Archive

Posts Tagged ‘news’

Commuting ‘cheaper’ than buying close to work – but only if you live in London

September 22, 2011 Leave a comment

This was my crowning glory at Thisismoney.co.uk. The press release came in and I spent hours going through the figures, making sure I’d got the data right for the piece, which was published first thing on the Saturday as the lead news story – lucky me.

Thanks, as always, to Thisismoney.co.uk for letting me print it.

Report suggests living outside London and commuting is cheaper for commuters.

Cost saving: Commuting into London is often much cheaper than living in the city

London workers are making big savings by commuting rather than living near work, according to a study looking at house prices.

But the same benefits are not seen around all other major cities.

Commuters living in Home Counties – an hour outside of London – own homes £375,000 cheaper than those in the city.

The study found that with a rail season ticket costing £4,400 a year, commuters from towns like Peterborough and Swindon could afford to travel to work in London for over 80 years with the savings they’ve made on their properties.

The average house price in Reading and Milton Keynes, half an hour outside London, is £275,000, while a property in Central London is £620,000.

Travellers from these locations have shorter journey times and cheaper rail tickets of around £3,100 a year. Their homes – and repayments – are typically 66 per cent lower.

 Residents in Wimbledon and other outer boroughs, only 15 minutes from the city centre, are paying on average £300,000 less for their accommodation, with commuting estimated at only £1,400 a year.

The study by mortgage lender Halifax does not take central London tube fare prices into account.

‘It’s no surprise, for London at least, that the longer your commute, the larger the difference in house prices,’ said Nitesh Patel, a housing economist at Halifax.

‘The decision to commute is not simply a trade-off between financial costs and journey times.’

Social factors such as better schools and quality of homes can explain why commuters would prefer to travel greater distances to get to work.

However, commuters living near other major cities in the UK do not always find the same pay-offs.

In Birmingham, the average cost of housing within the city is actually cheaper than in local towns 30 minutes away. Residents in these towns will be paying an extra £1,500 a year to commute on top of an extra £10,000 on their houses.

Of course, those who bought in the centre of London in previous decades are likely to have seen a bigger increase in the value of their home than those in the Home Counties, with those buyers getting an excellent return rather than pumping their hard-earned money into train fares.

The cost of rail travel is set to increase dramatically next year. This is due to changes in the way increases to train ticket fares are calculated.

Whereas previously fare increases were based on the Retail Price Index (RPI) measure of inflation, with train firms given leeway to add up to one per cent on top, from July this year, train companies are now allowed to add up to three per cent.

With the RPI inflation figure remaining at five per cent, commuters could see their transport costs soar up to eight per cent next year. But, because the rises can be calculated as an average across all fares, this means that some fares could skyrocket, whilst others remain relatively stable.

This week, the Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, added his voice to the clamour, saying that trains have become a ‘rich man’s toy’, with some fares becoming ‘eye-wateringly’ expensive.

Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the charity Campaign for Better Transport, said: ‘Far from being simply “a rich man’s toy” trains are also vital for many of those on more moderate incomes who need to get to work.’

Original source: Thisismoney.co.uk

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/mortgageshome/article-2038282/Commuting-cheaper-buying-close-work–live-London.html#ixzz1YgrDQVSB

Advertisements

British expats vow to stay abroad despite squeeze on incomes

September 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Here’s another article I did for Thisismoney.co.uk during my time with them. It was a really interesting piece, even though it came from a press release because I had no idea the squeeze on incomes was so tight on our expats. As you ca nsee from the comments links at the botton, it cause a wee bit of a debate, or at least more of a debate than anything I’ve written before has. Made me think about escaping the UK myself.

Thanks to Thisismoney.co.uk for letting me reprint it.

British expats are feeling the financial squeeze

Worth it: More than half of British expats will continue to live abroad despite rises in the cost of living leaving them out of pocket, according to a recent survey by Moneycorp

More than half of British expats will continue to live abroad despite rises in the cost of living leaving them out of pocket, according to a recent survey.

The study, by currency dealer Moneycorp, shows that over 50 per cent of expats say that while they moved abroad for a better standard of living, their incomes have actually plummeted since the economic downturn.

Despite these factors, nine out of ten expats said that they would continue to live abroad, with 25 per cent saying that they would rather move to another country before considering moving back to the UK.

