Higher Education and Even Higher Rents


There is a serious concern about the long term effects that higher rents in urban areas could have on third level choice in Ireland. This is not a short term concern, and the impacts countrywide could change the way Ireland develops forever.

Trending in the news over the past few days has been the unwelcome reports of the rapidly increasing rent prices countrywide. The release of this data in the form of the annual Daft report on rental prices seemingly coincided with the release of CAO first place offers. When the joy of the first-round offers has subsided, the difficult decisions will come to light. Not for the first time, genuine worry will encapsulate the mood as young men and women eager to embark on the rest of their lives need to make significant financial decisions. It is fair to say that these decisions have been made for decades, but it is equally fair to say that the past number of years have seen rent increases which may well change the way school leavers make important decisions about their higher education.

Much of what this article will entail will be speculative, although since I started writing it I’ve seen more related examples. I think that there is a distinct possibility that much of what will follow here may happen, as it may already be the case, and it is hard to predict to what extent it is already occurring. I fear a little that this article will also add another straw towards breaking the camel’s back as Ireland grows tired of the problems in our housing sector. Someone might say ‘not another problem’, and see university students as less of a priority. It is my feeling though that the issues here could accentuate an already overstretched system and put greater pressures in areas where previously it has not proven to be an issue.

The increasing rent prices, regardless of who is to blame for them, will impact on where people decide to take their third level study, if it hasn’t already happened. The scale with which this will happen is probably something we can’t measure, and while large numbers of students who live in the likes of Dublin or Cork may have less to be concerned about, students from rural areas or outside of major towns and cities who work hard for excellent exam results may be forced to choose courses based on proximity above all other factors.

Going to third level for the first time is a big step, not just for the student but also for the family, who experience their son or daughter with a very different lifestyle and with more independence. Parents recognise this and do their best to support their children on this important journey. If we start looking at situations where a family is left looking at trying to afford urban rent prices, especially those in Dublin, tough family decisions will be made. Families and individuals and will not only be looking at the quality of the course they choose, but the overall economic value of higher education.

Higher education institutes in Ireland struggle as it is to justify the value their courses have to individuals, and you could suggest that it isn’t really their fault that rents are as high as they are. But I don’t really think that matters, because when me make a decision like this, we take everything into consideration and evaluate the finished project. If you think of it a bit like a Ryanair flight that you buy to London Stansted or Paris Beauvais for €10, but when you arrive you discover all the add-ons of time and travel into the city, the value of the deal is somewhat reduced. I use this analogy merely to simplify my point. I wish choosing a college course or career was as easy as buying cheap flights online, but for the most part it is a more complex task.

I take a particular view of education and higher education in particular, and that is the education is there for helping you to grow and improve as an individual, and this can be achieved through learning. I don’t subscribe to the idea that education is primarily for employment, although it is significant, and I think when people choose a higher education course many also take the importance of these broader social and experiential benefits into account. When the cost of study increases, and especially for those who make a proportionally large financial investment for accommodation and living, the way they choose their courses will change. We have increased our propensity for considering the job trends when choosing our courses, especially since the recession, but with recovery we have become more selective in our choices, and with the advice that we give. Employability takes a precedent, and if you are to leave university with a significant debt following four years of renting in Dublin, for example, the importance of promptly entering employment will loom over new graduates.

You’ll have to forgive me for my constant references to Dublin in this article, but it is the centre of Irish higher education. Dublin has over 100,000 full and part-time students in higher education. There are three universities, three institutes of technology, as well as numerous high-quality private colleges with fine reputations. Not only this, it is home to some very specialised courses, such as veterinary, and some of its bigger universities are certainly attractive to ambitious students. I think that if you look around the country at the other universities you can say the same things, but my knowledge stems from Dublin. You could also say that Ireland is a small country and we believe if you work hard your results will matter more than where you got them, and I couldn’t agree more. However, we also spent much of our time reinforcing the idea that if you’re good enough you can go wherever you want to study in Ireland, because if you have the points then the world is your oyster. But times are changing, yet we can only predict how quickly and dynamically they flux.

