April 2007

My wife recently got a job here, so we’ve figured out some of the steps and issues that go along with working. As with most things international, UKCOSA has a good summary of information about international students and family working in the UK.

Based on the UK student visa rules, the student can work up to 20 hours per week during term and full-time during the breaks. Some schools also limit the hours you can work further. However, I wouldn’t recommend coming expecting to do much because with a 3 year program, there’s not much extra time to do other things. Also, in one’s second and third year tutoring and lecturing options are usually available to students, which bring in extra income (though probably not much). The spouse of a student can work full-time without any restrictions. The UK is much more flexible than the US because the student and spouse are not limited to just working at the university. Most spouses that we know who have found a job, started with a temp agency and then found a permanent position through there. Others found positions related to their experience and training through various means. My wife just applied directly at a local retail store.

Once one finds a job, you have to apply for a National Insurance Number (NINO), similar to the SSN in the US, through the Department for Work and Pensions. You have to make an appointment the DWP’s Jobcentre Plus to give them your documents for them to give you a number. For Durham, the interview will take place in Newcastle. The office is about a 5 min walk from the train station. While they note a large list of items needed to verify your eligibility to work in the UK, all they asked of my wife (and others we talked to) at the meeting was her passport and a letter from her employer explaining the terms of employment. Until you get the NINO, they just take out an ‘emergency’ rate of tax. Once you get the number, they’ll true up the taxes withheld. (However, the UK system is not like the IRS because you don’t true up taxes at the end of the year on April 15. What they take out is what you pay.)

Also, there is relatively recent news regarding working in the UK once you graduate. From 2006 all international students graduating from postgraduate courses taught in the UK will be able to apply to work in the UK for up to a year after graduation. These new provisions apply to students who have started their courses on or after 1 May 2006. Rather confusingly, this scheme is sometimes referred to as the “Science and Engineering Graduates Scheme” but the provision now extends to graduates of ALL postgraduate courses whether related to science and engineering or not.
For further information: Post-grads Working in the UK, Full details…

Mark Goodacre at the NT Blog posted about this topic, and it was a little more substantial than my last post about the issue.

One thing I commented on his blog was that UK students do have the opportunity to get more breadth here in than I expected. First, you are expected (though not required) to sit in on modules, though you don’t do any writing. Secondly, you also are expected to attend your department’s (NT, OT, etc.) weekly seminar that always has a broad range of presenters and topics. Plus you have the option to attend other departments’ seminars as well. While these don’t push you as much as actual course work, you do get something out of them.  In addition, most presenters are other scholars from around the country, so you are not just hearing other phd students but (often) well-known scholars present substantive, new ideas.

But it is good to know your program’s potential weaknesses so you can work on them before you get out. Time to publish is also one of those problems with a UK program, so you just start thinking about it early.

Though church attendance in the UK is less than 10% of the population per week, there are plenty of church options. Most churches run around 40-70 per week (I think), but those near the city centre are larger. We’ve found the believing community here, especially in the smaller churches, very friendly and inviting. Since most international students are limited to walking, they tend to go to one’s in the city centre or one in their part of town. Most of the larger churches seem to have some type of small groups program as well, but with no (or very limited) child care options.

Here’s a quick run down of Protestant churches that we know about. (I’ve marked with an *astericks* those churches that I’ve actually attended.)

St. Nic’s.* It has an evangelical feel, and is middle of the road with the Anglican liturgy. It’s the traditional looking church in the market square of the city centre. I believe they only have kids stuff during the early service.
Christ Church.*  Among the N. Americans this is one of the more popular churches and is currently meeting out towards the University Library.  It’s probably the most like a standard evangelical church in North America with regard to quasi-expository preaching, (roughly) contemporary music, and lots of college students.  It’s also known for being (really?) conservative and vocal about differences with other groups.  There is some contention over its Anglican status (see comments below):  From what I hear, it’s under a different bishop than NT Wright, but they are clearly self-defined as Anglican per their website.
St. John’s. I believe it’s a fairly standard Anglican church, though maybe a little larger than others. A few lecturers attend there.
Many other churches are spread through out the city. Also, the Bishop of Durham (aka Tom Wright) also preaches from time to time at the Cathedral. He doesn’t preach there as often as I expected that he might, but I don’t keep up with his schedule either.

