road beyond Shizoka

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Better Funding for University Education

 

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A university education has we are told become more expensive, possibly for government, definitely for students.

A big part of the problem is that universities got a free hit when setting their price. When the government set a maximum level on fees for a degree it was no surprise that all universities set their price at the maximum knowing that for every student it could enrol it would receive the fee irrespective of the quality of the education or the true cost of providing it. Universities didn’t have to compete on price to receive their funding all they needed to do was fill their student quota. As a consequence the result has been an increase in Vice Chancellor salaries rather than an increase in the quality of education.

What is required is to put the choice into the hands of students when deciding to which establishment they want to attend and how much they are willing to pay for it.

Each student should receive a fixed amount of government funding to pay for degree level education. It may be that there are tiers to promote take up of science or medical degrees to take account of the societal benefits and the longer duration required to complete studies but the general principle of a fixed amount per student applies. Students would then be free to choose how and where they could spend the funding. It could be that they would top up the amount to pay extra to go to a specific college or chose to live at home to defray costs of living but the choice would be entirely theirs to make.

Universities would likewise be entirely free to set their own prices just as they currently set their own entry requirements. Those that consider themselves of a higher standard would be free to set a higher price. Others would need to compete for students by lowering costs. The universities would be incentivised to improve the quality of their education provision in order to attract students or go out of business. If higher funding is offered for science and other courses deemed to be more societally beneficial then universities will be incentivised to provide those courses.

Universities can tailor their courses more appropriately rather than see everything as a fixed three year degree. Two year or even one year courses could be offered. Students would decide what is appropriate for them rather than the one size fits all that is in operation at the present.

I would also propose UK league tables (not just a single ranking list) of universities based on student assessments or other agreed measures of the quality. Universities would compete to rise up or be relegated into lower leagues as a further pressure on quality, costs and price. It would also provide better information to wider society and employers as to the quality of higher educational establishments. Nothing provides better focus than the fear of relegation or the joy of promotion.

Students should repay the funding once employed within certain earning parameters as is the case now but no interest should be charged. Society will recoup it’s investment via the higher earnings and other societal benefits of a better educated population.

What will people argue against.

Firstly that the why should the better off receive a benefit from the state to fund their education. The funding would be available to all regardless of social standing although clearly some standard of educational achievement would be required to obtain a place at a college. The benefit from funding would be negligible in that the funding is repayable. The benefit accrues by virtue solely of an interest free loan not much different than the current funding arrangements but without the usurious interest rates charged. The benefits from a better educated society will accrue to society as a whole and those better educated members of society should repay the benefit received many times over in higher taxes and greater skills.

Secondly elite universities will be priced out of range of intelligent but poorer students. This is a possibility but the elite universities will still want to attract the best students and will not solely base their decisions on profit. Elite universities I believe will still offer bursaries and other choices in education to the less well off as they do now.

Thirdly universities will up their fees further. Yes some definitely will but the choice of whether to go to those colleges will be in the hands of the student. If it becomes too expensive entrants will fall. Universities will need to be far more critical of what they offer students rather than simply filling a quota and then applying to the government to pay a fixed fee for each student. Some colleges will find that they boost their income by revising their prices downwards rather than increasing them. Vice Chancellors will have to merit their salaries by managing their institutions rather than just getting as many students as possible for a plethora of courses many of which are of dubious merit and collecting a fixed fee per student from the state.

Fourthly, students will game the system and keep some of the money themselves rather than spending it on education. Some will and it is that very incentive that will put college funding on a better footing. It shouldn’t cost society any more but will put pressure on universities to properly price and provide quality education. Students have to have a college place, have to repay the money loaned but are free to manage that equation themselves. If a one or two year course works out as being a better option at a lower price then students are free to make that choice. If they wish to spend less at a less fashionable institution then so be it. If they prefer to stay at home and help the family finances then they are free to do so. I believe putting income into the hands of the young will be an economic benefit not a drag.

