BHS Death: Who is to Blame?

Image: The Herald, Scotland https://goo.gl/X59KeM

British Home Store (BHS) was born in 1928 with steady expansion growth and increasing competition with rival stores that bring excitements to the British workforce and customers. In pursuit of survival, BHS has undergone several successful surgical operations in the post-war era such as expansion across the UK, merging and franchising its brand. Many feared that BHS survival chances would diminish in 2000 when Sir Philip Green took charge of the company health affairs, but he dismissed the fears. However, sickness symptoms were confirmed in 2005 when BHS announced its losing customers to rivals. After several attempts to revive BHS, the health continued to deteriorate. This continued until 2015 when it was transferred to Dominic Chappell, unfortunately for BHS its health has gone beyond resuscitation. In 2016, the once healthy and competitive BHS was in coma without a chance of survival.

Losers

Although all BHS stakeholders were disappointed in the news of its death, this has different implications for different stakeholders. During its heyday, BHS had 163 stores, 11,000 British workforce that comprised direct and indirect staff, servicing 22,000 pensioners, tax-payer, and 1.2m British loyal customers. These were the biggest losers as the death of BHS significantly changed their way of life and in some cases, it threatened their survival as well.

Image: Drapers, https://goo.gl/vDGG41

Companies Act 2006

The Companies Act 2006 s830 specifies that companies should only distribute a dividend to the shareholders from the profit available or accumulated profits. This profit should be after deducting its accumulation losses. Also, Companies Act 2006 s172 specifies the duties of company’s directors to act in good faith with the aim of promoting the company’s success for all its members. In the case of BHS, members include all the stakeholders such as employees, pensioners, customers, suppliers, creditors, government, UK taxpayers, and shareholders.

Many commentators argued that Sir Philip Green and his family members along with other shareholders did not regard corporate governance or Companies Act 2006; and they made decisions on the BHS activities in their personal interest to the detriment of the other BHS members. Other commentators believed that The Green family and other shareholders enjoyed unfettered access in the heart of BHS; that was cleverly done with a complex company structure and inter-company transactions that include £422m dividend pay-out against £208m profit, £10m loan interest, £151m rent received from sales and lease-back, £250m management charges and £3m ground rent, all received from BHS. As a result, between 2000 and 2015, the pension fund has fallen from £5m surplus to 571m deficits and BHS survival and going concern was set on a slope.

Structure of Taveta Group (Controlled by the Green Family): Source from HC Committee Reports, https://goo.gl/reA7Er


International Standards on Auditing

The International Standards on Auditing (UK) specifies that the objective of the audit work on the financial statement is to give reasonable assurance. This assurance should be included in the auditor’s report to highlight whether the financial statement is free of error or fraud. Although, it is not a guarantee that material misstatement due to error and fraud will always be detected when audit work complies with ISA (UK). However, the ISA (UK) requires that auditor should exercise professional judgment in identifying and assessing the material risks in the financial statements. Auditors are required to design and perform audit procedures that are responsive to material risks, and to obtain appropriate, and sufficient evidence regarding the business activities from audit procedures upon which audit opinion will be formed. In this regard, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) audit design and procedures failed to detect or raise going concern issue during 2015 audit when BHS was sold for £1.

PwC Leeds firm audited BHS Group Ltd financial accounts for the 74 weeks to 29 August 2009 and since then they continued to audit BHS financial account till 2015. They are also the auditing firm for other Green Family companies such as Taveta Investment Limited and Taveta Investment (No.2) Limited, the parent companies of BHS. Commentators believe that this could have created threats to their objectivity due to possible close or personal relationship with the Green family and non-audit fee (audit fee ratio of up to 8:1). These threats include familiarity, intimidation, and self-interest as the audit firm and senior partner may not be necessarily sceptical and may be sympathetic towards the directors and employee with whom they have a relationship.

Image: Accountancy Age, https://goo.gl/ZVN1Yu

On the 13 June 2018, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) halted the over 30 years career of Steve Denison a senior partner with a 15-year ban and £325,000 fine. PwC accounting firm was fined £6.5m and FRC will be monitoring their practice over the next three years.

