Posts Tagged ‘University’

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.


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


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


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 their 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.

39 photos from when we were younger

Sunday, May 11th, 2014 | Friends, Photos

No, this is not a BuzzFeed article. I had to go through a lot of my photos recently while updating my website and I thought it might be nice to post some of the old ones.

The whole thing might take a while to load. It is broken down into ten separate images, but is still five megabytes in size. In fact, if you are reading this on the homepage you will need to click the “read more” link below to see the full thing.


Is there any difference between having tuition fees and not having them?

Thursday, February 13th, 2014 | Thoughts

I, on the whole, support tuition fees. Why? Because I do not think that poor people, with less earning potential than myself, should have to subsidise my education. If someone is working really hard driving a taxi every day, why should they pay for me to go to some fancy-pants university and get a piece of paper that entitles me to earn more money than them?

But I am not entirely decided on the issue. There are lots of good reasons to support not having tuition fees. For example, it probably puts people off going to university (I have not checked the stats, but I imagine this is the case). That argument in itself has factors that both support and oppose tuition fees.

The alternative, as well as realise though, is not a free education. I cannot be “free”. It has to be paid for in a capitalist economy. The alternative is an education paid for by the state, and thus reclaimed from taxes.

Either way, some one pays.

You could argue though that in a progressive tax system, the same person pays. Imagine these two scenarios:

Scenario 1, tuition fees. I pay £20,000 to go the university, except I do not pay it, because it is a student loan, taken by PAYE when I start earning. So I pay nothing up front to go to university. I go, do my degree and then graduate. Then I get a job and if I earn plenty of money I repay my student loan via the PAYE tax system. If not, I do not pay it.

Scenario 2, no tuition fees. There are no tuition fees so I pay nothing up front (just like above). i go, do my degree and then graduate (just like above). Then I get a job and if I earn plenty of money I pay a higher tax because the government has to fund all the education (as above). If not, I do not pay it (as above).

The scenarios above are basically the same. Either way, university is free at the point of access and funded by reclaiming the money using taxation. What difference am I missing?

Atheist Society 2013 AGM

Thursday, May 30th, 2013 | Humanism

Earlier this month, the Atheist Society held their AGM. Congratulations to Dan Murgatroyd (President), Josh Hulks (Secretary), Gabrielle Stakaityte (Treasurer), Hugh Clayden and James Murray who were all elected. It’s really looking like a superb committee and I wish them all the best for the coming year – I’m sure they’ll do brilliantly.

IMG_2650 IMG_2657 IMG_2659 IMG_2649

Segregation at universities

Saturday, March 16th, 2013 | Religion & Politics


When we ran events at the University of Leeds, everyone was welcome. But, as they were our events, we insisted on white people sitting at the front, and black people sitting at the back.

That isn’t true.

But imagine if it was – how shocking! How outrageous! To be clear, given I’m known for my sarcastic nature, I am being entirely serious here – obviously it would be completely unacceptable. I genuinely do mean unacceptable – people would not accept it. The good people of Leeds would rise up against me and say “No! We’re not going to tolerate your bigoted views!”

As I said, we hold no such views. But imagine if you replaced the term “we” with “Islamic Society” and the racial segregation with a segration based on how many X chromosomes you have – another property that, like skin colour, you have absolutely no control of. That is exactly what you get happening up and down the country.

I haven’t been to an Islamic Society run event at Leeds, so I can’t comment on their events, but I have been to Nottingham Trent where they had separate entrances for men and women, Richard Dawkins regularly tweets about segregation at UCL and last time Bob went to Bradford University he ended up making a protest about the whole thing when he refused to move after inadvertently sitting down in a row designated for women – these aren’t one off incidents, they are happening all over the country.

Firstly, just segregation is just as bad as racial segregation – those who implement such systems are bigots. Yet the irony is that when we call these bigots on their bigoted views, they then try and say we’re racist for not respecting their bigoted religion.

Secondly though, were are the masses standing up against this kind of behaviour?

I’m proud that we have freedom of expression in this country. This means that Nick Griffin can stand up and say he doesn’t like gays – which is undesirable – but at least when he does, a million people stand up and tell him how wrong he is! That is why freedom of expression works, because everyone gets a voice and when bigots stand up and shout, we shout louder than they do.

But when one of the bigoted leaders of Islam stands up and demands segregation, where are the voices that cry out in defiance? They seem to fall silent.

Is it that all Islamists are bigots? I doubt it. None of my Islamist friends are bad people – otherwise I wouldn’t be friends with them. I think it says more about the evils of religion, than it does about the people following it.

Religion brainwashes people. There is no other word for it. It gets them to do things that typical human beings would not agree to, whether it is murdering abortion doctors, blowing yourself up, or supporting segregation whether it be racial, gender or down any other lines.

If Islamists want to convince people that their religion is one of peace and harmony, perhaps they should start by calling out their leaders on the hurtful, bigoted views they spread in university lecture halls up and down the country.