Monday, September 26, 2011

more on tuition fees

What should we make of Labour’s newly-announced policy on tuition fees (BBC news article, Guardian article)? If we’re meant to be grateful that they’re less than the current fees, then all I can say is, if this is game theory, I find it extremely depressing. I recommend (most of) the comments that Guardian readers appended to the Guardian article linked-to above.

The fee cut is said to “fully-costed”: it is paid for with some sort of graduate tax on high-earning graduates, and a raise in tax on banks. In which case, they should explain why the following measures quoted from this article, are completely uncosted:
His [Ed Balls] five-point growth plan includes:

  • Repeating the bank bonus tax - and using "the money to build 25,000 affordable homes and guarantee a job for 100,000 young people"

  • Bringing forward long-term investment projects, such as schools, roads and transport, to create jobs

  • Reversing January's "damaging" VAT rise now for a temporary period

  • Immediate one-year cut in VAT to 5% on home improvements, repairs and maintenance

  • One-year national insurance tax break "for every small firm which takes on extra workers, using the money left over from the government's failed national insurance rebate for new businesses"

How come all the above goodies don’t have to be paid for by some other revenue-raising measures? They simply can’t have it both ways.

On a happier note, this article argues that by cutting tuition fees, you reduce CPI inflation, which in turn reduces the amount the state needs to pay to pensioners and welfare claimants. To the extent that maybe a cut in tuition fees automatically pays for itself!

(Added 28.9.11:) Meanwhile, we have an alternative white paper produced by a campaign led by senior academics... but where has the UCU gone — why are they not joining in? Now that Labour want fees nearly as high as the Tories, can we expect the UCU’s opposition to fade away?

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Planning travel is a time-sink

To get started on a happy note, here is a picture of me at the Xerox Research Centre Europe (XRCE), Grenoble, last week. Many thanks to Onno Zoeter, Guillaume Bouchard, Chris Dance and Shengbo Guo for excellent hospitality and stimulating discussions.

When taking any trip, booking the flights etc takes a significant amount of time. It was a particularly big problem while planning my trip to FOCS. FOCS is in Palm Springs, a place which I had heard of already since it gets a mention in I had trouble in getting to Solla Sollew. Too many decisions, is the problem. The narrator of IHTIGTSS wouldn’t sympathize, but he never had to ponder the relative merits of a more direct flight versus a longer trip by shuttle bus, or what are the best arrival/departure times. He never had to make any bookings, either. Endlessly refining searches on kayak, you know that a great itinerary is out there, if only you could find it.

I was reminded of this talk by Kevin Leyton-Brown, who also (via Google+) drew my attention to decision fatigue. The talk was about a model of economic decision making in which the agents incur a cost for assessing the value they attach for some outcome. It makes sense that one should indeed incur a cost for evaluating one’s own valuations. Decision fatigue means what you think it means.

On a related topic, I learned that I’m not allowed to charge any kind of seat upgrade to the research grant that pays for this trip; even some kind of “premium economy” is off-limits, never mind business class. In light of the above, maybe I should be glad to have my choices limited, but it’s a worrying restriction; if economy class travel continues to deteriorate in quality, that will become quite a big deterrent to attending conferences overseas.