As I mentioned, people will begin to choose courses based on proximity over the courses suitability or the individual’s desire or ambition. I am aware that this happens already, indeed when I filled out my own CAO I didn’t pick anywhere I couldn’t get a bus too every morning. Growing up in the Dublin Bus’s 70 terminus of Dunboyne being a blessing in this instance.  The problem with this situation is that it’s all well and good for people within commuting distance of Dublin, but those in other parts of the country are significantly less resourced in higher education options. Studying in Dublin or Cork or Galway will increasingly be seen as a luxury or status symbol, and there is something intrinsically wrong with this.

The situation becomes somewhat more austere as places in regional education centres become taken up by students who traditionally may have looked at going to university. This does have the benefit of increasing the quality of the classroom and student groups, but at the expense of students who previously may have found opportunities in higher education through local Institutes of Technology who will now find the competition for places to have increased significantly.  I think that perhaps we’ve already seen this process begin with the demand for a university to service Ireland’s south east. Educational snobs like to laugh at ITs as centres of basket weaving studies or advanced hairdressing (side rant – who gives a shite what another person wants to do with their life? Just support or be happy for them ye big Business and Law graduate), but their importance to the wider educational environoment of this country is vital. While they may indeed have nonsensical courses, their role in providing gateways to the technical workforce for many is vital.

Without something being done about this in good time, the situation will worsen. I think that we are already witnessing this situation in flux, although it will be hard to recognise the extent to which this is happening. The larger universities will always be able to fill places in in demand subjects, such as engineering or those geared towards services according to the recent news reports. Free spaces can be filled by international recruitment strategies, which benefits the universities in global ranking places and their bank accounts.

As a parent with young kids, the solution for me is quite simple, and this is to move closer to the urban centres with greater diversity of educational opportunities. Especially now, young professionals are more flexible as their backgrounds in IT or engineering allow for increased transiency. This kind of migration shouldn’t really perturb many of us who have already been a part of it, but it is the kind of migration which doesn’t pull at the heartstrings as much as the emigration which tore at us not many years ago. This in-country migration is no less disruptive, especially to rural communities. It is at this point where we see ourselves coming full circle once again to the issue of housing in our major urban areas. Young families will leave their homes and move to the cities because this is the best option for their families growth, even with the costs involved of paying exorbitant house prices or tackling overly competitive school enrollments. When you start to see less and less children on the streets of our town and villages as we journey further from the cities, are we not to blame because we never raised our hand and said that something is not right here.  This problem will extenuate itself increasingly in the coming years, if not decades to come, unless we some how try to curb it.

The housing crisis is not just about the cost of  accommodation, it is a wider social crisis that cannot be solved by a quick fix. It is clear to any person who tries to rent property or who opens a newspaper how much this issue is shellacking the country. I see it as an opportunity to reassess our understanding of what this accommodation crisis is causing. It goes beyond the problems which families are facing each day who are forced into emergency accommodation, or the prices which young people may be faced with paying for apartments in the cities. It is not my place to argue that any situation is more important that another, as what I see here is an extension of the increased housing neglect which is impacting countrywide. The right to education is one which we do not even debate in this country, and is one that has long hoped to be based on foundations of exceptional standards and equality. Are we in danger of reversing this?

In September, thousands of young people will wander off into this world in the hopes that they can be provided for. In the hope that everything will be ok. It’s a sobering thought that some may be forced to grow up quicker than others due to preventable situations. If we take a moment to consider what this means to be people, if we have stood in those same shoes ourselves as so many of us have, perhaps we can see more of the reality that Ireland’s 21st century crises continues to lay upon us.

 

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Hopeful Wishing


I work four hours a day in Korea. It’s great. In the States I’d be working more than twice that to maintain the same income. Even more hours would be needed to realize the same lifestyle I enjoy here (nothing outlandish, I assure you). The Koreans with whom I work are not paid as much as I am for the same work. They work more hours than I do as well. They face similar problems to those of the US middle class, [i] especially with regards to competition for a good job, as exemplified by the fierce academic environment. 

High levels of unemployment are staggering all across the globe. At home in Minnesota, most friends of mine are able to maintain jobs, though some can’t find enough hours to make ends meet. Just a few have incomes that keep up with inflation. With regards to the nation, only the top 5% of Americans have earned enough money to keep up with the rising housing costs since 1975. The income gap widens each year[ii], as ultimately, the government serves those who keep them in office. If this were a fairy tale we would desperately need Robin Hood right about now.

Cary Elwes, won’t you save the day?
Cary Elwes, won’t you save the day?

