Why #PartTimeMatters

A copy of the 2015 edition of the Open University’s magazine “OpenMinds – for enquiring alumni” was waiting for me when I arrived home this evening. There’s some great content in it – for example, articles on the Philae Lander, driverless cars and research into social exclusion, all of which OU academics and alumni have contributed significantly to. All this success makes the leading article written by the OU’s new vice-chancellor, Peter Horrocks, a particularly disturbing read.

Peter points out that five years ago before the changes to university funding in England (a.k.a. the trebling of undergraduate tuition fees), more than 580,000 people across the UK were studying for a degree part-time. In 2014 this number fell to just under 370,000. England has borne the brunt of the decline, with a 41% decrease. Even though the OU says that it has managed to grow its market share, the total number of undergraduate and postgraduate OU students is down by approximately 60,000 in this period.

The obstacles being put in the way of access to part-time learning in England come at a point in history when the 9-5 job for life has gone, replaced more typically with 5-9 jobs during a working lifetime. The ability for adults to learn new skills has therefore never been more important. However, the costs for those who have a degree that needs updating or who dropped out of university first time around are becoming increasingly prohibitive. The OU does provide excellent value at £2,700 per 60 credits (£16,200 for a degree instead of the more usual £27,000 at a ‘brick’ establishment), but four years ago, OU students in these categories would have only needed to find around £6,000. One of the consequences of the last few years (in England, at any rate) is that university level education is no longer seen as being a public good – but a cost to the taxpayer that must be avoided, as education only benefits the individual receiving it. Which is a political choice of course, but utter nonsense. Just ask the Germans.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, employers, who should be significant beneficiaries of investment in part-time learning, now appear reluctant to directly fund their employees. Figure 14 on page 26 of this Universities UK report shows that the number of employer-funded part-time undergraduate students dropped from just over 40,000 in 2011-12 to around 22,000 in 2012-13.

For someone without a degree there have been some crumbs of comfort, as non-means tested loans have now been made available to part-time learners in England. However, part-time students are still not treated equally, as their repayments start after four years of study (2/3rds of the way through a three-year degree), rather than after graduation.

The tuition fee reforms of the coalition government were bad enough for the part-time sector and those who wished to use it. However, the apparent intent of the current Conservative government to go back on their promise to uprate the £21,000 salary threshold for student loan repayments (in effect increasing the financial burden on recent graduates and nearly-graduates still further), along with their manifesto pledge to divert FE funding for mature learners to apprenticeships, look set to damage the interests of part-time, mature students still further.

In his article, Peter Horrocks asks all OU alumni to “… join the whole OU community and help fight for part-time eduction. [and to] Tell friends, family and anyone of influence about the frightening fall in part-time numbers and create an imperative to tackle the problem.

I’m fairly sure that the contents of this blog, from when I started it in 2008, witnesses to the power of part-time education in my own life. And as this video says, the most important thing that everyone learns at the OU is what they’re capable of.

Hell hath no fury like a woman in pink

Thank you to all of the readers of this blog who took the time to sponsor “Team Holyoake” in the Race for Life today. Unfortunately, as Emily is recovering from major abdominal surgery, only Jessica was able to run. But she did herself and her sister proud – a new Holyoake record of 1:19.45 for 10k set in the exceptionally wet, windy and very cold conditions at Westpoint, Exeter, this morning.

Westpoint Car Park 26-07-2015Our view of the car park as we arrived at 0800 … it didn’t stop raining until the race started at 0930, only for a howling gale to take its place!

Determined face at the start!– Jessica’s determined face at the start!

– Sprint finish!

So far, they’ve raised the magnificent sum of £620 between them. Jessica’s also written an account of the day – it’s great, go read it, look at her photographs and donate if you haven’t done so already!

After the raceJessica’s poster was slightly the worse for wear after she’d finished! (Photo © Jessica Holyoake, 2015)

It was a great day. A special thank you needs to go to the army of volunteers who made this event happen despite the typical Devon summer weather.

There’s also one other person who I feel deserves a special mention due to their blind optimism in the face of the elements. Take a bow, Kelly Whip :)

The optimist

Should we begrudge MPs a salary of £74,000?

No, we shouldn’t.

The best MPs deserve this – and more.

The worst MPs deserve to be removed from office by their electorate.

A move to multi-member constituencies elected by proportional representation is the best way to ensure that we have this power.