Blame

In my opinion, the directors of BHS acted unethically and with total disregard for the Companies Act 2006 and corporate governance in discharging their duties between 2000 and 2015. Considering the consequences of their actions, the innocent pensioners, direct and indirect employees and taxpayers will pick up the bill for the BHS pension deficit. It is unfortunate that those directors got away with just over £363m fines without a ban from serving as company directors in the future or possibly jail terms.

However, as much I would like to agree with  PwC that their failure could not have contributed to BHS death, from a professional viewpoint, they have the duty not only to advise the BHS board of directors, but the 2015 Audit Report should have explicitly raised going concern issues. This would have raised other stakeholder’s awareness as the Audit Report would have been available to the public through Company House.

Mayowa Akinbote ACCA, MA, PGCHP, FHEA, BSc.                                                Lecturer in Accounting and Finance                                                                        Staffordshire Business School

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Second Report-ASAP meeting

The second national meeting of the Report ASAP took place on the 11th and 12th of April in Milan, Italy, hosted by our partner EUROCREA Merchant. All project partners were represented.

The meeting atmosphere was very friendly and collaborative, and everyone was highly motivated.

In this second meeting, the results of the first intellectual output “the Knowledge Gap Framework” was wrapped up. The results of the surveys conducted in the six participating countries (UK, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Greece) were presented and discussed.

Also, the foundations for intellectual output 2 “the Training Course and Trainer’s Guide” were set including setting the timeframes for the project’s milestones.

 The next meeting of the consortium will be at the beginning of November in Spain.

All this hard work was complemented by the Italian nice food, culture and hospitality.

For further information about the Report-ASAP project go to https://report-asapproject.eu.Logo

Recent Trends in Microfinance

The term Microfinance is derived from the word microcredit which means “small credit” in simple terms. However, with the expansion of services from Microfinance Institutions (MFIs), different people, agencies, and institutions have defined Microfinance differently. Generally, microfinance is defined as the provision of financial and non-financial services from microfinance institutions to low-income households and small business who were excluded by commercial banks.

The term Microfinance now covers a wide range of product and services such as microloans, savings, insurance, and remittance. Some scholars believe that the first formal microcredit institution was “Grameen Bank”, which was established in 1976 in Bangladesh by Dr Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel peace prize winner in 2006.

The term Microfinance covers a wide range of product and services such as microloans and savings.

The institution was set up as a non-profit institution to provide small credit, especially to women in the rural part of Bangladesh because it was difficult for them to receive loans from commercial banks. Over time, Grameen Bank grew in popularity and customer base and more MFIs started to emerge following the Grameen Model.

What is the Grameen Model?

The Grameen Model was created by Grameen Bank of Bangladesh which has currently the widest replication in many developing countries across the world. In Grameen model Five unrelated, self-selected prospective borrowers are formed and required to make a savings deposit and payment on a loan at given period. The institution does not evaluate these loans as individual loans but as group loans and also leaves members to do most of the management and financial services.

First, two members of the group will receive the loan and then the group members determine the rotation of access to credit, and after timely repayments, an additional two members receive loans. If any member in a group fails to make an installment payment on time, then the borrower or group will be cut off from the future borrowing. However, if the borrower/group makes payment on time and in an orderly manner then bigger loans are granted in the future.

The Grameen model provides credit to the very poor in rural areas without requiring any collateral. The model also has low transaction costs and focuses on women. The Grameen Bank approach is currently being applied in many countries. A few of such countries are Bhutan, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Chile, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Zambia Some developed countries like Canada, France, and the U.S., have also adopted a version where it is being used to help people become income generators.

Trends in Microfinance

Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) have had global influence and spread around the globe because microfinance has been regarded as one of the effective tools for fighting poverty. Initially, MFIs depended on donations, grants and government subsidies. However, in last decade, some microfinance institutions have realised that they might need to make a profit to provide continuous service, cover their administrative, financial and operational cost, and also budget for the future development without needing any government funds or donations.

