iCeGS is recruiting a research assistant

The International Centre for Guidance Studies (iCeGS) at the University of Derby is looking to recruit a Research Assistant to support and contribute to a team of active social researchers. The postholder will work closely with other researchers in the Centre on our expanding portfolio of local, national and international assignments providing support for activities such as interviewing, data analysis, web-editing and writing. We are looking for a research assistant with an interest in social research and a desire to work on a range of assignments. Applicants should have an interest in undertaking research relating to the education and employment system. The post would suit a recent graduate from a Masters in a social or educational subject.

Pay: £16,091- 22,020

Further information and how to apply

I did it! Buxton to Derby in four hours

At around 8.30 yesterday morning I’d loaded my bike into a van and was being mini-bussed up to Buxton from Derby. The day of the annual University bike ride was upon us and the participants swapped war stories about previous years as we drove to Buxton. “Remember when we used to cycle from Derby to Buxton – its all up hill!”, “Last year will always be known as the ‘rivers of mud’ year” and so on. For a newbie it was thrilling stuff – to be admitted to such a band of brothers and sisters.

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Just before 10 we decanted from the minibus and treated ourselves to a complementary breakfast bap to provide essential energy for the coming ordeal.

With a claxon sound and a speech from one of the senior management we were off. Starting in a pack of 50 we soon stretched out as we hit the first couple of hills out of Buxton. I managed to keep up a decent pace, but still saw some of the serious cyclist disappearing off into the distance.

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I was impressed with the tone of the whole thing. As someone whose experience at school has left him with a lifelong fear of organised sporting activities I felt that the whole thing was refreshingly free from machismo showboating. There was a strong attitude of collective endeavour with just a frisson of competitiveness to keep it interesting. As I grunted my way up hills and powered down trails I received lots of encouraging words and engaged in lots of friendly chats.

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At the second checkpoint I had a minor problem with my chain, but borrowed screwdriver and got the bike on the trail again. I then spent a decent amount of time on my own during the next stretch. I half convinced myself that I’d taken a wrong turn, but somewhere in the middle of breathtaking Derbyshire countryside I caught up with a few other riders. Then it was down through some woodland into Ashbourne.

 

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From Ashbourne I hooked up with another rider and we kept together pretty much all the way back to Derby. Out of Ashbourne it was up a couple of big hills and then some speedy road riding through a series of pretty Derbyshire villages. As we stopped at checkpoints the bush telegraph was firing: wassisname has had a puncture, whodermerflip has had a fall; soandso has dropped out; thingy is a good twenty minutes ahead of you; and so on.

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By the time I got to the last checkpoint I was starting to ache a bit, but, was still feeling pretty good about the whole thing. I also bumped into the aforementioned whodermerflip who showed off the blood and gore from his fall. I thanked my lucky stars that I hadn’t lost control of my bike during my couple of tussles with loose gravel and potholes.

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The final seven miles melted away and we rode up into the University to a warm welcome from the riders who had arrived before us. I was pretty pleased that I’d covered the 45 miles (although the rumour on the trail was that it was actually 47) in about four hours.

This is the kind of thing that the University of Derby does really well. I felt that the sense of community engendered by the ride made me feel that I was part of an organisation that was about more than just delivering courses. Staff spent a day doing something positive and healthy, whilst raising money for charity (sponsor me if you haven’t already). What is more people right across Derbyshire got to see us cycling through their communities and were hopefully reminded of the University.

All in all, one of the best days that I’ve spent “at work”. I’ll definitely be there next year!

 

Just heading off for the Buxton to Derby ride

So today is the day. I’m about to leave the house and head to Derby, get loaded into a coach, drive to Buxton and then start my charity cycle.

This is a major challenge for me so I’m excited and nervous. OK, I know its not exactly like climbing the Shard but I start the day not knowing whether it is really within my capabilities. Obviously I hope that I’ll make it, I cycle a fair bit, so why shouldn’t I, but it is hilly, I’ve got a bike that is designed for town riding,  and I’ve also never been part of an organised ride before (who knows what weird lycra clad things they’ll make me do). I’ve got a million excuses as to why I might not make it, but when I wrote them down it just sounded like Phil Och’s Draft Dodger Rag.

I think that my willingness to occasionally try things that I don’t know that I can succeed in is a fairly good character trait. I think that without this trait I probably wouldn’t have my current job, nor have applied for a lot of the projects that I’ve really enjoyed. Putting yourself out there and seeing what happens, seems to me to be a pretty good career skills, which can only be fed by signing up for ridiculous cycle.

I’m less sure about my decision to broadcast this personal struggle to the my entire professional and social network. I suspect it would have been more strategic to keep it to myself and then to broadcast my achievements once they have been achieved. On the other hand you wouldn’t have had the fun of the build up nor got to experience my endearing vulnerability.

What is it that people respond to positively? Personally, I don’t tend to respond to endless boasts about success. So, you’re a rocket scientist – that don’t impress me much! In fact, there is an element of resentment – why are you shoving your success in my face. On the other hand engaging people in a story, is much more appealing. Dear reader, in the unlikely event that you care at all about my pathetic cycle ride, it is probably because you know a bit about me already and I’ve engaged you in my plans. Through building a bit of a narrative I may have gained your interest and encouraged you to feel more positively about me. This may have career benefits as well as increasingly the likelihood that you sponsor me  (it is for the University’s chosen charity Dogs for the Disabled). So does this kind of narrativisation of the journey support career building? Will it still work if my wheel falls off or I accidentally stop for an extended pub lunch and then get the bus home? I’m not sure. What do you think?