And that’s the real issue that needs addressing here, not just the endless moaning that too many people indulge in over a headline figure that, after all, is no longer set by the MPs themselves. Until we have PR for elections, it really won’t matter whether we pay our MPs £7,400, £74,000 or £740,000 – there will still be some who fail to perform well because it’s too easy for them to hide from the consequences.

LibDem leadership hustings: “it ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it”

Last night, I attended the Liberal Democrat leadership hustings in Nottingham. It was held in a large, but peculiarly airless black box theatre at the Djanogly City Academy, bringing back uncomfortable memories of Saturday mornings a few years ago when my OU critical social psychology tutorials were held there.

Lib Dem Leadership Hustings, Nottingham, 6th July 2015

I had intended to diligently take notes on what Norman Lamb and Tim Farron said, and then report back here on the nuances, but as the chair pointed out at the beginning of the evening, a Liberal Democrat was definitely going to win this election. On matters of substance, the two candidates were therefore likely to be in agreement 99% of the time. So it proved. Even when Norman started one of his answers by saying that he disagreed with Tim, I really couldn’t spot much of a difference in the substance of his answer once he’d got to the end of it.

So if there’s little to differentiate the candidates on matters of policy, how do you choose who to vote for? It was certainly true that the people I spoke to at the meeting had found their own choices difficult to make. Pleasingly for the future of the party, the choice is difficult because of the outstanding quality of both candidates. I’m sure that another party currently holding their own leadership contest wished that any one of theirs were even half as good as either Tim or Norman.

Given that both candidates live and breathe Liberalism (and that’s obviously the case based on the evidence of last night), the key test for me is which of them stands the best chance of being noticed by the public over the next 5 years and enthusing the 20% or so of the electorate who might be persuaded to vote for us in 2020. Oh, and enthusing the party at large to go out and campaign, donate money, deliver leaflets and rebuild our local government base, of course.

Two things convinced me during the evening that Tim is the right choice to lead now, in the circumstances that the party finds itself in today.

Firstly, Norman’s obvious intellect shines through everything that he says. His deeply held and considered views on mental health, drug reform and many other topics are clear. But in the parlous circumstances the party finds itself in, we need more than pure intellect to survive. Likewise, Tim has deeply held and considered views on range of topics – housing, poverty, social justice – but I also get the impression from listening to him that he’s got the rhetorical skills, raw passion and sheer bloody-mindedness needed to make sure that a hostile press and a sceptical public can’t ignore him … and better than that, actually want to listen to him.

Secondly, although both agree that we need to be bolder in putting forward what the party believes in, rather than defining ourselves in terms of what the other parties may or may not believe, it was Tim that had started to answer the “so what” questions – in other words, why our beliefs make the Liberal Democrat view of the world distinctive and valuable to the electorate. For example (and this isn’t an exact quotation from last night, but I hope that it captures the sense of what Tim said), “Our Liberal values mean that we’re internationalists, which is why we support the UK’s membership of the EU. Our membership is important, because it’s the EU which has made war between European nations unthinkable today, and means that we can act effectively together to tackle the threat posed to us all by terrorism”.

So, as I’ve said here before, I’m backing Tim for leader. I hope that whatever the outcome of the leadership election, they both continue to work together constructively as colleagues for the good of the party, but more importantly, I’m sure they’d want to do so anyway for the good of the country.

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Three things I don’t understand about the LibDem leadership election

Before I talk about the three things I don’t understand about the election, let me be clear that having a choice between Tim Farron and Norman Lamb is great, as they’re both excellent candidates. But Tim Farron wins my vote, due to the way that he has always chosen to engage constructively with party members and is continuing to do so through his campaign. It’s my belief that his ability and willingness to engage with everyone, while maintaining a consistently Liberal stance, is the best way to ensure that our message doesn’t get lost in the Labservative noise that will dominate the media agenda over the next few years.

Anyway, the three things I don’t understand:

  • It’s an election between two candidates. Much as I love preferential voting, the instructions on the ballot paper asking the candidates to be ranked numerically makes no sense. And even in the highly unlikely event of Tim and Norman tieing on first preferences,  my reading of the AV guide issued by the electoral reform society suggests that the tie would be broken by drawing lots, rather than looking at the number of second preferences. Otherwise, your second preference could count against your first preference! But maybe someone with a deeper knowledge of the mechanics might be able to clarify this for me. (I also find it inconceivable that if someone marked their paper with a cross against a single candidate that it wouldn’t be counted).
  • The photographs on twitter of completed ballot papers. If you tell me you’ve voted for Tim or Norman, I’ll believe you. I really don’t need photographic proof that you can fill the ballot in correctly!
  • However, even more disturbing are the photographs of people posting the envelope. That really does seem odd, especially as there must be a chance you’d drop your phone into the postbox with your ballot paper. I’m willing to bet that at least one of you may have got close to doing it …