In recent years, MFIs have been focusing slightly more on their financial side and as a result, the industry is moving towards profit-oriented MFI’s which means that these MFIs are applying market-based principles. This implies that we have had three stages of MFI’s since their conception which can be seen from the following figure.

Trends in Microfinance Institutions

Some of the first microfinance institutions to adopt the profit-orientated approach were Bank Rakayat Indonesia (BRI), K-Rep in Kenya, Mibanco in Peru, First Microfinance Bank (FMFB) in Pakistan, and CARD Rural Bank in the Philippines. Similarly, PRODEM, the leading Microfinance NGO in Bolivia, transformed into a financial bank called BancoSol.

In conclusion, although MFIs were established as non-profit institutions to provide social services, it seems that microfinance institutions are becoming more like profit-oriented institutions for various reasons.

Sanjib Sherpa (sanjib.sherpa@research.staffs.ac.uk) is currently undertaking his PhD study at Staffordshire University in the area of Microfinance under the supervision of Dr Tolu Olarewaju.

Work and well-being for the over 50s – Silver workers event 5th July

We have a free event on 5th July at Staffordshire University as part of the Silver Workers project to support over 50s looking to get back into work or start their own enterprise. There is still time to join the project.

A programme and registration can be found on this link

Speaker bios

Debbie Assinder – West Midlands Enterprise Champion

Debbie is a SFEDI/ILM Gold Accredited Business Adviser.  She has delivered business startup advice for 20 years +across the region becoming the Enterprise Champion for the West Midlands in 2015.

Debbie Assinder

Debbie Assinder

Highlights in her career include working on Birmingham City Council’s £4.2 million Enterprise Catalyst Programme, delivering on the PRIME (Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise) startup support programme for the 50+, working as an Associate for Birmingham Chamber of Commerce on their national Start and Grow programme and delivering on behalf of Barclay’s Bank their “Get Ready for Business” and “Let’s Start a Business”.

Currently contracted by Innovation Birmingham on their Serendip Digital Incubation programme. Also working with Enterprise Nation, extending early-stage support to the growing number of new owner/operated businesses across the UK. Delivering workshops and events as well as providing a much-needed campaigning voice for the startup business community.

Austin Knott – Walk the Moorlands

Austin Knott; after 32 years in local government and building on his experience as a local walk leader and hillwalking representative for the British Mountaineering Council, Austin has set up ‘Walk the Moorlands’ to share his love of the hills and moors in the south west Peak District and Staffordshire Moorlands.

Participant in the Silver Worker project and who is starting his own business Walk the Moorlands.

Participant in the Silver Worker project and who is starting his own business Walk the Moorlands.

Lesley Foulkes

Lesley Foulkes studied at Staffordshire University as a mature student.  Following successfully completing her post graduate diploma in Psychotherapeutic Counselling she worked as a Specialist Mentor at the university until December 2017 and is an accredited member of the British Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapists.

Lesley Foulkes is a participant in the Silver Workers project and is in the process of setting up her own business Counselling without Walls

Lesley Foulkes is a participant in the Silver Workers project and is in the process of setting up her own business Counselling without Walls

Rebecca Loo and Fiona Uschmann  – Catch the Dream

Rebecca Loo works as an NHS Occupational Therapist with children with disabilities in North Staffs. She is also a health activist, running local and national Orthotics Campaigns (www.orthoticscampaign.org.uk) which press for improvements in the provision of braces and specialist footwear for people with disabilities.

Rebecca Loo of Catch the Dream

Rebecca Loo of Catch the Dream

The daughter of a local business man and having seen the effects of the 1980’s and 1990’s recessions, she vowed never to enter business herself. That was until she heard of how Ebola had shattered the lives of villagers in Lungi Village in West Africa. In May 2017 she and Fiona Uschmann incorporated “Catch the Dream Community Interest Company” (www.catch-the-dream.co.uk). They have been on a steep learning curve ever since as they work with the villagers to help them regain their livelihoods and dignity.

Fiona Uschmann is a PA and HR Manager at a local secondary school in Stoke on Trent. She has been involved in the yearly immersion programmes to Sierra Leone over the past 11 years with groups of sixth formers.

