

“It’s rough,” says the politics and sociology major at the University of Melbourne.

Progressives like those studying politics and sociology, for example. But at least, in trawling employment websites for menial jobs, Molly is getting valuable experience on what she’ll be doing once she graduates.

“There’s that stereotype of a student surviving on two-minute noodles and it’s very true. I know a lot of people who’ve had to sacrifice food to be able to pay rent and bills. It’s more common than you think.

Property prices and rents in Melbourne are absolutely extortionate, mainly thanks to government policies favoured by the middle classes whose sons and daughters go to university.

Willmott, who lives with her mother and two siblings in a rented house in Melbourne’s south-east, acknowledges she is one of the lucky ones.

“I am in a very privileged position to be able to go home and have my family there just in case. I don’t like asking them for money but if push came to shove I can do that.”

The UK is somewhat unusual in that it is normal for people to go to another city to study; in a lot of countries people simply go to the university in their town. Because of this, there is usually plenty of cheap(ish) student accommodation in British university towns. I don’t know how things work in Australia, but it seems to me there is a scarcity of student accommodation in Melbourne.

But the luxury of living at home in the suburbs means it’s more than a three-hour round trip to trek to campus in inner-city Parkville, via three different modes of public transport.

“I take bus, train, tram and something’s always late. Travel alone takes a third of what money I have. It just drains away throughout the week.”

Rents are cheaper the further you go from a city centre, but you spend more on transport. This is not a trade-off unique to students.

She’s looking to move out within the next six months, partly because jobs have proven hard to come by where she lives, but she’s not sure how she’ll afford to move.

Jobs are hard to come by in a city where the minimum wage is around $15 per hour for a 19 year old part-timer with no experience. I can’t think why.

Her fortnightly budget has a lot of holes. There’s nothing allocated for clothing, and Centrelink loans for textbooks have been used to buy warm clothes for winter.

“Centrelink has an optional $1,300 loan to buy textbooks every semester. I’ve used that to buy clothes so I can be warm through winter and given rest to my mum. There’ve been times I haven’t been able to buy textbooks and readers.

Hang on. I’ve lived through a Melbourne winter and it’s not that bad. And she’s from Melbourne: it’s not like she’s moved down from Brisbane and had to buy a raincoat for the first time in her life. What was she wearing before she went to university? Do you really need to spend $1,300 on winter clothes in your hometown?

I’ve got so much anger about the treatment of students by the Government at the moment. The welfare system is incredibly underfunded and understaffed. When I got my Youth Allowance I needed to get it urgently. I needed to start uni and buy textbooks and it took four months for that to go through.

A 19 year old is living in one of the world’s most expensive cities and having to borrow money to buy politics and sociology textbooks. Somebody is being fleeced here all right, but unless she’s angry at the government over job-destroying labour laws, insane housing policies, and unnecessary credentialism I think she might have picked the wrong target. Go and ask your tutors why, in the age of electronic publishing and the internet, you need to spend a grand on politics textbooks.

The Minister for Human Services, Alan Tudge, says waiting times will be cut by the 250 additional Centrelink call centre staff announced in the federal budget. He says massive investment in technology has halved wait times for Youth Allowance and Abstudy claims.

Government creates an unsatisfactory solution to address a problem largely of said government’s own making; affected persons nevertheless demand more government.

Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham, said his message to students was clear: “Taxpayers, including those who have never been to university, will continue to pay the majority of your fees for going to university.”

“And taxpayers will pay all of the cost of your student loan up front and not expect you to repay it until you’re actually firmly in the workforce, on track hopefully in your career. If we’re to preserve all of those opportunities for the future we need to ensure the higher education system is financially sustainable.”

Blimey! I didn’t expect that: well said, sir!

Three or four hours’ work a week at the local McDonald’s doesn’t help much.

“It really is borderline impossible to find a decent job. Most places want younger people. McDonald’s — even cafes and stuff — they want to pay junior wages. Or they hire lots of people but then they only give you one shift a week.

Minimum wage laws allow firms to pay 19 year olds less than 21 year olds, thus pricing 21 year olds out of the market. If only there were a branch of academia that could explain all this.

Or they hire lots of people but then they only give you one shift a week.

“It’s that whole underemployment figure. If you earn under a certain amount they don’t have to put in for your super.”

Employers look at the total cost of employing somebody and set shift patterns accordingly? Whoever would have thought?

Colee once had savings from a $9-an-hour traineeship at her local council during a gap year, but that’s gone.

She had a gap year? Why didn’t she get a full-time job?

Right now there is $23 in the bank. Her pay won’t deposit for another couple of days. Rent is due in three.

Here is a picture of her stood in her kitchen. Tell me, does this look like a student hovel to you?