Here are the so-called ‘non-conformist’ churches, since they don’t follow the official state church…

Methodist churches (or ‘chapels’ as they are sometimes called) are also spread throughout the area. They have a historical connection with coal mining, which was prevalent in this area. One interesting note is that ordained and lay preachers rotate around the circuit to preach each week. Such that, even the pastor for a church may only preach at his or her church twice a month.

Side note: We go to Carrville Methodist, which is just past Gilesgate Moor and Belmont (in Carrville). We intentionally chose a church that was not a college church so we could interact with regular English people outside the academic setting. Another plus for us is that the walk to Carrville is all flat, so it’s easier to get to with kids.

Kings Church. ‘A lively, charismatic, evangelical congregation in the heart of Durham.’ per its website.  Two of its main staff are quality biblical scholars that teach in Cranmer Hall and are regularly involved in the theology department.  I’ve have several friends that attend here.
Emmanuel* Contemporary worship. Lots of young families and college students.
Durham Vinyard

Durham* Meets in the Gilesgate area. We found it very similar to baptist churches back in the States, and the pastor is very friendly–even had us over for lunch.

Durham Presbyterian

Others? Also feel free to comment on your church if you have more details.

Every church we’ve been to is very relaxed about the way kids are handled. In fact, with most you’ll have to ask what to do because they tend to be very informal about it (at least from a N. American perspective where the churches and the kids operations are much larger). That is, they don’t tell you right when you walk in the door what to do with your kids. Most churches have the kids begin in ‘big church’ and then part-way through they go to creche (under 3 or so) or Sunday School. (There is no SS for adults.) There are typically no facilities for infants, so I would expect to keep them with you.

Most churches seem to pool resources on this, since few have the critical mass to do something alone. The main evangelical community youth group is LOL: Living Out Love, which just happens to be led by a US friend of ours here. I know the Methodists have something roughly equivalent as well called YPF: Young People’s Fellowship.  I also here there’s a great new children’s and youth ministry at Carrville Methodist…run by my wife.

I’m thinking seriously of doing one this summer, and before I laid down the cash, I thought I’d get some opinions. I know of someone who did Goethe in Berlin last summer, so that’s what I’m planning on doing now–their 4 week Intensiv course. I need to go during June because of childcare scheduling, so summer programs at universities (such as Tübingen) won’t work because they run in August. Does anyone recommend any other programs in Germany besides Goethe?

Our pastor and her husband graciously surprised us by offering to loan us their car while they were out of town on vacation after Easter. We definitely didn’t turn them down, and so we got to see a some more local stuff. Now that I’ve hit the road a few times, I had a few additional thoughts from my previous post on this subject.

Roads: There seem to be 3 main types of roads (M, A, and B) that are all numbered, such as M6, A690, B6314, etc. M (Motorway): These are equivalent to interstate highways in the US, with at least 4 lanes and off/on ramps. There aren’t many of them in this part of the country. Most are down south, though the M6 runs North-South in the west part of the country. However, the A1 is motorway for a stretch south of Newcastle down past Durham, hence it is labeled A1(M) for that stretch. A: These are equivalent to US Highways (~Route 66, or something). These often switch between 2 and 4 lanes, and they are the often the main routes to get anywhere around here. But they take you through towns and all their roundabouts so progress is not often that speedy. B: These are just regular country roads (~F.M.–Farm to Market roads in Texas). They are often wind around quite a bit and aren’t that wide. By the way, the roads are very good here. I can’t think of one that needed repairs.

Road Signs. Here are a few road signs that aren’t that obvious:
No Stopping No Stopping or Parking (I presume on the side of the road).
National Speed Limit The end of a speed zone, and now the National Speed Limit Applies
One Way One Way
End of Motorway End of the Motorway
Here’s an index of all major road signs.

