Friday, 14 June 2013

Taking some leave

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

This will be my last blog post for a couple of weeks as I am going to take some leave. Jenny has persuaded me that we should go somewhere together although we haven't exactly decided where to go yet. It will be somewhere in England though. Maybe down to Dorset or over in East Sussex. We will just check the web for some B&Bs that look nice. Let's hope the weather is kind to us.

I will be back for the graduation ceremony though. I wouldn't want to miss that. It is always nice to see your students all dressed up and getting their degrees. And you get to meet the parents too which can be very interesting.

There will also be a visit next month from Denise and Simon who used to be in the department but are now both Professors down under. They are coming over to the UK for a summer visit with their son Evan to see Denise's parents. I have kept in touch with them via Facebook but it will be good to see them in person and catch up with what they have been doing.

So I will sign off for a bit now. If you need to get in touch with me I shall still check my emails. Or you can leave a message with Molly May. Bye for now.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Dr Mavros turns up

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

I had a bit of a surprise yesterday morning when I had a phone call from Molly May asking me to go over to Mike Rowe's office. She told me that Dr Stavros Mavros, who we had appointed back March and is due to start work here in September, has turned up. Mike had already had a long chat with him and now wanted me to take Stavros across to the cafeteria for a coffee. It seems that I was the only other member of staff in, and anyway with me being Greek too and perhaps sharing some research interests with Stavros it might be nice for us to meet.

I wasn't involved in the interview process but I did recall that despite some initial concerns that Gus, Jack and Richard had expressed before the interview they had quite taken to him on the day. His expertise is in discrimination of various types, involving race, gender, age, even sexual orientation - in both labour and housing markets. As that is something that also interests me there may be possibilities for joint research.

Stavros was casually dressed, in a black t-shirt and black trousers. He has a big black bushy beard and an engaging smile. As we walked over to the cafeteria I said that I was a bit surprised to see him as he wasn't due to start work here until September. In reply he said that, as I might be aware, his previous job had been in Cyprus and, as his contract there was now over, he was quite keen to leave and come over to the UK. He had got some temporary accommodation in London with a friend but he decided that it might be a good idea to come down to USE, to check on what teaching he was being given for the new term and maybe to look around for somewhere to live. I asked Stavros if he was married. He said not, but that he had a girlfriend who was working in London. So I guess I now know who the friend is that he is staying in London with.

When we got to the cafeteria we chatted more about our different research projects. Stavros is in a bit of higher league than me in terms of his journal publications and the grants that he has managed to obtain. I started to tell him all about the plans for the new Smart Centre for Applied Economics but it seems that Mike has already briefed him about it. Stavros said that he was sure that he could bring a lot to the work of the Centre.

Stavros said that Mike has been very generous in not giving him too much of a teaching load next term - just some postgraduate stuff and dissertation supervision. He might also have a couple of new PhD students to look after. Mike had also promised him a top of the range new PC plus all the specialist software that he needed. Then came a slight bombshell. To begin with in September Stavros would be sharing my office. Apparently the office original scheduled for him would not be vacated until Christmas as the person in accounting who is retiring had chosen that time to go, rather than in the summer as the Dean had assumed would be the case. But that will be good, opined Stavros, we can get to know each other better and maybe start on a research project.

Stavros stayed for lunch and we got on very well together. He has a good sense of humour and is clearly pleased to be in the UK.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Desert Island Discs Feedback

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

I have had a fair bit of feedback on my Desert Island Discs blog.

Interestingly people seem to prefer to email me directly with their comments rather than leave them after the blog itself. Perhaps they want to keep their comments just for me to read, or maybe they just haven’t spotted that the comments box is there at the end of the blog. Can I just say that if you do have a comment to make about the blog post and you are happy for other readers to see your comments you can do it quite easily, although you do have to have a Google account.

A comment from one reader was that she thought his most interesting point in the discussions that Kirsty Young had with Sir Mervyn King related to David Blanchflower's criticism of the well-paid Governor's lack of foresight!

Another made a comment about Mozart and Beethoven, and classical music in general. He said that he loves telling people that Mozart wrote to order and to formula - that isn't to say he wasn't a genius or that he didn't write some good tunes, but, to strip it all away, he was a bit of the Stock Aitken Waterman of his day (try that one with classical music aficionados and wait for them to choke ... always assuming they know who Stock Aitken and Waterman are!

