There has been a lot of discussion in the last day or so about foreign aid and whether it is worth it.
A few years ago, I went to a presentation by a senior manager in Unicef.
They said, one of the biggest problem, was checking that aid was spent correctly. Ask the government if the £2million had been spent on say measles immunisation and you would get the answer the government wanted you to hear.
So Unicef always asked an independent organisation, such as a University to check. Even in some of the poorest and less academic countries, academic standards usually ensured that Unicef got an honest answer, they could trust.
The British government should use similar methods to check all aid is correctly spent on what it was intended.
Huddersfield University has teamed up with peer-to-peer lender; Funding Circle to create an interesting route to finance and develop small businesses. It is described in this article. These paragraphs sum up the essence of the scheme.
Known as the Business Lending Partnership, Funding Circle’s recently-announced scheme alongside the University of Huddersfield has set a precedent for commercial and alternative lenders to start providing capital for non-traditional institutions.
Using Funding Circle, the university will lend an initial tranche of £100,000 to small businesses across the UK. The initiative seeks to support SME pioneers of the present and future, with all interest earned by the university’s investments to be put towards student scholarships for the University’s ‘Enterprise Development’ degree. Over the next five years, it is expected that more than 200 students from socially deprived backgrounds will gain access to the course.
Both Funding Circle and the university will also develop a series of seminars and internship opportunities with borrowers to ensure that the upcoming generation of business leaders can gain hands-on experience with flourishing British businesses as part of their degrees.
Obviously, not all partnerships will use the same model, but Huddersfield University and Funding Circle have used a clever model that can be cloned and/or adapted for other partnerships.
It will be interesting to see the nature of partnerships that develop in the next few years.
I sometimes get involved in helping research projects at Liverpool University and I will also lob small amounts of funding towards projects I think are worthwhile.
I also look into innovative ways of raising funding for individuals and businesses, like Zopa and Funding Circle. I also loan money to the Developing World using Kiva.
So can their methods be used to raise funding for research projects.
Let’s take a researcher interested in how patients manage with the gluten-free diet, they need for coeliac disease. They perhaps want to interview as many patients as possible and produce a report that highlights both the problems and the successes, possibly on a regional basis.
So they have two needs.
A small amount of money is probably required, the size of which would depend on the size and scape of the project.
The second thing, that many projects, like the mythical one I outlined, often need subjects for the research.
Surely, a properly designed system could do both.
Similar things have been done under the general heading of crowd funding. There’s more here on Wikipedia.
The on-line system would be uploaded with suitable research projects, which borrowing from Zopa’s methods, would be checked as to the veracity of the researcher.
Prospective funders and participants would join and then search for projects, they might like to support, just like you search for suitable borrowers on Kiva.
Obviously, you could also rate researchers, just as you rate buyers and sellers on eBay.
There are some obvious winners, if this could be made to work!
I know from those in Universities, I’ve talked with, that getting funding for small projects is difficult and a lot of time and money is wasted.
Are there going to be any losers? Not directly, but I suspect some charities and their inefficient structures might be by-passed.
I will probably not develop the system, but someone will! On the other hand, if anybody wants to, I’ll be happy to advise.
We’ve just had a whole new set of universities created, as the BBC reports here.
I would have thought we had enough. On the other hand Cornwall gets its first university and other colleges like the Royal Agricultural College are upgraded.
I went to a lecture last night at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers about the New Bus for London. A very good lecture, given by David Barnett, the Development Engineering Manager of The Wright Group, who build the bus.
His talk should be recorded and shown to all students, who might think they would benefit from going to University to do engineering, as it showed how innovative thinking can transform a product as everyday as a bus.
I think the lecture, also confirmed my view, that the buses we ride in ten years from now, will be even better. The current New Bus for London is just the start of the development of buses that will transform the way we get around.
I think it is worth emphasising that buses, trams and trains are only part of a transport system. They need to be backed up by all kinds of information technology from simple maps to web pages and mobile phone apps, so that passengers find their way around with ease.
I can remember a documentary on the BBC in probably the 1960s about how a Scottish company extracted oil from shale rock. I don’t know whether they still do. I have just found this museum to the industry and it says it closed in 1962.
