Posts Tagged ‘University’

Macronutrients and Overnutrition

Thursday, February 27th, 2020 | Life

I recently completed my course in Macronutrients and Overnutrition with Wageningen University. I didn’t realise just how good Wageningen was until I looked them up in the league tables: around 50th in the world (Leeds is around 100th) and the top-rated university in the Netherlands.

The course covered macronutrients: carbs, proteins and fats, as well as some of the reasons we eat too much and why weight management can be an issue in the obesogenic environment.

Final grade: 95%. Pretty happy with that.

Masters graduation

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019 | Life

I finished my masters degree last year (with a distinction and 82% in my final project, thanks for asking :D). Because it takes the exam board a few months to award the degree, and then you have to wait for the next set of graduation ceremonies, that meant nearly a year’s wait.

Earlier this month, the day finally arrived.

Beckett is currently holding their degree ceremonies at the Leeds Arena. This is not as pretty as the Headingley campus but did mean there were enough seats for everyone. This was critical as it meant I could take Elina and not have to decide which one of my parents I loved the most.

The ceremony itself was long and dull. There were 1,000 students graduating in the same ceremony. Some in absentia, but that still a lot of people. And, because of the way they lay things out, I was almost last. Literally, I was sat next to the three PhD graduands whose presentations are reserved for the end. However, the vice-chancellor did give a good speech at the end.

After the ceremony, we headed over to the Rose Bowl where they had turned the car park into a reception area with some food and drink stalls and places to take photos.

All in all, a nice ceremony, but not a patch on Leeds University. When I graduated for my bachelors, the whole school got together and put on refreshments and all the staff were there to congratulate us. This was very different. It was all run centrally, very busy, expensive, I saw almost nobody from my course because of the size of the group and there was no school-specific stuff or any of the faculty there.

I did get a video, though, including a slow-motion relay:

MSc results

Friday, November 9th, 2018 | Life

After two months of waiting, our psychology MSc dissertation results have finally been published. I’m pleased to announce that they’re great! My final submission achieved 82%. Although I don’t have my official overall MSc result yet, this grade is good enough to secure a distinction.

Well done to all of my friends and peers on the course, many of whom did exceptionally well. It was such a fun year studying with you all and I can’t wait to see the exciting directions you all take your knowledge in.

Dissertation

Saturday, September 15th, 2018 | Life

It’s in. After a year of hard work on the MSc programme, including nine months working on the research project, my dissertation has been submitted. Now begins a two month wait for the results.

Electronic textbooks

Friday, April 20th, 2018 | Life

Academic textbook publishing seems like a right racket to me. Take the above book, for example. It’s an electronic textbook in Leeds Beckett’s collection. You’ll notice they have three copies. It’s electronic, but they have presumably had to buy three copies to allow multiple people to read it at once.

Exams

Sunday, January 28th, 2018 | Life

It feels like not a lot has happened in January. But it has been a busy month. Primarily because most of my Christmas and early January was taken up with revision for exams.

It’s not like undergraduate where we had them stacked on top of each other: we only had four to do. But you can’t get away with undergraduate level answers, either.

We also had an essay deadline. This fell on the first day of teaching for semester two. However, I submitted it at noon the day before, giving me a good 17 hours of relaxation between the two semesters.

It also feels like an anachronism that I’ve done all of this work: include deadlines in November and December, and we’re still waiting for results from the lot of them. I understand why marking takes a long time, but I’m part of the social media-obsessed instant generation. Basically, I don’t want to put in any work for semester two if I have already failed.

Back at university

Thursday, September 28th, 2017 | Life

I’m back at university, studying. Like a geek.

Why? Because learning is fun.

Nobody believes me when I say that. It is perhaps because the course is geared to people who want to use it as a step towards their future career. But even people not on the course seem to be suspicious of such a concept. How did I end up with this friendship circle?

So far it has been pretty standard. Not much has changed since my undergraduate degree.

There are some nice benefits of being a postgrad, however. I get to experiment on undergraduates, for one. That’s not a joke: I literally have access to a pool undergraduates to experiment on.

Of course, my updated take on Milgrim will have to pass an ethics committee first.

I can also take out up to 25 books from the library. Not that anyone would ever need to do that.

How universities stack the value

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017 | Thoughts

I see a lot of online marketers saying “$20,000 for university is a total waste of money. You don’t learn anything. Buy my course for $2,000 instead.” Ignoring the obvious bias they have, it is worth considering why universities still manage to sell their courses and what we can learn from it.