Then there were suggestions for other economists who might feature on the programme: An obvious candidate, said one reader is Sir Nicholas Stern, now Baron Stern of Brentford, and author of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change .

And if we can include Americans why not go for three Nobel prize winners? Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz , or Elinor Ostrom . The first two are regular visitors to the UK and make clear their views on the Coalition government’s economic policy. Maybe I should get in touch with the producer of Desert Island Discs and suggest these names to her?

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Smart moves

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

There was an early call from Molly May this morning summoning me to a meeting with Mike Rowe, Gus Johns and Tony Steel in Mike’s office. Mike was in exuberant mood.

Do you remember Simon Smart, the ex-student and now successful businessman and millionaire? He has a range of online companies with names like Smart4Phones, Smart4Dates, Smart4Loans and Smart4Travel. He had contacted Gus about the possibility of linking up with us in connection with his planned Smart4Business site. He wondered whether it might be possible to recruit some our final year students to work on the website where they would explain economics and business ideas clearly and simply to the public. Gus had put Simon in touch with Mike Rowe who had also then passed on the news to both the Dean and the VC who were naturally very excited about the development.

Anyway, it turns out that Mike had a business lunch meeting with Simon Smart on Saturday and things have moved along superbly. Simon has offered to fund a research group in the department called the Smart Centre for Applied Research in Economics or Smart CARE for short. He would pay the salary of a Reader in Applied Economics who would head up the group. The group would have the freedom to work on any applied economics topic that they wished to pursue, but would have regular contact with Smart via the Reader. Smart would hope to use clearly written summaries of the research outcomes on his Smart4Business website.

Smart also agreed to fund an annual student prize for the best Independent Study group report and presentation, starting immediately so we could include it at this year’s Graduation Ceremony. In fact, he said that he wanted to see all the reports and videos of the presentations made this year to see if any could be used on his new site. He would offer interviews for jobs to the best students and perhaps re-shoot in a more professional way some of the presentations to use on his website.

The Dean was of course delighted by these developments when Mike briefed her about it yesterday. She wondered why the research group would not encompass the whole of the Business School and be called the Smart Centre for Business Research – after all this would more closely match the name of the new website. But when Mike spoke to Simon about it he said that he preferred to keep the research side of things firmly in economics. He had no problems with the involvement of other Business School academics but the operation would be run from economics.

Mike added that in the course of his conversation with Simon Smart he had mentioned the work on hedonic wine price models that I was planning to undertake with Geoff Baxter. What great timing, he was told, as Smart was about to launch a new online wine store call Smart4Wines. He wanted to meet me to see if this might be the first project for the new research group. He had also said to Mike that I was the ideal candidate for the post of Reader. He had seen my blogs and he was impressed by my communication skills and my willingness to embrace the social media. Mike said that the university would require the post to be properly advertised with application forms and interviews conducted in the normal way. OK, said Smart, but would he be able to be on the interview panel, or at least make his preferences known to the Dean? Surely she would give great weight to his views.

Tony Steel was a little put out by the idea that I might get the role of Reader in Applied Economics and head of the Centre, as he saw himself as having the role of heading up research in the department. But Mike reassured him that he would still have the overall leadership role for research in the department but we would not want to miss out on such a great opportunity as was being offered to us. We would find a way of making it work. He also added that when Mike had told Smart about the impending cuts in journal subscriptions due to budget restrictions he had said that Smart Enterprises would be willing to top up the library budget to stop this happening. When I told him that you were now the library rep he said that made things even better. Maybe we could add in some other journals that we haven’t been able to afford – although he would like a news story to be put out about this. Mike said he was sure that Marketing would love this. He also wondered if Tony would be able to update the narrative for the REF submission as our research impact would look good if these plans became a reality.

So there you have it. Some very exciting developments indeed, and ones that could have a big impact on me.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Folk economist

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

Gus and Heather invited Jenny and me, together with Richard, Bubbles and Lindsay round to their place for another barbecue, or braai as they call it, on Saturday evening. Jack and Phoebe and Bob and Sarah were invited too but they had other arrangements and so couldn’t come. It was a very last minute thing when Gus checked the weather forecast for Saturday and thought – let’s enjoy it while we can.

