Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Rights and Privileges

I thought about writing on this topic in the summer when the news was aflame with students protesting not being able to get into university due to lack of places available but with recent changes in university education and me having time off, I will finally get this off my mind.

There were lots of unhappy students faces plastered on tv and newspapers for being turned down by universities and comments being made that the government cuts in funding is taking away people's rights to learn.

Right to learn?

Every child has access to free schooling till they're 18 - in fact you can get access to study for those qualifications at any age however, is university a right? In my opinion, no.

Completing secondary education will give you the basics needed for life however many jobs often require additional skills and these can be either taught through vocational studies (often with links to industry) or through colleges/universities.
To me, a university is a place to gain further knowledge and insight into a field where you will learn and gain skills that will be beneficial to society. It's an intellectual pursuit with the endgame being able to implement the knowledge in practical problems. For example whereas through vocational studies, you may learn to put an engine together, through university, you should be able to understand the theory behind it and use that knowledge to potentially create a new solution.

Courses are limited and anly those that show the capability to excel should be admitted, whether it be to a vocational or theoretical course - it's a privilege which you earn through working hard. So in a finite limited resource, only the best should be given the chance. If you were denied, ask yourself why were others chosen? What did you lack? If you are determined to get through, show it by improving yourself. Universities are a place to enhance talent - you need to earn that recognition, not have it for granted.

With the recession, the number of people applying increased (~69000 more than last year) - were students honestly thinking that it would be easy to get in? How arrogant must you be to demand a place when there are at least a thousand others with the same grades as yourself?

Whilst on topic of university intake, what are your opinions on universities being assessed on the level of intake from state schools?

I find it a rather sorry state of affairs if universities are being assessed on this. As an institute of learning, they should only be focused on taking in the brightest and most capable of students, regardless of background. I agree that those who come from more privileged backgrounds are able to access better education however there are plenty of grammar schools that are accessible to everyone. Rather than targetting the universities, why isn't the root cause assessed? Certainly, give those with aspirations of university from underprivileged backgrounds, access to universities - by improving the education level and exposing them to a greater breadth of activities and skills. It's not just a matter of how intellectually bright a person is, it's how they carry themselves too. Inter-personal skills and attitudes are developed at university but those from under-performing schools will not have had the chance to exercise it unlike their counterparts in grammar or private schools. These are the long term problems that need to be tackled rather than just forcing universities into admitting a percentage of students from secondary schools which is only best as a short term plan.

And now university fees have also risen. What was once a heavily subsidised institution, university education is being expected to be funded more by those benefiting from it... but was this surprising?

Universities have been calling for more funding for over 20 years to be able to compete in the international market. We have some of the best and recognised institutions in the world but in order to maintain and improve, more money was required. So fees were first introduced in 1998 - a big step away from free higher education, with a maximum annual fee of £1000 and in 2004, this was raised to £3000. Six years later, this has once again tripled to a maximum of £9000 to help fund university education.

The tuition fees aren't up front payments but scaled according to earnings - this hasn't changed but the uproar is by the amount. Most graduates will be in careers that will allow them to earn far more than they would have otherwise ... over the course of ones career, is the fees not worth it?

What is the fuss about?

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

My Close Friend's Wedding

This is a concurrent blog of my friend Faz made here, who I felt had too much mush and less peas!

It has been building up for over a year now; the tears, the tantrums, the trauma, the dress dilemma, the decor and all the details finally came to a crescendo 10 days ago when one of my closest friends got married.

The run-up was stressful (thankfully not for me!) as dates needed changing (much to her horror and my disappointment), venues needed re-booking, etc but she seemed to handle it well and not outwardly show any signs of stress or raging anger at people who let her down... unfortunately that rule never applied to me as I was one of the emotional punchbags used to vent her frustration.

I gained insight into how complicated the most simplest of tasks could be... having plenty of experience in project management, I am pretty good at organising and delivering a solution and having been shown the to-do list, I didn't think wedding planning was that difficult and as usual, she was making a mountain out of a goosebump!
One example was the wedding invitation cards... to me it's quite simple:

1. Look for companies
2. View the catalogues and choose a design
3. Approach companies and obtain quotes
4. Choose a company and get a draft, modify if necessary and repeat draft until you're happy
5. Print and send!

