Monday, 24 February 2014

Afternoon At The Psychic Fair

I've always been fascinated by saints, angels and all things spiritual or psychic, so naturally I felt compelled to go along to the Mind, Body and Spirit Show at Hove Town Hall last weekend when I saw it was on.

Happily my boyfriend is willing to try most things once, not least where lunch is involved! Having dandered around all the crystal and angel stalls and consumed said lunch, we decided to have a reading with one of the psychics, Ann Sinclair (pictured). Unfortunately she didn't do couples, so since my boyfriend has had such a tough time over the last few years I gave the reading to him in the hope he might derive some comfort from it.

He received advice that a deeply worrying situation at work should be resolved by early summer and also that his estranged daughters had been misinformed about him, even more so than he knew, with one of them more set against him than the other.

Ann went on to say that one daughter would eventually realise that all was not as she had been told and want to see him again and that the other would follow.

He left feeling comforted as he has effectively been denied a voice where his children are concerned and has never been given an opportunity to talk to them.

On their side it is entirely understandable how his daughters would never consider their own mother might be less than honest with them, presumably in a bid to deter them from seeing their father and cause them to believe he was a worse man than he is.

We then bumped into some old friends of my partner's at the fair whom he hadn't seen for ages, so a very pleasant afternoon.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Universities - Widening Horizons or Offering Narrowing Horizons...?

It was fine for academics to engineer university education to suit themselves and their research, writing, lecture tour and sabbatical activities in the past when Universities were free for students to attend and even paid students to attend them via the student grant
However now that British Universities are not free to attend and fees have recently risen by 200% for the majority of students, and the process of turning students into those demanding creatures known as consumers is well underway, how much longer will students put up with the fact that a three year degree could easily be condensed into two years for most degree courses, thus saving students precious money and resources? 
Not least when you consider that with holidays taken out, most British universities are spending no longer than six months of the year engaged in actual teaching/lecturing activities and even then, not equivalent to the timetable demands of a school, unless of the intense nature of a medical degree, which may require placement shift work in addition to conventional tutoring.
Some OxBridge academics in particular teach for as little as 15 hours a month on full-time salary, with the rest of the time devoted to their own academic activities. They are not even required to share the financial fruits of any academic success with their College or University, much though their College may benefit from the kudos of their incumberance. 
Would it also surprise people to know that the majority of OxBridge academics are not actually OxBridge graduates themselves? Which isn’t to say they are not generally high-quality academics, but it’s the brand that you are primarily buying into with OxBridge, and the networking towards your future you will be doing whilst there. Elitism? Certainly. But that is the brand being sold here. You want redbrick values?  Choose a redbrick! Don’t choose Oxford and then bleat to the Daily Mail about its inherent social unfairness, though things have opened up somewhat for those lacking in silver spoons at birth over the last 30-40 years.
While the cost of becoming a graduate has gone up, the value of being a graduate has simultaneously gone down, resulting in higher numbers of graduates flipping burgers or emigrating. Ten years ago a typical graduate starting salary was £21k. It is now £14k. If they can get a job. Supply is beginning to exceed demand as the rate for university entry carries on rising though demand for graduates of the less popular subjects such as chemistry is still high.
Meanwhile the international students relied on as cash cows are seeing high-quality universities going up in their own countries offering a cheaper alternative closer to home. There are also internet degrees as well as the more established alternatives such as the Open University. Even home students are noticing they can get an English-speaking university education in the Netherlands for up to two-thirds less cost than in England. Apprenticeships and traineeships are being resurrected with some companies offering new recruits free training to degree level in their field as part of the package, particularly companies such as accountancy firms.
It is time UK universities started waking up and smelling the coffee re the future. The current level of graduates is unsustainable on so many levels, not to mention failing to turn out the right numbers of capable and cultivated individuals in the right areas for the country's benefit, being top-heavy in some subjects and bottom-heavy in others. They also need to decide if they are corporations or educational institutions as the two do not marry well and have completely incompatible agendas. Oxford and Cambridge will doubtless survive, but some will definitely be closing their doors in the coming years if they are not providing the USP of a gold-standard education and have no kudos, quaint pretty buildings or useful social network to offer either.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

An Abundancy of Redundancy (aka An Embarrassment of Poverty) But Does It Have To Be Like This?

