Mike Vickers' Blog

February 10, 2015

Tim Benton – Can we do it sustainably

Filed under: DHI SPIF, Education, Sustainability, World Class — derryvickers @ 5:28 pm

A lecture at the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 9th February 2015

Tom Benton is Global Food Security Champion He made a number of critical points on world growth and how and if it could be sustainable

  1. There are 805 million in the world hungry; there are 1 million people in the UK in food poverty
  2. All of us eat the wrong food. 2/3 of the food eaten is wheat, rice and maize; if we include sugar, barley, soya, palm oil and potato we get up to 86%
  3. The world population will increase from the current 7 billion to 10 billion by 2050
  4. Food for Europe comes through the Suez Canal – an interruption in flow and Europe would be in crisis – there aren’t enough ships to go via the Cape
  5. The World will be 4* hotter; it’s not the average temperature that matters to growing plants it’s the maximums which could 6* or 7* above the average – at 35*C maize will not grow
  6. 70% of water used for agriculture; 1 kg meat takes 10/12 tons of water for production; a green bean from Kenya takes 1 gallon of water
  7. Eat local food , it saves water and carbon
  8. After continuous increase in crop yields now starting to drop off
  9. Need to reduce demand for food
  10. 1/3 of food wasted – 3 for 1 but best by today.
    1. The need for supermarkets to always have food available requires that they have 200% resilience
    2. Our food laws have stopped recycling of waste
  11. Health cost is £2,500 per person per year in the UK
  12. 50% of Chinese heading for diabetes
  13. In 2050 we will be eating more than the World has produced so far; needed 120% more water 40% more crop land 10% less forest
  14. Loss of biodiversity
  15. Agriculture produces more carbon than cars
  16. A plea for more horticultural research
  17. Food sales dominated by Marketing and supermarkets. Remember that supermarkets provide the food that we want to buy. The answer is a change in us not the supermarkets – if we change our eating habits then supermarkets will change what they sell.  A bottom up approach is needed
  18. During WW2 we got it right

December 4, 2014

Education policy and Scottish autonomy: the end of a common British tradition?

Filed under: Education, Left Politics, Lesley Riddoch, Scotland, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 11:26 am

I attended this Royal Society of Edinburgh event on Monday (1 Dec 14) to hear Professor Lindsay Paterson give an excellent lecture followed by very good questions and apposite answers.

Paterson prefaced his lecture by stating that he wanted to cover three topics: free tertiary education, secondary schooling and the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence.

Starting with free tertiary education whilst the tuition fees are free in Scotland and continue to saw in England, as bursaries are available in each country he considered the difference is more than it is cracked up to be.

To Secondary education he pointed out that the difference between Scotland and England is one of degree – Scotland introduced what were grammar schools first; these took in many who were unable to pay their fees; these have become half of the private schools in Scotland. The later ones such as Fetters are the equivalent of the English public schools. But most children continue to be educated by council funded schools.

To the Curriculum of Excellence again Scotland has stuck to its old tradition of providing a broad education through schooling whilst England has moved to specialisation much earlier in the school life time. Scottish education follows more closely the broad base while English education is now more capitalist oriented.

Paterson relates education to the welfare state which dates back to 1948. Education has changed since then but it remains largely democratic and in this respect Paterson considers ‘democracy’ works pretty well.

In summary Paterson felt that if education between Scotland and England was ideologically different then Scotland would have been right to become independent; in contrast he considers that education between the two states is one of degree. Scotland and England are both party to European Liberalism.

In support of this view Paterson reviewed the differences the recent surveys have shown between Scotland and England and concludes that while Scotland is to the left of England it is hardly statistically significant.

However Paterson recognises that such academic views as his, had little to do with the outcome of the Referendum and he was happy to quote Hume to a RSE audience ‘reason is the slave of passion’.

More specifically to the Referendum Paterson is scathing about the quality of debate; the No campaign was bereft of any substance while the Yes campaign was intellectually dishonest. The only politicians he had any time for were Nicola Sturgeon and Gordon Brown – in his view if you were to transport them back in time to 1948 they would both have been on the same side. If there is to be another Referendum then he quotes Pat Kane as saying there must be some hard thinking.

To some of questions he felt that

  • nationalism was inculcated pre-school
  • knowledge is education
  • gender equality is good in education and the public office but less so in private industry. It will take 50 years to really become a reality and then only if it is globally acceptable
  • Scotland never gave up its educational stance following 1707 and has always recognised there is a path from the parish school to the university
  • Oh and there was a quote from Lesley Riddoch but I didn’t take it down.
  • We tell ourselves that we are fundamentally different from England even if we aren’t.