Yet I failed to acknowledge the international aspect and orders being lost in translation... countless communiqué were being fired back and forth across time zones and the 5-step approach lasted several weeks!
Thankfully the tasks delegated to me were not of high priority or responsibility so I didn't face such problems, except for getting called at 1.30 in the morning with a frantic woman shouting "take out the cake!". Understandably, having been awakened from a much needed sleep by an uninteligible ranting, I was neither in the land of the living nor available for any conversation for 5 minutes... which only made the situation worse as she got more and more frustrated to my neanderthal grunting replies and repeating the same words "cake? huh?" over and over again.

However I was amazed at how calm she was getting closer to the big day... problems no longer fazed her and one could tell she was just looking forward to the day, or more likely, looking forward to the end of it!

I arrived two days before the wedding and was at her mehndi event (before being thrown out by the women who wanted to throw shapes on the dancefloor ... and a choreographed performance by some of her close friends, which by all accounts, was a sight to see!) and you could tell at the event, that she was enjoying herself and not letting anything worry her. There was no sign of the shy and bashful bride, much to her friends amusement, and I think part of her giggling was due to the sugar rush she was getting after being fed pure sugar by over a 100 women... she must have brushed her teeth more than her normal 4 minutes that night!

The following day was relaxed at home whilst becoming a statue and mannequin during the henna application by a friend onto a very fussy bride. The evening consisted of a barbeque and unfortunately I made the mistake of leaving the women's marquee and heading over to where the men were - food was scarcer than water in Ethiopia! Somehow, when women are left on their own, they lose all inhibitions and become food addicts that would make an American blush - I have never seen platters of meat move in a constant stream and come back empty! Fear not, dear readers, I managed to get something an hour later! However I did not stay too long as I knew the following day would be an early start and so I left shortly after finally consuming my first and only meal of the day!

Saturday morning was an early start and for the first time in a very long time, I actually got out of bed on the sound of the alarm rather than pondering for 15minutes on the benefits of more shuteye. I left for the bride house and getting there at 7am but the bride had been awake several hours earlier as she needed to get beautified, yes, it took that long!

Soon after, I saw her for the first time in her wedding dress and I was speechless. If I was a woman, tears would definitely have been in my eyes but as I'm not, I stood there gormless and just thinking "wow" whilst my mouth decided to become a fly catcher. Stunning, beautiful and elegant are inadequate words to describe her.

The whirlwind of events that followed after were a blur and before I knew it, I was driving to the venue where time became slow and felt as if it would take forever to get there. She got moved into the bridal room where she had her last touches and waited for her time to walk through... and when she did, all eyes were upon the red-dressed glowing bride... the rest is history.

I knew from that moment that her life as I knew her had ended and she was embarking on another adventure. A hint of sadness mixed in the happiness but surprisingly, it made me want to get on that journey too ... I just hope it's not as chaotic in the preparation!

PS Like Faz, I met a lot of great people and had fun, so thanks and a hello to all my new found friends!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Oh, for the love of ... queuing!

As a child of another culture brought up in Britain, I have a view on certain aspects of life that are diametrically opposite.

For instance, queuing.

The typical asian mentality is a much more selfish affair where your own needs take priority, with no pity or support given to anyone else. If you see someone ahead of you holding others up, there will be no standing in silence, seeking out what the problem is etc. Instead what you see is a steam pressure slowly but surely reaching to critical point before bursting. However the touchpaper is very short, if at all existant, and comments will be fired and general murumur of discontent beings to rise. Not enough attendants is usually high on the list of comments which actually translates into "I should have a personal attendant just for me".
Also, in this dog eat dog world, queuing is definitely not what is required. Instead, what you must do is go straight to the front, to gain access to the required service. Only every person is also doing it. What you eventually end up with is a big bulbous crowd pivoting at the front and internal queues are sometimes developed within this mass. Selfishness isn't in their dictionary as it's not a term to describe a fellow asian - it's what they are!

Now contrast this with the British love for queuing. People would stand there in silence, waiting for their turn as all good things come to those that wait. No matter what happens in front, be it a robbery or child birth, their turn will eventually come. An orderly queuing system is created and due to the service levels, they've developed snaking lines that manage to pack in 5x the number of people in the space that is humanly possible which can deceive the casual passer-by. The epitome of civilised and orderly society.

When these two different mindsets come together, the rule of thumb tends to be the winner - the man with the largest voice has the say. So you get the more forceful people pushing their way to the front, demanding the service they are due whilst the rest just look in silent disdain and continue to wait, not understanding what these people are thinking. Such barbaric and uncouth behaviour still exists in the world?

