Normal person + internet anonymity = ?

Talking on <em>Woman's Hour</em> about sexist trolling online.

This morning, on Radio 4's Woman's Hour, I think I managed to shock Jane Garvey by relating some of the lowlights from the stories of sexist abuse I've been told in the last few weeks.

We talked about whether women get more abuse, how comment threads could be moderated and what percentage of commenters are abusive. "People are just really nasty on the internet," said my fellow guest Tamara Littleton, of e-Moderation.

We didn't have time to get into it on the programme, but one of the most interesting things to come out of the discussion is whether anonymity is the problem (you can see a light-hearted treatment of that here). I can see the arguments against insisting on real names -- because those in sensitive jobs may feel inhibited from commenting otherwise -- but I think that discussion forums should encourage users to invest in an identity, to take pride in their contributions.

The Guardian, for example, does this with commenters' profiles, so you can see everything a person has written and many sites require registration with an email address. Another interesting suggestion I've heard in the last couple of days is charging a nominal one-off fee - say 20p - for your first comment.

The NS's own David Allen Green, meanwhile, uses pre-moderation on his personal blog, and said this gives the comment section a "letters to the editor" feel.

You can listen to the segment from Woman's Hour here. It's about 20 minutes into the programme.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Sooner or later, a British university is going to go bankrupt

Theresa May's anti-immigration policies will have a big impact - and no-one is talking about it. 

The most effective way to regenerate somewhere? Build a university there. Of all the bits of the public sector, they have the most beneficial local effects – they create, near-instantly, a constellation of jobs, both directly and indirectly.

Don’t forget that the housing crisis in England’s great cities is the jobs crisis everywhere else: universities not only attract students but create graduate employment, both through directly working for the university or servicing its students and staff.

In the United Kingdom, when you look at the renaissance of England’s cities from the 1990s to the present day, universities are often unnoticed and uncelebrated but they are always at the heart of the picture.

And crucial to their funding: the high fees of overseas students. Thanks to the dominance of Oxford and Cambridge in television and film, the wide spread of English around the world, and the soft power of the BBC, particularly the World Service,  an education at a British university is highly prized around of the world. Add to that the fact that higher education is something that Britain does well and the conditions for financially secure development of regional centres of growth and jobs – supposedly the tentpole of Theresa May’s agenda – are all in place.

But at the Home Office, May did more to stop the flow of foreign students into higher education in Britain than any other minister since the Second World War. Under May, that department did its utmost to reduce the number of overseas students, despite opposition both from BIS, then responsible for higher education, and the Treasury, then supremely powerful under the leadership of George Osborne.

That’s the hidden story in today’s Office of National Statistics figures showing a drop in the number of international students. Even small falls in the number of international students has big repercussions for student funding. Take the University of Hull – one in six students are international students. But remove their contribution in fees and the University’s finances would instantly go from surplus into deficit. At Imperial, international students make up a third of the student population – but contribute 56 per cent of student fee income.

Bluntly – if May continues to reduce student numbers, the end result is going to be a university going bust, with massive knock-on effects, not only for research enterprise but for the local economies of the surrounding area.

And that’s the trajectory under David Cameron, when the Home Office’s instincts faced strong countervailing pressure from a powerful Treasury and a department for Business, Innovation and Skills that for most of his premiership hosted a vocal Liberal Democrat who needed to be mollified. There’s every reason to believe that the Cameron-era trajectory will accelerate, rather than decline, now that May is at the Treasury, the new department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy doesn’t even have responsibility for higher education anymore. (That’s back at the Department for Education, where the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, is a May loyalist.)

We talk about the pressures in the NHS or in care, and those, too, are warning lights in the British state. But watch out too, for a university that needs to be bailed out before long. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.