The fall in incomes could be attributed to two factors: the decline of the British pound against other currencies; or the fact that many expats living off state pensions find their income is not index-linked.

 In 2007 an expat could expect to move to Europe with an annual income of £10,000 and see a return of £16,500, whereas in the current economic climate, the same amount would return just £11,000.

As reported earlier this year, in non-EU countries, like relocation hotspots USA and Australia, British citizens’ pensions are frozen as soon as they retire.

This means that a 65-year-old who retired in Australia today on a pension of £102.15 would still be receiving £102.15 in 2028. If inflation in these countries remains constant, then, according to online currency broker Currencies.co.uk, the value of these pensions could drop by half in just 17 years.

John Lawson, of Standard Life, says: ‘Retiring abroad is a dream for many people, but does require careful planning and advice.  Many people think living abroad is cheaper than living in the UK, but this isn’t always the case.’

The Moneycorp survey shows that many British expats are willing to shoulder the burden of lower incomes to retain their lifestyle while 80 per cent said they believed their children’s lives had improved.

David Kerns, Private Client Dealing Manager at Moneycorp said that although many Britons are happy overseas and enjoying a better quality of life, they are suffering from a rise in living costs and wanted to know more about transfer fees when moving funds abroad.

He advised expats:  ‘Speak to currency specialists to guard against adverse fluctuations. By locking into favourable exchange rates for up to two years, expats can protect themselves against the pound losing further value, as well as avoiding potentially costly transfer fees.’

He added: ‘Over a series of payments, these savings can run into the thousands of pounds.’

Original source: Thisismoney.co.uk

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-2037381/British-expats-vow-stay-abroad-despite-squeeze-incomes.html#ixzz1YgqBgUnb

A-Z of the money pages: From making the most of your offset mortgage to rising energy bills

September 22, 2011 Leave a comment

This article was produced for Thisismoney.co.uk, a personal finance website and supplement for the Mail on Sunday. It is by their kind permission that I reprint it.

A round up highlights of personal finance and consumer news from the weekend newspapers.

A round up of the weekends big finance stories

The Sunday Papers

 

The Observer

The Peter Pan generation of adults paid £3.4billion by Bank of Mum and Dad

A report has revealed that more than 13million parents are paying out over £34billion a year in loans and gifts to support their adult children.

The average loan or gift was estimated at £2,480 a year, with the most money being given to adult children between 35 and 39.

Research suggests that £8.4billion was handed-out for mortgage payments, £3.5billion for home improvements, £2.2billion to pay off debts and £1.6billion to pay for education.

Labelled the ‘Peter Pan generation’, the research done on behalf of Sainsbury’s Finance indicates that many children are still dependent on their

Dark days for consumers with two energy rises in a week

Consumers could be facing an expensive winter as five of the UK’s biggest energy suppliers are set to make increases of up to 19 per cent to their tariffs this week.

EON has announced it will raise its standard tariffs for gas by 18 per cent and 11 per cent for electricity on Tuesday. This would see household bills for the year rise by £114 and £56 respectively.

Scottish and Southern Energy will increase standard tariffs by 19 and 12 per cent for gas and electricity on Wednesday, piling £122 and £52 a year on to bills. Only EDF Energy out of the big five hasn’t confirmed its intentions.

Consumer comparison site uSwitch.com advises consumers to move to dual fuel, pay by direct debit and sign up to an online plan to help reduce their winter bills. 

The Sunday Telegraph

Brussels directive to cost jobs

Almost a third of temporary employees could lose their jobs in the run up to Christmas if the new European rules are not diluted a study warns.

The EU Agency Workers Directive comes into effect on 1 October and would give temporary staff the same pay and benefits as permanent workers after working at the company for over 12 weeks. The new law could cost businesses in Britain up to £1.6billion a year.

The study, by Allen & Overy, suggests that up to a third of employers will attempt to avoid the new rules by terminating workers’ contracts in their 11th week. The law firm estimates that up to 462,000 of the UK’s 1.4million temporary workers could be made redundant in mid-December.

The CBI and other industrial bodies warn that unless the UK government moves to dilute parts of the new law, then it couldn’t come at a worse time for the country.

Inflation to rise as energy bills soar

Leading economists expect that a rise in inflation this week will not reduce the chances of a second bout of quantitative easing (QE) from the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC).