So there I stand, in a queue at a bank with 10 or so ahead of me. There's only 3 attendants at the desks and for whatever reason, it is taking them several minutes just to get cash out. Why couldn't they just use the cash machine outside if they're just withdrawing money? You can get a statement printed there too! Oh well, I'll just carry on waiting.
I realise there are several couples ahead of me. Bonus. Fewer sets of people needing the attendants, things are looking up.
10 minutes and 1 metre later, one of the attendants leaves her desk to call her manager over for assistance to a man who is clearly vexed at how difficult they can make the simplest of requests but has no other choice but to stand there, embarrassed at the knowledge that he is holding up a fair number of people but powerless to do anything as his card is across the inch thick glass protecting the attendants from a slap of common sense. Still, my turn will come.
Some people have lost the will to survive at a conscious level and remain there in idle mode with just rudimentary survival techniques, such as breathing, operating. So much so that others have to wake them and direct them to an available attendant - I do not begrudge these people as my conciousness has walked out the bank 15minutes ago and probably tucked in bed by now.
As I walk around to the first line of the queuing snake, I see someone who has walked through 20minutes of her life to get to the moment where they speak to the attendant only to not have filled in the deposit form and so is busy filling out the form at the front, taking valuable space and time - just why the hell would you not fill this in before? It's not as if you didn't pass the mini table with all the forms, calculators and handy pen.. what did you think that was for? Décor? Some people are so inconsiderate or just plain thick - they need to have a license to be allowed a bank account, it will make life a lot easier!
The joyous sound of the robotic voice directing to a free slot comes, I hope to hear more of these in quick succession - my time will surely come soon. As another slot becomes free and a young woman starts to walk, an Asian man comes in from nowhere to the front and tells the woman "sorry but this will be quick, I've got my car parked at front .. this will only take 1 minute. OK? Thanks" and gives his details to the attendant whilst the woman stands there stunned and her brain tries to process what just happened. Who on earth does this man think he is?! And what kind of excuse was that?! The cheek! However all's fair if you can get away with it.. no-one has complained so might as well do it.. wish I had the balls to do that, would save a lot of time!
Finally my time has come, I am at the pinnacle of the queue! One of the person finishes and leaves and I'm standing there like a sprinter in the block to move at the first sound of the robot. I'm still standing. Still standing. Why am I still standing? Then the blinds come down on the free desk, or should that be ex-free desk? Out of the 6 desks, which were only half manned, another has shut?! What kind of service is this?! And what is with my luck?!

At last my turn does appear - as I always knew it would and I go and make my transactions and it dawns on me... I have the explosive temperament of an Indian but tempered by the British culture - waiting diligently in a queue but with silent fury rising inside, able to burst at the seams and bound to give me a heart attack - the worst of both worlds! I can either go through life threatening moments everytime I enter a queue here or just get walked all over in India!

Where do you lie in the spectrum?

Monday, 15 March 2010

swallow me whole

I was going to write about something else that was bugging me but I still can't get over what happened today.

Today I had a moment that everyone has had - that single moment where you wish the earth would just open up and swallow you whole.

Today's moment was mailing a reply to a HR person about a future job movement and not realising it was a 'reply to all' - which included all other people at my grade! There was that strange moment of uncertainty when I doubted myself and felt a disturbance in the air as I clicked 'Send' however I still didn't fully understand until I was immediately inundated with Out Of Office messages by dozens of people and then realisation dawned on me.

Oh how I wanted the earth to just open up and take me and the entire building with it!

Of course, after the initial hot flush of excruciating embarrassment, you then go through anger - aimed at yourself. I spent the next few minutes sighing and berating myself for not checking properly or just clicking things too quickly.

This didn't last long as I reverted to embarrassment as friends messaged me about my error and had a laugh at my expense - I don't blame them as that would be what I'd do in their shoes!

Of course, this moment suddenly reminded me of the countless other times where I felt the whole world conspired against me to lead to that moment - all those memories you repress and blissfully forget suddenly rushed back like the time I critiqued a painting only to have the artist standing behind me or when I had a Freudian slip whilst talking to a girl!

The obvious answer that comes from all of these moments is to slow down and take some care - but then where's the fun in that?!

If you're brave enough, feel free to share your moment(s)!

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Titles and Outrage

As usual with all my rants, this story begins on a car journey to work.

