A campus facilities arms race?

It’s all about the aquatics apparently

I’ve posted before about the growth of luxury student accommodation in the US. Now the Education Advisory Board has a report on what it says amounts to a recreation facilities arms race on US campuses:

A paw shaped hot tub you say? Essential.

A paw shaped hot tub you say? Essential.

Auburn University has a 45-person paw-print shaped hot tub, Pensacola Christian College has a $1 million wave rider, Missouri State University has a zip-line over the pool and a lazy river. Ten schools have AquaClimb pool-side rock walls, 35 more are in the works. According to a 2013 NIRSA study, 92 schools reported a combined $1.7 billion in capital projects.”Aquatics are a huge growth area,” says Jack Patton, leader of RDG Planning and Design’s sports facilities group. They are also the most expensive part of a recreation center to run per square foot.

Officials hope that the amenities will help them stand out in prospective students’ minds.It works. Resort-style facilities boost student enrollment, particularly at less-elite schools, according to a 2013 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research.At the University of Missouri, each tour stops by the “indoor beach club’s” palm trees, lazy river, waterfall, and grotto modeled after the Playboy Mansion’s.

"The floating lounge chairs, couches, mellow music and plenty of sun help provide a perfect relaxing environment for hard-working students who need a respite from their studies or a change of scenery."

“The floating lounge chairs, couches, mellow music and plenty of sun help provide a perfect relaxing environment for hard-working students who need a respite from their studies or a change of scenery.”

The arms race metaphor is a good one. Is all of this necessary to deliver a good student experience? No, but it does seem to help with recruitment. More palm trees anyone?

Chemical Reaction

Fire! Reflections on a major incident

In the evening of Friday September 12 I received a call from our Deputy Head of Security to alert me to a major fire at the University’s Jubilee Campus. The building ablaze was the unfinished GlaxoSmithKline Carbon Neutral Laboratory for Sustainable Chemistry and, during the hours that followed, it was completely destroyed. Fortunately no-one was injured and, thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the Nottinghamshire Fire Service, supported by their colleagues from Derbyshire, no other buildings were damaged.

What it would have looked like

What it would have looked like

From this point on we were in incident response mode and the first thing to work out was how this might affect our Open Day the following day when upwards of 12,000 visitors – prospective students and their parents – were due to visit the University. In discussion with colleagues in student recruitment we determined that the Open Day would go ahead and that if we did need to relocate activities from Jubilee Campus to University Park then we would find a way to do it:

Open day tweetTwitter proved to be just about the best way to get the message out and counter the erroneous ‘whole university burns down’ message from some overzealous commentators.

As it turned out, the only effect on the rest of Jubilee Campus beyond the loss of the building was the closure of Triumph Road, one of the routes into Jubilee and easily worked around.

A team of University staff met early the following morning to work on our approach. Without going into too much detail, we sought to ensure that we broadcast a message that we were grateful for all of the assistance we had received and to reassure everyone that it was business as usual, that we would rebuild and that outstanding green chemistry research would continue at the University of Nottingham. It was also important to stress that this would not affect teaching as it was largely intended as a research building.
The full statement issued later that day and subsequently amended a little:

The University of Nottingham’s Registrar Dr Paul Greatrix said: “We are terribly saddened by the major fire at our Jubilee Campus on the evening of Friday September 12, which completely destroyed our new GlaxoSmithKline Carbon Neutral Laboratory for Sustainable Chemistry which was still under construction.
“We are incredibly grateful to our staff and students for their fantastic response in dealing with this major incident and would like to express our gratitude to both Notts Fire Service and Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service. It was the quick action of their fire crews which prevented this incident from being much more serious. We have also been extremely touched by the messages and best wishes from our close neighbours out in the community.
“We would like to thank the wider higher education community across the UK for its support – we have had many offers of help from other universities around the country, for which we are extremely grateful.
“To put this loss into perspective, we need to remember that this was one building, that thankfully no one was injured and that the fire was prevented from spreading further on to campus.
“We want to stress that it is business as usual at The University of Nottingham. We were able to ensure that Open Day 2014, went ahead as planned and was unaffected by the incident — we welcomed thousands of prospective students and their families to our campuses to enjoy a packed programme of talks and activities demonstrating our high-quality teaching and facilities.
The new building wasn’t due to be opened until next year and, as such, our chemistry department, while understandably disappointed by this loss, won’t be affected either from a teaching or research perspective in the immediate future.
This is a setback for us but one from which we have no doubt we will recover. The University of Nottingham has an international reputation for scientific excellence, underpinned by the world-leading expertise of our academics. It is upon those strong foundations that we will rebuild and renew for the future.
The GlaxoSmithKline Carbon Neutral Laboratory for Sustainable Chemistry is a landmark building which is the embodiment of the University’s commitment to sustainability in all its forms, particularly in the area of green chemistry and we will be working closely with our partners at GSK, and the contractors Morgan Sindall, to develop a positive plan of action for rebuilding.
At this stage, we have no idea what caused the fire and may not know for some time until the Fire Service has been able to fully investigate the incident. The building was designed to meet stringent fire regulation requirements.”

