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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Undol -v- Radiators


In a classroom I teach in the heating hasn’t been working since who knows when. It has probably been broken since the summer. It’s one of those awful heaters that doubles as an air-conditioner, blowing out dry, heated air, in the winter, and flimsy puffs of cool in summer. Yesterday, I was sitting at a desk rubbing my knees and grimacing one of those ‘oh well you know’ friendly kind of faces towards the students who came in wrapped for artic exploration. I actually felt sorry for them because at least I could stand up and walk around for a little warmth.

I turned to one student, who I knew had lived in the UK for several years and proclaimed ‘what we need here are some radiators!’ to which she gave me a blank look. I remonstrated with her, trying to job her memory to which she replied ‘I prefer undol’. And I thought, ‘oh yeah…but no…’

Of course if you’ve lived in Korea, or indeed merely visited, you’ll have experienced undol. It is the floor heating which exists in every home, many hotels, and indeed any restaurant where floor seating is the norm. It’s great, to be honest, to crawl into your home from the cold, kick of your shoes and glide across the sleek floor and then lie down in a warm cosy spot, defrosting with the undol’s loveliness caressing your bum.

Old undol… (image by me via flickr!)

I know Herself is a big fan of it, especially when there’s a nice big cosy blanket to wrap around herself. I would be inclined to blame it for what seems to be every Koreans’ outspoken aversion to anything cold (except iced lattes etc.). Can you blame anyone for liking the cold after probably spending every moment they don’t need to be outside sitting at home on the undol. In fact anything that isn’t undol in winter is in fact cold. I know this sounds like stereotyping, which I’m no fan of, but in this case it’s not necessarily a bad thing. To back me up all I need to do is look behind me at my wife currently engaging wholeheartedly with all that the undol has to offer.

Back to my remonstration.

I grew up with radiators, not undol. Radiators were, in winter, great. Why? They were warm. They radiated warmth. They were cosy, provided you didn’t touch one which was doubling as an soldering iron for some reason. Of course if they’re never turned on they’re not much good. Sure they leaked, stuff got stuck behind them, you burned your finger, and of course they had to be painted every so often. But then again so does a house.

You see for all that radiators have not, and all that undol has, radiators have that undol has not. Let me explain, and elaborate on why Korean needs more radiators.

Radiators, radiators, radiators! (imagae via flickr)

Radiators, radiators, radiators! (imagae via flickr)

So I’ve given one side of the story already. The cosy, slipping under the blanket in front of the TV, versus the burning your finger and laboriousness of radiators. It’s a clear winner, but really it isn’t because you can’t have undol everywhere.

Firstly, I wonder how effective undol would be in a two story house? Firstly there’s the pipes upstairs thing, and then there’s a space issue. How many square metres is your average apartment compared with your average house? Would it work? And if it did, how much would it cost?

Next, while I think taking your shoes off as you enter the home is a nice concept, it can be really annoying and impractical, such as in the hallway, or indeed in the kitchen. A good tiled floor would be much more useful. And then there’s the cultural element. The amount of time I’ve been chastised for even letting the tip of my shoe laden toe touch the linoleum, and all I can think of is, ‘chill the fuck out, if it bothers you that my toes touched the lino, give me a space bigger than a toilet cubicle to take off my bloody shoes in…’ It’s a little overkill. Yeah maybe I should be more vigilant with my size 11s, but come on, it’s a floor not a child’s bed.

Take my argument out of the home, which is where most people I discussed this point with seemed to think was the only place that needed heat.

Oh yes, I’ve opened up the argument to the rest of the world.

Floor heating really only works when you don’t have shoes on. Yes, heat does rise, but when you’re wearing shoes and socks and walking around what does it matter, you’re not really going to be in one place long enough to really appreciate the warm floor. And if you don’t have undol what are you going to do?

What we have ended up with is a world of heatless buildings that seem to have been designed with the idea that, well we can’t have undol, we can’t have anything. There is the odd portable heater, which never does the job, and don’t even get me started again on the hot air belchers. I know that these would probably work better if they rooms they were in were actually insulated.

I know, you’re asking yourself when did I become an expert on construction materials and heating. Well, since I’ve froze my ass off every winter since 2005, I’ve decided I’m an expert.

Back to the point. Undol is lovely, but radiators, yes please! Or even better, lets knock a fireplace into every wall like there should be.