After it got dark and cold and we had retreated to the lounge Bubbles spotted a Peter, Paul and Mary songbook on the coffee table. She asked Gus about it. Gus said that he had ordered it from Amazon after watching a DVD that one of his friends had kindly sent him for his birthday of the Newport Folk Festivals in the sixties which had featured the group quite prominently. Gus remembered how much he had enjoyed their songs in the sixties himself, which was when he had first started to sing and play the guitar and now seemed like a good time to re-visit them.

Assiduous readers of this blog may remember that Gus had been involved with the Folk Club when he was a student at university. He had continued playing in folk clubs down here in the south after he got his job here at USE, but in recent years he had not really played very much.

Anyway Bubbles wondered if he would get his guitar and entertain us. After initial resistance he succumbed, particularly when he mentioned that he had two guitars, a six string and a twelve string. Bubbles said could he get both guitars as she could play one of them. She used to have a guitar but she had had to sell it a while back when she needed the money.

So Gus fetched the guitars, along with various other song books for Bob Dylan, Ralph McTell, John Martyn and someone called Jez Lowe who I hadn’t heard of. And so we were entertained with versions of Blowing in the Wind, Leaving on a Jet Plane, Streets of London, May You Never and a nice Jez Lowe song called Old Bones. Bubbles played the twelve string and picked up songs she didn’t know very quickly. We were all impressed by the way that the two of them sounded together. Maybe they should perform together as Gus and Bubbles. The name had a nice ring to it. Heather said that maybe Gus should think about getting back into singing as it would give him something to do when he retired. Gus said that he wasn’t quite ready for retirement just yet, but he would perhaps play the guitar a bit more, particularly if Bubbles was willing to play some songs with him. He said that she could borrow the twelve string and the sheet music books if she wished. She hugged him and said that would be wonderful.

Richard was looking a bit sheepish through all this. As an avid Beatles fan he asked if Gus knew any Beatles songs. Oh yes, said Gus, and he went back to his study to collect a Beatles song book. So the evening ended with renditions of Yellow Submarine, Michelle and Yesterday, amongst others that were not quite so successful on first take. Still, I look forward to more music from these two. Maybe they could do a set at a Staff Social sometime.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Staff v students cricket

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

The annual staff against students cricket match took place yesterday afternoon and evening. Gus had roped me in to be part of the team. He had promised me at least one practise session but somehow we never got around to that. He also said that he would take me to the Ageas Bowl near Southampton to see a match there but that never happened either. But I did manage to catch a few cricket highlights programmes on Channel 5, so I did at least have some idea of what to expect.

Gus, Mike and Tony had found it difficult to put together a team from the economics staff. But the students had kindly agreed to allow two people from accounting who had taught them on some of their option modules to play. Fortunately for us one of them in particular was rather good. His name is Amir Khan and, apparently, he was a good enough cricketer to play for the university side when he was a student at Essex.

It was a twenty over a side game and the students won the toss and elected to bowl first. Fortunately the format prevented their best players dominating the match. Everybody except the wicket keeper was required to bowl two overs. This meant that their best bowler, a tall second year lad who bowled at what seemed like a hundred miles an hour, came up against our opening batsmen, Tony Steel and Mike Rowe. They managed to get off to a solid start - a little slow in terms of runs but without the loss of either wicket.

By the time I came in to bat, at number eight, the students were down to their less effective bowlers. Bob Bunn was already at the wicket. The wicket that had fallen to bring me in was due to a silly run out involving Bob Bunn and Richard Gardener, which Richard went on about at length at the social event after the cricket. It was the final ball of an over and so I had to face the first ball of the next over. Bob came down the wicket to talk to me. He said that if possible I shoud try to push the ball away into a space so we could get a single to leave him facing the rest of the over. To my astonishment this is what I managed to do. The ball came off the edge of my bat and went somewhere behind me and I saw Bob charging towards me shouting "Yes". Safely at the other end and a bit out of breath I waited to see what Bob could do. The answer was whack four successive balls to the boundary. He told me afterwards that his style is what he calls "Stand and Deliver". As the bowler runs in and lets go of the ball Bob counts one, two and three and swings the bat. He has a good eye and seems to have no problem in hitting the ball very hard.

Before the last ball of the over Bob came down to speak to me again. He said that I should be ready to run for a single again as he wanted to get up to my end for the next over. Again to my surprise this we managed with ease. To cut a long story short Bob spent the next and final two overs whacking the ball to the boundary, making me face no more deliveries so that our team score ended at 120 runs. Mike was very happy with this and said that, depending on how the students' best bastsmen did, this was a competitive score.

