Say It Like It Is: The Sun and Last Year’s Prison Riots

On 16th December last year, rioting broke out in HMP Birmingham. The incident, ‘which lasted for more than 12 hours’, is one of a spate of riots in other prisons across the country, with similar disruption occurring at HMP Swaleside on 22/12/16 and HMP Bedford last November.[1] Amongst a fairly balanced assessment of these events across all other major news publications, The Sun’s sensationalist coverage of disorder in UK prisons in December last year encourages popular support for a failing and needlessly punitive prison estate, perpetuating grave inadequacies in our justice system. Such reportage achieves this by extricating the Ministry of Justice of blame for prison disorder and unfairly vilifying the prison population.  Continue reading “Say It Like It Is: The Sun and Last Year’s Prison Riots”

Notes from a Participant: Future of Bioscience? Post-Brexit Reality

The event hosted jointly by King’s Think Tank and KCL Bioscience Student’s Association entitled “Future of Biosciences? – Post-Brexit Reality” invited two expert panellists from distinct fields within the Biosciences to share with the audience about how they perceive the impact of the UK’s departure from the EU. Continue reading “Notes from a Participant: Future of Bioscience? Post-Brexit Reality”

Solving Britain’s Productivity Problem

On 2nd December, Virgin Trains East Coast announced that in 2017 it intended to increase rail fares on average by 4.9%. Although season and off-peak return fares, which are government-set, are to rise by 1.9%, the fares that Virgin control will rise by an average of 5.5%.[1] With such high increases in the cost of rail travel, which no doubt will hinder the geographical mobility of Britain’s workforce, transport is only one of several problems that hold back Britain’s productivity.  Continue reading “Solving Britain’s Productivity Problem”

Counter-terrorism and education: The PREVENT Strategy as the lesser of two evils?

After 9/11, the terrible 7/7 bombings in London and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, the so-called ‘war on terror’ is raging on. Faced with pressures to effectively protect and safeguard the population from terrorist groups, in 2003 the British government introduced a new counter-terrorism strategy called PREVENT.  Continue reading “Counter-terrorism and education: The PREVENT Strategy as the lesser of two evils?”

Comments on Autumn Statement 2016

When planning ahead, it’s useful to know what you’re planning for; faced with an uncertain Brexit, Philip Hammond did not have this luxury. However, independent forecasts all point towards a pessimistic few years, and he has responded relatively well.

These forecasts are the first things to note, since they bring chipper, ‘Remoaner’-bashing claims that the economy has grown after Brexit back down to earth. The economy has indeed grown by 0.5%, but that’s less than 0.7% last year[1]. We haven’t left yet, and George Osborne’s brainchild, the Office of Budget Responsibility, reminds us that the consequences when we do leave should not be underestimated. It predicts that GDP growth to 2017 will be 1.4 percentage points lower than expected, based on the uncertain potential outcomes of Brexit. Since Article 50 should be invoked in March 2017, this will be the result of investment hesitating, businesses retreating, migration slowing, productivity stalling and consumption withdrawing from the uncertainty.

Mr Hammond has done what he can to address these problems. First of all, he aims to further reduce the deficit and commit to falling debt[2]. This means he has turned his back on all three of George Osborne’s three goals; having already failed to reduce debt as a share of national income every year and to stick to the cap on welfare spending, he has now reneged on reaching a budget surplus by 2019-20. Choosing new rules was wise in terms of growth; meeting Osborne’s goals may have required harsher austerity, having a particularly punishing effect when coupled with the OBR’s forecasts and higher inflation. However, eyebrows have been raised over the prospects of a higher debt to GDP ratio in 2010-21[3].

Secondly, he has promised to ‘build an economy that works for all’; particularly for those who are ‘just about managing’. Measures include raising the Personal Tax-Free Allowance to £12,500 and the Higher Rate Threshold to £50,000, increasing the National Living Wage for those 25 and over, increasing the National Minimum Wage, and lowering the rate at which benefits are reduced under Universal Credit[4]. These measures may benefit some of the ‘just about managing families’, loosening UC in particular. However, many claim rightfully that increasing the tax-free allowance doesn’t help the poorest[5], particularly those under 25; the Resolution Foundation believes Hammond’s these measures will cover only 7% losses from the planned £12bn in welfare cuts[6].