You can follow me today on Twitter.  I’ll try and update whenever I get the chance and the reception. I’ll also blog the outcome tomorrow.

Wish me luck!

Higher education, loans and progressive taxation

I saw David Willetts speak last night. I always find him one of the most interesting and thoughtful members of the current Government and so I enjoyed hearing him talk. The topic was widening participation to higher education and the occasion was the launch of some new research from the Strategic Society entitled Access for All. The research was interesting and used data from the longitudinal study of young people to look at young people’s attitudes to debt, university and to explore how this related with their demographics and social and cultural capital. I plan to look at the report in more detail and so hopefully I’ll blog on it in more detail then.

Back to Willetts. Inevitably the discussion turned to the Government’s position on fees and loans for higher education. Willetts made a very interesting manoeuvre where  he argued that we shouldn’t be talking about current government education policy in terms of loans and debt. These terms have negative connotations and may put people off. In reality, he argued, it was more like a tax. What is more it is a progressive tax where those who tended to earn more tend to pay more.

This is a very seductive argument and one which makes the Government appear far more progressive than they actually are. So I think that it is worth nailing this argument.

  • The current policy is very odd because it at once provides a major government subsidy to higher education in the form of the loan, at the same time as it makes the rhetorical point that government should not have to subsidise higher education. Higher education is positioned as solely an individual good, but government are willing to help individuals out.
  • The loan system also makes the argument that we should pay for the services that we recieve rather than pay for the opportunity to recieve them. I’m happy to pay for the NHS even if I don’t use it, because I want the opportunity to use it and I also want the opportunity for my friends, neighbours and even people I don’t know to also use it. The same is true of the 4-18 education system, we pay for it in order to have the opportunity to use it. However, the current policy on higher education makes the argument that you pay for what you get, rather than for the opportunity.
  • The loan system is not progressive. However, it does have a threshold for payment. This threshold is undoubtedly motivated by concern about forcing people into poverty, but it is also presumably motivated by a desire to avoid the challenges of extracting money from very poor people.
  • The tendency of graduates to earn more is real, but it is not absolute. What this means is that we have created a taxation system that is based on the average performance of people with a particular type of qualification rather than on actual earnings. This is problematic enough even if graduate salaries were a standard bell curve, but it becomes more problematic because we know that different subjects and different institutions offer different premiums and that accessing those with the high premiums is often strongly related to socio-economic status.
  • The loan system is not progressive because it is linked to what you have recieved rather than what you earn. Everyone above the threshold has to pay it back, even if their salary may be low in in relation to the national average. On the other hand those who have not been to university, but are very rich, do not have to contribute. You may believe that this is a good system but it is not progressive.
  • Finally the loan system is not progressive because it is set up so that rich graduates can pay it back quicker than poor graduates. Poor graduates look forward to a longer period of repayment than those who are rich and also to seeing a greater percentage of their life time earnings being used to pay for something that has delivered them less benefit.

So we can conclude that the current system is not progressive. This doesn’t mean that it necessarily should be made so. However it is important that we recognise it for what it is. It is also important to remember that progressivity is the basis of our taxation system, not some radical socialist pipe dream. While we are seeing an increasing number of arguments being made against both progressive taxation and the provision of universal services this remains the way that most of our public services are organised. We pay tax depending (to some extent at least) on what we can pay and we recieve services (health, police, fire, ademinstration etc.) depending on what we need. When things are taken out of this approach to taxation and we are told that they require a special form of funding arrangements I think that we should be sceptical and ask why this is so different from everything else.

For my money I’d like lifelong learning (not just higher education) to be available to everyone throughout life. I think that there are strong reasons for the provision of universal access to education in terms of developing the skills and capacity of the population, supporting happiness and the opportunity to access the good life, using it as a redistributive tools that can support income equality and fairness, and as a way of underpinning democracy with a critical and informed populace. To achieve this it seems to me that we need an education system that allows people to engage with it throughout life without being financially penalised. I also, for what it is worth, think that we need a strong system of career support to enable the linkages between learning, life and work. However, that is another story, and one that I’ll return to on this blog in the future no doubt.

Social media for the busy academic

I gave a presentation last week with Sarah Horrigan at the University of Derby’s Learning Teaching and Assessment conference last week.

Sarah has an amazing visual flair and so she’s managed to turn the slides into a thing of beauty. They are worth looking at for that alone.

If you want both style and content then I suppose that it is worth remarking that our presentation discussed the role that that social media could have in academic practice using my 7 C’s as a framework for this discussion.

Social media for the busy academic

Developing your career online: self-help books

I’ve been getting interested in books about developing your career online. What kind of advice are these books giving? Are any of them any good? What one’s are you reading and using? What is missing?

I’m thinking about writing something like this and also in writing something like a review article on them.  These are the ones that I’ve found so far.

Any thoughts or pointers on what else is out there would be useful