Speed Limits: I wasn’t sure about the speed limits for regular roads that weren’t a major pathway. But it seems the national speed limit is 30 MPH in town, 60 MPH on 2 lane (single carriageways), and 70 MPH on 4 lane+ (dual carriageways/motorways).

Drivers License: Here’s a UKCOSA link that has handy information for internationals driving in the UK that talks about the 12 month rule for getting a license.

I was just beginning to wonder how large the difference between customer service expectations are between the UK and the US. For instance, you generally don’t get near the attention from servers in a restaurant here as in the US.

But beyond that I had quite a time with Virgin’s internet service, and the problems with British Gas are still not resolved. Supposedly they resolved the 2 accounts problem, but now I’ve recieved two separate bills for closing out my account with them one for £236 (by paper) and the other £86 (by email). I saw on the news the other night that they put in a new billing system, and they have had a huge number of issues. Customer complaints have tripled for them in the past year. I just wish they would be upfront with you about it on the phone. At least now I know it’s not just me.

I had an office chair that I purchased a few months ago from Argos that broke. Of course I couldn’t find a receipt, so I expected that I’d get stone-walled like with Virgin and BG. That was no issue to them because they just looked up the transaction through my debit card, and gave me all the details I needed. It was quick and friendly. This interchange restored my confidence in the British.

I’m not a huge NBA fan, but I got more into it about the time I moved to Dallas and the Mavs started to pull out of the dolldrums. They’ve finished atop the western division with the best record of 67-15. They look good to go all the way, but you never know how things will turn out after last year’s mess. Now I just have to find the cheapest way to catch some of the games. Plus, they typically run in the wee hours of the morning, since they are night games in the US.

[This post was written before the bottom fell out of the market--the Great Recession.  Since the US's economy has weathered the storm much better than Europe, the exchange rate has settled near £1 = $1.50 or $1.60.  This obviously makes the trip to the UK much more reasonable.  I still stand by the long-run expectations, though it will take many years before that comes to fruition.]

£1 = $2+. The Pound has hit a 26 year high against the Dollar. This means that the cost of living keeps going up for those transferring money to the UK from the US. For those of you in the biblical studies world, these financial machinations may be confusing. Since I spent a former life in finance and accounting, I thought I’d give you the basic supply-demand forces that drive changes in currency exchange rates. As with stock markets, speculators also drive price changes as well, especially over the short term, but eventually the exchange rates reflect market fundamentals.

Short Term
In the short term, interest rate differences (actual and expected) between countries are the fundamental cause for movement in the exchange rate. If interest rates increase in a country, it becomes more enticing to invest money there because you get a higher return on your money. Thus there is a greater demand for that currency, which raises its relative value.

While there are many different causes to changes in national interest rates, a main influence is the central bank* lending rate. The Federal Reserve in the US currently has the Federal Funds Rate set at 5.25%, and the Bank of England also currently has rates set at 5.25%. However, inflation (i.e., an increase in prices) is currently lower in the US, so the Fed is expected to drop rates. At the same time, inflation in the UK is higher than the BoE target, so interest rate increases are expected in the UK. Thus, the pound is increasing in value vis-a-vis the dollar.

Long Term
In the long term the $ is losing it’s strength as ‘the’ dominant world currency for several reasons. As a result, demand is slowly dropping for the $, which results in a lower value. With the introduction of the Euro (€) several years back, there is another stable currency that other central banks are beginning to also use as a reserve currency. But even more important is the accumulated years of current account deficits run by the US, which goes hand in hand with the ever increasing federal debt in the US. The current account deficit is caused by the fact that the US imports a much larger amount than they export; think consumer economy. We pay for all those goods with $’s, so every year there is a net outflow of $’s to other countries. Eventually, they will have so many $’s that it’s value will decline. Also, the federal government continues to run deficits and borrow more money. Again, when the debt gets high enough, other countries that buy our bonds begin to consider those $-bonds more risky. Think of China, they sell us lots of goods, and they use much of the $’s they get to buy US bonds. They’ve got to do something with all those $’s, but the diminishing marginal utility of the $ will eventually kick in.