The only things that are trickling down are diminished benefits and lack of upward mobility. Indeed, “degree inflation” encroaches the college-educated job seeker and effects future prospects for all workers.

That old interview question “where do you see yourself in five years?” is irrelevant. Nobody knows the answer to that except those who had retirement plans that they are now putting on hold, or banking executives who seem to be laughing at us, even at congressional hearings.

Crony capitalism has severe side effects. Jobs are being lost at exponential rates due to increased red tape for employers and a  slew of regulatory measures which are put into place by unelected bureaucrats.[iii] How is this our reality? What are our ever-so-vigilant media conglomerates missing?

ben2Contrary to nearly every statistic offered up by the news, here are some more facts. As of 2007, the bottom 80% of American households held only 7% of liquid financial assets.[iv] It’s a difficult number to surmise, but if unemployment rates are anywhere close to the 7.2% reported by the Bureau of Labor than 1 out of every 5 of Americans wouldn’t be relying on food stamps.

It is numbingly enraging to know we have to watch Wall Street bonuses increase year after year. This is something the media reminds us pretty constantly, so it loses its effect. There is no more shock when we hear about it night after night, for five straight years. After the “wolfs” tore apart the market in which all of us were forced to place our money,[v] they got to pay themselves off with government money- taxes we’re forced to pay but have no say in how its spent. Has anyone paid for their crimes with any time? That’s a dangerous idea according to Eric Holder. He maintains that “if you do bring a criminal charge—it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy.” [vi]

Well it already has, and the fact that nobody has brought forth criminal charges shows us that the US Department of Justice has no plans to prevent it from happening all over again.

It now takes a staggering 35 weeks, on average, to find a job in America. This does not leave for much room when it comes to bargaining for salary. As well, 40% of those who are employed are through low paying jobs. This is the reality of the new “lost generation.” It’s no wonder that we are having a difficult time. There’s no way to develop or grow (as human beings must do to thrive) when living paycheck to paycheck, and 61% of employed Americans are doing just that.

C’mon Holder. Do your job. Or is this the best you've got?
C’mon Holder. Do your job. Or is this the best you’ve got?

We must help ourselves, since nobody on top is going to look out for us. I maintain that it has always been our responsibility to make decisions and learn from our own mistakes. By raising our children in loving and caring environments and allowing them to grow we can foster a better environment for morally fit leaders in the future.

We’re being held up by the banks, and the getaway car is being driven by our own government. To begin, we require a state and laws that aren’t bought and paid for.  A plutocracy will never allow for fair competition. Considering now, for the first time in history, the banks own more of US residential housing net worth than the rest of Americans combined, it may be a good time to look at alternatives.[vii]

Hopefully, we can lower our material desires as consumers instead of increasing our debt. Eventually a tide will turn, when corporations become victim to their own assaults of government collusion.  At some point company executives will be the only ones who can afford their own products. Only when it comes full circle, will this vicious cycle come to a halt.

We need a new paradigm. Working 40+ hours a week is no longer something we need to do. We must instead focus on helping each other become healthier and happier people. We’ve got the technology to allow us to live more fruitful lives. We just haven’t been utilizing it correctly (see NSA). We may find a balance if we have time to devote to creative and spiritual endeavors. There’s a huge mess to clean up here. A few jobs will be opening up along the way. Where do you see us in five years?

 

This post is guest post. For more on guest posts and how to submit pleasefollow this link

BenHaynes

Ben Haynes has resided in Seoul with his wife, Ren, since 2011, where he is regarded as a local hero. He has the foresight of a community channel televangelist. He leads with the fortitude of Aurelius. His sweat is sweet as freshly squeezed juice. Villagers whisper giddily when he walks by. He enjoys a good book and cold glass of beer.

 


[i] *http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_time While Koreans are now being forced to work less by law,  many have, in recent years, worked up to and beyond 60 hours a week.

[ii] 66% of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1%

[iii]The 2013 Federal Register. It contains over 80,000 pages of new rules, regulations, and notices all written and passed by unelected bureaucrats https://www.federalregister.gov/index/2013

[iv] BusinessInsider fdrurl.com/un2

[v] New laws are being passed to force employees to participate in company 401k plans. http://www.moneycrashers.com/new-401k-law-helps-companies-force-employees-into-saving/

[vi] New evidence sheds light. As was earlier suspected, Eric Holder is indeed, a dick http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/jan/09/financial-crisis-why-no-executive-prosecutions/?pagination=false

[vii] BusinessInsider http://fdrurl.com/un2

 

Supermarkets -v- the People?