Fiona Uschmann of Catch the Dream

Fiona Uschmann of Catch the Dream

When immersion was unable to take place because of the catastrophic effects of Ebola in West Africa, she decided that she wanted to do more. In May 2017, Fiona and Rebecca Loo started a Community Interest Company called Catch the Dream.  Catch the Dream CIC has been working in partnership with a rural community in Bo, Sierra Leone to help them recover from the loss of their agricultural livelihood by kickstarting their farms again after they were devastated from the Ebola outbreak.

Sandra Butterworth – Business Innovation Centre

Sandra Butterworth is Director of Innovation at the Business Innovation Centre in Staffordshire which was set up in 1995 to encourage and promote Innovation in the region.

Sandra Butterworth

Sandra Butterworth will be taking about support and funding for start up businesses

During her 20 years at the BIC, she has been the Champion for Innovation encouraging everyone connected with the BIC to embrace Innovation which she believes is the way forward for local businesses as statistics show that Innovative businesses outperform their competitors.

Sandra is a SFEDI qualified Business Advisor, Member of the Institute of Business Counselling and Institute of Leadership & Management and helps companies to identify, research, develop and market their innovations. Sandra organises and delivers the BICs Self Development workshops and events on Innovation.

Tony Bickley – Staffordshire University

Tony Is a Chartered Accountant who has been a Senior Lecturer at Staffordshire University since 2016.  He has an MBA and is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Tony Bickley

Tony Bickley

Prior to working at the University he previously held several managerial roles in the Financial Services industry following his early career in the Accounting profession.

His areas of teaching speciality are Financial Accounting, Taxation and Financial Services.He is a Silver worked himself – has a wife, four children, 3 grandchildren and 3 dogs!

Patricia Roberts 

Patricia has been working for North Staffordshire based Aspire Housing since 2016.  She has played a prevalent role in the development of a new Community Living Service and challenging the way people think, act and talk about Dementia. Patricia’s career spans some fifteen years in both the private and third sector which makes her well placed to meet challenges presented by current welfare reforms and an ageing population.

Patricia Roberts - Older Persons Strategy lead for Aspire Housing

Patricia Roberts – Older Persons Strategy lead for Aspire Housing

Caring by nature she is passionate about collaborating with partner organisations to ensure vulnerable customers are acknowledged and listened to. Volunteering for the Alzheimers Society as a Dementia Champion, she has helped over 500 people become dementia friends and is currently developing a network of champions within we are aspire.

Born and bred in Cambridge Patricia has a keen interest in local faith groups and encouraging people to fulfil their full potential. Patricia lives with her husband in Hill Ridware, and takes great delight in exploring the great outdoors especially if it raises money for the Alzheimer Society.

Hazel Squire

Hazel Squire is a senior lecturer at Staffordshire Business School. She is the award leader for undergraduate business courses and delivers on the `Silver worker` business start up training.

Hazel Squire

Hazel Squire

Having worked in the retail sector Hazel set up and ran her own business before returning to university as a mature student. She is currently undertaking a PHD looking to identify the barriers faced by older people thinking of  setting up their own business.

Contact details: h.squire@staffs.ac.uk Tel: 01782294985 Twitter @hazelsquire

Prof Jon Fairburn – Staffordshire University

Jon Fairburn is Professor of Sustainable Development at Staffordshire University. He teaches on the MSc Digital Marketing Management award and established the Business School twitter account @BusinessStaffs which has twice won best Business School account from Edurank.

Prof Jon Fairburn

Prof Jon Fairburn

He has previously worked on the SEE GREEN project (with senior citizens) as well as delivering on the Silver Workers project.

Sign up to the event for free on this link 

Follow the project on this twitter account @silver_workers

 

EU Strategic Partnership project

Empowering SMEs through sustainability

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are key players in achieving sustainability. In the EU-27, 99% of companies are SMEs (with 250 or fewer employees) and they employ two thirds of European workers (EU, 2017). An individual SME may have small social, environmental and financial impact; collectively SMEs have a great impact. More than 70% of all pollution can be attributed to SMEs.

