Stories over the last week

Been pretty busy over the last week, no time to do any blogging. But here’s a few stories that caught my eye.

Language test cheating
One story this week that I found pretty shocking was news of systematic cheating within the UK language exams, as shown on the BBC’s Panorama program. They portrayed people being able to buy an A curtsey of either a dodgy invigilator who simply read out the answers or an agency who supplied a professional to take the test. These tests are crucial to securing UK visa’s or university places, the latter of which of course can lead to a visa.

That cheating is going on doesn’t surprise me. While the bulk of international students I teach tend to have fairly good English skills, we’ll get the odd one who can barely string two words together. The sorts who’ll often only communicate to us via e-mails, which often read like they’ve been constructed using google babelfish. Of course the problem for us then is that such students often are able to point to an A in some ETS English exam.
So again, that some cheating is going on doesn’t really surprise me. What I find shocking is that its been going in within the UK right under the noses of the UKBA. Often with the explicit support of officials within UK colleges.

Ultimately I would blame this situation on two issues. Firstly the UKBA has lumped all the UK’s third level institutes from some community college above a chip shop in Woking in with all the major universities. One has to wonder if this was done more of political reasons. i.e. that the government is peeved that so much of the UK’s student population are foreign (about 30% at present). Of course I would counter that we have the commercialisation of the UK universities to thank for this. As inevitably a commercial company will chase those with the deepest pockets. And if that means looking overseas, then that’s what they’ll do. And obviously some of the smaller insitutions without the applied research or academic portfolio to call on will be tempted to turn a blind eye to a bit of cheating on the side, just to make ends meet.

And similarly the UK’s immigration policy where by applicants need to get various bits of paper work, often supplied by private companies has created a cottage industry, one that is very profitable to all sort of backstreet dealers and multinationals with dubious reputations. That of these companies some are corrupt and are engaged in systematically cheating the immigration system is hardly going to come as a shock to anybody, save a few naive Tory minsters. Again the solution is to perhaps get rid of these and make all the key tests for visas held and organised by some branch of government.

Of course doing all of that, plus properly monitoring the UK’s universities and colleges would be hugely expensive. The Tories want Swiss style immigration laws but don’t want to have to pay for their enforcement. You can’t have it both ways!

Bedroom tax
Meanwhile Channel 4’s Dispatches looked at the impact of the Tories bedroom tax. They pointed out that it is often splitting up families, forcing many struggling to make ends meet further into poverty and does not account for people individual circumstances, e.g. a disabled couple who need a two bedroom house. It’s even been linked to suicides.

Also the argument that tenants can get out of paying the tax by just moving to a smaller home falls flat as there often aren’t any single bedroom council flats available. Glasgow Housing Association for example made a long term decision sometime ago to only build houses and flats with a minimum of two bedrooms, as this increased flexibility and value for money of their housing stock. They’ve had to spend millions going around buying up private one bedroom flats to accommodate those forced out of their homes by the bedroom tax.

In short it is another silly short-sighted Tory policy written by some toff’s in Whitehall who’ve never visited a council estate in their lives….and would probably not what to as given the effects of this tax they’d likely be killed on sight! ;D

Dellingpole bows out
The Daily Telegraph it seems, has decided to part company with climate denier James Dellingpole :crazy:, one of its regular bloggers. Of course he’s tried to put a brave face on it, claiming that he plans to go solo or pursue private projects of his own, becoming a consultant, etc. Ultimately however it would seem having a climate denier on the staff at the same time that much of the country is knee deep in flood waters was a bit too much even for the Barclay brothers owned Telegraph.

He was starting to sound a bit like that propaganda minister for the Iraqi government. Nothing to see here, I assure you there are no floods in Devon the climate scientists are committing suicide at the gates to Somerset. :wave:

Sochi
Not seen much of the Sochi games, other than the Snowboarding. This appears to be a sport that involves hanging around on a snow slope trying to look cool in your designer snowboarding gear while calling everyone around you dude. I wonder how they are fitting in to Putin’s Russia?