Fifth, some people just don’t agree with market solutions. I would say the focus should be on outcomes not methodology. 

Currently students are told the price of a university education and have no influence over that price yet it is they who are being asked to fund it. If universities are forced to compete for students then the higher education system will get better. Universities should not be handed cash without earning it.

77 Days

 

So Crystal Palace bosses sack Frank De Boer after 77 days and 4 PL games in charge. Shortest number of games and second only to Les Read of Charlton in days. From any angle this decision smacks of panic. De Boer wasn’t a knee jerk appointment but one made after considerable due process by those in charge at Palace. One can only presume that the interview process was conducted only after the business goals and principles were properly assessed by the Palace board and senior management and that De Boer was duly appointed as someone who would implement those plans. Premier League football clubs are big businesses and should conduct their businesses accordingly.

There must be serious doubts over the competence of the owners and Steve Parrish if after such a short period of time one of their major decisions is, by their own admission, one that was totally wrong.

Crystal Palace, like it or not, will always be one of those teams with a reasonable probability of being involved in relegation. Additionally any team can have a run of losing games at some point in the season. In all of the seasons Palace have been in the Premier League they have had runs of four or more losing games.

2013/14 – 7 losing games with only 2 goals scored – 19 games lost in total

2014/15 – 4 losing games with only 1 goal scored – 16 games lost in total

2015/16 – 4 losing games with only 1 goal scored – 18 games lost in total

2016/17 – 6 losing games with 10 goals scored – 21 games lost in total

It is not unusual for Palace to have losing streaks. De Boer is unlucky that it has happened at the beginning of the season but probability would suggest it could happen at any time so it shouldn’t be a surprise.

Palace have a reasonable squad of players capable of competing in the Premier League. Whoever takes over from De Boer may well reap a series of wins simply due to random chance.

Clearly something went on behind the scenes and we shall never know what but for a manager to lose the confidence of the senior management after only 4 games, and if the news stories are to be believed the rot set in even earlier, then there are serious deficiencies in the management set up.

Club managers need time to set up their teams, gain the confidence of the squad and get a run of games to even out the luck, good or bad, that all teams have to deal with.

De Boer didn’t get that and he probably should.

At the end of the day the club owners make the decisions but that makes clubs autocratic and prone to the bad judgements of a small group of people. It is not just managers who are bad for football clubs. Owners can be hugely destructive too.

Why no deal or a bad deal are the only two choices on offer

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UK businesses need to start preparing now for the likelihood that there will be no unified deal covering the UK’s exit from Europe.

Let’s face it anyone expecting a good deal is being naive. The odds are actually more in favour of no deal. The chaotic negotiating style of EU representatives and the need to get 27 different countries to agree to a multiplicity of arrangements will be impossible.

The other decisive factor is down to incentives. Politicians of whatever stripe have, in that ghastly phrase, “no skin in the game”. A failure to agree a deal will not result in any immediate loss of office for any politico involved in the negotiations. If anything they are incentivised to not make a deal since all the risk hangs on the side of agreement and any measurement of success will be prone to intense criticism given that the naysayers will vastly outweigh those who are in favour for any outcome apart from stalemate. For Barnier, Fox, Juncker and Davis any form of compromise will be seen as weakness by both their supporters and their opponents. The obvious negotiating solution for all of them is to not agree a deal and blame the other side’s obstinacy for the failure to get something done thus preserving their political face.

The so called “Brexit negotiations” are in reality an exercise of personal power between the main protagonists. It is about perceived prestige and the portrayal of the strong man, they are all white men after all, and none will want to be seen to back down to any of the others. To do so will mean the end of political careers.

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The real negotiations can only start once the current political sideshow is over and will take place between those who have real reasons for making them succeed. The out turn of Brexit negotiations will take ten, twenty and thirty years to resolve and can only take place in a piece meal way. The priorities will only become truly apparent when the policy failures are exposed and politicians are forced to tackle issues which mean something to each party. That cannot happen until the current charade is over. The UK already had the best deal it was likely to get now each new relationship between the UK and the European Commission will need to tackled individually and away from the false publicity of the Barnier/Juncker – Fox/Davis bun fight. Nothing good can come from this posturing so we may as well get used to the reality now.