Annual inflation is forecast to rise on the consumer price index (CPI) from 4.4 per cent in July to 4.5 per cent in August. The retail price index (RPI) is expected to rise from 5.0 per cent to 5.1 per cent over the same period. The figures continue to be unwelcome for the MPC as they continue to fail to meet their 2 per cent target.

The figures will be published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Tuesday. With Scottish Gas raising its gas and electricity tariffs at the beginning of last month this is expected to filter through to the CPI in September.

Economists at Investec, a specialist bank and asset manager, have said they expect the MPC to start QE as soon as October because the risks of growth are so severe.

Google chief predicts UK jobs boom

The European head of Google has said that the UK is on the verge of an internet boom that could create over 350,000 jobs over the next five years.

Philipp Schindler spoke out ahead of the Telegraph’s Festival of Business in Manchester where he is a keynote speaker. He commented that even though the current economic climate is tough, internet-related companies and businesses that use the internet successfully were still growing.

The web is responsible for a fifth of Britain’s GDP growth. Economists working for Google based their estimates on the current economic forecasts for growth of GDP in UK and the current rate of job creation that is associated to a rise in GDP.

In light of these figures, Mr Schindler added that the estimate of 365,000 jobs being created was on ‘the conservative side’.

The Sunday Times

Thousands on claims blacklist

A Sunday Times investigation has found that tens of thousands of consumers could find their insurance policies are invalid because they have made inquiries to other providers, even if they never made an actual claim.

All calls to insurers are recorded at a central database known as the Claims and Underwriting Exchange (Cue). The problem arises because many providers don’t check the cue database when an application is made, only when a claim is put in. This has resulted in many consumers being accepted for cover, only to find their policy is invalid when they make a claim, because they are not aware that any claim inquiry (potential loss) has to be declared.

New laws to ban insurers denying claims and cancelling policies for minor and unintentional errors on application are to be debated in the House of Lords next month. These would force insurers to ask clearer questions on the outset.

Your guide to beating inflation

After the National Savings and Investments (NS&I) pulled its popular savings certificates last week the Sunday Times has looked at what alternatives are available.

The NS&I were the only company to offer a tax-free return greater than the rate of inflation and guaranteed by the government.

But companies like the Post Office offer inflation-linked bonds with a three-year return of 0.5 points above the annual change in the retail price index (RPI) and a five-year plan paying 1.5 points above RPI. However the accounts are taxable and consumers do not have the same freedom to withdraw funds compared to the NS&I.

Candidmoney.com has found that potential returns from the Post Office bonds are beaten by those of five-year fixed-rate Isas. The best five-year fixed-rate Isa is from BM Savings, which pays out at 4.25billion per cent, returning £6,157 on a £5,000 deposit.

Make the most of your offset

First Direct and Barclays cut their offset mortgage rates last week to tempt borrowers.

Offset mortgages allow buyers to set their savings against their loans, and by giving up the interest on their savings they make savings on the interest on their mortgage. This could benefit all sorts of buyers including parents, the self-employed, landlords and first-time buyers.

By putting their savings for children’s school fees against their mortgages, and toping it up with income when required, parents with a £500,000 mortgage and £75,000 in savings could save up to £2,625 a year compared to £1,687 in an instant-access account.

Self-employed could hold their as yet unpaid taxes against their loans, offsetting it against their mortgage until the taxes are to paid, while landlords can offset their own mortgage from the rent the claim on other properties.

First-time buyers with wealthy relatives could make savings on their repayments. If a relative offsets £50,000 of savings against the loan repayments would fall from £1,215 a month to £911.

Original source: Thisismoney.co.uk

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-2036565/A-Z-money-pages-From-making-offset-mortgage-rising-energy-bills.html

A World Gone Mad: Riots Without Reason? Riots Have Causes And We Must Address These To Avert Future Damage.

August 12, 2011 4 comments
Riots in Bristol as blazes appear across the city

A burning bin in Stokes Croft, Bristol, set alight by rioters on Monday night.

Is the age of peaceful protest dead? I am of the opinion that it probably is. Hundreds of thousands marched to protest Blair’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003; over 50,000 students, lecturers and university staff marched last November in London to protest the tripling of tuition fees and the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA); on the 30th June this year, the Unions, including the NUT, UHC, UNISON, and RMT all marched in cities throughout the UK to peacefully protest about the cuts being made in their sectors. And what was the outcome of all these marches? No change in policy.