Graph showing the number of SMEs as a percentage of the total number of enterprises in EU countries

Graph showing the number of SMEs as a percentage of the total number of enterprises in EU countries

SMEs can benefit from sustainability by:

  • Strengthening relationships with stakeholders.
  • Demonstrating transparency.
  • Enhancing business value and
  • Securing their right from society to operate.
  • Achieving continuous improvement and innovation.
  • Attracting long term capital.
  • Strengthening risk awareness and management.
  • Improving regulatory compliance (e.g. greenhouse gas emission data).
  • Reducing the burden of environmental fines and taxation.

However, SMEs lack the knowledge regarding sustainability problems (i.e. what is sustainability, which process to follow, what are the potential benefits, etc.). Existing frameworks, standards and protocols to assist companies in adopting and implementing the sustainability practices are complex, especially for SMEs, since they are designed as “one size fits all” with large enterprises in mind. SMEs’ staff do not have the experience or tools to address sustainable issues and need to be educated and trained about sustainability principles if they are to take a proactive approach toward sustainability.

Report ASAP Project (Adoption of Sustainable Accounting Practices for Reporting), aims to help small and medium size business report on their sustainability by providing the necessary training and tools to adopt sustainable accounting and reporting practices in a cost-effective way. This project will provide the necessary training and tools for SMEs staff in six (6) countries: UK, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Greece.

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This project will develop a training course and an online tool, where SMEs can discover the most relevant sustainability reporting practices for them. Help us define the features and content of this tool by filling the online questionnaire available at https://report-asapproject.eu/.

If you would like to be invited to the training please remember to tick the relevant box at the end of the questionnaire. The outcome of this study will be available online as well. Feel free to send us any additional comment/question to the project leader Dr Souad Moufty at: souad.moufty@staffs.ac.uk.

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LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/company/18390375/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/reportasapproject/

Twitter: #reportasapproject

8 Trends To Keep Your Eyes On In 2018

1. Instagram Stories Drive Upcoming Instagram Trends

Instagram Stories is a big deal and they’re not going away. Daily viewers of Instagram Stories surpassed daily SnapChat viewers just one year after launch, and the growth isn’t stopping.

Instagram Stories was likely the biggest single change in the Instagram UX, and its marketing implications are huge.

A huge deal with Instagram Stories is this: accounts with over 10,000 followers can now add a link within the feature. Considering the fact that the only other place you can put a link on Instagram is just the one buried on your profile page, this is a huge deal, as it multiplies buying or inquiry opportunities by orders of magnitude.

Instagram Stories in particular will be relevant from a marketing perspective because, compared to other transitory video platforms, Instagram metrics are eminently trackable.

A final note on Instagram Stories: Their foundation is social media engagement gold. Video drastically outperforms all other forms of content on every test.

2. Influencer Marketing Makes Major Contributions to Social Media Engagement

Influencer marketing is big business — a billion dollar industry by some counts. There is an exhaustive list of micro-celebrities who earn six figure incomes. And this isn’t a fluke. Influencer marketing is uniquely keyed to exploit certain facts about a growing number of buyers.
As Millennials advance their careers, and Generation Z starts theirs, an enormous population’s purchasing power is increasing swiftly. These two groups — who, combined, literally comprise most of the world’s population — are uniquely influenced by this marketing method.

3. Generation Z to Decide Social Media Trends

We’ve mentioned Generation Z in both of the previous topics for good reason.

RetailDive had this to say about Generation Z and their associated social media trends:

“Gen Z is two- to three times more likely to be influenced by social media than by sales or discounts — the only generation to value social media over price when it comes to making purchase decisions…”

Furthermore, 81% report watching at least one hour of online video per day, or more, according to a study by Fluent, covered by AdWeek. Combine these facts and realize that droves of Generation Z will graduate college and/or start careers next year, and you start to see the powder keg.