Why multiple choice is no choice at all

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It’s no good. I have wracked my brains to find a solution but the fact is there just isn’t one. No matter how hard I try I can find no reason to exercise my democratic right on 8 June. Apart from the obvious undemocratic waste in a seat that unless you are a Conservative, Maj 28,000 any other vote lacks any meaningful point anyway. What else is there to put off the voter?

CONSERVATIVE – Current catch phrase a vote for “strong and stable leadership”. Well there have been many strong and stable leaders, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Ceausescu, Franco, Ian Smith on one side and Robert Mugabe on the other together with countless others. All have displayed strong leadership but the benefits to the societies on which they imposed their strong leadership was negligible to non-existent. There have been beneficial strong leaders, Mandela, Gandhi and Adolfo Suarez to name three but these leaders sought not to impose their individual views but to persuade and be inclusive to those who lie outside of their own support base. What is being asked for by the Conservative rhetoric is for Theresa May to be given a blank cheque to operate as she pleases in all realms without being told what these actions will entail. The results of Brexit will be what they will be for example. The voter has to trust her to bring the “right” result however “right” is defined. There may be unspecified changes in the tax system but we the voter will not be told what these will be. Again she will do the “right” thing but as voters we have no right to know what that is. Details of what the Conservatives intend to carry out post 8 June are sketchy to say the least. The voter is to take on spec that Mrs May will do the right thing because she is the only one able to provide “strong, and stable leadership” but the voter is not to be told what that right action entails. At its heart Conservatism is a party that entrenches the rights of the elite. It represents big business, the professions, land owners and those with wealth.  Expect more of the same.

LABOUR – A party struggling to reflect a true identity. The current leadership knows it needs to appeal not just to its membership but also to a majority of voters if it is to have any hope of achieving even a modicum of success at this election hence the vote catching policy ideas of scrapping tuition fees (first time voters), tax increases for those earning in excess of £80k and a substantial increase in council housing both of which will benefit lower income groups forming a majority of people in this country. The problem is there is more than a whiff of underlying agenda when it comes to the Labour Party. Partly this is down to the party’s abject failure to present itself in a modern way. Its MP’s are at loggerheads with the membership and the leader. Its leadership and spokes people are viewed as shambolic and the voter perceives this would be carried into government. There is also a view that the party still adheres to outmoded 19th century ideas of politics and that beneath the veneer lies a cadre of revolutionaries bent on bringing radical Marxism to Britain. Labour was never a revolutionary party but one formed to advance the well being of the majority and especially the working class as opposed to those of privilege. In the obverse of Theresa May’s impression of being a strong leader Jeremy Corbyn exudes weakness not helped by his inability to whip his party MP’s behind a coherent agenda and portray a well thought through vision of the future for Britain.

LIBERAL DEMOCRAT – A party which again portrays an image of somewhat weak leadership. Nick Clegg was and would be a far more effective leader than Tim Farron. His religious faith, and this is not a criticism of his right to faith, also undermines his ability to represent a secular society. Strict religious dogma often finds intolerable what a modern secular society is willing to countenance. That puts Mr Farron in a difficult position if he has to defend more liberal views than his faith would not ordinarily tolerate. Tony Blair’s holy crusade in partnership with his fellow Christian George W Bush against Saddam Hussein did much to undermine his legacy and lead him along a path that was largely against the views of the majority of voters. The LIBDEMS also suffer from a very low base of support and were by and large an electoral irrelevance until 2010. Their part in the ill judged coalition which saw the Conservatives easily out manoeuvre them leaves them open to accusations of naivete.

GREEN – A single issue party. Conservation and ecological impacts of human society has to be an issue for every party. There are probably better ways of ensuring these issues are in the fore front of our politicians than a small and ineffective parliamentary party.