It has been bothering me since about the time it has been instigated. It’s a simple thing that shouldn’t really get me agitated as it has very little effect on me, and in many respects it is a good principal to take. It’s just that I think it’s the wrong step and I don’t think it really solves any problems, only encourages more populist resolutions to complicated social and economic problems.

What am talking about? Sunday closing for the so-called discount stores in Korea.

Now lets establish some terminology first.

“Discount stores” are what major supermarket chains are called in Korea. These include E-Mart (part of Shinsaegae international), Homeplus (owned by Tesco, the second largest supermarket company in the world), and Lotte Mart, which are the biggest ones.

“Sunday closing” is a government regulation which has called for all “discount stores” to close on two Sundays a month, or in some cases two Wednesdays a month. The reason for this is because they were blamed by smaller businesses for taking away too much business from smaller shops and businesses which were nearby.

Now that we understand this, allow me to explain why I find this to be bothersome.

To begin with there’s the obvious inconvenience of wanting to buy something that the major supermarkets stock. I personally haven’t been overly bothered by this on many occasions, and I’ll admit that the one time it really did get to me, and is probably where the idea for this blog post came from, was on a nice Sunday afternoon when I decided to stop by Yeongtong Homeplus and pick up some tasty foreign beer.

I fancied a few warm cans of something elaborate and I was looking forward to the painstaking decision I would have to make in the aisles. When I came to the front of the supermarket the shutter was pulled down and there was a big yellow banner acorss it explaining, I imagine, that it wasn’t their fault I couldn’t buy my beer, blame the government.

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I don’t doubt that at this moment you’re thinking I’m some crazed anti-government vigilante who feels the world is against him, but this is not the case. I am not going to go into why I didn’t want Korean beer either, but if you’ve been in Korea long enough, you’ll understand. The way I see it is that as a consumer we’re being forced to buy things we don’t want to buy when there are better alternatives available.

I’m all for buying from the little guy, believe me, and I would happily choose the alternative over a major mulitnational blood sucking vampire such as Tesco any day of the week. But I’m also a consumer who has grown accustomed to buying food and products that meet a certain standard, and there’s also the added bonus of liking a bit of variety in my life also.

But there’s a little more to it than that.

One of the arugments put forward for Sunday closing was that the prices of the major supermarkets were suffocating the smaller businesses. But if you’ve spent any amount of time in the supermarkets, you can’t really argue successfully that they are in fact ‘discounted’ prices. Yes there are some discounted goods, but really can you say they are slicing a hole in the belly of the competition and watching them bleed dry on the streets? No. Maybe a pinprick would be a more apt comparison.

There is more to this picture than just prices, its the very nature of competition and the lack of innovation in the realm of small businesses. Take smaller supermarkets for example. What do they sell that would make you want to choose them over the major supermarkets? Nothing. In fact that lack of variety and bog standard middle-to-bottom of the line brands in stock are in my opinion a turn off, especially to young and middle sized families, the kind of people who go into a supermarket and drop 200,000 won in a weekly shop. Other than being a place where you can pick up something urgently in case you run out, I struggle to see what other function they can serve. Of course across the world these smaller shops suffer from the same plight, so it’s not only a Korean problem.

Before this situation with supermarkets came to light, it was another issue raised by smaller restaurants who again complained that the supermarkets where threatening their business. Around 2010 or 2011 Lotte Market announced they were selling fried chicked for around 5,000 won per portion. Compare this with the standard delivered variety costing over 10,000. You can imagine why the fried chicken restaurants went up in arms over this. Not long after this E mart copied them by selling jumbo pizzas at cut prices, and again the pizza shop fraternity went baloobas. In the end the government jumped in and put a stop to this opportunism by the considerably wealthier and resourceful supermarkets by putting a cap on the number they could sell every day.

If we take a look at the pizza and fried chicken places around Korea you can see the problems already, as there are already too many. To the average armchair enthusiast they seem to be a get rich quick scheme which doesn’t seem to be such a hot ticket any more. Pizza places seemed to be the next to follow, and recently I’ve noticed a surge in tteokboki restaurants – I suppose it depends on what’s being promoted the most at whatever franchise fair people end up going to with a sack of inheritance.