4. Messaging Platforms Make Companies Accessible

 

What do you know about WeChat? They’re a wee little Chinese messaging company . . . errr, one that’s looking to cross 1 billion users this quarter. WeChat and WhatsApp are absolutely ubiquitous across either ocean, reaching across many different functions to dominate social media, direct messaging, and even purchasing and commerce.

Every year more and more buyers are Millennials and Gen Z, and fewer and fewer are older. In case you’re not aware of these people’s overwhelming preferences when it comes to talking to a company, we’ll illustrate in their native language:

top-social-media-trends-20185. Live Streaming Explodes

Live streaming isn’t about live streaming. At least not in the way we’re going to be talking about it. You’re going to see a lot more of it in 2018, and the people who do it well will be fully with the times and accelerating. Its prevalence will increase because it works.

But there’s something more at work here.

It’s actually about technology. We get better phones every year. Does that mean that we’re running the same apps better? Sometimes. But once the technological baseline of the average user has clearly moved up a notch, it becomes about making more robust apps that do more and fully take advantage of that new technology.

The smartphones of today are better than what we used to have by orders of magnitude. Furthermore, our data speeds are better, and are poised to make yet another insane leap in the next few years when 5G becomes the standard.

Live streaming is a medium or implementation of social technology that’s uniquely positioned to take advantage of hardware improvements for the next several years. The resolution of an image the size of a phone screen can only get so good before you have to zoom in to see a difference.

But better video processing across the board means all devices involved can handle more streaming at a better quality across more channels at the same time. This is such a huge change that it’s possibly unclear that anyone is even capable of fully understanding the ramifications.

6. Twitter is Going to Change

And they themselves might not even know how just yet.

Twitter has been slowly circling the drain, in some respects, for a long time now. 2017 pulled no punches with the social network, either. Twitter needs to make some big changes to stay relevant, as its growth is the slowest of all the major social media platforms.

7. Online Hangouts Become the Norm

Online hangouts go hand-in-hand with the live streaming trend, and with Generation Z. Consider Houseparty — an app for multiple friends to essentially FaceTime with each other in a group setting.

Houseparty made quite a wave in 2017 with rapid growth, and hit its stride well enough to inspire copycats, including perhaps an effort on the way coming from (no surprise here) Facebook.

The online hangouts trend is also going to intersect with VR. Sure, everyone promised everything this year with VR and AR, and all that ultimately came of it was two weeks of Pokemon GO.

But this year actually has the potential to be different. Many promising programs have another year of beta testing still left under their belts, but the technologies are improving in exciting ways. Once again, Facebook is at the epicentre, with Facebook Spaces.

8. Social Platforms See More Hardcore Moderation

The last year or so has forced the hand of several tech and social media titans to intervene and play a more active role in content moderation. Those manoeuvres, in retrospect, felt more like damage control than any sort of final solution.

We’re likely going to see companies revisit this in a more significant or longer-lasting way, and definitely more proactive than reactive.

As leveraging social media outlets for marketing first took flight, some were dubious of their staying power. The years since have changed sceptic’s into believers, and what’s on the forefront will clearly and easily amplify the channels’ relevance even further.

2018 is here… but were you prepared?

2018 social media trends predict that time on social media platforms will increase. This means you will need to improve your online presence in the year to come.

 

By Richard Holland – MSc Digital Marketing Student

 

Contact –

Linkedin- Richard Holland

Instagram – Ricardo J

Brand –

Instagram – Ricco London

Twitter – Ricco London

Facebook – Ricco London

New survey launched to help SMEs with reporting

A new survey has been launched by the Business School. The aim is to inform the development of training materials and tools to help SME’s deals with their sustainable accounting and reporting practices.

If you are a SME please fill in the surveyhttps://report-asapproject.eu/questionnaire

To find out more details of the project visit the project website

https://report-asapproject.eu/

or facebook group https://www.facebook.com/reportasapproject/

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The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

Random Acts of Kindness

There is another important date in February, 3 days after Valentines Day, one you may not be familiar with. On the 17th February it is National Random Acts of Kindness Day.

