I remember when I was working as a trainee accountant in the tax department of the London office of Arthur Andersen (R.I.P.) in March 1988 when our senior partner walked in clutching a bottle of champagne: “Geoffrey Howe has just made me £30,000 a year richer” he squawked excitedly “he’s announced in the budget that the top tax rate has been cut from 60% to 40%”.
Since I was earning less than that sum at the time, I can remember being distinctly unimpressed with this – as I am now with calls from business leaders in the Daily Telegraph to cut the top tax rate back down from 50% to 40%. My definition of business leadership does not include looking after my own interest whilst my employees are suffering from an economic downturn and increasing levels of unemployment.
There is an argument that the 50% rate just reduces entrepreneurial incentives, promotes tax avoidance and doesn’t actually raise much extra money for the exchequer, but the time for that argument is certainly not now. Business leaders have to be seen to be sharing in the pain that everyone else is suffering. Since the tax is only levied on incomes above £150,000, we can assume that the pain shouldn’t be too hard to bear!
In particular, to accept the thesis that the 50p tax rate stifles entrepreneurship, we would have to assume that the extra money the entrepreneur receives from not paying tax would be ploughed back into new businesses and that this won’t happen with a 50p tax rate. I’m afraid I don’t buy that as credible – the viability or expected profitability of a new business does not simply depend on the cash financing from the entrepreneur – if it is a good prospective business it will attract plenty of risk capital from other sources. The tax saving is more likely to be used to fund a better lifestyle for the entrepreneur, or even to reduce his personal level of debt. Both of these are fine objectives, but only when the good times come again, and we can all share in the prosperity of our economy.
The report that Stephen Hester of RBS has received a share award of £996,000 on top of his £1.2m salary has provoked the expected howls of anguish from all sides and many ‘fat cattery’ jibes from the usual suspects. However, leaving aside any ungracious thoughts of jealousy, how outrageous is this payment?
Well what is he being paid for? Answer – to try and rescue a profitable business. So the question should be asked, what does it take to get the right person to undertake this task, which surely his detractors must admit is a uniquely challenging role? How many top bankers, let alone anyone else, are capable of this task, and if so, willing to take all the accompanying opprobrium that will inevitably come their way in shrinking the bloated balance sheet of the runaway bank RBS had become whilst it is in the public ownership spotlight? Translated into English that task means asset disposals and job cuts, in a market environment where both are going to lead to financial distress. The answer of course is very few people, who would expect a premium reward for being able to do so.
The reality is that set against the amount of losses he has prevented during the past year, Mr Hester’s remuneration is tiny. Yes, of course it is a lot of money, but nowhere near what he would command in doing the same job outside of public ownership. Is he expected to wear a hair shirt for us all while fixing somebody else’s mess for our benefit? To pick on a banker who is actually creating some value for the country by resurrecting an essential part of our capitalist economy seems penny wise and pound foolish to me.
An area of higher education activity which should be seen as fertile ground for the development of open-access materials is staff continuing professional development. Taking the UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education as a starting point, and analysing it for traces of its underlying ethos, it can be seen to be based in an expectation of openness and sharing. The standard descriptors are based on an expectation of developing research, scholarship and/or professional practice both as a principle of personal development and also in the development of learning communities.
The paradigms of action research and reflective practice – which often underpin CPD – essentially involve both individuals and institutions in wider communities of practice. At one stage of the reflective and reiterative cycle you need to review examples of best practice within such communities, and at a later stage you feed back to those communities the fruits of your own development activities via conferences, journal articles, and involvement with professional interest groups.
As our own communities of practice can be seen to be not just local – that is within our own institutions, but simultaneously national or even global – then the development of web 2.0 technologies allied to the philosophy of open access can create powerful resources for CPD. A clear example of this is the recently completed Teaching International Students project hosted at the Higher Education Academy.
I have been involved in the development of two other open-access resources designed to enable CPD, particularly in relation to internationalisation of higher education. The earlier of these is a course pack of open materials commissioned by the Centre for Languages, Linguistics, & Area Studies, Supporting international students in UK Higher Education: a course for staff. The more recent, and perhaps more innovative, is an online tool which is an output of a National Teaching Fellowship project concerning international collaborations.
This project involved researching the growing types and increasing complexities of international collaborations in higher education, with a view to enabling institutions to take advantage of previous experiences within the sector to enhance their own collaborative developments. As well as producing linear reports, consisting of seven thematic chapters and 14 case studies, the project has also designed an online tool which allows users to select different pathways to follow through the materials, as different forms of collaboration might need to address different issues, such as resourcing, or quality assurance.
In all there are 10 such pathways. We believe the tool can be used in two ways relating to CPD. The first can be considered a bottom-up approach, where a group of staff who are developing an idea concerning collaboration can use this tool to help to identify issues which they must address, and also to suggest to them new facets they can add to their project to make it more effective and more likely to win backing. The second is a more top-down approach, where managers might use the tool as part of a staff development or as a team-building exercise. The tool, Strategic Implications of International Collaborations in HE (http://nbsbitesize.northampton.ac.uk/intercollab-tool/interactivetool-intro.php), is now available as an open resource.
In this age of online sharing and learning, plus increasing time restraints on us all to use our time most effectively, professional development through open access materials will only increase in popularity. Its quick and easy to access, and can be tailored to your own needs and learning outcomes. Just look at the popularity of Stanford’s Engineering Everywhere initiative which offers engineering classes free of charge to students around the world, however you want to learn, whether as a traditional student or for the development of your own skills and expertise.
This blog was originally published on guardian.co.uk’s Higher Education Network (7/11/2011)
- Damian Pickard
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