I am not one to condone violence of any kind, nor arson, nor brutality, but maybe these youngsters, branded as ‘dissidents’, ‘rioters’, ‘hoodlums’ or (in the Sun, ‘morons‘), have a point? If peaceful protests haven’t change the mind of our Government, then what form of protest is left to the public?

I reiterate that I do not condone the actions of the minority of vandals throughout our country that have destroyed the property, lives and cities of people for the last four days. But, when you realise that the kids who’s face’s have graced the Red Tops over the last few days have no union, no MP, no voice, it makes me wonder how else could they get their voices heard?

It all reminds sinisterly reminds of a poem, you’ll all know it:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me

It’s by Martin Niemöller and is meant to define the sentiments of the intellectuals in Germany during the rise of the Nazi party. In the present context, I feel it could more correctly by read as:

First they came for the students,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a student..

Then they came for the pensioners,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a pensioner.

Then they came for the unemployed,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t unemployed.

Then they came for the youth,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t young.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

What we have seen is the systematic breaking down of our society by a Government that clearly has no idea of what is going on on streets all over the UK. First education, then Healthcare, then care workers, now the youth who are being demonified by our Government in what can only be seen as an attempt to ignore the mood of the people and plough on with there policies regardless of who is being affected. Our youth are fighting back, like students, like the unions, but instead of support, they are being condemned.

It was exactly the same with poor Charlie Gilmour and Edward Woollard, two young protesters who got carried away. Both have received custodial sentences, Gilmour 16 months and Woollard 32 months and it is apparent that in both cases the sentencing was pushed through by judges trying to appear strong in the face of a media and political storm of outrage demanding harsh punishment for the perpetrators of violence. But in this storm, one thing was forgotten, what it was that had pushed two middle class boys to commit acts of recklessness during peaceful protests. The answer is somewhere in the political mood of this country, and as pointed out by Matthew Norman in the Independent i Paper, it isn’t “criminality pure and simple” as Cameron claims. It is the complex mixture of a disenfranchised youth, a public sucked into the dream of consumerism based on adverts and political ideology, and a Government which is out of touch. As Norman observed, “The PM looks like a patrician one-nation Tory who has slipped through a tear in space-time, and emerged blinking and bamboozled from his comfy berth in the Fifties.’”

Harriet Harman, Deputy Labour Leader, has highlighted some the problems. The trebling of tuition fees, the cutting of the EMA, the rising of youth unemployment and closing of the Job Centres will all have contributed to a a feeling of social alienation, unhappiness and finally towards the riots. In her debate on Newsnight with Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, Harman stated:

“There is a sense that young people think they’re not being listened to. That is not to justify violence, but when you’ve got the trebling of tuition fees, when you’ve got the EMA taken away, when you’ve got jobs being cut and youth unemployment rising and you’re shutting the job centre, you should think again about that.”

Police Riot Squads are deployed to control the looting and violence.

Riot squads are deployed by police to control looting and vandalism in Bristol.

The psychology of the riots is summed up very nicely by Ian Leslie, author of ‘Born Liars’ in his blog. Noting that rioting is “imitative behaviour compressed and sped up,” Leslie believes that social media and 24 hour news allows the “madness of a febrile crowd to spread faster and further and with more fluidity than ever before.” So we have a generation of kids, with broken links to their local community, but strong links with like-minded individuals through Twitter, Facebook and other media, who can swap information almost instantly. This means, that when one or two started rioting and news spread through this online community, the rest would have felt justified to imitate the behaviour of their peers.

This is a generation with little to no respect for police, teachers and our Government, but it is a disrespect they all share, and could, theoretically, be said to be a reason to respect each other. Shared opinions can very easily lead to shared action. Hence riots have spread from the Borourghs of London to cities throughout the UK.

To say the riots were started by social media is probably incorrect. They were organised through social media, they were started through mutual disrespect and social injustice. What emphasises their lack of unity and political polarity is the fact that they attacks lack any focus, only a need to lash out.

