Friday, February 19, 2016

The Boys in the Bubble

Bagehot in "The Economist" today

Bagehot writes:
"BEING a Eurosceptic in a university city is a lonely business. In the drizzle outside the Cambridge Union a student in a roll-neck is trying to hand anti-EU leaflets to the cliques hurrying past. Most ignore him. One, having taken a folded piece of card, glances at it and sighs “nah”, shoving it back into the campaigner’s hand.

"Inside, in the neo-Gothic chamber, pro-EU luminaries ply their arguments to cheers. When Richard Tice, an anti-EU campaigner, delivers his speech students bob up and down, machine-gunning him rebarbative questions. Did regulation not exist before Britain joined the union? Why do so many firms support membership? If Britain doesn't control its borders why do foreign students struggle to get visas?

"When Mr Tice quotes “the highly respected economist, Tim Congdon” (a notorious Eurosceptic) the chamber resounds to laughter and sarcastic applause."
Things are different in Peterborough.
"Compare that with Peterborough, a similarly sized city at the other end of Cambridgeshire. At a public debate there locals voted decisively in favour of Brexit. “I asked rhetorically what the audience would put at risk to leave the EU,” recalls Mr Huppert. “They shouted back: ‘Everything’.”
Cambridge and Peterborough are geographically close and in many ways quite similar, so why the different attitudes to the EU?
"Cambridge bears the hallmarks of an economy in which one in two has gone to university, Peterborough is visibly a city of school-leavers.

"When it comes to the EU, this difference is everything. Education levels are “an extremely strong predictor” of an individual’s views on the subject, stresses Robert Ford, an expert on public opinion: the more qualifications someone has, the more pro-European he or she is likely to be.

"According to polls by YouGov, those educated only to 16 oppose EU membership by 57% to 43%, but among graduates it is 38% to 62%. When education is controlled for, other factors affecting an individual’s views on Europe—like income, choice of newspaper and even age—diminish.

What is it about those five years of study between 16 and 21? The answer has two parts. First, the self-interested one. “Having a degree is increasingly a prerequisite of getting on in life,” observes Mr Ford, adding: “Both sides are aware that there is a drawbridge called university and that those who don’t get across it are disadvantaged.”


"The second, cultural driver mostly concerns immigration. Whereas many in Cambridge see incomers as highly educated Germans and Swedes bringing their expertise to research projects, start-ups and product-development meetings, in Peterborough they are Lithuanian potato-pickers who, if not competing with locals for unskilled work, are at least nipping at their heels."
The Economist has sussed out the underlying trend though:
"University attendance has exploded, which suggests that Britain will become more internationalist and comfortable with EU co-operation. Yet in the meantime it seems the country will be increasingly polarised: liberal, Cambridge-like places on the one side; nationalist, Peterborough-like ones on the other and an ever-shrinking middle ground between the two, as the population bifurcates into those whose skills make them globally competitive and those who must compete with robots and the mass workforces of the emerging economies.


"Eventually Britain will look more like Cambridge than it does today."
In the year after taking A-level (i.e. at age 18+) 52% of young people were at a higher education institution - with one per cent at Oxbridge and another 8% at other Russell Group universities, according to a Government report.*

So Oxbridge is taking the top 1% of the population age-cohort and inducting them into an international elite bubble. I feel it is unlikely, short of the initiative described in my previous post, that very much more of Britain 'will look more like Cambridge in the future than it does today'.

There are better, more forward-thinking arguments which might speak to Oxbridge undergraduate as to the merits of leaving the present incarnation of the Holy Roman Empire. But that's for another day ... although ironically, The Economist got there before me.

Update: (March 18th 2016): see also "Brexit: the issue is Germany".


* These figures are interesting. If the 1% admitted to Oxford and Cambridge were selected entirely on merit, the IQ cut-off would be z = 2.33 SD, or 135. If you believe that some get into Oxbridge by not being quite as bright as that, but by having connections, then the merit IQ threshold will be greater than 135.

For the Russell Group  (the top 24 non-Oxbridge including my own alma mater, Warwick), you have to be in the top 9%. This requires z > 1.34, or an IQ of at least 120. In practice, IQ demands are likely to be less for non g-loaded subjects like English and Drama (plus there are those connections again), so this is very much a lower bound for disciplines positively requiring high-IQ (typically STEM subjects and philosophy).


We were in the Cribbs Causeway Mall today, pictured below, where I replaced my Primark trousers with softer and more luxurious variants from John Lewis at seven times the price.

The author at Cribbs Causeway Mall

I also popped into my first Apple store. I was expecting style and imagination, but was confronted by six large Formica-like tables upon which were arrayed rows of tethered iPhone 6s and MacBook Air laptops. The whole experience seemed tacky and impoverished; the shop was, however, crowded.

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