UKIP – Just no.

 

 

 

 

TV Trends

 

Television in the UK has changed beyond recognition from the early days of a single provider in the shape of the BBC. But where is it heading. Here is some visionary input (guesses) from me.

Sports

Sports rights are probably the key drivers for both Sky and BT. Currently rights are licenced by the IP owners to national broadcasters on a country by country basis. In the past IP owners had to follow the licencing model because the distribution pathway in any individual country was controlled by a small number of national broadcasters. The income generated for the rights owner is massive. The likes of Sky and BT have driven all major sports barring a few specially protected events from Public Service channels. Technology will make that IP even more valuable for the IP owners. New technology will allow the rights owner to directly control the distribution of their product to individual viewers and revenues will be collected directly by the rights owner. There is now no longer any need for host nation broadcasters.
FIFA, UEFA, the IOC, Formula One and others with global sports brands will tap into their customer base directly and control their own advertising and sponsorship without having to touch a third party distributor.
This is potentially bad news for companies like Sky and BT but opportunities could be available in secondary rights packages (highlights, delayed transmission etc) and the creation of less high profile sports brands.

High End Drama

In the absence of sports rights drama will become the main driver for subscription channels. This is already happening with the rise of Netflix and Amazon Prime. Both have moved into direct commissioning whilst still providing a secondary window for their initial business model as a distributor of Hollywood movies. The investment by these new entrants in drama output has seen a rise in production values coupled with an inflation in production costs. High end television drama production values are now on a par with features but still at a fraction of the cost both in terms of production and marketing. Public Service Broadcasters will struggle to compete with subscription services although it is possible that both the BBC and ITV could set up drama subscription services to capitalise on their existing brands. Such a move would need to happen quickly to avoid the new players grabbing market share and customers.

Lifestyle, food and travel

Traditionally cheap to make these style of programmes lend themselves to being directly distributed by large retailers on their own direct to consumer channels. Retailers could shift marketing spend away from traditional spot advertising campaigns and into ‘television’ production of their own lifestyle series fronted by their own talent. Retailers are already comfortable with having their own brand ambassadors and some have even ventured into advertising funded programming on regular TV outlets. Big retailers also have large databases of customers gleaned from loyalty cards. It is certainly not inconceivable to imagine a Jamie Oliver series transmitted by Sainsbury or Waitrose marketing their business and products via a Heston vehicle. It would probably cost a fraction of their current spot spend once the mind set for it changes both in the retailer head and that of the agencies which understandably are currently against any ad spend being diverted away from their hands. Is this behind the recent news highlighted in Broadcast of creative agency Beagle looking to expand into original content production?

Amazon is ideally placed to be at the forefront of this initiative with it already providing a huge retailing offering coupled with an existing television operation and a tech based infrastructure and knowledge base to deliver content to its massive database of customers all with credit cards already registered with the e-tailer. A range of subscription, micro payment or free services awaits to be exploited. Potentially good news for talent agents and producers.

Existing broadcasters

Where does all this leave the existing broadcaster model? Not in a good place I would suggest. Opportunities still exist in low cost serials (Soaps) where brand loyalty still exists in fairly large numbers. News will also be an area that traditional outlets will succeed. The continued viewer engagement with “constructed factual” and youth programming may also an area PSBs can continue to be a leader, as well as the exploitation of secondary windows for advertiser funded projects, older feature films, sports highlights packages and local output. Of course many of the traditional broadcast companies have been expanding their production capacity and would be ready to exploit any growth in production requirements for new outlets. Their existing channels provide an ideal test bed for new ideas and the skill base acquired over many years makes these companies ideal targets for well funded tech giants to buy into a ready- made production and distribution outfit.

When all is said and done producers should do well as there will remain a need for a well constructed, professionally produced product. The existing broadcast model will largely be absorbed into a new construct although a rump will remain much like the print newspaper industry exists today in a much smaller capacity.