A whole bunch of media interviews followed throughout the day but not everyone was wholly convinced by our line:

Memo to self: NEVER read the comments under a Mail Online article. Glee would be to understate teh general response

Memo to self: NEVER read the comments under a Mail Online article. To suggest that there was widespread glee at the incident would be to understate the general tenor of responses.

On Monday, the media wanted to do it all over again (my family was mildly impressed) and the Vice-Chancellor published a blog post on his response to the fire. After that, things went pretty quiet and, given that we are still waiting to hear what caused the fire, I guess they will be for a while yet.

stream_imgA few other points of note:

The University’s Facebook post on the fire had a huge number of impressions, I think more than anything else we have ever posted and attracted hundreds of messages of support.

Professor Martyn Poliakoff of our School of Chemistry and Periodic Videos fame posted a video commentary on the fire:

On the day of the fire I and other colleagues who are involved in incident responses (and who were all gathered round the table on the day after the fire) spent the day in a simulation exercise to rehearse how we would deal with a major incident. The scenario chosen by our external facilitator was a fire on campus…

Overall, the fire was a desperately sad situation but the response of everyone from the Emergency Services to University staff and students and from the local community to colleagues around the sector was just amazing. Despite the loss I am left with an enormous sense of optimism about the future of Sustainable Chemistry at the University of Nottingham and confident that before long there will be a world-leading carbon neutral laboratory on our campus. And we also learned a lot about our incident response plans. (It will be some time before we agree to do another simulation.)

The Promise of Personalized Education

Is this the future of student support?

There has been a lot of talk of late about learner analytics and the potential benefits in terms of tracking student performance and identifying and intervening where they are at risk of dropping out. The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on a number of companies who are offering different forms of help to institutions:
613Supplement-EDTECH

This year students at Colorado State University will have their progress toward degrees tracked by technology from a company called CollegeSource. The likelihood of their encountering academic difficulty will be flagged for academic advisers and resident advisers by an online product from a company called Campus Labs. And they will receive text alerts about unsatisfactory grades via a mobile app from yet another ed-tech company, Ellucian. Students in three majors will also be assessed on their chances of succeeding in a course, on the basis of an analysis of data from thousands of previous Colorado State students who had earned the same grades, thanks to technology from the Education Advisory Board. Meanwhile, intercollegiate athletes who skip too many classes will be notified through Facebook by a company called GradesFirst that they’ve been scheduled for tutoring. And all these arrangements don’t even reflect an experiment in evaluating student progress in courses, using an analytics tool sold by Blackboard. The university ditched the experiment in the spring after realizing that professors weren’t using the learning-management system uniformly for that purpose.

While there is something quite cold and clinical about all of this, it nevertheless does offer the prospect of enabling universities better to support their students and to ensure that those most at risk of dropping out are provided with the assistance they need before it is too late.

These developments do seem inevitable as everyone looks to make more use of the student data they have and companies look to provide new and better tools for analysing it. Ultimately though all of this really does seem to offer the prospect of a significant improvement in student support.

 

Applying to uni via video

Better than qualifications?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting story on the use of videos in university applications. Whilst some institutions have been encouraging students to submit videos as supporting information, it seems at least one has now gone further and is offering students the opportunity to provide them as the primary selection tool:

Ever since George Mason University started inviting prospective students to send in videos as part of their application materials, Matthew P. Boyce, the interim admissions director there, has seen applicants try to prove their mettle in some odd ways.One young man wrote and performed a rap about why he wanted to go to the university, featuring a cameo by his grandma. Mr. Boyce recently watched footage of another candidate biting into an Indian “ghost pepper,” one of the world’s spiciest varieties. The footage was presented as evidence of the applicant’s resiliency. “It was kind of goofy,” says the admissions director, though certainly memorable.

All you need to apply to university

All you need to apply to university

George Mason is one of a handful of universities that, several years ago, gave prospective students the option of submitting short “video essays” as part of their applications.The videos were meant only as supplements to the required materials, which include standardized-test scores, grade-point averages, and recommendation letters. “It’s never going to make or break their admission to Mason,” says Mr. Boyce of the videos. Last week Goucher College announced that it was taking video submissions to the next level. Prospective students will have the option of making two-minute videos the centerpiece of an application to Goucher. If they submit a video, plus two samples of academic work, then they will not be required to send in a transcript or letter of recommendation.

