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OpenLearn Live: 8th July 2015

Updated Wednesday, 8th July 2015

Something to think about: A collection of free learning, insight and research from around OpenLearn and around the world.

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Today's Posts

That's it for today

Thanks for joining us for what has been something of an economics-and-politics heavy day of OpenLearn Live. We'll almost certainly be back again tomorrow.

Why bother with deadlines?

As the late Douglas Adams once said "I love deadlines; I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by." But why do people negotiationing life-or-death international treaties set themselves often absurd-seeming deadlines which they then shift? The Atlantic's Adam Chandler has been trying to find out - and luckily hit his deadline for filing copy:

“There are different functions that an extension can play,” said David Holloway, a professor of political science at Stanford University and the author of Stalin and the Bomb. He added that deadlines in international negotiations are often pushed back because they were too ambitious in the first place or because the issues are hard to figure out. In the case of arms negotiations, Holloway also notes the potential impact of domestic politics on the parties participating in the talks. With Iran’s nuclear program in mind, securing a deal “could involve getting a final decision from the Supreme Leader or the White House.”

Beyond the negotiating table, the breaking of a deadline also serves a symbolic function. Should the negotiators fail to strike a deal this week in Vienna and pack up to return to their home countries empty-handed, there’s meaning (or at least spin) in the notion that the the talks went weeks beyond their allotted time. 

Read Why Have Negotiation Deadlines Anyway?

Fancy having a go at international negotiations? Play Saving Setrus

Thinking Allowed, BBC Radio 4, 4pm

One of the highlights of Wednesdays is the regular arrival of the Thinking Allowed email from Laurie Taylor - you can subscribe to it at This week, there's a tale of Margaret, whose reluctance to converse hid a secret:

“That was it. She didn’t speak in public because she knew that eventually she’d lapse into that Scottish accent. She’d betray the identity she’d been cultivating. She’d effectively neutered herself in order that she could be thought of as someone other than herself.”

This by way of introducing this week's subjects, looking at sense of identity - both amongst migrants choosing to describe themselves as "British" and the everyday experience of British-Arab people in London.

More about this week's episode

Free course: engendering citizenship

Nutritional labelling works better for advertisers than the public

We're coming up for a breath of fresh air after that swamp of budget and a quick sandwich. But how do you decide if your lunch is going to do your health any good? It's difficult, according to new research from the University of Glasgow which finds that nutritional labelling sells us all short:

Dr Emilie Combet, who led the research at the University of Glasgow, said: “Members of the public are exposed, daily, to a large volume of messages related to food and health from multiple sources with varying reliability and consistency. Our study shows limited understanding of the concepts, and alarmingly, a lot of despondence too.”

Professor Mike Lean, a co-author on the study, said: “The popular term ‘healthy eating’ has been hijacked by the food industry and used to sell low calorie products; it no longer conveys the notion of long-term influence on health and has become synonymous with dieting for weight loss.

“The word ‘healthy’ is commonly applied to foods and ingredients which can have no impact on health unless built into a nutritionally balanced overall diet. The simplest way to do that is to have meals which are nutritionally balanced.”

Read the news story: Nutritional health promotion: the message is not getting across, and terms get hijacked for commercial marketing

Is there anything to be gained from 'eating for health'?

Living wage increase

The Chancellor's introduction of a Living Wage was a popular move, but at least one observer says it be kept in the context of changes to welfare benefits:

Writing for Society Matters last year, Dick Skellington suggested we needed a maximum wage rather than a minimum one.

A cartoon illustrating a Lord-like figure and a servant. The servant asks 'Begging your pardon your Lordship, your Royaltyship, your Honour, sir, but... Is it time we had a maximum wage?' and the Lord-like figures responds with 'Definitely Smithers. You'll never be paid more than threepence a year, I'll see to that ,'good man...'. Creative commons image Icon Catherine Pain under Creative-Commons license

There's more to life than the budget...

It's a better suggestion than watching that Cliff Richard video again, at least:

OBR judgement

As George Osborne has now sat down, the Office for Budget Responsibility has released its take on his measures. You can download the OBR report, but here's the gist:

The new Government has used its first Budget to loosen significantly the impending squeeze on public services, financed by welfare cuts, net tax increases and three years of higher borrowing. The Government has also delayed the expected return to a budget surplus by a year to 2019-20, but is then aiming for a slightly bigger surplus in the medium term.

The end of the student grant

Amongst the Chancellor's other measures is a plan to abolish the last remaining student maintainence grants and replace them with loans. The Sutton Trust has issued a statement - and they're not impressed:

Commenting on the plans to cut maintenance grants outlined in today’s Budget, Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“Shifting grants to loans may move them off the balance sheet, but it could also put off many low and middle income students and tip the balance against their going to university. Since grants were reintroduced, there have been significant improvements in participation from full time less advantaged students, and this will be put at risk by today’s Budget plans.

The reality is that the Government has miscalculated the levels of repayments it will get from its student loans under the new fees system. Rather than penalising poorer students, it should have a fundamental review of the repayments system. We need long term solutions not a short term fix.”

A quick update from Westminster

George Osborne - who's currently in the middle of his budget - has announced a plan to improve UK productivity. Or, rather, he's announced an intention to announce a plan later this week.

He's got quite a hill to climb, according to some observers:

George might want to take a quick look at Stephen Wood's advice on The Conversation - ask the workers:

Feedback is an important ingredient of involvement and information dissemination, but appraisals done badly can fail to produce positive psychological effects. The flaws in this are a warning to human resource managers and CEOs to keep a close watch on how much involvement they are really achieving, even with their practices designed to achieve it. All too often the focus is on processes – was an appraisal done on time, was information sent out properly? – rather than on the content in the delivery.