Listening to Radio 1, the dj had a caller on line who said he was an engineer and on further questioning on what he did, he said that he unclogged toilet pipes.

I'm not sure if I need to write any more to show how incensed we were (bear in mind that our car had two engineers and a manager who was a software engineer).

Granted, if he designed the pipes then it requires a modicum of engineering ability but to merely flush out pipes and call himself an engineer?! The UK is a sad place for real engineers as the status has been dragged through the dirt... literally with the cases of civic amenities engineers, or bin-men as you and I would call them, whereas being a doctor or a lawyer is a preserved title for the deserving.

Have you ever called BT to have your phone line fixed and been told that they will despatch an engineer?
Have you been to a car garage and seen themselves being advertised as auto-engineers?
Or maybe rang up an 'electrical engineer' to wire your house alarm?

Our culture has come to such a state that work that is not popularised by the media need to become tarted-up so the pimple-faced boy in Subway now has the title of a 'sandwich artist' and a 'custodian engineer' for a janitor.
Over into mainland Europe, engineers enjoy an acknowledged status and isn't used by every Tom, Dick or Harry in an attempt to boost their ego's from their manual jobs. It's disappointing going to a bank and when asked for profession, you get bundled with mechanic whereas teachers, lawyers, doctors all enjoy their own division.

I think it's important to realise the distinction between an engineer and all the above mentioned (and more) pretenders. Engineers are those who understand the theory and science of objects in their field.
For example an automotive engineer will know how the driveline system works, the different components and how components such as a torque convertor works and what difference changing the oil or temperature in it will do and why... but not necessarily need to know how everything is physically put together. Now the local 'auto-engineer' garage will very likely not know any of this except the building of the system, how to change parts etc. - they are mechanics.
Similarly in a science or non mechanical field, you will have the scientist and then the technician.

So when I need my phoneline fixed, I want a technician to come around and fix it, not an engineer to analyse and deliver a communications system.
When I take my car to have it's MOT done, I want a mechanic to have a look at everything rather than an engineer modelling the car and giving me an optimum gear-map.
When I want someone to press some buttons on a manufacturing line, I want a shop floor worker rather than an 'assistant production engineer'!
And when I want my road cleaned, I would want a sweeper rather than a 'throughfare hygiene engineer'!

If you ever come across these pretenders, please kindly give them my utmost outrage and tell them to stop demeaning us real engineers.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Strawberry, cream, equality and Wimbledon

The end of the tournament was today and what a final! A 30game last set which never seemed to end! And now that it is all over, I have time to make a quick complaint (seems that's all I do here!).

Traditionally women were paid less in prize money than men at Wimbledon and it was justified by the organisers as men played more sets. The difference wasn't great (a £30k difference between Nadal and Mauresmo in 2006) but it was still lobbied for equal pay and had a lot of feminists up in arms at Wimbledon as the only big championship to have the difference.

But aren't they fighting the wrong battle? Do they really concede that the work done in the shorter womens game is equal to the mens?! If this was a normal working environment such as an office, you would expect a man and woman in the same post to be on the same payrate but if the man worked more hours that he should earn more... yet why is this not the case here?

If you want equality then become equal in all that you do!

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Democracy and its dark secret

The recent elections in Iran has produced a wide variety of opinions and this has got me thinking about what democracy really means.

A lot of people are claiming that the voting had been rigged as there were suspicious circumstances and coincidences involved. These folk applauded the Iranian people for rising up against the government and holding a peaceful protest as a sign of their disatisfaction and longed for similar action in their respective countries against policies and directions their governments were taking. In contrast the others are admonishing the former as sore losers as Ahmedinejad was voted in by the majority and they should accept it... this is reminiscent of the Palestine elections where Hamas won, much to the shock of others.

Countries, the US in particular, have been the first to point out the greatness of democracy and have even invaded other countries to enforce this but is this what everyone wants? Democracy is a majority-rule based system where votes are cast to decide matters but there will always be losers, it's the nature of the system. At what point do you decide the will of the people? Is 2/3 of votes enough? I'm not sure I'd take action where a third of the people were against it.

Here lies the great weakness - us humans. Each and everyone of us is naturally selfish and want things our way and complain when it doesn't. This will create an inherent rebellion and you will find a loud minority voicing their disatisfaction which will affect the others. Democracy may mean the majority get their way but at the expense of others and no-one likes losing and chances are that you will lose at least once, is this really the ideal situation or just the best of the bunch to rule the people?