The definition of a random act of kindness, or RAoK as it is often abbreviated to, is a selfless act performed by kind people to either help or cheer up a random stranger, for no reason other than to make people happier.

You know those supermarket vouchers you get through the post, the ones for random products, 20p off this or 10p off that. The mouthwash you will never use, flavoured water you do not like, the spread that is not your regular one. I used to just throw those vouchers in the bin, but over the last three months I have kept them. Then as I wander around doing my usual family shopping, I put the unwanted voucher onto the top of the corresponding product. There it sits waiting for the stranger, shopping for the product they really want and finding a money off voucher right next to it. I hope this cheers them up, maybe even inspires them to create their own random acts of kindness.

At home, on the wall, we have a yellow circle of card, about the circumference of a cup. Whenever my wife, daughter or myself recognise an act of kindness one of us has done, a description of the act is written on a rectangular yellow strip and my daughter then sticks it onto the edge of the yellow circle. When 12 strips have been added to the circle we have a completed sunshine. Next as a family we decide on an activity to do. Once it was “Let’s go to space Dad” which started a trip to Leicester’s Space Centre, “I want to see the Christmas decorations at B&Q”, “Let’s bake cookies” were others. It has not only allowed for fun activities for the family, it has made us recognise the wonderful kind acts that we do for each other, that were all too easy to take for granted, not recognise and not say thank you for. The more we find we recognise them, the more we want to do.

In an age of austerity, we can often forget that kindness is free. Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change. Imagine doing something for no other reason than to make another person happy. A search of RAoK reveals lists of ideas and I thought I would just highlight a few. Maybe you will do just one on the 17th? Maybe one on a different day, just to make a someone happy.

• Donate colouring books and crayons to the waiting room at the hospital, doctors etc.
• Write a letter to someone (teacher, parent, neighbour, etc.) who has made a difference in your life and thank them.
• Offer to watch someone’s children so they can take a break
• Tell a random parent you see that they are doing a good job
• Let someone go ahead of you at the supermarket
• Smile!
• Make goodies for your neighbours
• Let your partner sleep in, or even take them breakfast in bed
• Leave random sticky notes with fun or kind quotes on the bathroom mirror at your place of work
• Pick up some litter
• Go to a retirement home and visit anyone who looks lonely
• Leave nice comments on random blogs
• Compliment someone randomly (whether you know them or not)
• Hold the door for someone
• Draw a picture and hand it to a passer by
• Donate canned food items to the local food bank
• Drop change around a playground for children to find
• Volunteer somewhere; an animal shelter, homeless shelter, food bank

You can be the reason someone believes in the goodness of people.

I would love to hear your ideas. What did you do? Did someone act kindly to you and how did it make you feel? Which ideas do you love?

Karl McCormack, Lecturer in the Staffordshire Business School

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Happy New Two-Year! Best kept secret? Degrees that save you time and money…

Now, the thing about two-year degrees is that they are arguably the best kept secret of all time, excluding of course that exquisite and neatly wrapped Christmas gift you received from your loved one. What’s more, like Christmas, two-year degrees have been around for some time – well, not quite 2000+ years but certainly on and off since the Second World War when they were made available to armed forces personnel to assist with their transition to civilian life. So why is it that two-year degrees continue to fall under the radar of prospective students of higher education? Well, the real issue stems from the fact that few universities have risen to the challenge of providing alternative flexible pathways, such as two-year degrees, preferring the status quo of their inflexible semesterised academic calendar which for years has been the traditional means by which students have engaged in higher education.

In the good old days, before tuition fees, or even today if you are lucky enough to have sufficient financial means, the traditional semesterised academic calendar offers the luxury of three summer months of hedonism. At this point, many of you will have the words of Kylie Minogue ringing in your ears – for those who don’t, here they are…‘I should be so lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky….’ OK, so it seems like me, there are others out there who think that studying over the summer months (bar a couple of weeks of well-earned rest) is a good idea, yet there are few universities willing to offer them. The issue is that for a university to deliver two-year degrees, and other accelerated courses for that matter, requires a period of institutional transition and change management to change the out-dated and entrenched semesterised academic calendar, academic culture and supporting infrastructure. Effectively, the resistance to such change by many well-known established universities has meant that two-year degrees are offered by only a handful of forward thinking and progressive universities.