Whilst the variety and opportunities for applicants may be seen as welcome it is difficult to imagine how it might be possible to ensure consistency and equity across a range of applications. Also it is not clear here what is being judged: originality, creativity, personality, film-making skills? All a bit tricky therefore and probably not something that is really going to take off.

Outsourcing student recruitment

Australian colleges trust to agents

Very surprised by this piece in @insidehighered which notes that agents have expanded their reach into domestic higher education recruitment in Australia:

When the Australian Skills Quality Authority examined 400 college websites during last year’s marketing audit, as many as 70 turned out to belong to brokerage firms rather than training providers.“It’s certainly quite a phenomenon now,” said Chris Robinson, the agency’s chief commissioner.

prolearn

A consultant, Claire Field, said marketing agents were particularly active in Queensland, mostly selling vocational diplomas. “With the higher education reforms, there’s no doubt we’ll see more activity,” she said.This is already happening, with high-flying Acquire Learning marketing degrees in ­accounting, arts, business, community services and information technology from Federation University and more than a dozen private colleges. Melbourne-based ProLearn recruits students for Victoria University’s graduate certificate in management.

 
While this does appear to be focused mainly on colleges and vocational qualifications there is some evidence of universities using such services too. Many UK institutions use agents for international recruitment but how long can it be before universities and colleges start using this kind of service for domestic student recruitment too?

Times and Sunday Times 2015 University League Table Top Placings

The Times and Sunday Times League Table 2015

A quick look at the top 25 in the all new Times/Sunday Times Good University Guide ranking for 2015. Full details can be found on the Sunday Times website (£). (Last year’s position in brackets.)

1= (1) Cambridge
1= (2) Oxford
3 (4) St Andrews
4 (5) Imperial
5 (3) LSE
6 (6) Durham
7 (8) Exeterrankings
8 (10) Warwick
9 (9) UCL
10 (7) Bath
11 (12=) Surrey
12 (12=) Lancaster
13 (21) Loughborough
14 (17) UEA
15 (16) Birmingham
16 (11) York
17 (29) Leeds
18 (20) Southampton
19 (15) Bristol
20 (14) Leicester
21 (18) Sheffield
22= (23) Nottingham
22= (18) Newcastle
22= (22) Edinburgh
25 (32) Sussex

This may be the first time there has been a tie for first place and it would, of course, be Oxford and Cambridge inseparable at the top of the table.

Warwick is the ‘University of the Year’.

Full details of the table including subject rankings were published in the Sunday Times on 21 September.

Tooled up campus security

Guns and Grenades for University Security

Earlier this year I posted on the acquisition of an armoured truck by security at Ohio State University. The Chronicle of Higher Education has since discovered that other US universities have also taken advantage of the opportunity to buy surplus army kit including grenade launchers, M-16s, and armoured vehicles:

Should the campus police at the University of Central Florida ever need a modified grenade launcher, one sits waiting in the department’s armory. Retooled to fire tear-gas canisters, the weapon was used several years ago for training purposes, according to Richard Beary, the university’s chief of police. It hasn’t left storage since.At Central Florida, which has an enrollment of nearly 60,000 and a Division I football team, the device was acquired, a police spokeswoman said, for “security and crowd control.” But the university’s police force isn’t the only one to have come upon a grenade launcher. Hinds Community College—located in western Mississippi, with a student population of 11,000—had one too. Campus police officers at Hinds declined to comment. A woman who worked for the department but declined to identify herself said that the launcher had been repurposed to shoot flares but that the college no longer possessed it. Both institutions received their launchers from the same source: the Department of Defense.

Necessary for campus security?

Necessary for campus security?

At least 117 colleges have acquired equipment from the department through a federal program, known as the 1033 program, that transfers military surplus to law-enforcement agencies across the country, according to records The Chronicle received after filing Freedom of Information requests with state governments. Campus police departments have used the program to obtain military equipment as mundane as men’s trousers (Yale University) and as serious as a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle (Ohio State University). Along with the grenade launcher, Central Florida acquired 23 M-16 assault rifles from the Department of Defense.

This just seems extraordinary. The full table of purchases can be found here and, whilst it does include some fairly mundane items, you have to ask what on earth campus security services think they are going to need all this kit for. What kind of student protests are going to require guns and grenade launchers to keep crowds under control?

New 2014/15 QS World University Rankings

The latest QS world league table is out

Full details of the rankings can be found at the QS website. A summary of the world top 10 follows where we find MIT retaining the top spot for a third consecutive year but really not a lot to grab the headlines here:

Global top ten

1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (Last year: 1)

2= University of Cambridge (3)

2= Imperial College London (5)

4 Harvard University (2)

5= University of Oxford (6)

5 = University College London (4)

7 Stanford University (7)

8 California Institute of Technology (Caltech) (10=)

9 Princeton University (10=)

10  Yale University (8)

Not a huge change then with Chicago the only mover out of the top 10. However, four out of the top six universities are from the UK which must be something of a surprise.