To fight the Government or police can inspire sympathy in those who have been on the wrong end of their policies or activities, to attack a corporation shows they have a common goal, consumer capitalism. To take out your anger on everyday people and their livelihoods inspires outrage, and hence the current backlash again ‘scum’, ‘dissidents’ and ‘terrorists’.

There is the additional fact, that these are kids, which over the last few years have seen the moral breakdown of our media, banks and politicians. First we had the expenses scandal, with MPs taking advantage of the public purse for their own ends. Then the banking crisis, which would have been generally accepted as a mistake, if the top bankers weren’t still taking six-figure bonuses at a time when austerity sweeps the nation. And most recently there has been the phone-hacking expose. What this highlighted was that while everyday people’s phones were being hacked for snippets of information, the top journos, politicos and celebrities were sitting comfortably at a party in Chipping Norton deciding where to invest their capital.

And, what has been made clear by the media coverage, is that they all felt totally justified doing what they were doing, like it was owed to them – so why shouldn’t a generation of kids who have watched these kinds of crimes not feel justified to take their slice of pie, however violent it is? If the bankers can find a way to take their tax back, why shouldn’t (in their opinion) should these looters? I am not justifying them, but can no one see how they felt justified?

We need to think about this outrage before it gets out of hand. Zoe Williams in the Guardian today suggests that the impetus behind the riots could come from a social class or group that lives in the consumer capitalist world of adverts celebrity gossip and glorified lifestyles, which, hint clever advertisements, everyone must have, and, hints our Government and businesses and banks, everyone can have.

Hoody sets fire to a bin during riots in Bristol

A hoody begins a blaze in a wheely bin during riots on Monday night in Bristol

But can we all have it all? The answer to that is probably not. Especially, as Harman emphasises, with tripled tuition fees, no EMA and no jobs for young people. This, then will lead to a disenfranchised group of youngsters who feel they have no hope of getting either a degree, or a job, and therefore no hope in hell of reaching the heights of comfortable living that adverts and society accepts as the norm. Therefore, when they see our ruling elite taking what they want, they attack back in retribution. It’s not big, it’s not clever, but I don’t think any of us can, deep down, say it’s unexpected.

Everyone likes to live in a cosy bubble and indulge the myth: If I work hard, get my degree, get a job, I can buy my house, raise a family, have regular holidays, and put away a pension. But in living that myth, and striking out at anyone who harms the myth, we end up with a disillusioned minority who are under-represented. Like Woollard, or Gilmour, the public outrage from the myth-buyers will put these people in jail and allow us to go back to the bubble. But it doesn’t address why these people aren’t either in the bubble or accept the bubble themselves. We could just bang all the arrested rioters in jail and carry on with our lives, but does this change anything? Will this stop more future riots? I think the answer is no.

Our Government loves the myth. It means when people with actual grievances against their policies stand up to be counted they can shrug them off as a minority, while the rest of us bury our heads in the sand and it isn’t our job that is lost, or our pensions which disappear. But one day it will be. This is why the teachers are marching, the students are marching, the Unions are marching. But unless we left our heads up and accept that everyone deserves a place in this country there will always be inequality, always be injustice, and always be riots because the quite majority, pursuing it’s own agenda, will leave a trail of mess that someone has to pick up. It might not be our jobs now, or our pensions, but it is our country. We are all going to suffer at the hands of these austerity cuts, politicians and bankers excepted, but why can’t we stand with the protesters? If we all stood together, youths, students, unions and everyone else, then no one would have to riot. But the majority of people in this country want to lie back and take the cuts and hope it won’t affect them. This is why when people complain there is such outrage – not because anyone disagrees with them – but because they worry the protests will make their lives worse.

So instead of condemning the young for feeling unrepresented and alienated, lets sort out our system. Yes, lets punish the perpetrators of injustice, but lets not get back in the bubble, but address what has caused these riots. Let us build something better and use this as an opportunity for Britain to say no the destruction of our education system, our health service, our unemployment services. Let us say no to a country where we are all so scared for our jobs that we don’t give the young any hope of getting a job themselves. Let us say ‘no,’ to social inequalities and ‘yes,’ to putting this country back together.

Harmann calls on the Government to “be on the side of opportunities for young people, and jobs for young people.” Let’s all be on the side of young people. Let’s punish the perpetrators of these riots, but not without forethought, and never forgetting that there are complex reasons for these kind of outbreaks that a quick prosecution can’t brush under the dirty carpet.