P.S. I say all this with my sockless toes all cosy and warm lodged on a warm patch on the floor.

P.P.S. Stay warm kids!

Driving, it’s a Lifestyle Choice


Life, regardless of where you live, is a bit like driving: it doesn’t matter how careless and scary the fella in front of you is, you still have deal with whatever situation is put before you otherwise there’s a good chance you could end up in hospital (and let’s face it, even if the insurance does pay, you could be proper fucked).

A car. You can drive this.

It all boils down to this – so what if someone is doing something you disagree with as you pass them on the street or wherever, it’s likely that there is very little that you can do about them other than get annoyed and go on about your day, red in the face from whatever it is that this person did. You could possibly do something about it, like stand over and explain to them the error of their ways, however it’s likely you won’t (and I know I don’t – I’m not up on a high horse here), and I imagine most people sit around chewing wasps or whatever until they find something else that bothers them.  What does this do? Nothing. I say, shut up, deal with it, then get back on with your own life because there’s more important things to be doing that bitching about some useless strangers inability to function inside a prescribed (ha) social structure.

Cross at your peril (I mean it)!

I do my best to keep this in mind whenever I step outside the front door, because getting angry and trying to explain why a person or something happens doesn’t make it any better. Dealing with the situation where I come out on the best possible footing (unscarred) is always my first priority, and keeping my blood pressure as low as possible in the process is my second. Still, I’m no angel. Driving doesn’t help.

Gangnam traffic (fortunately I resisted the urge to caption it Gangnam s**** traffic)

There’s a lot of complaint out there in the Korea waeg universe. People complaining about racism, job insecurity and dodgy bosses, the weather, the food, the wrong sized shoes…well all I can say to most people is, hell at least you don’t drive here.

And yes, all these things are probably worse than driving but they’re avoidable (ignore racism and get on with your day, quit your shit job an get a better one, get an air conditioner/heater/raincoat, eat food you like, buy shoes from wherever they do fit, or just learn to flow), just as much as driving is avoidable, but it’s a lifestyle choice. I choose to drive because it makes my life here easier, and believe me, all the other complaints I listed above, I learned to deal with them also.

Another fuckin’ hero without a helmet on his scooter in Gangnam.

As soon as you get into a car here, or anywhere in fact, the social contract changes and all of a sudden your usual eye-contact polite smile and nod method of getting on with life is obscured by the windscreen so that means the rules go out the window…or something to that effect…and even if you’re a nice guy you still have to be a dick otherwise people are going to be stepping all over you for the rest of your life, y’here?

 

The Internet: How Much Time is Too Much Time?


This is kind of an old argument…

If someone told you that you spend too much time on the internet, how would you respond?

Maybe I would say that don’t spend that much time on the actual internet, but I do spend a lot of time using various social network services or websites. I think I wouldn’t say I spend too much time, but I would admit that I am an avid addict of the world of knowing someone else’s business whilst trying to make my own business look, well, fascinating.

Let’s take a little look at where I am:

– Blog (you’re reading it)
Tumblr – reading and posting instagram photographs.
Twitter – reading and sharing, as well as commenting on, well, everything…
Flickr – photographs!
– Instagram – more photographs
Youtube – for videos and slideshows I make…
Linkedin – networking…for work…and looking important…
– Facebook – believe it or not, mostly just for keeping in touch with friends and family – after the big ordeal of getting off Facebook a few years ago, I just said ‘fuck it’ and signed back on. +1 kind of influenced this, but also the fact that I missed what little communication I had with many people I knew. Sad, I know.
– Meetup – Mostly for IAK stuff but can be useful for other events.
– Pinterest – yeah, apparently it’s a bit girly and I’m not sure why I joined it, but we’ll see what happens.

There might be one or two that I’m forgetting (I deleted bebo and haven’t looked at Myspace for at least a year, but if it gets you wet you can read some really old blog posts of mine there)

And I’ve profiles on a whole host of other websites which I comment on or receive daily or weekly updates on in my email, and I read these emails most of the time (I don’t necessarily always click the links).

So I make myself busy on the internet.

I thought that I’d ask this question after a comment from my old man on my last post, ‘Letter From Korea, August 2012’, telling me that if I turned off some of my internet distractions I’d probably get more work done. He’s probably right, but then again he’s probably wrong. You see despite the fact that I have a lot of activity on the internet, it’s worth asking how much of a distraction it really is, because I honestly think that I would be distracted even if I was chained up in a fucking desert.

