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Life continues. It was very good to whinge about being an… - Sally's Journal
May 31st, 2005
11:17 pm

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From:vyvyan
Date:June 1st, 2005 01:25 am (UTC)
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The parallel I'm drawing here is that in both cases you get to do a very hard thing that you love, and the government pays you for it, not lots, but enough to live on comfortably if you're not stupid. And the satisfaction of doing the thing you love makes up for not being loaded in the city.

I have to say that I agree with people that PhDs and childrearing don't seem quite the same sort of thing. I really enjoyed doing a PhD; I think I'd rather die than have to bear and rear a child (seriously). There are many other very hard things, that people may love doing, that they don't get paid to do by the government e.g. round-Britain cycling trips, comprehensive Portuguese trainspotting, winning Angband...(to list a few things I or my friends and relatives have aspired to do). I suppose the government supports things it regards as worthwhile for society in some sense. If something needs to be done (research; caring for small children etc.) then it makes sense to pay people to do it, if they aren't in a position to pay for it themselves. With research, people can be stopped from doing it if no funding is available: it doesn't just unravel spontaneously over 9 months and then persist for the next 70-odd years, requiring maintenance; with babies, that unfortunately seems to be the case.
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From:atreic
Date:June 1st, 2005 08:02 am (UTC)
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if they aren't in a position to pay for it themselves

If I'd spent my savings, and lived as frugally as possible for a year, and scrounged off my parents, then... well, I doubt I could have self funded actually, but I can see a hypothetical position where I could have done. Being in a position to pay for it myself doesn't mean the government *shouldn't* pay people to do the things that need doing. I mean, a bit of that is the "respect" issue, getting paid for a job gives you a sense that it's important, and a bit of it is that it's important for the government to encourage people to have savings, and not make the only way to do what they want to do to spend them, and a bit of it is that if I'd been told "we think you're great, we want you to do this PhD, but there's no money for you at all because you already have money" I would in all likelyhood have gone off and done something that would have kept me a little further from the povity line.

I think if they aren't in a position to pay for it themselves just has too many strange consequences... should you only pay any useful government worker (doctors, nurses, teachers etc) if they don't have enough money to get through the month otherwise?

If something needs to be done (that will benifit more than the individual*) then it makes sense to pay people to do it.

*Obviously I need to eat every day. Being paid for successfully going out to dinner seems a little mad. Maybe not only does it have to benifit more than the individual, it has to occupy a significant amount of your time and effort?
From:vyvyan
Date:June 1st, 2005 12:56 pm (UTC)
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I suppose I should have distinguished between being paid for a job and being given a grant/allowance for something worthwhile. I would think of a job as being an exchange of goods or services: the worker produces some desired goods or provides some desired services which the recipient pays for (often with a private company as intermediary). Fortuitously this enables the worker to eat and obtain other necessaries of life. This can be extended to public sector-type jobs like doctors and teachers which, although they do not make money directly, increase the productivity of workers in the country generally, and thus indirectly increase the value of goods and services exchanged between other individuals.

Getting a grant/loan etc. for study or a fixed piece of research (like a PhD, which typically involves self-improvement in the academic discipline as well as research) is rather different from getting paid for a job. The student is largely receiving desired goods and services, not producing them (PhD research may be useful to society at large, but there is no guarantee of it!) - the people providing these goods and services (e.g. the university teaching and admin staff) need to be compensated for them. If the student is in a position to pay for their desired study and research, they are generally expected to. If they are not able to pay (for whatever reason, squandering of previous funds included) they may be able to get a government grant to do it if they make a sufficiently good case for the work being worthwhile and themself being the right person to do it (this is probably more easily done in the sciences than in the arts). Incidentally, my PhD funding was stopped when I was appointed to my fellowship, on the grounds that I now had another source of income; this did not induce me to abandon my PhD!

I think benefits are a third class of thing. People have basic requirements of goods and services, which vary depending on things like age, disability level, and whether they have small children to support. If they are unable to obtain these necessary goods and services through the usual exchange mechanism (i.e. by having a job), we as a society need to provide them (or watch the people die in the streets, or obtain them through crime...). In that sense, one is paid to eat - if you have no source of income, the government will give you money to buy food. So, I don't think benefits for single parents are equivalent to "grants to have babies", any more than JSA is usefully regarded as a "grant to be able to live": they're helping to support an existing state of affairs. (This presumes the baby has already been born; I don't think a single person who had fertility problems would be able to demand NHS help to conceive - that would be like applying for a grant to have a baby!) Deciding not to give someone a grant to do a PhD would just mean they wouldn't be able to embark on the PhD - disappointing, no doubt, but hardly life-threatening, or obviously detrimental to society at large. Deciding not to give benefits to e.g. single mothers to support themselves and their existing children (whether conceived accidentally or wilfully) would be positively inhumane, IMO.
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From:robert_jones
Date:June 1st, 2005 10:38 pm (UTC)
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I don't like to contradict you, since you obviously speak from experience, but that certainly isn't my experience of how PhD funding works. I could certainly have afforded to fund my own PhD, but the government still gave me money for it. I have never heard of anyone being denied funding on the grounds of being too rich. I almost wonder if you have misunderstood the reason your PhD funding was cut off, but surely you know best.

My feeling is that the government funds PhDs precisely because they consider academic research to be a valuable service. (After all, "valuable" means that someone is prepared to pay for it, which they are.) It is probably true that only a minority contribute anything worthwhile, but that is a risk the government are prepared to take for the sake of those which do. Why else would they fund people? The government, like everyone else, tend not to give money away at random.
From:vyvyan
Date:June 2nd, 2005 12:49 am (UTC)
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I suppose it may vary between funding bodies (and have changed over time), but when I received funding from the British Council (and later the AHRB) I had to sign a form saying that I was not receiving funding from any other public or private body. When I was appointed to my fellowship (on the understanding that I would spend the first year of it completing my PhD) college officials wrote on my behalf to the funding council, explaining that they were now employing me, but that I was still working full-time towards the PhD. The college certainly hoped that I would continue to receive the funding! The response was no, however.

I agree that there isn't a means test taking account of savings, but given the difficulty of getting PhD funding, a substantial proportion of capable, qualified students end up having to pay their own way in any case - or just not pursue a PhD. (This is true in Arts, anyway - when I applied, the paperwork mentioned that the funding council typically received twice as many applications from candidates with Firsts, who had already been accepted by their institutions to pursue doctorates provisional on funding, as they had places to fund. The application form had spaces for your supervisor to tick whether your First was a really good one, a solid one, or a bare First; anyone with a 2.1 might as well not bother even applying.)

I also agree that the government funds PhDs because it sees them as worthwhile in some wider sense, on average at least. (I think I said this in my last two comments here, though perhaps I buried the point amongst other things.) It was certainly necessary for me, and my friends applying for PhDs in the same field, to make a strong case for the planned research having wider social value and applications beyond the pure advancement of knowledge in the relevant subject area. I just don't see that kind of "worth" as being quite the same sort of thing as a) what is produced by people working in paid jobs; or b) what social welfare benefits are intended to sustain. (There will be overlaps and grey areas at both borders, though, I am sure.)
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