Okay, I’ll not pretend I didn’t live in a very nice flat when I was a student, thanks to a generous father (cheers Dad!) and a flatmate who came from money. But that kitchen above is bigger and smarter than any I’ve seen in Paris and looks as though it belongs to a detached 2 or 3 bedroom house. There looks to be a stainless steel dishwasher in there, FFS! My guess is the “student” accommodation in Australian cities has been snapped up by people from China and the Indian sub-continent who are working full-time, and Australian students don’t even know such lodgings exist. I’m thinking back to the student kitchens I saw at university, and they didn’t look much like the one above. There are no slug trails across the surfaces, to start with.

There is no allowance in Colee’s budget for social activities.

“If I want to go to the pub, I’ll buy a pint of cider which is $9 and drink that all night.

So there’s no money for social activities except for drinking cider at $9 per pint. Back in 1996 I used to buy beer for a quid a pint; I know that was a long time ago and it was in Manchester, but where are all the cheapo student bars in Australia? Or has the nanny state banned them?

“It’s meant to be the best time of your life. You’re constantly told you should go to university while you’re young. You’re told at school it’s everything, that you can do this if you study hard. Then you get there and realise you have to basically buy your way into university because you can’t afford to live without help.

“It’s really hard to struggle in this sort of way and then be told by the Government that I chose this because I wanted to get an education.”

An education in International Studies.

[Welfare advisor Stuart Martin] says government policy on the issue was too often “hollow rhetoric from politicians who are not held accountable for their statements”.

“We have far too many people in Parliament who have sucked for free at the teat of the state and still trot out this mantra about self reliance.

Quite. When do the hangings take place, and do I bring my own knitting or will it be handed out free?

“Things are even harder if you happen to come from a disadvantaged background or have other struggles in your life.

“If you have a mental health condition or family obligations that make it difficult to keep a part-time job, then your grip on study is extremely shaky.

If you have mental health problems that prevent you holding down a part-time job, should you really be going to university?

“Education is seen as the thing that breaks the poverty barrier,” says the 21-year-old, who is studying history and sociology at La Trobe University’s Bendigo campus.

Another useful subject.

“You have parents making sacrifices to give their children an education, only for students to find once they enter the system it’s just gradual entrenchment of poverty.”

One would have thought there would be a lot more attention paid to what was being studied under such circumstances, but apparently not.

He makes sure to shop at a low budget supermarket, spending $10–20 once or twice a week.

Surplice is lucky enough to have a car. A second-hand Mazda he bought from his aunt. “It gets me from point A to B,” he says. “It’s got fuel in the tank.”

A poverty-stricken student with a car.

However, he’s sometimes had to go without insurance or rely on the charity of family to pay his registration.

Oh marvellous! So if he maims somebody or deprives them of their only vehicle when he’s driving about uninsured, that’s their tough shit!

“It’s everyday student culture for people to be saying, you know, ‘I’m so broke this week’. You’ll hear it from 10 different people in one walk through the student union.”

Have any of them been t-boned by an uninsured driver?

There’s a lot of time spent in his bedroom at home, or between different volunteer positions on and off campus. Active in the labour and union movements, every Monday is set aside for campaigning. There are also volunteer shifts as a tour guide at a Buddhist temple. The odd bit of cash-in-hand work.

A labour and union activist who engages in cash-in-hand work to supplement his own income. Principled.

“You have to put extra effort into extracurricular stuff to get noticed by employers. I’m the president of two university clubs, which means my ability to look for work is restricted to non-existent.”

Try studying a proper subject. And note there is enough time to be a labour and union activist, but not enough time to look for a job.

It’s not just the financial cost, Surplice says, but the psychological effect.

“I cannot envision my future. Don’t get me wrong — I’d like to one day be settled down in a house with a partner, but the actual practicality of even a simple existence like that? I have nothing but anxiety.”

I once worked with a guy who was sent to fight in Vietnam when he was 18. A lot of his friends didn’t come back. This chap is 21.

National Union of Students president Sophie Johnston says it’s time to “acknowledge the failures from successive governments that have left today’s young people far worse off than generations before us”.

“This generation will be the first priced out of the housing market, our penalty rates are being cut, underemployment is rife and we’ve seen drastically low wage growth for decades.

She is complaining that penalty rates – legally mandated pay levels – are being cut while complaining of unemployment in the same sentence. Hurray for university education!

“Today’s young people are not asking for a free ride, we are merely asking to be afforded the same opportunities as generations before us.”

Ask Grandad which university he went to, what his weekly wage was, and what his house was like.

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On those school cuts

Some outfit campaigning against cuts to expenditure on schools has found its way onto my Facebook feed. Let’s take a look:

The Government has cut school funding by £2.8 billion since 2015. Between now and 2022, it wants to cut £8.9 billion more. Head teachers are already speaking of the impossible job they have to balance the books and offer the best education for all children. Yet there is worse to come.

If you or I are told we must take a pay cut, it means we get a pay cut and take home less money. But when an organisation made up wholly of teachers’ unions claim school funding has been cut, what they mean is:

Recent research on the subject has shown that day-to-day or current spending per pupil in England was largely frozen in real terms between 2010 and 2011 and 2015 and 2016.