All Things Bright and Beautiful

Songs of Praise

It seems odd that a series that certainly on the face of it lacks commercial value should be transferred to an independent producer whilst more commercial offerings such as “Holby City” remain with a tax payer funded BBC.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with commercial production companies producing any type of show and indeed they do. Some argue that transferring BBC produced programmes to commercial producers simply means profits are being made by dastardly shareholders from taxpayers money but it could equally be argued that those profits simply represent inefficiencies within the BBC being driven out. If the overall budget stays the same or falls then the taxpayer has not been exploited any more than it is already.

But there is a wider issue at stake here. What is happening is an inexorable drift towards privatisation of BBC assets. Firstly BBC Worldwide has a fully commercial remit and is run to all intents and purposes as a private commercial enterprise albeit owned by the BBC.

Next and inevitably BBC Studios is being commercialised and in fact it is the stated aim of Mark Linsey as reported in Broadcast in October last year “that he wanted BBC Studios to “mirror” the structure of superindies such as Endemol Shine and All 3 Media.”

This process of commercialisation is underway highlighted by the announcement of 300 BBC production redundancies in October 2016 and more will follow as less valuable programming is pushed out to the independent sector and BBC Studios takes on a more “Indie” structure causing a transfer of full time production jobs into less secure and shorter term freelance roles. The reality is that independent producers are more financially efficient solely because they do not have to carry all of the costs of full time staff and benefit from the ability to offer short term contracts and extract the tax benefit of not having to pay employers national insurance on a significant part of their freelance workforce and front of camera talent costs.

What then for the last piece of the BBC asset jigsaw, the commissioning bit?

One of the many things a publicly funded broadcaster, as opposed to a producer, can and should be doing is fund programmes which ordinarily the commercial sector would not find viable. This would be perfectly possible even with a commercial BBC Worldwide and a commercial BBC Studios if the commissioning stayed independent but is it likely?

To the criticism that the BBC would stop showing niche and specialised programmes of little commercial value but justifiable in terms of social cohesion and public information a government could point to Channel 4 and claim this remit is adequately catered for by its Charter at a zero cost to the tax payer.

We know that politicians of all parties dislike the BBC’s impartiality. Labour over Hutton and the Conservatives over election coverage in 2015 to name but two. The dominant Conservative Party, the current party of government, also has an ideological hatred of nationalised corporations. The triumvirate of BBC Worldwide in distribution, BBC Studios in Production and BBC Broadcasting as a commercial enterprise with the potential to add a billion or two into the national accounts (Sky has been valued at £18.5bn) under the auspices of a Conservative lead Government must for the blue party be making them positively delirious at the prospect.

The downside is that the costs for users would go up but this wouldn’t be a problem for politicians. The value would be settled by the market not by the government. The current services provided by the BBC are extremely good value given that it covers substantial radio, TV and online services because of the fact that all owners of a television fund all services. A privatised business would have to offer “choice” leading to a radically different payment structure. Possibly this could be advertising but more likely some form of subscription. Some free to air television content might continue much as we currently have with Sky 1 but for premium content the charge would almost certainly increase. The corporation would be forced to compete more and more head on for rights with the likes of BT, Sky, Netflix and Amazon if it were to maintain a pre-eminent position. The proposed takeover by Fox of Sky is partially being justified by the claim that Sky would be better able to compete for rights with the backing of a financial heavyweight. Likewise the BBC privatisation would put it in the frame for a takeover by a well funded overseas investor and for a government intent on generating the highest value this would almost inevitably become the preferred source of suitor.

The biggest potential loser of any privatisation would be radio and especially local radio. Whilst the large audiences of Radios 2 and 4 could be used to cross promote other services it would seem difficult to justify the non-revenue or revenue lite potential of the other radio assets in the wrapper of a commercial television company.

Much like Scottish Independence there seems to me to be a certain grim inevitability about the privatisation of the BBC. Not an if but a when.