Monday, January 12, 2009

Finally, some higher education policy (but not just)

This is for all of my smart-ass friends who've been messaging me saying, "So, when are we going to hear about some work?" I did actually go into my office at Birkbeck today for the first time, where I've been endowed with the title of Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Lifelong Learning. Birkbeck is a very interesting uni (as they call them here), with 19,000 students focusing primarily on evening and part-time programs (baccalaureate and post-graduate), but it is also fairly research intensive. It's in a great location, right on Russell Square, near the British Museum and the London Institute of Education. One stop on the Northern Line, then one stop on the Piccadilly Line, from our house (more about "house" later). I've been provided with a small desk, phone, and computer to call my own.

My colleague Claire Callender is Deputy Director of the Birkbeck Institute for Lifelong Learning, and it is her I have to thank for arranging my visit. Claire spent a month with us as a visiting scholar at CSHE in the fall of 2006, and we began some work together at that time. Here are some of the questions that some combination of she, I, and the two of us together are hoping to pursue:
  • How have British policies toward student financing of higher education changed in recent years, specifically with respect to the shift from public (government) financing to funding from students and families?
  • What has motivated the changes in these policies, i.e., what political, economic, and social forces have helped to promote these changes?
  • What has been the impact of these changes on college access in Britain?
  • How do these policy changes compare to recent changes in student financing in the United States, and what lessons that we have learned from the U.S. are likely
    to predict what may happen in Britain in the future?
Notice I said, "pursue," not "answer." These are big, complicated questions, more than I/we can tackle in the time I am here, but I hope to get a good jumpstart on some of these.

One of the fun things about being here is the chance to participate in activities that I normally wouldn't be able to while back home. For example, this Wednesday I'll be attending a seminar sponsored by the Higher Education Policy Institute* on "The Operation of the Market in Higher Education," to be presented by Roger Brown of Liverpool Hope University and Nicholas Barr of LSE. I'll also be attending a series of seminars on higher education sponsored by HEPI and held each month at the House of Commons.

In addition, I'll have the chance to present seminars while I'm here. I have already scheduled one at Birkbeck, and one at the Staffordshire University Institute for Access Studies, and have others in the works.

So now will people believe I'll actually be doing some work while I'm here?

* Not to be confused with the Institute for Higher Education Policy, in Washington.


A few more observations over the last few days:

Poop, no scoop: Everywhere we walk, at least around our neighborhood in Islington, you see signs on the lampposts reminding residents that they are to clean up after their dog, with the threat of a fairly hefty fine (something in the ballpark of £35, if I remember correctly). And evidently, nobody does, based on the volume of evidence left on sidewalks. And when I say sidewalks, I mean right in the middle of them. We constantly have to remind the girls to watch where they're walking. Seeing this evidence has helped provide an alternative explanation to what I thought were just rather unfriendly people who would walk by you on the sidewalk, looking down, not making eye contact and returning the hearty "Good morning" I would often impart. Turns out they're not being rude, they're just making sure they don't get dog crap on their incredibly stylish London footwear. Edited 1/15/09 3:40p: Found out it's actually an £80 fine. end edit

House, not flat: We enjoyed a wonderful dinner with Claire Callender last night. She lives less than a couple of miles from here, which we did not even realize when we rented this house. She had gone and checked it out for us before we committed to it (recall that we booked it over the Internet). She gently explained to us that we are incorrect in referring to it as a "flat," but rather, it should be called a "house" or "home." We stand corrected, and are continuing to enjoy it no matter what its title. She also told us that these houses were likely built during the Victorian era, after the canals were put in.

3-4-4? 4-3-4?: One of the little quirky things here, as best as I can tell, is that there's no uniform method for delineating phone numbers. Unlike the US, where the standard 3-3-4 pattern is used (i.e., 555-555-1212), in the UK different people delineate the 11 digits that make up a phone number in different ways. Some would write it as 020 5555 5555 (never using dashes or parentheses), while others would write 0205 555 5555. I've even seen a truck go by with a number in the pattern of 0205 5555 555. Nothing earth shattering, but interesting. Edit 01/26/09: See the comment to this post by Ade (surprisetruck), which provides an explanation for the numbering scheme. End edit.

Slippery steps: Some of you may remember not-so-fondly (as do I) that a couple of summers ago Anne missed a step while walking down the stairs at home, resulting in a torn ligament and chipped bone in her ankle. For those of you who don't remember, here's a reminder.

Within the first few days we were here, she slipped a couple of times on the steps, which are all carpeted (remember, there are four stories of them). The second time she fell, resulting in thankfully no damage to her ankle, but a nice looking bruise on her back where she landed on a step. So she's had to make an adjustment to the slippers she had been wearing around the house, in order to avoid further damage. She's switched to clogs that have a good rubber sole, so hopefully we will avoid any future disasters.


  1. Hi Don
    the phone thing is due to (fairly) recent changes which you may well spot around town on some older shop hoardings.

    Originally phone numbers were spelling out words but that's way before my time so I shall gloss over it.

    Then cities got XXX YYYY numbers and towns or rural areas got YYYYY or YYYYYY. London numbers were prefaced 01 where each city had a prefix code (eg Birmingham where Chris Heatley and I are "from" was 021).

    The XXX was a localised code too in most big cities. Ours is 7834 and most of these are in Pimlico (originally exchange 834 in Victoria or something similar).

    But then (early 90s) we started running out of numbers in London so they added 071 and 081 instead of 01. Roughly speaking 7 was inner London and 8 was the suburbs.

    Suddenly, they realised a few years later they were running out of numbers for the UK so they brought in a 1 and Birmingham and other cities became 0121, 0131 etc. Clearly this left London in a bind as they could not be 0171 and 0181 because that made it seem like Birmingham and the other little cities were more important!
    That would just be silly.

    So they introduced 020 for London and also split the numbers by adding a 7 or an 8 still approximately inner and outer London.
    And they threw in "020 3" for extra capacity (not falling for that 'we need to make more numbers in five years' trick this time).

    So technically the numbers are (local code) XXX YYYY elsewhere in the country but 020 zXXX YYYY in London. All of which means that the best option - to miss off the 020 and do two blocks of four - is alien to most brits :)

    Clear as mud?


  2. Absolutely, Ade -- clear as a foamy Guinness stout. I knew someone would step forward and explain it all for me! Thanks.