In other words, there have been no cuts as any normal person would understand them.

As she hit the campaign trail, Theresa May repeated a claim she has made several times before, including during Prime Minister’s Questions in April, that education spending is at its highest ever level.


A Department of Education blog on school funding also details how high school funding is “at its highest on record at more than £40 billion in 2016 to 2017 and is set to rise to £42 billion in 2019 to 2020, with increasing pupil numbers.”

So is it true?

When Theresa May made the claim, she was talking specifically about education in England, and she is referring to the “dedicated schools grant”. This is the whole block of money going to schools in England every year.

When Theresa May was talking about overall expenditure on education she was talking about overall expenditure on education. Boo! Theresa May, boo!

But while the £40 billion number is about accurate and it is true that this is higher than in previous years, it is not the whole story.
This is because in terms of education spending, it is the “per pupil expenditure” – literally the amount spent on each pupil – that is relevant and not the total amount of the “dedicated schools grant”.

Where to begin? Firstly, the overall expenditure is an important figure; even if per-pupil expenditure is important, that does not negate the importance of the overall expenditure level. Secondly, if the overall expenditure is at a record high but the per-pupil amount is unsatisfactory, that can only mean we have seen pupil numbers increase rather dramatically. Was there a sudden spike in births a few years back? Or is there another reason? The rent-seekers running this website don’t say.

And don’t forget that we were told:

Recent research on the subject has shown that day-to-day or current spending per pupil in England was largely frozen in real terms between 2010 and 2011 and 2015 and 2016.

So overall expenditure is at a record high, and per-pupil funding is holding firm. What’s the issue, again?

Moreover, from 2015 to 2016 onwards school spending has been frozen in cash terms, which is likely to translate into a real terms reduction of around 6.5% between 2010-11 and 2019-20.

I assume they’re talking about inflation. If this is the basis for the hysteria over savage cuts to the school budget, they’re in for a long campaign.

This would be the biggest real-term fall in school spending per pupil for 30 years.

As Wikipedia would say: citation needed.

The outlook for spending per student in further education (age 16-18) is much worse, with the same research forecasting that this is likely to fall by around 13% between 2010 and 2011 and 2019 and 2020.

So if it isn’t just down to inflation, it must be due to increased pupil numbers. Who are they?

Research has also shown that education plays an important role in generating improved productivity and growth and this is also acknowledged in the government’s own industrial strategy. It makes no sense then to actually disinvest in a “key pillar” of the industrial strategy.

Freezing overall expenditure at a record high is now disinvestment. I guess this is what happens when teachers are gifted final-salary pensions.

And as we learn later:

The author is correct to point out that per pupil spending is at least as important as the overall total. But the research mentioned above shows that even this was still at a historical high in 2015 and 2016 – the most recent complete school year. The same research shows that in real terms – allowing for inflation – per pupil spending has doubled since the 1997 to 1998 school year. It does predict that a freeze on total spending will lead to a real terms decrease in successive years, but this had not happened at time of writing.

Nor does it mean that the money is being spent wisely or in the most effective fashion by governments.

Even the fact page the unions link to doesn’t do much to support their cause.

And this video is telling: it says one school is due to see a reduction in funding of £2,350 per pupil. Either there is going to be a massive influx of pupils coming from somewhere (and I suspect we all know where), or it’s being lost to inflation meaning they are receiving funding which would make Eton blush.

So in summary: there are no cuts, and this is merely an attempt by teachers’ unions to snaffle yet more taxpayer monies for themselves.

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Expatriates and School Fees

Once again the BBC gets stuck in to the trials and tribulations of expat life:

A few years ago, competition for places in Dubai’s best international schools was so intense that British expat Jemma Schilbach felt she had to get her two children on the waiting lists for her preferred schools before they were even out of nappies.

A situation to which the average license-fee payer can no doubt relate.

Work ended up taking the family away from Dubai for a couple of years.  When they returned in 2014, they were relieved to discover there were plenty more schools to choose from, but there was another issue: cost.

Both Schilbach and her husband, who’d previously worked in jobs where companies paid for children’s schooling, were now self-employed, and would need to pay for their children’s education themselves.

The horrors!

She was impressed with the small class sizes and Foremarke’s reputation, but with tuition fees there starting at 65,000 AED ($18,000) a year, it meant the family had to be more careful about spending to ensure they had the money to send their children, aged five and seven, to the school.

Parents who spend $18k per year on a nursery school for their five year old find they can’t splash out as much as when somebody else was footing the bill. Who knew? Note that these extortionate school fees only get noticed when the parents have to pay themselves.

“We economise on other costs during the year,” says Schilbach, adding that ordering some household items from the UK and closely watching what the family spends on weekends have helped to save pennies. “In our opinion, the money is better spent on educating our children to a high standard.”

And therein lies the whole scam, which is ably propagated by the schools themselves and parents whose status depends on what school their child attends. There is absolutely no need to be spending that kind of money educating children younger than ten or twelve, especially as these aren’t even boarding schools. But hey, it’s your money.

