The EU and the immigration debate

I couldn't find a suitable public domain picture about the topic, so here's a nice picture of a kitten instead
I couldn’t find a suitable public domain picture about the topic, so here’s a nice picture of a kitten instead

Right. I suppose I’d better add my views on this wretched referendum. I admit that I have always been reasonably well disposed to the idea of international co-operation, while being sceptical about the claims of nationalists of whatever stripe. My natural inclination was, at first, to vote to stay.  I was, however,  prepared to be convinced by a decent, well argued campaign to leave. The European Union is in many respects an unlovely cartel that promotes corporate interests above the wellbeing of citizens. Now, were the leave campaigners to promote any sort of alternative to that, or to offer a reasonable strategy for what would happen in a post EU Britain I would have given serious consideration to a leave vote.


Unfortunately, that is not what is on offer. There are all sorts of ridiculous claims being made about “sovereignty”, “red tape”, “an EU superstate”, “x billion pounds a week that could be spent on the NHS, or Education. I could have lots of fun with all of these, but I don’t have the space. So, today I want to talk about the worst and most depressing of these misdirections which is the one about immigration. (and predictably the one that is gaining most traction). Does anyone seriously imagine that if Britain leaves the European Union tomorrow, the population will begin to fall, NHS waiting lists,will fade away, housing will slowly become cheaper and more plentiful  or that “entrepreneurs” will see the light, and turn round and say, “Oh dear me. We can no longer import cheap labour from the EU. Therefore we will, at once, happily reduce our profits, and pay “British” workers a decent wage and, as a bonus, reduce unemployment at a stroke”.  Even if all the EU immigrants pack their bags and go home the weekend after the referendum, (Which they won’t. How would that happen, exactly?)  thus releasing “jobs”, I suspect any jobs that might become available will mostly go to robots, or to non EU immigrants who are actually capable of doing them,  not to the sturdy British yeopersons of UKIP fantasy.


Population movement is a fact of life. It always has been and always will be, and if anything it is going to be increased by modern communication and transport technology.  Inevitably, populations will move to where there are the best chances of survival for their families. (And migrants are people too, you know. The other night I was watching the BBC news with the subtitles on because I was on the phone – who says men can’t multitask? when I saw the subtitle “300 migrants drowned”. Not 300 people, you’ll note. (BBC news channel, 6 pm, Sunday 12th June 2016, if you want a citation). That was nice and neutral of the Beeb wasn’t it?


Anyway I digress. My point is that because the UK has had a relatively strong economy for the past 20 or so years it is currently an attractive destination.  That doesn’t mean it always will be.  I don’t have the slightest idea what will happen to the economy if Britain leaves the EU, (Neither, I suspect  does anyone else!)  but if the leave campaigners are right and “independence” heralds some bright new economic dawn then you can bet the farm that immigration will shoot up as a result. Oh you say, but we can control our borders? Don’t be ridiculous. If capital wants cheap labour, it will find cheap labour, borders or not. If however, they are wrong, and we are all reduced to living in cardboard boxes and existing on tins of Whiskas, then yes, I think we can be reasonably confident that immigration will fall.  I’m not quite sure that is quite what those advocating leaving are hoping will happen. But if it does, it might be worth considering that population movement works both ways. Having left, we won’t be able to emigrate quite so easily as we could now.

Digital Students

I’ve been thinking a bit about Digital Scholarship, thoughts largely prompted by starting to read Martin Weller’s The Digital Scholar: How technology is transforming scholarly practice. (This isn’t a review, just rambling prompted by my reading) Martin’s book seems to be focused on the experience of academic staff, but digital scholarship is for me,  about students as much as academics and there’s an interesting quotation in chapter 1– “When teenagers are asked what they want from the Internet, the most common response is to get ‘new information.’ Close behind, at about 75 percent, is to ‘learn more or to learn better.’”


Now, when I see phrases like “learn better” my natural response is to wonder exactly what that means.  There are clearly limits to learning in a formal setting. Students only have to do enough to get their degree, or doctorate, and, unless they pursue their studies, or enter a vocation that requires that they use the knowledge they acquire, are free to forget it all the minute they’ve received the notification that they have passed.  I’m not suggesting that they do, but it does make me wonder whether “learn better” means “Arrive what I need to do as quickly as possible”? I think most of my academic colleagues would see that as a rather reductive and depressing approach albeit one that was entirely consistent with the neo-liberal attempt to commodify everything. The close relationship between “new information” and “learning” is also telling. Information clearly is a commodity. Learning (I think) is not.


What’s interesting about the social web is that it provides both. Information is freely available, although I suppose it’s not necessarily accurate. You might learn a lot through responses to your twitter accounts, blog posts, Wikipedia entries and so on, but only if you a) make an effort to make them, and b) anyone reads and responds to them, which is a roundabout way of saying that you need to be active in these networks if you are to learn from them. Fine as far as it goes, but a couple of things I’ve read recently throw a bit of a spanner into the works. Firstly, if you sign up to any free service, you, or more accurately, your on-line activity, become the commodity. The service provider can use that data in any way it sees fit. At worst you could lose all your data. (You do back up all your tweets, Flickr photos, Google Docs etc don’t you? Of course you do.) I suppose it’s more likely that a change in the way the service worked would mean you’d have to start working in different ways. Secondly, I do wonder if the instant provision of information is conducive to learning. The work of Carol Dweck at Stanford is quite persuasive in showing that learners with a mindset that focuses on making errors and working to correct them are much more effective then those who believe in natural intelligence, the latter being much more likely to give up if they don’t find a quick fix. So if a Google search doesn’t find the answer do they decide there isn’t one?