University is a product

When it comes down to it, universities are selling a course. And they are expensive. £9,000 per year in the UK and way more in the US. But university admissions are not going down. Tuition fees are not putting people off. Nearly half of people in the UK will go to university.

On the flip side, you have something like Ramit Sethi’s Zero To Launch programme. It costs over $2,000. I am going to use ZTL as an example, as Sethi is a classic case of what I am talking about, but many other marketers are saying the same things: university is pointless, you need to go to the school of life / hard knocks / whatever.

A common tactic is to compare their info product against a university degree, claiming that their course is more relevant and far cheaper.

But universities stack the value

Where this falls down, though, is that universities are doing something that professional marketers do all of the time: stack the value. They punch so much value into a degree that you would have to be stupid not to buy it.

Universities essentially offer the best info product ever. Here is how. Again, I will compare it to Sethi’s course, but I am not trying to specifically pick on him, lots of marketers are doing the same thing.

The core offer

Your contact time at university depends on your course. Some have more, some have less. I had around 20 hours a week, but I know some history students had 10. Let’s average it out to 15. The academic year is quite short, so let’s say 30 weeks. That is 450 hours of contact time.

That is a lot. This is real in person lecturing and at a good university you are getting it from the leading researchers around the world.

When you do Zero To Launch you get pre-recorded content from Sethi. It’s not interactive and you cannot ask questions. And you do not get 450 hours of it.

But what, there’s more

You also get assigned a personal tutor and get to meet with them for an hour per week. That is 30 hours of consulting per year.

Mike Dillard brags about charging $2,500 per hour for consulting. I’m not sure how much Ramit Sethi charges for his time, but I imagine it’s a lot. In fact, this alone will probably cover the entire value of your tuition fees, even in the US.

Bonus 1: Facilities

You have signed up for an info product and they have made a custom user area to watch the videos in. Great.

My university had two 24-hour computer labs. And access to the White Rose supercomputer grid. And that was just for the computing students. We had labs, including an underground bombproof one for the chemists, lasers, psychology labs, a driving simulator, 3D printers, a selection of theatres for the drama students, etc, etc. Stuff you just cannot get access to elsewhere without a massive amount of money.

Bonus 2: Libraries

Your info product comes with downloadable PDF notes. Cool.

My university has seven libraries, not counting the departmental-run specialist libraries. They have over 2,000,000 items in their collections. And their computer systems get you unlimited free access to thousands of research journals that you would otherwise be paying $30 per article to access. Saving you thousands of pounds right there.

Bonus 3: Community

Your info product comes with a Facebook group. Genuinely useful.

But it doesn’t compare to being dropped into a group of 100-150 peers, all as passionate about the topic as you are. Just turning up to university gets you surrounded by clever people. There is a reason that Google, Facebook and Microsoft all came out of universities: clever people met there and founded companies together. It’s the perfect melting pot for mastermind groups.

Bonus 4: Support

In case you were not already convinced, universities also come with athletics facilities (free or subsidies), a student’s union (discount beer), physical and mental health services, careers advice, and many other student services.

What does it add up to?

Feature Value
450 hours of lectures, which is like attending a conference, which might provide 15 hours of talks for $2,000, but 30 times over. $60,000
30 hours of coaching at $2,000 per hour $60,000
Access to specialist labs and equipment $10,000
Access to academic libraries and journals $2,000
Mastermind group of peers $5,000
An endless array of pastoral support, benefits and other facilities $5,000
Total value $142,000

Conclusion

The reason that people buy online marketing programmes at $1,500 per time, rather than a $10 eBook, is because these courses stack so much value that they make it worth it.

The reason universities can and do charge ten times more than this is because they stack the value even more: to the point where it simply incomparible to anything else.

Reflections on student loan

Saturday, April 9th, 2016 | Thoughts

coins

At the end of last month, I paid off my student loan. Sort of. I haven’t actually sent the money or anything practical like that, but the amount I have accrued in student loan tax is now enough to cover the remaining balance. So once I get my tax bill, it will be sorted. Just in time for me to start paying George Osborne’s increased tax on small business owners.

This gave me a moment for reflection. I am 29 years old. I graduated at 21, so eight years seems pretty good going. Most people, however, will not have the opportunity to repay their loan anywhere near as fast as me.

First, my loan was quite small. When I went to university, tuition fees were £1,000 a year. Most of my loan was made up of maintenance loan, the money they lend you to live on. This was about £3,500 in my day but is probably more now. The year after I started at university the fees went up to £3,000. More recently, they have risen to £9,000. Living costs are probably rising too, so let’s say you need £5,000 a year maintenance loan now.