Staffordshire University is proud to have pioneered two-year degrees back in 2006 and to have continued investing in their provision ever since to accommodate the needs of students looking for something other than a traditional three-year degree, whatever their reasons. As a member of Staffordshire University’s academic team responsible for the delivery of our two-year BA (Hons) Accounting and Finance degree I have witnessed students from many different walks of life who have each graduated with excellent results. For example, there have been mature students that enrol on the degree with great trepidation but then relish the experience of studying and redirecting their career. Then there are the more traditionally aged students including those who are motivated to complete their degree quickly and to progress to their chosen professional accountancy qualification – believe me, the thought of becoming a professionally qualified accountant by the age of twenty-four can unlock significant amounts of drive and motivation! Employers also recognise that two-year degree students are always motivated and ambitious too. But there is a common thread that runs through all the conversations I’ve had with two-year students about why they chose a two-year degree and that is, at the end of the day studying a two-year degree saves them an immense amount of money – according to Jo Johnson, the ex-universities minister (aka brother of Boris), approximately £25,000.

Staffordshire University is of course an established leader and expert in two-year degrees and degree apprenticeships, with student satisfaction and employability being our key drivers. So when I read the criticisms contained within the Government’s 2016 White Paper that many universities still provide courses that are inflexible, based on the traditional three-year undergraduate model, with insufficient innovation and provision of two-year degrees and degree apprenticeships, I was confident that my university was in fact one of the few universities, very much at the forefront of delivering exactly the type of alternative ways of engaging in higher education that today’s society needs. I am also immensely proud of my Two-Year BA (Hons) Accounting and Finance team who achieved 100% student satisfaction in the National Student Survey of 2017 and also the university as a whole for being ranked No. 1 for employability in the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education Survey of 2017. Reflecting on these successes, I wonder what 2018 will bring – will the best kept secret now be unwrapped? For further details of Staffordshire University’s Two-Year Accelerated Degrees please visit:- www.staffs.ac.uk/accelerated-degrees

Wishing You a Very Happy New Two-Year!

Alison Maguire MBA (Ed), ACMA, CGMA, Cert.Ed., SFHEA.
Head of Department – Accounting, Finance and Economics

School of Business, Leadership and Economics
Staffordshire University Business School
B336 Brindley Building
Leek Road
Stoke on Trent
ST4 2DF
United Kingdom
Tel: 01782 294155
www.staffs.ac.uk

Social Media And Our Communication Skills

Social media opens vast possibilities for finding connections and interactions. It also is a very powerful tool to communicate ideas. The uprisings that we have observed during last years in various parts of the world were all organised by people getting together in social media platforms. Once the message is out, it can spread to millions within seconds. The latest #metoo movement on social media was so effective that it has been selected to be the 2017 Times Magazine person of the year.

However, this popularity comes with a cost. More connection does not imply more interaction. Having grown up with social media, the new generation prefers to communicate through an online platform than to have a face-to-face conversation. Real-life interactions, however, teach us aspects of non-verbal communication: being able to read and respond to facial expressions, eye-to-eye contact or changes in tone of voice. These abilities could easily be lost in digital communication. Besides, experts relate the rising occurrence of depression, anxiety and isolation among youngsters with their excessive exposure to social media.

While communicating through social media, we often do not feel the need to form grammatically correct complete sentences. This is particularly common for youngsters and teenagers who heavily rely on emoji, acronym or short expressions. However, over time, this convenience is likely to weaken their ability to write and to communicate in formal environments. In a world becoming increasingly competitive, these skills will be the essential assets for success.

So, while we are enjoying the benefits of social media, we need to remember that the real-life friendships and face-to-face interactions are equally valuable. A balanced use of digital and face-to-face interactions can immensely expand our communication capabilities and help us to utilise our full potential.

Mehtap Hisarciklilar-Riegler, Associate Professor, Staffordshire Business School