Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Scottish Nationalist government ‘is failing poorest’ as student debt rises sharply

Students in Scotland are struggling under a growing mountain of debt, with cuts to grants and bursaries blamed for a steep rise over the past decade.

The amount owed by undergraduates and college students has soared by 42 per cent since 2007 and findings by impartial Scottish parliament researchers reveal that the sharpest increase has come in recent years.

In the past two years the average loan for a Scottish student has gone up by almost a third to £10,500.

The SNP has maintained free tuition north of the border since coming to power but critics say that the price of the flagship policy has been cuts to non-repayable grants targeted at helping the most disadvantaged students enter higher education.

Since 2006-07, the number of bursaries paid to full-time students has dropped by 15 per cent, with the total amount of cash distributed falling by more than a third. Meanwhile, reliance on loans — which must be repaid — has increased significantly.

The new analysis shows that borrowing rose among all students by 29.5 per cent since 2014, when the Scottish government brought in reform of student support in a move that it said was designed to simplify the system. The rise has come despite the SNP being elected in 2007 with a manifesto commitment to eradicate student debt.

Iain Gray, Labour’s education spokesman, said: “The SNP came to power promising to abolish student debt, but instead it has rocketed on its watch.

“The SNP’s decision to slash support grants, and bursaries available to students from poorer backgrounds, means more and more students have to turn to loans to get through their studies.

“Labour supports free tuition — but students need the financial support to get through university when they get there. Today in Scotland it is the poorest students who rack up the highest debt. Those who start with the least end up owing the most. That’s not fair and it stops far too many young people getting a degree.”

The Scottish government has ordered a review of student support. It is due to issue its report next autumn and will consider whether the poorest students are being effectively supported.

Mr Gray added: “The student support review will not be able to fix the SNP’s broken promise — but it can suggest a better system for the poorest students in Scotland.”

Shirley-Anne Somerville, the minister for higher education, said Scotland continued to have the lowest average debt per student in the UK.

She added: “This government firmly believes that access to higher education should be based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay, which is why we remain committed to ensuring Scottish students studying in Scotland benefit from free tuition.

“We also recognise that appropriate financial support while studying is essential and will always take the opportunity to improve student support where we can, which is why in 2016-17 we increased the household income threshold for the maximum bursary from £17,000 to £19,000.

“In addition to this we have announced an independent review of student support to ensure that the entire system is equitable, fair and supports all students throughout their learner journey. Work on the review has commenced and will conclude in autumn 2017 and I look forward to receiving its recommendations.”

Vonnie Sandlan, NUS Scotland president, said: “It’s right that we’ve maintained free education in Scotland — but that can’t just be about the price tag, and we must tackle the wider cost of studying.

“Without access to the necessary financial support, students are forced to turn to commercial debt, take on unreasonable amounts of part-time work, or even drop out of education altogether. That’s simply a huge waste of potential for students, and for Scotland as a whole. Looking ahead, we shouldn’t be timid in going further and reforming the support system for all students, in a bold and ambitious way.”



How ESAs Expand Educational Opportunity And Hold Education Providers Directly Accountable To Parents

From the Executive Summary:

In order to foster a variety of innovative and high-quality education options for all students, universal access to education savings accounts (ESAs) should be the goal of policymakers in every state.

ESAs are flexible spending accounts that parents can use to purchase a wide variety of educational goods and services, including private school tuition, tutors, textbooks, homeschool curricula, online courses, educational therapy, and more. Parents can also save unused funds for later educational expenses, such as college tuition.

This Special Report explores how ESAs expand educational opportunity and hold education providers directly accountable to parents; it also explains several common types of regulations that can undermine the effectiveness of the program and how they can be avoided.

The potential of ESAs to foster innovation and improved quality depends on a robust market in education. Increasing demand will require a critical mass of potential students, so ESAs should be made available to all families. A robust education market will also require education providers to have the freedom to innovate and parents to have the freedom to choose the providers that best meet their child’s needs. International research comparing different types of education systems has found that the most market-like, least regulated systems consistently outperformed more centralized and regulated ones. Policymakers therefore should avoid well-intentioned but misguided regulations such as open admissions requirements, price controls, state testing mandates, and excessive reporting requirements. Although intended to guarantee access and accountability, these regulations produce unintended consequences that can reduce the effectiveness of ESAs and even undermine their intended goals.