That’s a caricature of course, and I’m not for a second arguing that we shouldn’t use the social web in HE. For a start I don’t think we have any choice as it isn’t going to go away, and in any case as the book shows, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. But I do wonder how we might introduce it to students, and how we might encourage a properly critical approach. I suspect, although I don’t yet have any evidence of this, that a study of the bibliographies in student papers would show a much higher percentage of traditional books and journal articles, than of (say) Wikipedia pages and YouTube videos. If I’m right about that, and let me repeat that I have no statistically significant evidence for such a claim, it then raises the issue of whether students are discouraged by academics from using these resources.  Of course, we want all our students to use academically rigorous and (preferably) peer reviewed resources, but if we accept the constructivist arguments that learning is an active process, not a passive one we also want them to share their learning, through projects like “Student as Producer”, but also more generally. Anyone know of any major projects or courses where students get credit for sharing their work, as well as for producing it?

Private page problem resolved.

Many thanks to Jim Groom at Bavatuesdays for his suggestions in response to my previous post. (Love this job advert by the way!) In fact, with a bit of help from our resident WordPress developer, Alex Bilbie, we’ve managed to get themes compatible with WordPress 3.0 to display private pages through the Menu Builder, which is pretty much what I needed to do. One small gripe remains, which is that casual visitors can still see the private page links in the menu, and the 404 message they get when they click on them isn’t exactly as I would wish, suggesting that “searching might help you find what you’re looking for”.

Er, No it won’t: I want to say “it’s private, and you can’t have it without permission”. Still, I don’t want to change the message for the whole theme, so I guess I’ll put up with it for now. But, still. Thanks to Jim and Alex for their help.

New cycle route

No, nothing whatsoever to do with educational technology but I fancy writing about something else. It’s the first day of spring, (and a nice one at that) and while I’m supposed to be panicking about completing my thesis, I had a far better idea. I thought I’d wheel out my “proper” bike and shake off some of the winter dust it’s been accumulating. I set off down the Cycle route which leads out of Lincoln, through Skellingthorpe, and on to Harby, with the idea of doing a 2o mile loop around Lincoln. The first part is a disused railway line, which I had thought was pretty much abandoned after Harby. However, when I got there , I noticed that the fence that separated the cycle track from the railway  was gone, and a brand new trackbed had been laid. Ever inquisitive I followed it and discovered that it now runs all the way to Fledborough Viaduct, (pictured) a rather impressive structure which carried the railway across the Trent and miraculously appears to have escaped demolition.

Fledborough Viaduct
Fledborough Viaduct

The viaduct itself is still blocked off, but work is clearly going on to re-open it. Which is much needed as the only way to get across the Trent in those parts is by using the Toll Bridge at Dunham a mile or so to the North. If you’re on a bike, that’s not much fun as you have to ride down the very busy A57 for a few miles either side to get to it. Clearly the  work isn’t finished – there are no ramps up to the roads that cross the new cycle route as yet, and while the track bed is perfectly rideable, I think it will need a more rainproof surface in the long term.  All this may explain why there’s been hardly a mention of it in the local press so far. While in truth it’s not the most scenic, or photogenic of routes, it is going to be a fantastic facility for local people. I don’t know how far the plan is to extend the line on the other side of the river, but apart from a short section through Lincoln itself, it’s now possible to have a traffic free ride from Kirkstead Bridge to Fledborough – which I guess to be about 20 miles. And, I’m very pleased to see our industrial heritage being re-used in this way so credit to Nottinghamshire County Council for pushing this through.

Inter campus travel

Slight departure from my usual posts, as I’ve got a little bit of time to fill before delivering a training session on Blackboard’s gradebook at our Holbeach campus. I’ve always driven down here before, which takes about an hour, on not very pleasant roads. Today, I thought I’d try public transport and, I have to say I’m quite impressed. (But probably shouldn’t be saying that until I get home!).

Perhaps I was lucky. The journey involves a train (about an hour) and a bus (25 minutes) and everything was on time. (Also, and very unusually for rural Lincolnshire the train appeared to be brand new – you could almost smell the polythene on the seats – and was very comfortable. Usually it’s not much more than one of those handcarts you used to see in old movies!)  And the cost to the university was about a third of what it would have been if I’d driven. (of course that’s only true if you’re travelling alone.)

It did take half an hour longer, yes, but I was able to do some preparation and reading on the train. But my real point is this. Isn’t it interesting that Holbeach, easily the university’s most remote campus is the only one where public transport is a realistic option for inter-campus travel. Riseholme, which is only a few miles out of Lincoln doesn’t have any sort of service at all, and getting to Hull involves a monumental detour to avoid the Humber estuary and so takes about three times longer than it does to drive.