As expatriate contracts change and people accept more flexible benefits, move onto localised employment packages or decide to find their own jobs overseas, finding the money needed for education is a growing challenge for families living abroad. In Dubai, for example, falling oil prices have led to many employers cutting the salaries and benefits packages they are willing to offer their expat staff. It leaves many expats no option but to pay for their children’s schooling themselves, partially or in full.

Well, yes. I am of the opinion that one of the greatest scandals perpetuated by international companies is to dress up expatriate positions (particularly those in the oil industry) as family-friendly and encourage men and women of child-rearing age to embark on careers where overseas postings are mandatory. They effectively promised that entire families could go abroad without any of the traditional drawbacks, taking advantage of the various international booms that were running full-pelt at the time to pay for it all: schools, villas, regular flights home, etc. A generation or two ago there was none of this: expat positions were either set up for men who would leave the family behind (and/or find a new ‘wife’ in a bar upon arrival), or the family was expected to rough it. Things obviously improved since the time Sir Arthur Grimble wrote A Pattern of Islands, but I know old-school Shell expats who lived in places like Gabon and Bintulu who say things were…primitive.

But then the financial, property, oil and gas, and other industries boomed at the same time a generation of women graduates entered the workforce expecting full careers compatible with raising a family, and the international companies – egged on by powerskirts in HR – simply told them they could have the lot. The companies themselves will claim that they needed to offer these packages in order to attract the right people, but I don’t buy it. Personally, I think a lot of these expat policies in the multinationals were put in place by the managerial classes who wanted a tax-free salary in an exotic place without any downsides. The shareholders’ interests didn’t even get a look in.

But now times have changed and what we have is a generation of people mid-career who have gotten used to these all-inclusive family packages now finding they’re no longer available. Whoops. The money just isn’t there any more, but there is another factor at play which I doubt international companies even admit exists: the locals. Places like Dubai, Malaysia, Nigeria, Russia, etc. have changed in the last decade or two and now there are plenty of locals (or locally based people) who can fill the middle management and senior technical positions. As local hires these employees will not get school fees paid for their kids, they have to use their own salaries. These staff might not object to one or two very senior managers getting a full expat package which includes school fees, but they will when they find a mid-level engineer or financial analyst is being handed $18k per year so their toddler can go to a posh private school run by a pencil-necked Brit with a prominent Adam’s apple and a cut-glass accent. The subsidiary itself may also be a joint-venture with local ownership, and the stakeholders might ask why they are paying for the children of wealthy expatriates to go to fancy schools when their own kids are going to the local state school.

And right on cue:

The cost of education is among the most popular topics of discussion on BritishMums. “It’s an employer’s market,” says Schilbach, who founded the site in 2012. “The old-time expat contracts are few and far between these days.”

Indeed.

This month, in a survey by HSBC involving nearly 8,000 expat parents, 62% said it was more expensive to raise a family overseas than at home. Some 58% mentioned that the cost of childcare, in particular, was more expensive.

Well, yes. Maintaining a Western standard of family life outside Western countries is expensive. The trick is to lower your expectations a little.

A separate survey by Singapore-based advisory service ExpatFinder.com, which covered 98 countries and 707 international schools, found fees rose 3.43% last year compared with the year before.

Yes, it’s a racket. The schools guilt-trip the parents and tap into their “my child must have the absolute best” mentality by implying they will be failing their offspring if they don’t cough up extortionate fees to enroll them in their institutions.

The most expensive schools for international education were in China – median fees for children aged 11-12 came in at $36,400 a year – followed by Switzerland ($28,300) and Belgium ($27,800), according to the survey.

The reason it is expensive in China (and Moscow) is because the international schools are full of the children of wealthy locals. The reason they are expensive in Switzerland and Belgium is because of the number of international organisations that are based there, meaning the costs can just be dumped back on the taxpayers somewhere. Whereas I can understand the difficulties of putting expat kids into a Chinese state school system, there is nothing wrong with Belgian or Swiss schools. Yes, there are arguments to be made over curricula and language but hey, you’re abroad: what do you expect? If the kids can’t adapt, then stay at home. I don’t see why taxpayers (or shareholders) should be expected to cough up thousands of dollars per year so that toddlers can avoid having to adapt to a different culture and school system. Case in point:

Emma McHugh, a 39-year-old mother of three and Schilbach’s co-founder at BritishMums, is in the process of returning to Dubai from Abu Dhabi. Her children will start at Safa Community School in September, where tuition fees start at 47,000 AED ($12,800).

While her choice wasn’t all about the cost – Emma felt the school had the feel of a typical UK primary with an emphasis on nurturing and care

Nobody is forcing people to take these jobs and bring their families with them. If it is so important that her little darlings attend a school with the “feel” of a typical UK primary then perhaps she should have stayed in the UK?