I would like to thank Doulas Hook for his wonderful images taken from Monday nights riots and for giving me permission to use them in this piece. More of Douglas’ work can be found on his blog at: http://hookphoto.blogspot.com/

More Students Working Could Impact on the Student Experience

A little publicised but extremely relevant report has managed to slide through most of the UK’s media, yet it’s findings could have a massive impact on the future of English higher education policy.

The report in question is: The Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU) Futuretrack Stage 3 report. This is a study following the 2006 cohort of 130,000 UCAS applicants from when they sent off their application until they enter their first job. The report is a fascinating source of information concerning the behaviour, expectations, aspirations, obstacles and feelings of a whole generation of students, and yet it has barely been mentioned in the media or in government press releases.

In light of recent events, namely the tripling of university tuition fees, the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and the massive cuts to university funding, this report should have been drawn upon, even if only to be used by the press to tear holes in the governments proposals. But news of Futuretrack has been scant on the ground.

The report is important for four reasons:

  • It tells us that on average more students are likely to be in employment in their last year of university than in their first;
  • That the number of hours they were doing paid work – on average – has increased;
  • It outlines students reasons for undertaking more work;
  • And it reinforces the idea that undertaking paid employment can have a on a students social life, economic situation and their expected results.

The fact that more students on average are forced in to paid employment by their third and final year of uni is ambiguous. Obviously when students first arrive at university they have a large student loan, a varying concept of the value of money and no links to local employers. As they go through university more will naturally pick up jobs. But the fact that third year is the most important should mean that more students should be leaving employment to concentrate on their finals. Futuretrack shows this is not the case, with both male and female students showing a tendency to be working almost four hours more a week in their final year. The main reasons given for this were to pay for increasing living and leisure costs or to get the necessary work experience for a foot in the door to a relevant employment sector.

This on it’s own is sad – it shows that the value of an academic education has been replaced by the business model of relevant experience driving the employment sector. Obviously students are heeding the message and fear that they may be left behind because others who do have the necessary work experience will have an advantage. However this is contradicted by institutions like Oxford and Cambridge, and other Russell Group universities who tell their students not to work. Students leaving these esteemed institutions are less likely to have trouble finding work than those who did get relevant work experience whilst at university, despite the fact that they may have little no work experience. It seems the business and university models of how best to get that first job are at odds.

The most interesting part of the study was the idea that students working can have an educational and socio-economic impact on their future. Although the report admits it is too early to investigate actual positive and negative effects, it does state that: “Students working long hours were more likely to be dissatisfied with various aspects of their courses, to predict lower grades for themselves than those who worked less and to participate in less other extra-curricular activities.”

Taking this altogether, it seems that students from the elite universities, which have more ways of raising money and supporting their students so they need not work, and can therefore get better grades. One would think that those who had worked would naturally have gained the experience to match the higher grades of these institutions, but no. It seems that getting relevant work experience only makes a difference if you are competing for a job with someone not from a Russell Group university. Sadly this has always been the case, so why do I grumble now?

I grumble now because with university fees set to triple a much wider gap is going to open between those institutions that can afford to support their students and those who can’t. It is my humble opinion, along with Higher Education Policy Institutes (HEPI) that very soon all the universities will be charging £9,000. The scheme has been set up as a market, and as such many universities will aim to match the highest fees to keep up with their competitors. There has been a lot of research on the governments claims of how a market driven higher education sector will improve participation, be more progressive and save the tax-payer money. Most notably by the HEPI, who said the plans had some “hugely optimistic assumptions”; and the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) who reported that the plans could be “too complicated.” As Professor Roger Black, co-director of the Centre of Higher Education Research Development (CHERD) pointed out on Tuesday, proponents of the plans are falling back on the claim that increasing fees will improve quality by making universities improve standards or lose business. As he goes on to say, when picking their institutions, “it is prestige that is usually chosen, which has little or nothing to do with quality. In short, far from being an indicator of quality, price is a substitute for it.”

In this case, those students who fall into a similar demographic to those who now work because of fear of debt will be in even less of a bargaining position when looking for their first job. Under the new system I can see a lower tier where the final year students all have jobs, due to the massive rise in living expenses and fear of debt, whilst top institutions can help struggling students and very few of them take on gainful employment.

