Symphony of voices

A scene from Wings of Desire (1987) by Wim Wenders.

“The film is about invisible, immortal angels who populate Berlin and listen to the thoughts of the human inhabitants and comfort those who are in distress. Even though the city is densely populated, many of the people are isolated or estranged from their loved ones.”

[00:00:00 – 00:04:49 No subtitles]

[00:04:50 Old Man stops on stairs] “Tell me, muse, the storyteller…he who has been thrust to the edge of the world…both an infant and an ancient, and through him reveal Everyman. [continues walking]

With time, those who listened to me became my readers. They no longer sit in a circle, but apart…and one doesn’t know anything about the other. [sits down]

I’m an old man, with a broken voice…but the story still rises from the depths… and the slowly opened mouth…repeats it as clearly as it does powerfully. A liturgy for which no one needs to be initiated… to the meaning of the words and sentences.”

What we leave behind


Book coverMy dad, Nigel Winn, died quite suddenly of cancer in 2006 aged 56. Since his death I have been meaning to collect his writing and publish a selection of his poetry. It’s taken me ten years to make time for this, in between having a daughter, getting married, building a house, chasing and holding onto employment and also trying to come to terms with the loss, too.

Dad left behind a collection of poems, a short play and other pieces of writing. He was a bricklayer and carpenter most of his life but started writing actively during the period 1996-2006. During that time, he studied for a BA in English Literature at the University of Lincoln, where he gained a First Class degree. He went on to teach at the university, and was popular among students. Following his death, colleagues established the annual Nigel Winn Memorial Prize for Creative Writing.

His work is quite autobiographical and therefore especially meaningful to those who were close to him. I used Lulu to self-publish this selection of his poetry. It’s very satisfying for me and my family to have a physical copy of his published work and I think that people who knew Nigel may like to purchase a hardback copy of the book, too. It is priced £8.93 + postage which is the lowest price available to me. I make £0.06p on every copy sold because Lulu won’t allow me to reduce the author’s profit to £0 for some reason. A PDF proof of the book can be downloaded here. Thank you for reading it. He was a really good man.

Nigel Winn
Nigel Winn, Sutton-on-Sea, 2005.

Learning to listen

For the past six months, I have been learning to play the (classical) guitar. I played electric guitar for a couple of years when I was a teenager and have tried to return to playing a few times since then. This time, I have the benefit of a superb teacher who has reminded me (now from the point of view of being a student), how inspiring and encouraging a teacher can be who still finds enjoyment in what they teach and wants to pass that excitement and curiosity onto others. I am approaching it as an education in music, with the guitar being the instrument through which I hopefully come to understand and appreciate music more fully. It seems to be working.

I am not studying towards particular music grades, but it is interesting to see what pieces of music are aligned with each grade. The piece below is one of the select few to be included in the syllabus/repertoire for Trinity’s Performance Diploma. It is for the Fellowship level (FTCL), “equivalent in standard to a postgraduate course at a conservatoire or university.” I really like a number of pieces on the FTCL list, but Sonata for Guitar, Op. 47 (1976) by Alberto Ginastera, stands out as a current favourite. The video below is interesting because it shows the complexity of the score as the music is being played. I may never be able to play something as difficult as this, but that’s not really the point. I’m learning to listen as well as play and compose, and that has already opened up a new world to me.

‘A relationship with the world that provides freedom to actually look at things’

“Most people go to films to get some kind of hit, some kind of overwhelming experience, whether it’s like an amusement park ride or an ideological, informational hit that gives you a critical insight into an issue or an idea. But for those few people who feel they need a reprieve occasionally, who want to cleanse the palate a bit, whether for spiritual or physiological reasons, these films seem to be somewhat effective.

I’ve never felt that my films are very important in terms of the History of Cinema. They offer a little detour from such grand concepts. They appeal primarily to people who enjoy looking at nature, or who enjoy having a moment to study something that’s not fraught with information. The experience of my films is a little like daydreaming. It’s about taking the time to just sit down and look at things, which I don’t think is a very Western preoccupation. A lot of influences on me when I was younger were more Eastern. They suggested a contemplative way of looking – whether at painting, sculpture, architecture, or just a landscape – where the more time you spend actually looking at things, the more they reveal themselves in ways that you don’t expect.

For the most part, people don’t allow themselves the time or the circumstances to get into a relationship with the world that provides freedom to actually look at things. There’s always an overriding design or mission behind their negotiation with life. I think when you have the occasion to step away from agendas – whether it’s through circumstance or out of some kind of emotional necessity – then you’re often struck by the incredible epiphanies of nature. These are often very subtle things, right at the edge of most people’s sensibilities. My films try to record and to offer some of these experiences.”

Source: Peter Hutton: The Filmmaker as Luminist

Peter Hutton’s At Sea was voted #1 of the best 50 avant-garde films made during 2000-2009.

Update 16th July: I have learned that Peter Hutton died on 25th June 2016. I didn’t know him personally but I did correspond with him in 1999 for a screening I organised of two of his films. Of all the work I screened around that time, his was the most influential on me and inspired a lot of the silent footage that went into a film I made a year or so later.

Website for Co-operative Leadership for Higher Education

I mentioned that Mike Neary and I received funding for a new project on ‘Co-operative Leadership for Higher Education’. This is just a note to say that the project has its own website which you can subscribe to:

http://coophe.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk

Recent posts outline the project, relate it to our previous project to develop a framework for co-operative higher education, and look at Edwin Bacon’s work on ‘neo-collegiality‘ and Paul Bernstein’s work on workplace democracy.