But international education in Britain, Hong Kong, the US, Singapore and Australia also cost more than $20,000 a year. Schools may also charge extra for uniforms, examinations, extra-curricular activities and even books.

What we’re seeing here is children’s education being used as a status marker. Anyone who pays $20k per year for a kid to go to a private day-school in Australia is either extremely rich or an idiot.

“Schooling has become very expensive over the years,” says Sébastien Deschamps, ExpatFinder’s chief executive and founder. “That’s a challenge not only for the expatriate, but also for HR professionals because they still need to attract foreign talent and find ways to keep them.”

What he means is HR professionals (stop laughing at the back!) find it difficult to apply their ludicrous criteria of only recruiting from the very top universities, meet diversity quotas, and retain only the meekest and most compliant employees who they can bully and cajole into submission by threatening their career prospects at every point and turn. The last thing they want is a competent single bloke with little to lose turning up and trying to get things done.

When the oil price crashed in 2014 I thought the game was up for expatriate families in my industry and it would soon revert to being mostly local hires with the odd senior manager and a gaggle of single blokes living out of Porta-Cabins. I still don’t think I was wrong in that regard. The big players are still hanging on as their army of employees shriek over any changes to their entitlements, but it’s just a matter of time. The locals have gotten better, and there simply isn’t the money any more. The scrapping of the school fees is an early casualty of this new reality.

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How Not To Teach Infants

The following was sent to me by a pal, who might be vying for the post of Secondary Research Assistant on this esteemed blog. It is a letter sent out to the parents of children in an infant school in Australia.

Hello Families

As part of our diversity programme at [School Name] we would love to celebrate the up-coming Mardi Gras. This comes at a perfect time following on from this week’s Valentines celebrations where we talked about “who we love”

We are planning to talk about some of the different types of families that people can belong to. Some people might have two Mum’s or just one parent. Others might be fostered or adopted for example.

In the Peeping Possums room, we will touch on this topic by looking at some stories and learning about the meaning behind the rainbow flag that children may be seeing in the community.

In the Jumping Jacks room we will challenge the children to think about some stereotypical gender assumptions such as “boys can’t wear skirts” or “Girls can’t play with cars”

As we know that this can be a sensitive topic for some families so if you do not wish for your child to participate in this topic, we respect it and are happy to cater for your child. However, we as educators believe that it is important for children to simply be exposed to different concepts like this so as they grow and meet other children, they are open-minded to where others may come from.

If you have any questions about this topic please don’t hesitate to talk to our educators.

Happy Mardi Gras

EARLY YEARS LEARNING FRAMEWORK (EXTENDED)
2.2: EYLF – Children respond to diversity with respect

I’m no prude, but what the fuck are these people doing talking about sexuality (of any kind) and gender issues with kids who can’t even read or write yet? They call themselves educators, but this is more like indoctrination.

I don’t have a problem with schools teaching teenagers about homosexuality and all the others in the alphabet soup once they reach the appropriate age to understand it. If I recall correctly, my generation started sex education classes around age 11 when we were just about mature enough to understand what it was all about (or at least, some of the class was). Kids younger than this won’t understand a damned thing about sexual preferences because they will have no concept of what it means: when kids see a naked person they start giggling. When they see a pornographic photo they look puzzled and then lose interest. This is why I think the panic over children watching porn on the internet is overblown (kids would rather play Minecraft) and why sexual crimes against children are so abhorrent: they have no capacity to understand what is being done to them and why.

But ramming gender politics down the throats of infants is fine, apparently. God forbid they should be allowed to be innocent kids and “educators” teach them to read, write, and count, something they seem to fail at miserably in Australia and the rest of the English-speaking world. I note that they give parents the option of removing their kid from these indoctrination sessions, but I wonder if there are any hidden consequences of that? I bet the decision “goes on file” and remains their permanently, to be wheeled out at some star chamber later on in the kid’s school life.

I also speculated to my pal that a good half of these “educators”will be overweight women with not a single chance of having a husband of kids of their own, hence their determination to wreck the lives of others’. My guess was “spot on”.

Parents, over to you.

UPDATE

As JuliaM points out in the comments, prompting me to look more closely, the letter is strewn with grammatical errors. Priorities, eh?

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A Working Class Liaison Officer

I came across this via Obo the Clown on Twitter and thought it was good, especially given it concerned idiotic policies at the University of Manchester. I particularly liked this bit:

But words can maim, as proven by the recent disturbing video showing a female SJW reacting to the words ‘Hugh Mongous’ as if she’s been kicked in the tits. But while we outright condone micro-aggressions aimed at working-class students based on their race or gender, it’s perfectly legitimate and not micro-aggressive at all to smear them as knuckle-dragging racists one Sun headline away from setting fire to a mosque.

Luckily, the job criteria was simple: the successful applicant need merely ‘identify’ as working-class, leaving the door open for Princess Eugenie to apply just as long as she woke that day and decided she was a brickie called Keith. Because actual experience is no substitute for imagined empathy and it’d be a sad day if the student union discriminated against a plethora of capable candidates just because they’d never eaten a kebab, appeared on Jeremy Kyle or drowned one of their illegitimate children in a bath-tub.