Despite this notion, there’s been a fair amount of discussion on the viability and destructive nature that social media has on traditional media and the way we find information. I would be of the opinion that if you’re going to sit back and complain about something it will have overtaken you by the time you think you have people listening to you – and perhaps this is how I feel about Facebook. Perhaps.

How much time does it take to read a facebook status update? Or a tweet? And how long does it take to write one? While that’s a short amount of time, if it’s a link to a news or blog post (depending on the site) that is where the benefit comes from. It’s about content. That’s what keeps pulling me back to the internet. You see, when I started using twitter it was, I think, to get a regular feed of different links from whoever was tweeting them out. I’ve never been that interested in reading the links of individual people and their mannerisms (there are exceptions of course). I like to think now that I know more about stuff I never knew before. Things like this make finding this information out a lot easier, and they benefit the suppliers too because it’s easier to be found.

There are more questions that I should ask. I hope that I can answer them. Here I go.

Is it worthwhile being on a social network? Well, yes and no. It all depends on what you’re trying to do and what you’re looking to achieve from it. A lot of people initially start out using these because everyone else is there, and this is especially the case with facebook. Other people start out using them because they are looking to use some of the services for publicity or sharing, such as photographs on flickr. Twitter was destined to be a constant stream of neurotic teenagers tweeting in text language until journalists and the media got onto it, making it more valuable. A bit like much in life, it all boils down to finding out what’s the point of using these things? Knowing your, options, alternatives, and goals can probably help you to know this answer easily. There are many of us who don’t actually need to use social networks or the media.

I’ll give you an example of what social networks can do for someone who is living and working in a place like Korea. They definitely operate as a network where you can connect and hear about events, new restaurants, and news (I suppose), where before you would have had to visit different websites individually, now you can source all your information on one. In Korea, Facebook is definitely the most useful website to use as practically any event that takes place is publicised through facebook, at least in the foreign community here. When I initially deleted my facebook account I found that I had automatically lost my source for event postings and get-togethers (and also it has to be said, a pile of useless and irrelevant stuff). Could I have survived without much of it? Yes. Did I? Yes. Will I continue you to? Surely.

But still I am here and there (and some would say everywhere) online. I have to say that I enjoy it. I do spend quite a lot of time online, perhaps an hour or two every day, but to be honest I know when I spend too much time on social networks – it actually feels like it has been too much time. Sometimes I get a headache, but usually I know when I’ve had enough. I could blame it for distracting me from getting work done, but as I read from an interview from Margaret Atwood recently, essentially it doesn’t matter who are and what you do, you will find distractions when work has to be done and you don’t have a boss beating down on you.

Of course there has been an increase in arguments about why the internet is tearing apart social structures and prescribed practices (esepecially the traditional media), but at the end of the day the internet and all its follicles are here to stay. There are obvious conflicts with common sense, especially when you see how much money is spent on developing internet products and websites. I reckon people who complain about that kind of stuff are just jealous they couldn’t have thought of something as simple.

The amount of benefits can struggle to counter the obvious ridiculous and negative aspects. But like any game it all depends how you play it. I’d like to think that I can utilise it and not turn it into an enemy, and that I can learn to use it to my own benefit – whatever that may be.

So in answer to my initial question, do I spend too much time on the internet. Yes I do. What can you do?

 

After posting this I found this article in my #twitter stream. Very worthwhile read and one the more balanced and well supported arguments. As I said though, what can you do?

So, Koreans are sooo Korean…


The other day I sat through a conversation with a person who referred to Korean people as being soooo Korean. I didn’t ask them what they meant, and perhaps I should have, because it’s the kind of thing that really needs more of an explanation. Why? Is it not absurd to consider Koreans to be anything but Korean?

There is a prevailing thought that I keep encountering in Korea which bothers me. It is the concept that Korean people and people from other countries are so different that their actions must be distinguished as being distinctly Korean. You might think that this is fair, because Korean people do act like Korean people. But what’s the point of making an issue of it? It’s like complaining that the shower you are taking in the morning is sooo wet. Korean people are Korean, so they will act Korean. And, hold on to your hats here because this next comment will blow the roof off, many of them are proud of it! Fuck. Stop the world.

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