In fact, the poorest are most likely to be negatively affected due to these cuts: a freeze in working age benefits, tax credits and income support from April 2016. Combined with higher costs of living, inflation and the OBR’s predictions, the next few years look challenging for those already struggling the most. The Institute for Fiscal Studies confirms this; workers will earn fewer real wages in 2021 than in 2008, with forecasts revised down by 3.7% since March. Similarly, the Resolution Foundation has warned that living standards could be worse during this parliament than the last, while the Treasury predicts the poorest 30% households will see a negative impact on their income by 2019-20[7].

However, this fiscal tightening has been combined with spending in an attempt to regenerate slow productivity. The idea is to boost incomes and reduce debt in the long term. Hammond’s £23 billion ‘National Productivity Investment Fund’ include investment in transport infrastructure, housing, future transport technology and research and development. This is a step in the right direction; more productivity means more jobs and higher wages, while innovative industry protects our economy against being ostracised after Brexit. Some claim that the plan is too modest. Still, the Chancellor doesn’t have unlimited means; he has clearly chosen modest spending and modest tightening, with a view to longer term growth. This time, it is the worse off who are bearing the brunt, rather than the richest or corporations.

Hammond has given corporations a tax reduction to 17% in 2020, down from 28% in 2010. This looks like a decision to prioritise the richest over struggling families, but in reality it’s likely that Hammond was trying to prevent business from uprooting to countries within the EU. This may end up improving corporate tax revenues in the long term, allowing the government to extend greater help to struggling families. In a similar vein, he has pledged £400 million from the British Business Bank for growing innovative firms, and cracked down on corporate tax avoidance[8]. At a King’s Think Tank Event, New Economic Foundation’s Olivier Vardakoulias foresaw a Singapore-style business culture arriving in London; low taxes, low regulation, little red tape, all attractive to Brexit-shy investment. This prediction could be coming true.

To conclude, Hammond has done a reasonable job of creating long term gain out of the short term pain of Brexit. Growth in productivity through innovative, long-term industries, should offset the effects of the benefit freezes in the short term. Without some tightening, government investment wouldn’t be possible; but Hammond could look for a less vulnerable short-term revenue base, given prospects for growth and incomes alongside cost of living and rising inflation. Coddling rather than taxing corporations increases the pressure on Hammond’s pro-business measures succeeding; since they rely heavily on confidence form external investors, the government must set out a clear strategy for Brexit, before they retreat any further.

Charlotte Baker is editor at Business and Economics Policy Centre, King’s Think Tank.

[1] ‘Brexit Britain: What has actually happened so far?’ BBC 15 December 2016 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-36956418

[2] ‘Autumn Statement 2016’ HM Treasury 23 November 2016 https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/autumn-statement-2016

[3] Wolf M ‘The wages of Brexit are bigger debts’ Financial Times 23 November 2016 https://www.ft.com/content/e87f92ea-b176-11e6-a37c-f4a01f1b0fa1

[4] ‘Autumn Statement 2016’ HM Treasury 23 November 2016 https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/autumn-statement-2016

[5] ‘Philip Hammond takes a sober approach to post-Brexit Britain’ FT 23 November 2016 https://www.ft.com/content/ca6e9ef8-b177-11e6-a37c-f4a01f1b0fa1

[6] ‘The Guardian view on the autumns statement: half right, half wrong’ The Guardian 23 November 2016 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/23/the-guardian-view-on-the-autumn-statement-half-right-half-wrong

[7] Peachey, K ‘Autumn Statement: Workers’ pay growth prospects dreadful, says IFS’ BBC 24 November 2016 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-38090977

[8] ‘Autumn Statement 2016’ HM Treasury 23 November 2016 https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/autumn-statement-2016

Study Abroad: A Necessity for Intercultural Competence?