The author, who goes by the name of Ben Pensant, has a blog here.

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Diversity as Understood by Manchester University

Joe Blow in the comments under my post on the decline of Manchester University points me towards this post at Harry’s place:

It’s a shame Manchester Uni decided to adopt a policy of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions. I guess now they’ll be off the internet and their students will stop using their Apple Macs and mobiles.

Ah yes, the completely non-racist Manchester Students’ Union that embraces diversity – unless you’re Jewish:

On the night, Jewish students who argued against the motion were made to feel as if their concerns about their potential marginalisation were not being heard. Despite offering alternatives that included creating a discussion forum to engage with the Israeli-Palestinian debate, many on the Senate believed that a targeted BDS tactic was more constructive than any form of engagement.

Criticism of Israel and its policies is not in itself antisemitic, and there is plenty to criticise.  However, when an individual, group, or organisation singles out Israel or Israelis for particular criticism or treatment, or makes opposition to Israel its raison d’être, it is fair to ask what is the driving force behind it.

For example, if somebody says they believe Israel ought not to exist, it is perfectly legitimate to ask whether they believe any of the other 193 United Nations Member States should also not exist.  If the answer is no, as it always is, then one is entitled to draw one’s own conclusions as to why the only country in the world whose existence is forever questioned just so happens to be Jewish.  Similarly, if a university decides to boycott visiting academics from Israel and nowhere else, one may be forgiven for thinking the reasons behind it are rather simple.

Critics of Israel could also avoid charges of antisemitism if they were not so often sharing platforms with openly antisemitic people and their communications didn’t read as though they’d been copied chapter and verse from a Hamas press release.

Those behind the BDS movement, and by association The University of Manchester itself, might claim they are not motivated by hatred of Jews, but the rest of us are free to draw our own conclusions.  It is yet another reason for me to distance myself from my alma mater and to chuck the begging letters in the bin.

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What became of the University of Manchester?

Regular readers will know that I am an alumnus of the University of Manchester, and for some reason I signed up to the Alumni Society and so receive their annual magazine.  The latest edition dropped through my letterbox last week and even the front cover is enough to tell you what’s inside and, by extension, what has gone deeply wrong with that institution and, I suspect, academia as a whole in Britain and the Western World.  Perhaps I’m extrapolating too much, but here is the front cover:

It’s hard to know where to start.  The title of “your manchester” dispensing of capital letters is the type of crap rebranding we saw in the New Labour era where anything with pedigree and reputation was thrown out in favour of being cool and edgy.  “Accelerate gender parity” makes no sense whatsoever, and looks as though it was dreamed up by somebody who didn’t really understand all three words on their own, let alone how they could form a sentence.  Then they have a statement regarding “the power of challenging stereotypes” underneath a picture of a token ethnic woman and the words “building our future together” in what must be the most cliché-driven magazine cover one can imagine.  Seriously, take away the Manchester University logo and this could have been issued by an airline, a local authority, a charity, a corporation, a hospital, or just about anybody else. It’s as generic as they come.  Challenging stereotypes, indeed.

Bad though the front cover is, it goes downhill from there.  Page 3 gives us a piece by the President and Vice Chancellor – a woman – complete with photo in which she tells us that following Brexit “both the city and the University are and will remain irrevocably part of Europe.”  Never mind the referendum result then, we’re just supposed to accept her political desires.

Page 4 gives us this picture of Lemn Sissay, the university’s chancellor since 2015:

Now doesn’t he just personify academic rigour and gravitas? Page 5 gives us an interview with him, in which we find out:

A year into his Chancellorship, Lemn is still learning a lot, still getting to grips with the enormity of the role and what he describes as the vastness of the University.

Experience?  Who needs it?

But he’s enjoying himself.

And that’s the main thing.

I was in Broadway Market in Hackney the other day when I saw five young women, bright as summer, sharp as a pin, looking fantastic, synapses sparkling and they shouted ‘Chancellor, Chancellor!’.  It turns out they were all newly graduated alumni.  We took a selfie and I put it on my Facebook page.

I’m not making this up.

Page 14 and 15 contain a feature on a lecture given by Manchester University alumnus Winnie Byanyima, who is now Oxfam’s International Executive Director.  Here’s what she had to say:

[S]he began by reminiscing about her arrival in Manchester as a refugee from the brutal dictatorship of Idi Amin in Uganda.

“I was angry from having to leave my country.  But it was my experience here in Manchester that gave me the opportunity to turn that anger into activism,” she told a packed audience.  “I immediately joined other students.  We protested.  We organised.  We got involved in fierce intellectual debates.  We supported the anti-apartheid struggle and the decolonisation struggles in Africa at the time.”