The value of student loans

Andrew McGettigan, has published another useful post on the complexity of student loans. They are complex, not only for the government to model, but also for the borrower to understand how much they will repay and the actual value of the money they repay. The cost of something worth £9000 today is not the same as paying £9000 for it in ten or thirty years time. Andrew makes that clear in an earlier post.

A website like this one, can help us calculate the effect of inflation on the value of money. It tells me that spending £9000 in 1986 would have bought me the same as spending £24,629 today. In 30 years, the value of money has decreased by nearly two-thirds due to 173% inflation. Inflation in the last 30 years has averaged 3.4%, according to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator. On that basis, £9000 in cash today will be worth (i.e. have the value of) £3300 in 2046.

In late 2013, I was curious about what the actual total amount of money repaid on full student tuition and maintenance loans would be if I were 18yrs old and planning to go to university in London (where I did my undergraduate degree). When I was 18yrs old, I wouldn’t have asked this question, but now with a fixed term mortgage, where I’m told exactly what I’ll pay back (about double what I borrow), and a young daughter who will probably be going to university in a few years, I’ve become more cautious about long-term repayments on large amounts of money.

In 2013, I went onto the Directgov website and used their student repayment calculator and you can see that the total amount repaid is estimated by the government to be shy of £160,000. Note the ‘About this calculation’ section at the bottom:

Student Loan Repayments (2013)
Student Loan Repayments (2013)

Again, what the calculator does not do is tell you that the value of money goes down due to inflation, so £160K today is not the same amount of money-value as £160K paid back over 30 years.

I just went onto the Directgov website to use their repayment calculator again, but the website is down, perhaps in response to more good work that Andrew did a few weeks ago on ‘Calculator Caveats‘.

A repayment calculator that is working today is on the Compete University Guide website. Punching in the same numbers indicates that I would pay back £81,286 over 30 years, not £160K. However, under the notes they provide, they say the following:

“The level of inflation is difficult to predict, and will vary over the repayment period. Instead of trying to estimate it, we have taken a different approach:

Inflation will affect the fees, the outstanding loan, the interest due, earnings, and repayments to the same extent.

It is therefore not necessary to calculate the interest charges due to inflation. Instead, all monetary figures, including future earnings, are presented in today’s money.”

As a borrower, I’m none the wiser really. What they seem to be saying is that the £81K figure isn’t really what I’ll be paying back because no-one knows what the value of money (and therefore the value of a wage) will be over a given time. I guess it must be somewhere between £81-160K. It certainly isn’t the £44K that has been discussed in the news recently, stating that English student debt is now the highest in the English-speaking world.

Co-operative higher education conference paper and poster

Mike Neary and I presented a conference paper today at the Co-operative Education conference. You can find it on this page.

We’d really appreciate comments on the framework we have developed in the paper and is illustrated below.

Framework for Co-operative Higher Education (click to enlarge)
Framework for Co-operative Higher Education. Design by Sam Randall, student at University of Lincoln.

Co-operative Leadership for Higher Education

Mike Neary and I have been awarded funding by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education to focus on ‘co-operative leadership’ in the higher education context. Below is the introductory section of our research proposal. You can read the rest on Mike’s blog. Here’s a link to the project blog.

The aim of this research is to explore the possibility of establishing co-operative leadership as a viable organisational form of governance and management for Higher Education. Co-operative leadership is already well established in business enterprises in the UK and around the world (Ridley-Duff and Bull 2016), and has recently been adopted as the organising principle by over 800 schools in the United Kingdom (Wilson 2014). The co-operative movement is a global phenomenon with one billion members, supported by national and international organisations working to establish co-operative enterprises and the promotion of cooperative education. The research is financed by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education’s small development projects fund.

Higher education in the UK is characterised by a mode of governance based on Vice-Chancellors operating as Chief Executives supported by Senior Management teams.  Recent research from the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education on Neo-collegiality in the managerial university (Bacon 2014) shows that hierarchical models of governance alienate and de-motivate staff, failing to take advantage of research-based problem solving skills of staff operating at all levels,  not accounting for the advantages to organisations when self-managed professionals interact with peers on matters of common purpose, particularly in knowledge-based industries.

The co-operative leadership model for higher education supports the ambition for more active engagement in decision-making to facilitate the best use of academics’ professional capacities, but framed around a more radical model for leadership, governance and management. Members of the co-operative university would not only be involved directly in decision-making and peer-based processes that make best use of their collective skills, but have equal voting rights as well as collective ownership of the assets and liabilities of the co-operative (Cook 2013). This more radical model builds on work done recently as part of a project funded by the Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF) to establish some general parameters around which a framework for co-operative higher education could be established (Neary and Winn 2015). One of the key issues emerging from this research is the significance of co-operative leadership – the focus of this research project.

How can universities be transformed so that they center on public goods in teaching, research, and community engagement?

Mike Neary and I will be speaking in June as part of a theme on ‘How can universities be transformed…’ at the UNIKE conference in Copenhagen. We will be discussing our recent research project on co-operative higher education and contributing to the overall  discussion on the public and community purposes of universities. Below is the overall conference strand description. 

Within higher education, values such as democracy, solidarity, public good and community benefit are increasingly overshadowed by systems of management based on Taylorism and hierarchical control. The session explores these trends and draws on participants’ practical experiences, lessons learnt, and best practices to suggest alternative organizational forms. The session aims to use these experiences to promote both discussion and first steps in developing an audit tool to use to evaluate universities and hold them accountable for their promotion of public goods. Finally, participants will identify some alternative pathways to address the decline of public goods in universities: reform of existing institutions, creation of new institutions, etc.

The group will organise a workshop in which participants will brainstorm the principles, issues, approaches (democracy, social justice, pedagogy, ownership, financing, governance) in groups to address the identified problems, moving forward.

Conference programme (PDF)