With the rise of globalization and expansion of migration, our traditional ways of life including our cultural, social, political and economic ideas are being actively challenged. In times of social tension and conflict arising from new and dynamic mixtures of different cultures and ethnic groups, education has a key role to play in the promotion of “social cohesion and peaceful coexistence”[1]

Intercultural education has emerged as a key component of promoting social cohesion.[2] One of the main aims of intercultural education is to develop individuals who are interculturally competent and who are able to regard diversity as an advantage rather than a challenge. Sven Sierens introduces the definition of intercultural competencies as “equip[ing] young people with the cognitive characteristics attitudes and skills they will need in a multicultural, multinational and internationalising world.[3]

Through opportunities and programmes that foster discussion between students of different beliefs and cultures, education can promote these intercultural competencies.

The study abroad experience is advertised as the perfect opportunity for intercultural education, the chance to learn about other cultures and gain a greater understanding of perspectives from around the world. We asked several students to talk about their experiences studying abroad to see whether the opportunity had developed their intercultural competencies and shaped their understanding of different cultures.

Anonymous, Madrid

There are many advantages to living abroad: from being able to find the self-confidence and self-determination to go to a foreign country alone, and set up a new life, to conversing in a language that is not your mother tongue. It also allows you to deal with cultural sensitivities that simply cannot be pre-taught in a classroom. There are many more aspects of the study abroad that are undeniably of huge value to me, both in terms of personal and professional progression.

I grew more culturally aware and developed a greater understanding of some of the social crises that European Union countries are facing. These issues are vastly different from those faced by the UK. In particular, my time spent in Madrid highlighted for me the shocking reality of the presence of comparatively underdeveloped countries within the EU; on levels such as: administration, education and employment rights.

The process of studying abroad is always sold with a certain infallible positivity and optimism, despite what I gained from the experience, I have also encountered very real challenges. Unfortunately, the positive times I had interacting with local Spaniards and students was blighted by the disappointment I had with the academic quality of my host university.

Anonymous, Brazil

I found adjusting to Salvador quite difficult. The similarities between Brazilian life and British life are far fewer in number compared with the similarities between European countries and the UK. When my Portuguese was weak to start with, no one had English strong enough to help. Moreover, there was practically zero infrastructure to provide help for foreigners looking to stay for a permanent length of time. The university did not even tell me when and where I needed to be on my first day! We had no guidance of where to look for housing or how, and it took far longer to get to know the city in a deeper and more intimate way.

However, I think that after returning from Brazil, I felt more pride in myself, because despite the greater hurdles at the beginning, I did manage to adjust – as best a white British girl can in a predominantly Afro-Caribbean Brazilian city – to the culture of Brazil and Salvador.

While I was fortunately not affected by economic factors during my study abroad, there were political factors that did shape my daily life. The impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, accompanied with weekly protests and riots, of which I often became a part of, dramatically affected the general way of life. I noticed that every day discourse between myself and my Brazilian friends swayed to the current affairs of the country. It was a fascinating insight into the corruption of Brazil which I had obviously read about and studied, but never experienced first-hand. I never truly understood the extent of the problem and the impact corruption has on Brazilian life. Something I think you can only really understand by immersing yourself into Brazilian life.

The structure of the host educational institution was vastly different from that of KCL. At UFBA in Salvador, I really liked how much the student voice was heard, every single class, without fail, would end with a student discussion. I think this has been lost in our system in London somewhat. Also, the classes I was offered to take were so relevant, something I think the KCL modules somewhat lack. While at KCL they refer specifically to the Iberian Peninsula or South America, they have little translation to modern day life. I am fascinated with the Portuguese language because of the modern development and progress of the countries in which it is spoken. Yet our course here in London seems to have forgotten that.

My time abroad has greatly changed my opinion on my home country and on Brazil. I see now that the rush, pressure and stress which seems to exist in London is not necessary for achievement, be it on a personal or greater level. I see now that the lack of personal and work life balance many Londoners suffer with, is something that can, and should be fixed.

I have also noticed that Brazil is stigmatised by and reduced to its stereotypes of the beach and carnival in the foreign mind-set and media, which is grossly unfair. Whilst these stereotypes do obviously exist, there is a great profundity to Brazil which is sadly often forgotten. My experience has deepened my understanding of Brazilian culture and has greatly developed my intercultural competencies as I am able to better communicate and understand the Brazilian people.