*This video will give you an idea of the problems with the fried chicken business in Korea

The propenderence of fried chicken and pizza franchises, to name a few, is a key ingredient in understanding where I’m coming from. I see that these clearly point to a lack of much needed innovation in the small business sector.

For example, if you have all your little supermarkets which are competing against E Mart and Tesco change their stock to sell organic or direct from farm fruit and veg, or high end products, or homemade/locally produced condiments (you know the kind of stuff I’m talking about) you’ll not only encourage people to shop there you encourage the wider national agricultural economy to prosper. This is just an example. Easier said than done I know.

Another avenue is to really go out of your way to provide excellent service. Take camera shops for example. If you go into a camera shop, the guy selling you the stuff is a photographer, and knows all about what you are looking at. Invariably they throw in all sorts of others freebies like bags, memory cards, and other things. Of course the supermarkets aren’t the threat to these people’s livelihood. Their situation is even more serious because they have to compete against the internet.

For the most part a lot of the people who own these places are older, don’t have a lot of money, and really lack the inclination to innovate. Perhaps though they could lease out their premisis to someone with the inclination to innovate. Retail rents are extraordinary at the best of times, but if they could do a deal where the older owner keeps his deposit down as kind of insurance while the younger person pays the rent and some, or something to that effect.

I’ve heard before that a lot of these places are only kept open by some older people because they don’t really have anything else to do, so you know, they keep plugging along. This is mere speculation of course as there are undoubtedly other social issues which may be at play which I’m unaware of.

Regardless, the main thing is that the business is busy and the people involved are all making money. I know that this will not be something that will not happen overnight, and I know that in many circumstances it will not happen at all.

Populism and complaint to the nanny state will continue on as before. If a little innovation were to come it needs to be encouraged by those in a position to do so. There’s no reason why people who are already burdeoned with inexplicably high rents need to suffer because no one wants to buy what they are trying to sell. But at the same time, if no one really wants to buy it perhaps its worth considering what it is for sale.

There is so much room for growth in Korea, despite what people might think, but it is on a micro scale. Large scale development has polarised the economy and increasingly society. If a little vision were employed perhaps we could find ourselves living in new neighbourhoods which were welcoming to all our tastes.

Questions Worth Answering


These are questions I ask myself regularly:

  1. In what year will I win the Nobel Prize?
  2. How old will I be before I actually can relax about money?
  3. How will I die?
  4. How many countries will I visit before I can no longer visit any more?
  5. Will I ever get to travel in space?
  6. What will I witness going extinct?
  7. How different will my life be in 30 years?
  8. Will my parent’s lives be comparable with my own life?
  9. What country will I live in next?
  10. What will +1 look like when she is twenty?
  11. What am I really afraid of?
  12. Is there a chance that I will actually do what I say I will?
  13. Is Ireland really as bad off as they say it is?
  14. When will I every learn to manage my time effectively?
  15. Why am I suddenly fascinated by science, science fiction, medical development and  , and life, among other subjects which never interested me before.
  16. How is it that unoriginal sounding music is so popular?
  17. Why did the coffee pot in my office break?
  18. Will I win the computer in the essay competition I entered a week or two ago?
  19. Does anyone other than me care about what I have to say?
  20. Will I ever managed to get some poems published without having to beg, borrow, and steal to do so?

There’s a prize for the first person to answer all of these correctly.

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear some news?


So, I clicked on to the ould My Yahoo! home page this morning (I’m a Yahoo! user, old school), where I have lots of RSS feeds for the news, mostly Yahoo! news, but also different updates from Reuters, AP, and a number of other sources. To my surprise, I read that there is a presidential election in Brazil coming up. Not only that, but it is in the final stages of completion.

Don’t you think it is odd that information like this isn’t of more significance? Firstly, I don’t think the elections results will effect me drastically, nor do I know anything about the candidates, but Brazil is one of the largest economies in the world, and definitely the most significant economy in the Southern hemisphere. But, this is the first time that I have read anything about the election. The fact that I had to hear about it through Yahoo! news, and not from one of the major newspapers that turn up in my inbox on a daily basis, such as the Irish Times, The Guardian, and the New York Times, is a poor reflection on the quality of the diversity of the news reporting in the world today.  Here is strong evidence that the mass media determines our sphere of interest and what we actually know.

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