We needn't have worried. Mike asked Amir to bowl the first over, and before it was over three of the student batsmen had been in - and out. As with our team the quality of their batsmen was rather mixed, and with Mike, Richard and Jack all completng their two overs the students were all out for a mere 65 runs. This was a big relief to me as it meant that I didn't have to bowl. Having never once tried to bowl it could have been very embarrassing!

Sian and Bubbles had been watching the game, and Jenny, Phoebe, Heather and Sarah (Bob's wife) all joined us for the post match drinks in the Athletic Union bar. Bubbles had taken some photographs during the match and if I can get her to let me have them I will put them on Facebook.

Later in the evening the students and some of the younger staff went on to the Excess night club. Jenny and I decided not to join them but I am sure it was a fine end to the night for those who went.

Anyway, I can now say that I have played cricket. I only faced one ball, I didn't have to bowl and was only called upon to field a couple of times. But we won and the whole thing was a lot of fun.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

League tables

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

The University of the South of England (USE) has jumped up over thirty places in the latest Guardian university league tables. It is now amongst the top fifty universities in the country, according to the criteria built into the tables. There were improvements in the scores for all eight indicators used in the tables, including expenditure per student and graduate career prospects. The Vice Chancellor, Professor Victor Crispin, expressed his delight at the latest tables, saying that the results were a clear indication of the importance we attached to students' experience and achievement.

Older heads in the department, such as Gus and Bob, told me that although they did not wish to take anything away from the news, which of course would help enormously in maintaining our recruitment of domestic and international students, they were a bit skeptical about the outcome. Part of it was driven by what is called the value added score, which relates to students achieving a better class of degree than might have been expected given their entry qualifications. In recent years the university has awarded a much greater proportion of First and Upper Second Class degrees than before, partly due to the greater weight given to coursework in some areas. Gus and Bob said they doubted whether the current crop of students really did have that much better experiences and outcomes than those a decade earlier.

But I guess now is not the time to knock a good news story for USE. Onwards and upwards!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Leeds Metropolitan University

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

I noticed in the Times Higher the other day that Leeds Metropolitan University is considering a change of name. Maybe they think that the term Metropolitan is too reminiscent of an underground line or capital city police force! Or maybe they don't want to be grouped with London Metropolitan, Manchester Metropolitan or Cardiff Metropolitan universities!

Actually it seems that a report commissioned by the Vice Chancellor, Professor Susan Price, has concluded that the term Metropolitan "indicated a lower quality product" and was having a negative effect on recruitment, especially in overseas markets.

At one point the university was planning to change the name to Leeds Carnegie University, but now the choice appears to be between Leeds Beckett, Leeds Headingley and Leeds Riding University. The university is situated in Beckett Park near Headingley and is in the South Riding of the county of Yorkshire. How well these names would be recognised by potential overseas students is a moot point. Anyway, as the BBC has reported, changing the name from Leeds Metropolitan University has not gone down well with many past and present students. Over 3000 of them joined a Facebook protest group within a few days of the announcement of the plan to change the name. There were complaints too that the cost of the change, rumoured to be in the order of £250,000, was a poor use of funds that could be better spent in improving real resources.

Gus says this reminds him of the time, back in the 1990s, when our university changed its name to the University of the South of England (USE for short). At the time people said that the name was too vague - after all the South of England is a huge area - should our name not mention the city where we are located? But others said that the wider term would be very attractive to students. And they would soon find out where we were based through a simple web search. After all did people not realise that the University of the West of England was in Bristol, or that the University of Surrey was in Guildford? One way or another it seems to have been a good choice as we have seen applications increase at a time when other newer universities have had problems attracting students.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Desert Island Discs

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

I listened to Desert Island Discs on Sunday as the guest was Sir Mervyn King, the soon to retire Governor of the Bank of England. It was an interesting programme. If you missed it you can catch up on iPlayer.

Sir Mervyn's choice of discs was quite eclectic. As well as music by Mozart and Beethoven there were tracks by Bob Dylan and Lou Bega. He also asked for an Aston Villa supporters' song called Rotterdam in praise of King's favourite football team's 1982 European Cup victory.