But please note that Paterson spoke at a machine run pace and I may well have missed some points or misheard others. There is to be an audio recording on the web in due course so I will try and update the above when it becomes available.

November 20, 2014

Aesop and the position of the West in the World today

Filed under: Education, In Our Time, Philosophy, Poetry — derryvickers @ 10:23 am

To those who are addicted to In Our Time hosted by Melvyn Bragg; today he and his guests were talking about Aesop and his fables.  Simon Goldhill near the close of the programme made the very relevant comment that we in the West are still profoundly influenced by Greek culture.  We are introduced to this culture through Aesop and his fables right from the start of our lives and as we get older so Socrates, Plato and Aristotle break through.  There’s an interesting book by Ferdinand Mount ‘Full Circle’ where he sets out How the Classical World came back to us – perhaps it never went away.

But we need to remember that we in the West are so indoctrinated by the Classical World when working with people from other cultures that they have equally valid cultures too.

November 27, 2013

“The evolving Scottish Labour market; how the College sector fits in”

Filed under: DHI SPIF, Education, Scotland, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 10:44 am

On this auspicious day, 26 November 13, when the Scottish Government issued its White Paper on Scottish Independence  I cast my mind back only as far as the evening before to the David Hume Institute’s  seminar and Professor Keep’s realistic assessment of the evolving Scottish Labour market.  There is little he said that gave me any assurance that the situation would be any different whatever the Independence decision.  As I picked up, not only is the demand for jobs low and what there are for low skills, but that the demand for such jobs that there are, are over-subscribed.  One consequence is that there is little incentive for business managers to provide their low level low paid employees to any training.

He quoted statistics that 18% of Scottish employees are paid less than the ‘living wage’; just 2% better than for the UK as a whole.  Even managers in the catering business are paid no more than 25p – 50p above the national wage.  Somewhat surprisingly he stated that those on the lowest pay are complexed and uncertain of their future and subject to high risk. But then it’s a situation, which fortunately, I have never had to experience.  Despite this Professor Keep stated that  UK workforce is the 2nd highest qualified workforce in (Europe).

Both Professor Keep and Mandy Exley, Principal of Edinburgh College, the other speaker,  did agree that there could be hope in putting employees, managers and trainers together to see if there could be some synergy in creating training programmes that not only give job satisfaction to employees but increase productivity leading to more profitability.  In this respect they considered the Wood Committee report gives hope:


Ms Exley quotes the very encouraging statistics that for the Edinburgh College 30% of the students come from the lowest paid 20% of the population.  She was particularly pleased with the College’s courses in engineering tied to the oil and gas and the renewables businesses  and would like to expand  the College’s experience to tackle the care, tourist and hospitality businesses, although she recognised that these are more ‘horizontal’ (which I take to be broad based) than engineering.

Nevertheless Professor Keep came back to the point that, despite the desire to increase job skills at the bottom end of the job market, there will always be the lowly jobs that have to be done by someone.

April 22, 2013


Filed under: Education, Personal — derryvickers @ 11:30 am

Radio 4 – A nice wee programme today Thursday 22 April 2013 at 11am on FinchleyStrasse ie Finchley Road.

Why did it appeal to me? because my Cousin used to live in Swiss Cottage in Fairfax Road just off the Finchley Road.  I spent much of my teens visiting London and staying with her and I dossed done when I took up my first job in Slough.

To the programme – it was all about the Jewish émigrés from Vienna who escaped from the Nazis and how they frequented the Cosmo café – just like they did in Vienna, and John Barnes (a John Lewis shop) was the main shopping attraction and how the Finchley Road had an avenue of trees down the centre until modernity bulldozed then away when the Finchley Road had become the main artery into London from the North.

If you move fast you can hear the programme at:


And you might enjoy a piece by Dannie Abse writing about his early days at the Cosmo café and the Everyman in Hampstead.


November 12, 2011

Thoughts on Education

Filed under: Education — derryvickers @ 9:43 pm

Education turned on its head

An interesting article in Time Magazine 1 November 11 on why the US is falling behind in education – secondary education in particular.  The US is only 26th in the global educational scale having fallen from the top.  Top is South Korea, Germany and Finland are up there too.  Why – South Korea is just long hours more years; Finland – the quality of teachers.