According to today’s Sunday Times, there is enough shale gas in the shale deposits mostly in the north of England to last 70 years.
Now I know extracting shale gas is controversial, especially, where the process of fracking is used. There was controversy in the Blackpool are, as fracking was blamed for a couple of small earthquakes. Read about it here.
But then there was controversy, when horseless carriages first arrived on British roads and they had to be preceded by a man with a red flag.
I’m not saying there is no risk from fracking, but I do think, that with proper research fracking will be safe to use in many places in the world.
And eventually, it will be used in many places in the UK, when the problems are sorted out. After all, we mined coal for years, despite the subsidence risk nearby.
And remember that for the same amount of energy coal produces forty-percent more CO2! This is because coal is pure carbon, whereas natural gas is a mixture of Hydrogen H2 and Methane, CH4, so it produces a large proportion of water when it burns.
Hopefully, I’ll know more later in the week, when I have gone to the Geological Society of London to hear a lecture.
The other thing about shale gas in the UK, is that it is located where we need jobs; in the north of England. So it becomes a vote winner for whoever wants to play the shale gas card.
Any extraction of shale gas, should be linked to two measures.
1. A local extraction tax, that goes directly to the local authorities over the extraction. This was proposed in the seventies, by someone I knew, as a means of pursuing oil extraction in places like Surrey, which in his knowledgeable view was one of the most likely places to find oil in the UK. Imagine the fuss it would create if large quantities of oil were found under say Epsom. But if Surrey got enough money to build everything they needed, the reaction of some might be different.
2. Full insurance for any buildings damaged by extraction process.
Politicians and the press will see it as a simple black and white issue. Most will be against! I see it as a multi-coloured jigsaw, that must be based on sound technology.
I would start by setting up an well–funded Institute of Fracking, at a university that has the reputation to recruit some of the best researchers in the world. It may prove that fracking is a dead end but if it showed that it was economically viable in the UK, we would reap the benefit in spades.
I have just found this article from the American Consumer Institute. It makes a lot of interesting points. Note that the United States has a local extraction tax in some or all states and this seems to push opinion in various directions.
I think the worst thing we could do is ban fracking, with the second worst being to ignore it.
Whatever we do, because we have so much of this gas, we should set up some form of research institute.
As it says in the article it’s just returning to how it was done in the 1960′s, except that you didn’t actually swap.
For instance in my first year at Liverpool University, I was in digs at Huyton, which was quite a long bus ride to and from the City Centre. Students may moan about their lot these days, but we had a whole different set of moans and digs a long way from the University was one of them.
These days as I wander around London, it seems most students have their own room in a modern block, somewhere near their University or College. But then they are expensive.
Even when I got into Hall for the third year of my course, it was still a long way from the University.
Incidentally, C wasn’t very lucky with the digs she shared with a girl called Sandra and had terrible trouble finding something where they could stay. In one case, the landlord wasn’t a man, any sane father would let near his daughters.
I think it’s a good idea and I wish the designers of the site well.
I had to smile at this article.
At least she decided to follow in C’s footsteps and go to UCL to read law.
I’ve always believed that you shouldn’t go to a university, that is in a place, that is very similar to where you were brought up, as it doesn’t widen your mind.
It has been announced that University College London is exploring the possibility of creating an additional campus at Newham, just to the east of the Olympic Park.
You’d have thought that this would have been welcomed by the people of the area. But according to a piece on BBC Breakfast this morning, the residents are against the plans. There’s a video here.
We need jobs and I suspect that those who will be moved, will get a new house, so surely this is a good plan. Or is it just the BBC saying that all development is bad.
I suspect if UCL were to build another campus in China or Malaysia, they’d be welcomed with open arms. And cheque-books too!
A friend and I recently gave some money to Liverpool University for pancreatic cancer research.
What we hadn’t realised was that as Liverpool University is in tier three of the government’s Matched Funding Scheme, this means that they add one pound for every three pounds raised. So if you say give £100, which with Gift Aid is actually £125 to the University, another £42 will be added. There are conditions and not all universities get a one to three topup.
Full details of the scheme are detailed here.
The scheme ends in July 2011, so if you are thinking about giving some money to a University, perhaps now is the time to do it!