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British Celanese and the Queen’s visit to Spondon Station, 1957

The first four photographs of British Celanese come from the same roll of film as the ones showing the construction of the A52 at Willowcroft Road. This means that they will date from either 1956 or 1957, as the roll (and this post) finishes with three taken on the day of the Queen’s visit to Derby. It’s been suggested that the reason her train stopped at Spondon, rather than at Derby Midland, was to allow more people to witness her visit to the town.

British Celanese 1957A view from Celanese Road looking towards Holme Lane.
British Celanese 1957The view from Spondon station.
British Celanese 1957The main site entrance.
British Celanese 1957A view of the administration block. Spondon signal box can also be seen in the distance on the left hand side.

The Queen's visit to Derby, 1957The Queen’s visit to Spondon station, 1957.

The Queen's visit to Spondon, 1957It looks like security was relatively low-key!

The Queen's visit to Spondon, 1957The view from Station Road, with a small crowd gathered on the footbridge in front of the station.

This is not hello

In August last year I wrote a blog post for the University of Leicester with the title “This is not goodbye“. In it I talked about my initial lymphoma diagnosis (the post was written before I’d had the precise variant identified) and that I’d therefore decided to suspend my studies for a year to fight it off. It was also written about a week before my mother died, so given that my brother and I are still sorting out the estate, postponing the final year of my MSc was, in hindsight, an even better call.

My post also promised my Leicester readers that “I’d be back”, to paraphrase The Terminator.

Today, after some thought, I’ve written to the university asking to take up where I’d left off from – starting on 3rd July. As I haven’t fought the lymphoma off just yet, these aren’t quite the circumstances I’d imagined I’d be restarting in. But as my “watch and wait” checkup today has brought encouraging news, I’m now hopeful that I will have enough time to get the course completed before I do finally need “proper” treatment. At worst, I might be in the early stages of treatment towards the end of it.

So I’m about to become a distance learning student again – with all of the late nights and long weekends that brings. On the plus side, I only have 4 of the 13 assignments left to complete. However, as they account for over 2/3rds of the weighted marks, there’s definitely no time for slacking. At least I have a reasonably well thought out research question to submit with my dissertation proposal (I’ve been thinking of little else, academically speaking, for the last six months) – even though it’s going to require lots of effort. This is because the topic and the research question I’ve written lend themselves to a qualitative approach (and a discursive one at that). See what you did to me, DD307.

Even though I feel more daunted about the prospect of study than I have ever done since I first started this journey with the Open University’s Exploring Psychology module back on January 27th 2007 (I just checked the exact date on StudentHome – amazingly, I still have an OU login that works!), I’m looking forward to the challenge. I think. Please remind me that I wrote that as soon as I inevitably start whingeing about the workload and feeling tired again. It will be my own fault …

The PAFEC 10th anniversary brochure – August 1986

This is what a leading UK software company looked like 30 years ago. After thinking I’d lost this brochure for good, it eventually turned up at my late parent’s house while I was sorting through the last of bookshelves this afternoon. All six pages are available for download here (pdf).

PAFEC Employees 1986The photograph is from the back page and was taken on the lawn at Strelley Hall. It shows many of the 270 employees. I can remember quite a few of the people pictured (I’m in the background towards the left hand side), and it would be good to hear from you in the comments if you’re also featured in the picture. If anyone still happens to have the key to the people in the photograph (I remember it being displayed next to the copy of the picture hung by the staircase in the hall for many years), it would be even better to hear from you!

The symptoms of lymphoma and what to do if you have them

Around 55% of all lymphomas are found in men. The Lymphoma Association have published this helpful infographic as part of this year’s Mens Health Week, describing the main symptoms.

Lymphoma symptomsThere’s more information about these symptoms available here.

If you’re at all concerned, go and see your GP now – don’t wait! I’m glad that I didn’t put off going when I first noticed a small lump on my neck a year ago. My experience is that your GP will listen to your concerns and if they suspect lymphoma, will ensure that you are quickly checked out by specialists, so that you get the correct diagnosis and treatment.


Thank you to the PR and public affairs team at the Lymphoma Association for their kind permission to reproduce their infographic here. And if you’d like to make a donation towards their work, my wife’s fundraising page is still open!

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