The article considers that the US is unlikely to follow either of these.  However a new form of teaching , introduced by one Sal Khan, is being tried and found successful: children bone up the lessons at night on UTube or other video and solve the problems in class with the teachers.  As the article says – it’s turning teaching practice on its head.  An approach certainly worth a try in Scotland.

 Longer at School or Better Teachers

Thinking about an early start to education ,0 -3 years olds; this looks good to me.  I do however note that,  in the article above, the Finns who are right up there in the educational stakes are quoted to start education one year later than the norm but then its is also quoted that teachers are appreciated right up there with the doctors and lawyers – how long ago did  the Scottish dominie aspire to this status?

 A balanced education for all

I was at a meeting organised by the West Lothian Council saying how they intend to help with the rising unemployment of youths 16 – 25.  It’s a problem equally as large in West Lothian as in the big cities.  They  have £2m – not a lot but welcome – to augment youth’s wages in the SME sector, 12 months for the 16 -17 year olds and 6 months for the 18 -25 year olds.

After the meeting, I spoke with a lady who provides cooking service and who has taken on youths for a 6 week training period with wages paid by the Council.  She said that many who come to her are without drive, hope and some can’t even write the simplest sentences – she trains them in the basic skills and after the six weeks many are changed individuals.  But then that’s it – she has no work for them and they are back on the street again – with much more potential, keen but still lacking the professional skills.  Her point was that the Scottish Government pays a fortune providing higher education to those who have the capability to look after themselves – educating them in subjects that they are unlikely to make use of in the real world.  Yet those who can’t look after themselves for whatever reason are left to go back to the gutter.  She has a point.

March 11, 2011

Reform of Scotland’s Universities – a SPIF Forum

Filed under: DHI SPIF, Education — derryvickers @ 9:42 pm

I attended a SPIF (Scottish Policy Innovation Forum) forum for the reform of Scotland’s universities, chaired by Jim Gallagher with speakers Prof Seamus McDaid of the West of Scotland University, Jeremy Peat of the David Hume Institute and Liam Burns, President of NUS Scotland.

All agreed that Universities are the key asset of Scotland.  Graduates are part of our social as well as our economic capital.

So why is the % GDP that Scotland invests only 1% while England is 1.3%, the OECD average is 1.5%, China and India 2% and the US 2.9%

The deficit in funding to Universities will be £142 this coming year and obviously Student fees came up.  Note that only the Tories said that they considered it necessary to impose a graduate contribution in Scotland but all speakers were sceptical that once the election was over that the other parties would continue to hold the no fees line.  Liam Burns welcomed Scotland’s position on no graduate contribution but considered that whatever the situation it was better to consider a package of student support. 

Seamus McDaid and others felt that too little attention is being given to part time students who could go through HNC, HND and then on to university as one means of reducing the cost of student support – a University Apprenticeship model

Seamus also considered the transition from school to university needs smoothing.  This lead to a consideration of whether students completing a 6th year at school might not go straight into the 2nd year at university. 

If by not charging it is important that Scottish Universities don’t get classed as 2nd class and it is important that students continue to come from South of the Border and from outside the EU.

Speakers from the floor raised the question of directed / sponsored research in the 4th year and this got some welcome.  John Francis of the UNESCO Scotland recalled that he did two years learning and two years working on industry based projects. 

It was take as a given that universities will always have research as part of their remit.

Jeremy Peat was more concerned with introducing efficiencies through, for example, shared back office processes and outsourcing canteen arrangements – he felt it was quite anonymous that outsourcing is subject to 20% VAT while doing the job internally avoided this cost.

Paul Spicker of Robert Gordon’s and Richard Kerley of Queen Margaret’s felt that we are only tinkering at the edges, a much more fundamental look at the role of universities  is necessary – the universities are still back in the middle ages; however neither came up with much in the way of fundamental reform except perhaps the need to carter more fully for ‘life long learning.  More generally it was felt by a number of members from the floor that universities need to think again on why they exist and make their objectives more transparent.

Jim Gallagher in summing up felt that universities were in crisis which would emerge once the election was over yet the universities are a top quality national asset.  ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’.  There needs to be a short term and a long term solution.  The short-term is the funding, the long term is creating democratic intellect (no I don’t know what this means).  Universities need to become more egalitarian.  He suggested there are more valuable ways of filling the funding gap than removing bus passes.

An  important kick-off to reforming the Universities in Scotland.  The only pity was that there could have been a lot more attendees and it would have been good to see a few MSPs.

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