So she was forced to flee a brutal, post-colonial African dictator who ate people and when she arrived in a safe haven she immediately started protesting against those who had taken her in and agitating for more of Africa to come under local rule.  That she can say this with a sense of pride, and the University of Manchester thinks putting this in their magazine is a good thing, speaks volumes.

Winnie went on to talk of major challenges that must be confronted, and the inequalities of income and wealth in a global economy that works for a few at the expense of the many, where almost a billion people go to bed hungry every night.

Apparently this is considered a good advertisement for the sort of education you can expect at Manchester.

She focused on the young women who work in factories producing clothes for high-street brands, working up to 23 hours a day and earning less than $4 for their labour.

Naturally, there is no mention of whether these women wanted the attentions of people like Winnie Byanyima.  It is just casually assumed that they need her help.

“We need to create a more human economy that works for people, rather than the other way round –  a human economy rather than an economy for the one per cent.”

Here we have an African-born woman who fled Idi Amin’s Uganda failing to notice the billions who have been lifted out of poverty by the phenomenal growth of the global economy over the past two or three decades.  Presumably the vast improvements in her native country since the mid-1990s put its population in the 1%.

Pages 19-21 consist of a piece about an award-winning electrical engineer, who also happens to be a woman.

Which is great, but back in 1999 I dated a girl who was studying Mechanical Engineering in the year below me.  She went by the name of Wendy and came from somewhere near Nottingham, and she was probably the cleverest person I’ve ever met anywhere, one of those extraordinarily gifted people who just turn up out of nowhere.  I think she completed her four year course with an average mark across all subjects of around 90%, and won every damned prize going in the engineering school such that even after her second year her name graced most of the plaques in the foyer.  I remember her sitting a 2-hour engineering maths exam and walking out at the earliest opportunity, which was 30 minutes.  She told me she’d finished after 20 minutes and that included checking.  She got 100%.  She was also a Grade 8 at piano and clarinet.  Like I say, an absolute genius (although not clever enough to keep clear of me).  My point is that exceptionally clever women have been excelling in hard engineering subjects at Manchester University for at least 20 years, it is nothing new.

Which is why pages 19 and 20 are particularly grating, containing the story from the cover about “accelerating gender parity” with one Naa Acquah – a Londoner born to Ghanaian parents – as the featured individual:

She became the first black female General Secretary (of  the Students’ Union) in 2015…presiding over the most diverse Executive Team mix in the history of the Union.

A diverse Union, you say? This would be the same Union that banned the feminist Julie Bindel from speaking at an event on, ironically, free speech and then followed that up by banning Milo Yiannopoulos from the same event.  But of course, at a modern university the colour of somebody’s skin is so much more important than maintaining diversity of thought.  The entire article is a litany of third-wave feminist claptrap complete with myths about the gender pay gap and sexual assault “on campus”, followed by an admission that Ms Acquah finds Beyoncé “inspirational”.  This Beyoncé:

Page 28-29 features an article on how a former graduate from Manchester is now mentoring a current student who is from Nigeria, just in case we haven’t got the message that Manchester University is so very diverse:

In case there are still spectacularly thick people reading the magazine that still haven’t got the message, the editors treat us to an article on a “widening participation programme” featuring one Dr Valeed Ghafoor who came from a disadvantaged background otherwise known as “the state school system”.

Page 36 gives us the profiles of three people who have won awards for being “outstanding and inspirational”:

Tell me you didn’t see that coming!

Pages 40-45 contain pictures of various people: 11 are women, 12 are ethnic minorities, 1 is a half-normal looking white male.

The back page is devoted to begging alumni for donations, motivating us to do so by including a picture of “Britain’s first black professor” and this picture:

Nah, sorry.  I’m not giving money to a university that has embraced poisonous identity politics, thinks nothing of ramming third-wave feminism down the throats of its students and alumni, and advertises itself as nothing more than a hive of dumbed-down, PC conformity.

Twenty years ago us students at Manchester were told the colour of people’s skin didn’t matter, and nobody batted an eyelid at a woman doing engineering or thought there was a shortage of female students occupying key positions.  Now all that’s changed, and the message I am getting loud and clear is that as a white British male I am no longer welcome.

Time to withdraw from the alumni association, I think.

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Hurrah for Comprehensive Education!

There is a furniture company in the UK which advertises relentlessly on Sky Sports, particularly during cricket matches, and earlier this year it looked as though they would be able to supply me with some items I was looking for.  They didn’t deliver abroad, but did offer free delivery in the UK, and so I could get them to deliver the goods to the premises of this outfit which I have used before to bring furniture from the UK to France (I can recommend them).

The cross-channel transport company quite reasonably asked what volume of goods I was shipping to they could give me a proper quote and reserve space in one of their vehicles.  Unfortunately, the furniture company don’t do what most furniture companies do and specify the volume of each item on their website, and so I had to email them and ask.