In total that makes for £16,000 a year. Assuming you get your degree in three years (not everyone does), that means you will have built up £48,000 of debt by the time you leave university: almost four times the amount that I left with.

Second, I am a software consultant, which is a well-paid industry. Many people will never earn the amount of money I earn. If you are a teacher, for example, only senior management will have pay higher than a software engineer who is a senior but still very much in the trenches of everyday code writing.

According to the Official of National Statistics, as reported by the BBC, the average earnings for people with a degree are £29,900 per year. This compares with £17,800 for people without a degree.

Let’s say you are earning £29,900 as a graduate. £17,335 if that is below the threshold. That leaves you £12,565 that is taxable for student loan. This is taxed at 9%, so that means you would be paying back £1,130 per year. With a loan of £48,000, that means you will be paying back the loan for 42 years.

That figure is far lower than it would be in real life, however, because it does not factor in the interest on your loan. That will add a large amount on to your debt, especially as £29,900 is the average earning over your career, not what you will be earning at the start. Initially, you will be lucky just to pay the interest off.

This is irrelevant however as your loan is cancelled after 30 years.

What this means in practice is that if you go the university now, you can expect never to pay off your student loan. What you can expect to pay is an additional 3-4% tax for the 30 years after you start your first graduate job.

Is student loan a good idea?

I have written before about the difficultly of arguing against tuition fees, though there are some points that seem to hold up.

However, with the new system, the sheer nonsense of it all seems to work against the tuition fee system. We have a series of ‘loans’ that we never expect to be paid back. We’re not saving the entire cost of tuition because most people are never going pay it all back.

We are saving some money, of course, an additional 3-4% tax on graduates for most of their working lives is a considerable amount of money. However, given we could just tax everyone more, and then provide everyone with a free at the point of access education, without having to subject people to the choice of lumbering themselves voluntarily with the additional tax, you can make a good case for abolishing tuition fees.

Going to university is still worth it

Even with the current system in place, the best choice is still clear. As graduated out-earn non-graduates by an average of £12,100 per year, even with the additional tax of £1,130, you are still almost £11,000 better off with a degree.

The arguments against tuition fees

Sunday, July 26th, 2015 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

Last year I argued that there is little difference between having and not having university tuition fees. The arguments placed against it were largely insubstantial and I have yet to have a decisive point against tuition fees.

However, in this article I will offer some arguments that could be used to defeat the idea.

Putting poorer students off

There has been a decline in university applications since the rise in tuition fees. According the BBC, the number of applicants dropped nearly 10%.

This is in itself not a problem. When people realise the full cost of university, perhaps people decide that it is not worth it. Which could legitimately be the case. Wages are market-driven thus the skills we need could continue to attract applicants while those we don’t could see a drop-off, and this would be the system working.

It would, however, be a problem if it turned out that there was a substantial drop in applicants from poorer backgrounds while wealthier backgrounds did not see such a drop as this would suggest we are creating a less egalitarian society.

However, this is not the case, and thus this argument falls down. According to the UCAS figure discussed in the previously mentioned BBC article, applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds dropped only 0.2%, while those from privileged backgrounds dropped 2.5%.

Supply and demand

In theory you might expect tuition fees to better match the demand for labour. This is because people might be more inclined to choose professions such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc, that give them a chance to pay off their loan. Whereas my guess (and it is a guess, I have no figures to back this up) is that people who study English or contemporary art, will be less likely to pay the loans off.

This does not necessarily follow though. If you are going to be a penniless artist you do not need to worry about paying your loan off because it is income dependent.

Also this assumes that people pick their courses both rationally and with financial ends in mind, neither of which may be true.

An alternative system that better match skills shortages to labour is a system such as Finland operate. In Finland, it’s free to go to university. You get like five years free, including a maintenance grant, which is enough time to do a bachelors and a masters. It’s open to all EU citizens for free too!

The catch is that there is a cap. They only take so many people, so if you want to go study sports science for example, there may be say 50 places per year and if you don’t make the cut, you don’t be doing that subject (or any subject).

This system means that people could potentially miss out on higher education. Though more likely they will just switch onto an under-subscribed course. However it does do a good job of making sure that the best people are fulfilling the countries labour needs.

Long term equality

In Capital in the Twenty-First Century Thomas Piketty suggests there is evidence that a more highly educated population leads to higher levels of equality in the long term, as shown by the Nordics.

Therefore we may decide that as tuition fees put people off attending university (this point is debatable, though applications have gone down in the short term), we may want to pay for as many people to go to university so that in the long term we create a better, more equal society.