Just don’t do anything gay…or you’ll be wondering why there are lots of little red laser dots trained on you! :))

I find it odd that Britain isn’t doing better in the Slalom events, given the number of potholes on the roads since the floods started.

Barclays profit and loss
Barclays bank this week announced profits are down and that they would respond by cutting jobs. They also announced record pay-outs and bonuses for their top staff. So they respond to a dip in profits by sacking thousands of rank and file staff who actually deal with customers and awarded the “good-olde-boy’s” who are actually responsible for these losses an increase in salary. If you need any further proof that nothing was learnt since the financial crisis then look no further than this.

No you’re not keeping the dog
The Tories, lib dems (sort of the same thing these days!) and labour rounded on the SNP this week suggesting that a currency union was out of the question, regardless of who wins the next general election.

I’ve drawn parallels between the Scottish referendum and a divorcing couple, with them now arguing over who will get what and ultimately trying to get one over on each other. And of course this is hardly good news for the UK economic outlook in the event of independence, which its worth noting is still actually unlikely to occur (polls still say a narrow no vote).

Consider that anyone getting a divorce will often struggle to get credit from a bank, largely because banks worry that as the couple may not be behaving or thinking rationally and thus the bank’s money isn’t safe. Consider I know a couple in Ireland involved in a messy divorce the upshot of which is that they’re both going to get turfed out of the family home by the bank and after its sold they still won’t be able to afford to pay the lawyers, yet aware of this as they are they continue the fight purely to get one over on the other.

Well the same applies to a UK/Scotland split. The markets will punish both Scotland and England in the event of a messy divorce and they will dole out the bulk of the punishment on the City of London as the government in Westminster is supposed to behave more sensibly that getting involved in silly games.

And oddly enough I actually agree with the government on this issue, the idea of Scotland keeping the pound sounds daft to me and it is one of the reasons I’d argue that the SNP have largely failed to close the deal on independence. It would seem a lot more sensible to have their own currency, after all Ireland a nation of half the population with no oil reserves got by perfectly well with the punt for many decades.

Of course knowing the crafty cute hoor that Salmond is I do wonder if this is a deliberate ploy by the SNP. As they can now use this announcement as yet more propaganda to portray Cameron as another Edward Longshanks type (who’ll no doubt be seeking next to re-introduce the rule allowing English toff’s to spend the first night with new Scottish brides).

It also gives Salmond the perfect excuse to refuse to pay Scotland’s share of the UK debt (something the SNP type’s would be against paying given that as they see it the bulk of it was run up paying for wars, funding tax cuts to the wealthy, nuclear weapons and basically paying for the things the Scots want nothing to do with).

And Barroso was soon in on the act, indeed the timing is too close for it not to be a coincidence, claiming that Scotland would find it nearly impossible to join the EU. This is clearly intended for domestic consumption in Spain. While certainly the SNP needs to be realistic and realise that it would take time to negotiate EU membership, the suggestion that the EU would vote to make itself smaller is ludicrous at best and just plain stupid at worst.

Consider that while Spain or Belgium might worry about Scottish succession making a case for other breakaways, such a move to punish a nation for exercising its democratic rights while allowing the EU to interfere in a matter that is clearly an internal issue for a sovereign nation to work out itself, would go down really badly in other parts of the EU. Notably the Eastern states (who still harbour bitter memories of the efforts they had to go through to break free of the communist block). Smaller countries like Ireland, Greece as well as Scandinavia will likely be sympathetic to the Scottish cause and hostile to dangerous precedence such a policy would set. The danger is that if Spain and the UK (who last time I checked were trying to leave the EU!) tried to use the EU to meddle with politics within of a member state it would go down like a lead balloon and would almost certainly weaken if not undermine the EU’s credibility.

Bitcoin continues its slide
The woes affecting the virtual currency Bitcoin continue as its value still falls, with experts pointing to serious vulnerabilities within the currency. The problem, as I highlighted before is that even if a virtual currency is a good idea, Bitcoin may not be the medium that actually succeeds and even if it does, a currency has heavily overvalued as it clearly is no the sort of thing you’d want to be paid in or pay for you’re groceries with.

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