The last thing I want to touch is how these finding impact on the student experience. A few lines here and there in the media have mentioned how tripling fees will only fill the void left by cuts in public sector funding. What hasn’t received much press is how raising tuition fees will change the university experience. With fees tripling, but no improvement in education standards, it seems a bit rich to ask students to pay through the nose for the same system their predecessors paid only a fraction of the costs for, and our present politicians paid absolutely nothing for. If fees hikes are here to stay – and it looks like they are – then something has to be done by the government to improve the quality of education, which sadly wont be done because they would have to use some the funding they are desperate to save. When I approached AMOSSHE – the body responsible for the student experience – for a comment back in November, they politely refused. This implies to me that although students will be paying more, the standards will remain the same.

It is a scary time for students, and with private companies beginning to charge over £300 per week for student accommodation in London (I know Unite charges £100+ a week in Bristol, well above the usual cost of a private flat) the increase in the cost of living is going to hit students hard.

All this would be very sad, and really would take the value out of the educational experience itself, putting the value instead on the establishment in question. I feel this violates the raison d’etre of the UK’s higher education system, and would be a tragedy if it indeed came to this. If it matters more which institution you got your degree from, than the grade, or whether you have relevant work experience, then it will be a very sad day for the academic future of our country. As Brown says in the article mentioned above: “the new regime poses a real threat to quality assurance. We now face an increase in both state and market regulation, which will almost certainly increase compliance costs without any corresponding gains in quality.”

Spending Cuts In The Animation Industry (As published in Imagine: the magazine for professionals in the animation industry)

With the release of the Comprehensive Spending Review on the 20th October and the budget on the 3th November professionals have been concerned over how these cut-backs will affect them and their businesses.

The animation industry is so varied that it has been hard to tell how the cuts will affect the industry as a whole. Will the cuts made by the Culture, Media and Sport’s Ministry have an impact on our animation film industry? Do the Business, Innovation and Skills Ministry believe that our high-tech animators, especially in the video games industry, will see any of their £200m planned investment in high-tech industries? Here at Imagine, we asked professionals in the industry how they felt the cuts would affect them.

With cuts set at 25 per cent across the board, the animation industry will be hit hard in more than a few places it seems. Richard Wilson, CEO of TIGA, the trade association representing the UK’s video gaming industry, has been campaigning for two years to try and get games tax relief from the government.

In an exclusive statement to Imagine, Wilson told us that: “We believe that the loss of games tax relief will lead to a decline in the UK development workforce.”

Having worked so hard to get he previous government to add this proposal to the budget talks, Wilson was shocked that the coalition dropped it from their talks this June.

Over the last two years the number of employees in the computer games industry has dropped by nine per cent. Wilson is determined to keep campaigning and arguing with the government to get tax relief for the gaming industry, which he claims could generate up to £415m in tax receipts to the Treasury.

The video games industry is not the only concerned party. In June this year, production companies including Blue Zoo and Aardman Animations, the creators of Wallace and Gromit, banded together as Animation UK called on the government to award them similar tax benefits as those awarded to the film industry.

Their campaign, Save UK Animation, was launched before the coalition announced their emergency budget. Both parties in the coalition proposed supporting the creative industries whilst in opposition, but now the cuts have come and the creative industries are being hit hard.

The global animation industry is estimated to be worth £200bn, but the industry in the UK is worth just £120m. Many professionals in the industry are worried that the cuts will result in the UK’s animation industry losing home-grown talent.

Miles Bullough, speaking on behalf of Aardman Animations, commented that: “If every country took away their financial support then the UK’s position in the international market would strengthen immeasurably because we are so good at it … as long as so many countries provide financial support to their production sectors we are at a disadvantage and we are losing to our overseas competitors.”

Wilson echoes these sentiments. When we asked him if he thought that the rise in university tuition fees to £9,000 a year would put students off studying animation he said he “hoped they wouldn’t” and said that universities in this country that provide courses in animation must be supported by the government in the same way as our competitors in Canada and Korea are.

The light on the horizon seems to be Business Secretary Vince Cable’s announcement on the 25th October that there will be a £200m investment in the high-tech industries. This could allow animators in both the film and games industry being able to claim a bit of government funding, but as Wilson points out, “It won’t simply be the development sector, or the animation sector that benefits from such a fund.”