This turned out to be a difficult question to answer: apparently, they were unable to tell me unless I placed an order.  Alarm bells started ringing: could it be that I’d gotten involved with a company that puts 90% of its effort into sales teams and mass advertising, and 10% into delivering on its core services?  I was advised that I could place an order but not pay for it, and then ring them up (international call, of course) and get the information.  So I duly did just that.  The person who took the call sounded as though he applied for an entry-level position in a vegetable-packing plant and got turned down due to lack of intellect.  If he’d told me he’d suffered major head trauma in the past 24 hours but couldn’t get time off to go to hospital, I’d have believed him.  He told me he could see my order but couldn’t give me the volume because “only the logistics people know that”, and he thought they’d all gone home.  But he’d check.

After a few minutes he came back.  “Two point three centimetres squared”, he told me.  I sighed.  “Firstly,” I said “you have described something the approximate size of a cigarette lighter and I’m sure my furniture is a little larger than that.  Secondly, the unit will be cubed, as we are talking about a volume not an area.”  He replied with a voice that betrayed either a heavy cold, a hangover, or somebody holding his nose, “Well, this is what my computer screen is telling me.”

I finally got the information I wanted by converting his centimetres squared into metres cubed, but I never got the furniture: compared to his colleagues with whom I dealt with later, this chap was Employee of the Year.

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Tickled Pink

When I read stories like this, I can’t help but get the impression that Australia is going to disappear up its own arse before too long:

The pink jersey worn by Australian rugby league referees is being scrapped as there is a feeling among officials that it undermines their authority.

So far, so meh.

But the move has come in for criticism for alienating certain groups.

Dr Tom Heenan, of the National Centre for Australian Studies, said: “I don’t think this move away from pink really supports social inclusion.”

Heenan told the BBC World Service that the change risks alienating the gay community and breast cancer awareness groups.

Leave aside for a moment the laughable idea that Australia is a tough, frontier nation and the even more laughable fact that certain of its menfolk go on holiday in Japan, aged 40, wearing a t-shirt saying “Harden the f*ck up!” on the front.

Really, people are going to become alienated by rugby league referees changing their shirt colour?  What a load of bollocks!  But it’s yet another example of the most patronising language deployed against any given group of people coming from those who profess to speak on their behalf.

I assume there are a lot of gays in Australia who like watching rugby league, and I doubt there is a single one who genuinely gives a shit that the referees are not going to wear pink any more.  Probably because, unlike the crude stereotype Dr Heenan is peddling, most gay men don’t go all giddy over the colour pink any more than they have limp wrists and wear bottomless chaps.

Then again, Dr Heenan is an academic.  Here’s what his profile at Monash University’s website says:

Tom believes that learning should be informative.

Just think: that is only the second most stupid Tom Heenan line I have posted today.

He likes nothing more than taking students on the road. His students sample life in Outback New South Wales. He introduces them to the mining community around Broken Hill, and the endless expanses of Eldee Station and the Mundi Mundi Plain.

They ride camels, visit the ghost town of Silverton and meet the indigenous custodians at Lake Mungo National Park. Students explore this and other Australian places and issues as part of Tom’s Australian Idols: Exploring Contemporary Australia unit.

I have no idea what Dr Heenan teaches, but his students would be forgiven for thinking they’d joined a rambler’s association by mistake.  I wonder what they get charged for this?

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The University of Manchester

I’m not sure why, but I have always been rather proud of having attended the University of Manchester (which has since joined with UMIST).  I guess it is because I have not attended any well-known school or worked for any company with a household name (with the exception of Marconi, which became famous during my brief tenure for the most spectacular corporate collapse in British history), yet everybody knows Manchester if not specifically its university.

Out here in the UAE, your alma mater is quite important.  In order to be granted a work permit for most positions, especially technical ones such as an engineer, it is necessary to have a degree in a relevant subject.  As part of the vetting process, you must get your degree certificate attested first by the British Council and then by the UAE authorities, who check it against a list of recognised institutions before stamping it with their approval.  As you can imagine, people show up here with all sorts of degrees and diplomas from the Kanchenjunga College of Higher Education in Darjeeling or The Billabong University of Western Australia and have awful trouble getting their qualifications recognised by the UAE authorities, who will not issue a work permit until they are satisfied they are not bringing in a fuckwit.  Unsurprisingly, the University of Manchester is recognised without hesitation, which makes things a lot easier when first arriving.

So it is with some degree of pride that I see the University of Manchester is ranked No. 58 in the Newsweek Top 100 Global Universities, and 8th amongst the British universities.  I am sure the university’s position has been boosted by the merger with UMIST, which I thought was a thoroughly sensible move in an attempt to position itself in the global higher education marketplace which the current Labour government and many other British universities seem determined to abandon.  Notably absent from the list are Durham University and St. Andrews, which I always thought ranked pretty highly.  I am pleased to see Manchester beat Nottingham (78th), which leaves Bristol (49th) as the target to surpass in the future.

Whatever the significance of the list and Manchester’s position, it is as good a reason as any to wear my university tie to work each week.

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