Visiting my widowed mother in Ireland last week, I happened upon a dusty but trashy looking old paperback in a bookcase called 'How To Be Rich' by J. Paul Getty. I picked it up and was surprised to find it a riveting read, elegant in its straight talking economy of words, as it detailed Mr Getty's rise to success from his early wildcatting days as an oil (black gold rush) seeker in early 20th century California through all his subsequent triumphs and failures along the way, refreshingly devoid of business bullsh*t speak, but sharing his business wisdom with all who wished to learn.

Naturally I had heard of Mr Getty (one of the world's wealthiest men), but I had never paid much heed to him or his life, except to recall he was also renowned as a miser, even turning his house phone into a payphone to deter guests from taking advantage.

Yet reading his book, one of the most startling passages of all went as follows:

'Labor costs are also high but I've often observed that the man who complains the loudest about excessive wages is the same one who spends fortunes on advertising and sales campaigns to sell his products to the millions. How on earth he expects the workers who form the bulk of those millions to buy his chinaware, garden furniture or whirling spray garden sprinklers unless they are well paid is beyond my comprehension. Labour is entitled to good pay, to its share of the wealth it helps to produce. Unless there is a prosperous 'working class' there can be no mass markets and no mass sales for merchants or manufacturers - and there will be precious little prosperity for anyone.'

How has Britain so seemingly neglected this absolute bedrock of a truth to eat out its own heart? Everywhere around me I see working class jobs disappearing fastest of all as shops either close down or become self-automated and once-safe council clerk jobs, librarian jobs and bank jobs are also being shed by the thousand. Customer feedback surveys such as the easyJet one I just completed are evidently geared towards dispensing with the check-in staff and reducing the number of flight attendants. Even Tourist Information offices are suddenly closing as if to say. 'Sod off tourists - you've all got smartphones so you don't need human beings to welcome you to this area and assist you any more!' Yet who do the powers that be think they are catering for if not the normal average-earning individual whom they are so quick to shed?

And where are all these people going to go and what are they supposed to do for the rest of their lives? Claim benefits? Emigrate? I know I've written similar postings in the past, but there are few subjects that remind you of them on a virtually daily basis quite like this subject does. Since I have been away for a week two of my favourite stores have closed down. Meanwhile in Ireland my old once-prosperous hometown of Ballymena is looking increasingly ragged round the edges and the poor old county town of Antrim has been decimated altogether, its once-gleaming and bustling 'Castle Centre' now like the Marie Celeste!

The top 10% of UK households are now said to be 850 times wealthier than the bottom 50% and the wealth inequalities continue to widen.

At the top end of the scale company director salaries have increased from the traditional 8 x the average worker's salary to 25 x and beyond, the justification being that 'you can't get the best for less', despite some spectacular and even criminal falls from grace by selfsame 'top' company directors and bankers. This also fails to take into account the inevitable drop in morale, and therefore productivity in the staff under such an overpaid chief, not least if they are being treated in a way engineered to subsidise the cost to the concern of this director's (and sometimes co-horts) salary, whilst simultaneously being patronised by company literature and events pretending they are valued. In the last fortnight it has emerged that the chief of Save the Children is earning £234,000pa, a fact which has outraged donors and the many volunteers who work for the charity for free and naturally consider a great deal more per £ should be going to children. It is all very well some pundits commenting 'Well you can't have a muppet running an international charity', but who is to say that someone who did it for say a quarter of that salary would be a muppet? Or any more of a muppet than the individual currently running it? On this basis I hereby allow my name to be put forward to do at least as good a job of saving children at a fraction of the salary...

While Mr Getty may well have been a miser on the personal front, he took his responsibilities as an employer generating wealth and employment very seriously it seems, and never lost sight of the bigger picture. In his view too, managers were there to 'direct' operations, not dictate or micromanage them, and imaginative thinking was always encouraged in employees, as was the feeling they had a personal stake in the success or failure of the company which inspired them to think of their own efficiencies and improved ways of doing things. He also found that formal education was little indicator of what made the best employees and was never scared of competing internationally, decades before most companies began to think globally. Could that be why so many of his companies and enterprises still exist and thrive today, nearly 40 years after his death?