The best way for policymakers in Texas and elsewhere to expand access to a high-quality education for all children is to provide all families with ESAs that give them the maximum possible freedom to choose the education providers that work best for their children.


Shakespeare study turns into a comedy of errors

Jonathan Bate

Just like Freud, modern academics clearly don’t let the facts get in the way of a good theory

Sigmund Freud was the first to admit that his psychological theories owed much to the great works of literature, particularly Greek tragedy and Shakespeare. The Oedipus Complex might just as well have been called the Hamlet Complex: Freud believed that the real reason why the Prince of Denmark had a mental block about killing the uncle who had murdered his father and slept with his mother was that he
subconsciously wanted to do those things himself.

What was more, Freud thought, Shakespeare wrote the play shortly after his own father’s death in September 1601, so he was clearly working through his grief and anger.

But then someone discovered a note by a Cambridge don called Gabriel Harvey probably written in 1600 that praised the play. So Hamlet came before Shakespeare’s father’s death! Freud was not the kind of man to let a fact get in the way of a theory. He concluded that the play must therefore have been written by someone else, whose father was dead: step forward Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, who had just been proposed by a man named Looney as the true author of Shakespeare’s plays.

In today’s Times, the energetic Shakespearean scholar Gary Taylor has announced that Freud’s original idea was right: Hamlet was indeed written after Shakespeare’s father’s death. It must, Taylor seems to think, have been written after the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, because it’s “a play about someone coming from the north and establishing a new dynasty. So Fortinbras [the Norwegian soldier who takes the crown at the end] is in many ways James I.”

Really? It’s always seemed to me that Hamlet is a slightly problematic play from the point of view of the court of King James. His majesty liked nothing more than to hang out at his hunting lodge in Royston. The real theatre-lover in the family was his wife, Queen Anne of Denmark, who would not exactly have been flattered by Shakespeare’s representation of Queen Gertrude of Denmark bedding her late husband’s brother with such abandon quite so soon after her bereavement.

Although the so-called Second Quarto text of Hamlet, on which Taylor bases his claim, did not appear until 1604, it was registered for publication on July 26, 1602.

I am increasingly coming to think that the most useful new discoveries about Shakespeare are the negative ones
To sell books in the crowded Shakespearean marketplace you always have to come up with a new idea. Full disclosure: I did this myself when creating a Complete Works for the Royal Shakespeare Company a decade ago. Rather than pointlessly replicating the efforts of generations of previous editors who had flitted between different early printings of the plays, we decided to do something different and edit a single great book, the First Folio prepared by Shakespeare’s fellow actors after his death.

Gary Taylor has form. Thirty years ago he publicised the previous The New Oxford Shakespeare by claiming for the Bard a (third-rate) little poem called Shall I Die? Shall I Fly? It is good to see that in the latest edition this is relegated into a section called “Poems attributed to Shakespeare in seventeenth-century miscellanies”.

Fashions change in Shakespeare studies. In the 1980s, the big thing was treating the plays as scripts for performance. The Oxford team, led by the distinguished scholar Sir Stanley Wells, sought to recover the moment of first performance as opposed to that of Shakespeare penning the words.

Now the vogue is for whizzy computer-assisted attribution studies. Thanks to “big data”, scholars can crunch the whole corpus of surviving Elizabethan and Jacobean drama in the hope of finding the stylistic fingerprints of each author.

Thus The New Oxford Shakespeare gives us Christopher Marlowe as co-author of the Henry VI plays, Thomas Middleton as reviser of Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare as co-author of The Tragedy of Master Arden of Faversham and reviser of The Spanish Tragedy, and even “The Tragedy of Sejanus: A Lost Version by Jonson and Anonymous (Shakespeare?)”.

I envy Gary Taylor his confidence. I am increasingly coming to think that the most useful new discoveries about Shakespeare are the negative ones. For example, his absence from a recently discovered list of players at court in 1607 suggests that he gave up acting early in King James’s reign.

When I was working on the 2012 British Museum exhibition Shakespeare: Staging the World, Dora Thornton, the curator, asked me to investigate the often-told story of how Hamlet was performed by a group of sailors on board a ship called the Red Dragon off the coast of Sierra Leone in 1607. It is, understandably, a narrative beloved of post-colonial literary scholars. The trouble was, an archival investigation revealed that the whole story was a 19th-century fabrication. There was something rather satisfying about putting that one to bed.


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