The BBC micro:bit

Yesterday the BBC announced that every year seven child in the UK will be getting a micro:bit - it may not do much for punctuation skills, but it's an exciting development in coding:

If you fancy having a go at coding, but aren't in year seven, why not check out Scratch?

Getting around Tudor England

We went off down a rabbit hole when our of visitors asked about how Tudor Londoners knew the names of streets. In the course of answering that, we also uncovered the origins of Whip-ma-whop-gate. That's a place in York, not a political scandal.

A sign explaining the exotic York street name Whip-ma-whop-ma Gate as being derived from a phrase for 'what a street' Creative commons image Icon Keith Seabridge under CC-BY licence under Creative-Commons license

Read How did Tudor Londoners get around?

How long is it since the last all Conservative budget?

Thanks to Andrew Sparrow in the Guardian, who has just reminded the world the last time a chancellor from a Tory government delivered a budget was the year this happened at Wimbledon:

More budget previews

Yesterday's Daily Politics on BBC Two looked ahead to today's announcements, as Jo Coburn was joined by Labour's Toby Perksons and Cosnervative Oliver Dowden to sift through the rumours of what might be announced:

Writing on The Conversation, Andrew Power says that safe havens for vulnerable adults are at risk as the welfare axe falls:

George Osborne’s budget speech will outline cuts to welfare spending which are designed to wrestle Britain out of its budget deficit. The cost is likely to be severe for those deemed the most vulnerable in society. Already pushed out into the community, adult social care users will more and more find their safety nets worn ragged.

While the chancellor seeks to cut £12 billion from Britain’s welfare bill, one key question is how these changes are felt by those who have so far benefited. The foundation of the current regime for looking after adults who need help can be seen in the Department of Health’s report, Caring for our Future, published in 2012. It advocates:

Supporting active and inclusive communities and encouraging people to use their skills and talents to build new friendships and connections, is central to our vision for care and support.

This fits with the government’s wider social care policy of personalisation, which has sought to change the emphasis beyond what service people want, towards what kind of life people want. At the heart of this policy has been a devolution of budgets down to the individual or a nominated budget-holder.

While personalisation has been shown to have made many positive impacts on people’s lives according to recent National Personal Budgets (POET) surveys, much of the success has been tempered by the effects of significant austerity cuts to social care budgets.

Also on The Conversation, Alan Somerville asks how welfare cuts can be squared with Tory passion for social justice:

Equally if people aged between 18 and 21 move away from home to take up a low-paid job because it’s better than nothing, removing their housing benefit – something else that is expected in the budget – is punishing them for something they can’t avoid. A socially just policy would focus on delivering more jobs for them closer to home.

The CBI have got a page on their website which they'll be filling in with business reaction as the budget is revealed: CBI on Budget 2015

If you're looking for a basic grounding in the broader questions behind the budget, we've selected a range of learning on a dedicated Baffled By The Budget page.


DNA from a kiwi fruit

While the Chancellor is trying to get blood from a stone, if you'd rather escape from the political melee of the day, why not have a go at our simple experiment to extract DNA from a kiwi fruit?


It's budget day

People wearing George Osborne masks on a boat on the Thames Creative commons image Icon CAFOD under CC-BY-NC-ND licence under Creative-Commons license At the 2013 budget CAFOD floated a boat of George Osbornes past the Palace of Westminster

Budgets are a bit like floods or sitcoms where Hollywood stars play hyper-real versions of themselves: they used to be quite rare events but seem to be happening all the time these days.

This morning we get what is being billed as George Osborne's first "all Conservative" budget, as - shorn of Liberal Democrats - he's free to deliver a pure vision of how he thinks the economy should work.

Here's some background reading:

Michael Kitson on why, for many, the pain might be yet to come

The UK remains an unbalanced economy: regional disparities have widened since the early 1980s and this process was not halted by the financial crisis. The government has proclaimed that it is putting the power into the “Northern powerhouse”. But regional policy in the UK is piecemeal and parsimonious; and you do not build a powerhouse by postponing infrastructure spending in the North. 

Daniel Weinbren looks at the permanently upturned economy

If we are indeed living in extraordinarily tranquil economic times, the length and depth of the 2008-9 recession could be the explanation. Real GDP then declined for five consecutive quarters, and only grew for nine before turning down again at the end of 2011. Per-capita GDP fell by 7.2% between first-quarter 2008 and second-quarter 2009, three times the depth of the previous (early 1990s) recession. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the subsequent recovery is also expected  to go on longer than usual, before the next pause.

Over on The Conversation, Prem Sikka suggests generous tax promises have left Osborne little room to move

Additional consumption is also being encouraged by the recent pension reforms which enable some retirees to cash in their pension pots. Around £6 billion is expected to be withdrawn by retirees to spend as they please. This will also boost the government’s tax revenues by about £1.2 billion. Of course, there are questions about how household debt is to be repaid and what will happen to pensioners later in the lives when a large lump of their savings has been lavished on holidays, cars and luxuries. Perhaps the government can’t see beyond the next election.

The UK desperately needs a new economic strategy, but Wednesday’s budget is unlikely to announce one.


Good morning!

Our experiment in a real-time guide to content across OpenLearn and beyond moves into its third day, which means we've already lasted one day longer than the Los Angeles Times' wikitorial experiment. That was abandoned after two days:

In a bold experiment, wiki technology was used by the Lose Angeles Times to create "wikitorials" in which any reader could contribute ideas. The Wikitorial experiment lasted only two days, encumbered by inappropriate and obscence content

- from Communication Technology Update 10/e by August E Grant & Jennifer H Meadows

Hopefully nothing inappropriate or obscence here today, although obviously we'll be reacting to stories as they develop. Follow us on Twitter, or pop back when you can to see what we've unearthed.





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