Anonymous, Berlin

Before moving to London for my year abroad at King’s, the U.K made the decision to leave the European Union that undoubtedly had an impact on my initial time here. Even before arriving, the uncertainty of the result made me slightly nervous as I didn’t know how this would affect my experience. King’s emailed the study abroad students and reiterated that they remain an international university and that Brexit would have no immediate impact on their policies. This definitely reassured me; however, from the outset of attending lectures and seminars, I noticed how Brexit became the elephant in the room. While in Berlin we definitely had politically active discussions in class, I’ve noticed especially in Private International Law the significant impact Brexit has on virtually every aspect of the material we learn.

In terms of adjusting to King’s and my host country I have noticed that in many ways it is similar to Berlin, as both are European capital cities and have a vibrant mix of nationalities and cultures. While I haven’t left the cosmopolitan feel, it has been more difficult to connect with British students. I’ve noticed a divide between national and international students as they tend to loosely interact separately. Considering that most students have developed close friendship groups over their course, it is more difficult to penetrate these barriers to get to know individuals. However, I’m still discovering the city and King’s and hope to learn more about the British culture to better connect with the local students. Perhaps the increased contact hours at King’s will allow me to build my cognitive flexibility and to think within different contexts for a more varied understanding of topics.

There are also structural differences, the academic level of work is largely the same however there is more independence back in Berlin in terms of studying. Here there are essays and attendance, whereas in Berlin the examinations at the end of the semester are the main focus. While for some this may be a welcome organizational crutch, for me it is sometimes an overwhelming amount of work that detracts from my ability to explore the city and meet new people.

I’m only two months into my study abroad experience, but I’ve already had a chance to realize that the structure of learning in Berlin is more suited to my independent learning style. Nevertheless, for me, while my academic results are important, the reason I chose to study abroad at King’s was to really delve into the British culture so that at the end of my experience I can confidently say that I have a better understanding of the underlying economic and political conditions that have shaped the perspectives of the British politicians, media and even students. I hope that this in turn will develop my ability to empathise and appreciate the diversity of opinions.

For now, I remain open to new ideas and curious about the different perspectives of the people I may meet on my study abroad.

Conclusion

While a study abroad may not be a necessity for intercultural competence, it is clear that it provides a valuable opportunity for students to learn to communicate with people from different cultures and to understand nuances of perspectives. However, King’s and London can also provide a diversity of perspectives from cultures around the world that allow students to develop intercultural competencies without leaving the country. There are also challenges with the study abroad experience, such as low-quality academic system, which can adversely affect the ability of some to develop their intercultural understanding.

Nonetheless, to explore the realities of current events in foreign countries, it is worth experiencing this first hand. In terms of language skills, study abroad provides a wonderful opportunity to grow and communicate with locals more confidently to promote the exchange of opinions and viewpoints.

Marina Zabelina and Anne Siebenaler are editors of the Education Policy Centre, King’s Think Tank.

[1] UNESCO Guidelines On Intercultural Education. 1st ed. Paris: N.p., 2006. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

[2] Intercultural Competence For All: Preparation For Living In A Heterogeneous World. 2nd ed. Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 2012. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

[3] “Intercultural Education – Better Education For Everyone?”. Inter Cultural Iceland. N.p., 2016. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

Please Mind the Gap: Policies on the Gender Pay Gap

In October 2016, the Law Policy Centre of King’s Think Tank Society hosted its first event – “Please Mind the Gap with DLA Piper”. The expert panel, consisting of Her Honour Judge Anuja Dhir, Her Honour Judge Georgina Kent, Miss Sarah Ellington – commercial litigator at DLA Piper, and Mrs Janet Walsh – professor of Human Resource Management and Employment Relations at King’s College London, was moderated by the president of the Law Policy Centre Miss Jagoda Klimowicz. The panel aimed to explore various aspects of the phenomenon known as gender pay gap. Continue reading “Please Mind the Gap: Policies on the Gender Pay Gap”