Kirsty Young attempted to press Sir Mervyn on the Bank of England's handling of the 2007 financial crisis and its aftermath but we didn't really learn anything new. King seemed content that what could be done had been done and that the politicians involved are more competent than we sometimes give them credit for.

Perhaps the most interesting parts of the programme related to King's personal life. He told us about his lifelong love of cricket and how, with Mark Nicholas, he had set up a scheme to get more cricket back in state schools. King revealed that working as a supply teacher in Wolverhampton in the 1970s was his hardest job, leaving him emotionally and physically exhausted at the end of each day. We also learned that he married his Finnish wife in 2007, having first known her in 1970 when they were both students at Cambridge. She went back to Finland, married and then later divorced, until she contacted him out of the blue again many years later. King had never married, concentrating on his academic and then Bank of England career.

Having heard the programme I wondered which other economists had been featured over the years. There is now a huge archive available on the BBC website where you can find all the programmes that have been broadcast since the programme started in 1942.

To my surprise, apart from economists who were also politicians, such as Vince Cable, I could find no economists amongst the list of people who had been on the programme. There are plenty of historians, writers, films stars, musicians, sportsmen and women, business people etc., even scientists and mathematicians (Brian Cox and Marcus du Sautoy have featured recently). I thought that maybe Alan Walters might have been asked during the 1980s when he was such an important influence on the Thatcher government. Or maybe Sir Alan Budd. But no. Neither of these, nor any other economists are there. Isn't it time we asked maybe Lord Desai or Amartya Sen? Or, if you want someone more in the public eye you could go for Robert Peston or Tim Harford. Perhaps some of these people have been asked and turned down the opportunity?

Some obvious discs for economists to choose such as Wall Street Shuffle and Money, Money, Money have been selected already, respectively by the geneticist Dame Kay Davies and George Davies the clothing designer and retailer. There was also Money by Pink Floyd chosen by Tasmin Little and Money for Nothing by Dire Straits chosen by Lynda La Plante.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Gus has a braai

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

Gus and Heather invited us round for a barbecue on Saturday evening (or, as they call it due to their frequent trips to South Africa, a braai). Richard and Bubbles were there too with Lindsay, and Jack and Phoebe, and Bob Bunn and his wife Sarah. Also some neighbours - about fifteen people altogether.

The food was really great. As well as the grilled meat there was some very nice pear and blue cheese salad, jacket potatoes and a huge bowl of strawberries to finish. We got through quite a lot of wine too. Gus had obtained two cases of New Zealand wine as put together by the ex-England cricketer and now commentator David Gower. He works with a company that you can see advertised at the cricket grounds and you can buy it online. These cases were linked to the tour of England by the New Zealanders. There will be an Australian one to try next month to go with the Ashes tour. Anyway, the Marlborough white was particularly nice. That reminds me, I must get back to Geoff Baxter to see how arrangements are going for the wine tasting event.

There were two main talking points. The first was about the university's appointment of a special representative in India to try to recruit more Indian students, especially in engineering and mathematics. Apparently newspapers in India are giving the impression that Indian students can't come to the UK any more due to the government's tough immigration policy. But, as Vince Cable recently commented, while it may be more difficult to come here at the moment it is not impossible. And indeed we should be welcoming students from India, not treating them as an immigration problem. It appears that our VC has this attitude too. And the person he has appointed is a British born man of Indian extraction who used to work in the Business School. So maybe he will be on the lookout for potential postgraduates for us too.

The other talking point was an incident at a city centre pub on Friday night. Apparently the economics students and the European Business students (who are mainly German) had organised a "drink the pub dry" competition. At one stage things got a bit out of hand and the police were called. Fortunately Bethany Bright was there and she managed to calm things down. But the press got wind of what was happening and a reporter and photographer turned up. There was a picture and story in yesterday's local paper. The VC, Mike Rowe and Paige Turner will not be amused, especially as the paper reported that none of them was available for comment. Gus said it reminded him of what happened in Coventry in 1970 . The University of Warwick students competed with students from what was then known as Lanchester Polyechnic (now Coventry University) to drink the City Arms Earlsdon out of beer. Mike remembers a fight starting which caused him to leave the pub, only to find himself being pushed into a police van by a policeman. However, after a few seconds Mike had realised that the van door was still open and the policeman was no longer around. So he jumped out of the van and legged it! He says that many years later at a conference he heard a UWE lecturer who had been a student at Lanchester Poly in 1970 telling exactly the same story.