In the end, the cards are stacked against the $ because of our spending habits and the increase in debt–from both consumers and the federal government. The only reason that the fall in the $ hasn’t been quicker and stronger is because the sustained stability of the US economy and the $’s use as an international currency. But, as I mentioned with the € and it’s relative strength, the universal use of the $ is being challenged. The solution for the US: buy less, borrow less. Somehow that doesn’t seem to be the path the US is going to follow.

*The central bank of a country is typically partially independent of the government so economic decisions can be determined separately from political forces. They generally have two main goals: price stability (limiting inflation and/or deflation) and secondarily encouraging economic growth. Higher interest rates generally help fix the first issue, and lower interest rates generally help with the second. In a time of steady growth, a rate of about 4% is considered neutral, in that it works evenly toward both goals. Monetary policy of the banks (e.g., how much money they print) also influences currency values.

I talked to someone today who was directly told about the basis for Durham’s decision about whether you are invited to go directly into the PhD program or to do the 1 yr MATR first. He has an MDiv from Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, MO. and was told that basically an MDiv is considered another bachelors degree. Since the English BA is 3 years and focused solely upon theology (i.e., it’s not a liberal arts degree), they don’t consider the 3-yr MDiv essentially different. However, if you already have a BA in theological studies, then an MDiv will count more because you will have 7 years of theological studies. A ThM then will give you the greatest chance of getting directly into the PhD program.

The second criteria is that you have a focused thesis topic. Obviously they don’t expect you to have the final version of your thesis questions worked out when applying, but they will expect an interesting question and some thought behind it in your proposal. I know people here that have a ThM but were only invited to do the MATR first because they didn’t have a focused topic.

These are the basic criteria but from what I’ve heard they are not hard and fast. I imagine they are more important in the area of biblical studies since it is more developed than other theological studies areas. For instance, I’ve met a student doing patristics who was accepted to the PhD program directly from the BA in theological studies. However, he is also doing a research project in his area now, so maybe prior research experience trumps the need for a masters degree. But, this is most likely a random exception that shouldn’t be counted on by others.

These criteria are not necessarily the same at other schools because my friend from Covenant was accepted directly into the PhD program at Aberdeen but chose to come here for the MA first.

I asked John about this a month or two ago, and meant to blog about it then, but didn’t get around to it. So at most I’m giving a general picture of the way things work and not the specifics because I’ve forgotten a few of them. [See update below.]

Durham has about 150 postgrads and I believe about 125 of those are PhD students. In the last couple of completed years, the department got about 75-100 applicants and about 2/3 are given acceptance letters.* However, some applying for PhD are accepted only in the MATR program, primarily I think because they don’t have a good thesis topic or possibly they haven’t done a significant piece of research. Then I believe about 1/2 to 1/3 of those accepted actually start the program. So this year I believe 12 full time and 14 part time PhD students started this year.

That works out to about 1 new student per supervisor, but I know some supervisors pick up two. But you may apply with someone and then get transfered to another supervisor depending on the direction your thesis topic takes when it gets more defined, or more likely your primary and secondary supervisors would swap roles.

* John did mention that the number of those applying has jumped significantly this year, so I assume that would obviously descrease the percentages accepted. And with the addition of F. Watson on faculty, I imagine that will also increase the competition in future years as well.

[Update May 2009, I spoke with Loren Stuckenbruck today and he said that the number of applications for 09-10 has steadily increased over the past two years (on top of the 2007 point where John Barclay told me we had a big jump) and therefore acceptance rates are dropping accordingly, though he didn't provide any numbers. With a large jump from ~100 to ? in 2007, and steady increases since then my guess is that at most 1/3 are now accepted either to PhD or MA.]

Does anyone have info on the process at other schools?

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