 

Top UK universities

Again, little movement for the UK universities within the top 100 although there is one new entry with QMUL becoming the 19th UK university to make it into the top 100.

2= University of Cambridge (3)

2= Imperial College London (5)

5= University of Oxford (6)

5= UCL (4)

16  King’s College London (19=)

17= University of Edinburgh (17=)

29 University of Bristol (30)

30 The University of Manchester (33)

55 University of Glasgow (51)

61 The University of Warwick (64)

64 University of Birmingham (62)

69 The University of Sheffield (71=)

71 LSE (68)

77 The University of Nottingham (75=)

88 University of St Andrews (83)

92 Durham University (90)

94 University of Southampton (86=)

97 University of Leeds (97=)

98 Queen Mary University of London (115)

So, interesting but perhaps helpfully unexciting in terms of radical change.

Excess Baggage

Luxury Transport for Students

Just land it in the quad

Just land it in the quad

Lots of coverage in the media for this new service offering Luxury Transport for Students. New students are urged to become VIFs – or Very Important Freshers – and take advantage of these new ways of getting to university:

We are stepping up the game, we are changing the way students travel to University and from September we will be offering the UKs first luxury student transport service.Freshers now have the option to travel to their first day on campus by luxurious and bespoke transport options, through the new ‘Very Important Fresher’ service.Transport options for Freshers to choose from include: a private jet or helicopter, Rolls Royce Phantom, a Mclaren P1, a Ferrari F430 and many others. All with the aim of providing an action-packed James Bond style expedition across the country, to arrive in style and make an entrance enviable of movie stars and premiership football players. Uni Baggage will also transport the students belongings separately so they have everything they need to start University.

It does seem like excellent publicity for a company which is aiming to sell its more mundane transport services to students. Will anyone take advantage of these VIF opportunities? Not many I suspect as none of this seems like a good way to make new friends in freshers’ week.

I’m tempted to book the horse and carriage…

Dialogue through technology

Dorm Room Diplomacy

 

Intrigued to learn about the activities of an organisation called Dorm Room Diplomacy which gets groups of students together from around the world, via videoconferencing, to engage in dialogue aimed at promoting greater international understanding:

croppedimage960300-DRD-Red-Group-Communities-Map

Founded by students at the University of Pennsylvania in 2009, Dorm Room Diplomacy fosters intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding among an international group of university students. Dorm Room Diplomacy employs videoconference technology to facilitate virtual exchanges that help students to see the individuals behind reductionist cultural stereotypes.The videoconference program occurs each academic semester, and the same set of 8 students join in a virtual dialogue with a trained facilitator each week. Dorm Room Diplomacy is entirely student-run, encouraging students to take ownership over the dialogue process, establish campus chapters, and empower themselves and their peers. As a non-partisan organization, Dorm Room Diplomacy does not engage in political activities or advocacy, other than the promotion of intercultural dialogue.

Whilst the number of institutions involved is modest nevertheless it does seem like a valuable initiative. There are many other ways to engage in such dialogue both on campus and through international exchanges but this looks like a useful additional option.

Will Dorm Room Diplomacy take off? Time will tell.

True Crime on Campus §37: long hot summer

Even More True Crime on Campus

It may be summer but our always vigilant Security staff are still on duty to ensure that every unlikely situation is dealt with:

08:05 Security reported an altercation between a driver and a cyclist at the end of the road leading up to the West Entrance Gatehouse on University Park Campus. Security witnessed the driver of the vehicle give the cyclist a hard push, knocking the cyclist off his feet. The Security Officer at the Gatehouse then witnessed both parties coming to an agreement as they shook hands. The cyclist rode off from Campus and the driver came onto the Campus. Details of the vehicle registration were noted.

1526 Report of a person sleeping in Pope Building. Security attended and woke the person up. On speaking to the person they confirmed that they were a student and were tired.

10:45 Security received a complaint from the driver of the Jubilee Hopper bus to advise that the line painters had refused to move from the bus layby on Spine Road. The painting contractors advised that the bus driver hadn’t asked them to move and they couldn’t just stop working due to the equipment that they were using. The bus driver went up the kerb on an alternative route.

1030 Report of youths at the rear of the ETB throwing stones. Security attended – the area was checked the youths could not be located.

1125 Report that a Bus had struck one of the bridges connecting the L buildings with Coates Building. Security attended. The bridge was checked and found to be undamaged.

Fortunately, this didn't happen on this occasion

Fortunately, this didn’t happen on this occasion

0815, 1240 Report that a new wooden bench was on fire in Diamond Wood Sutton Bonington. Security attended and put the fire out. There are signs that the area had been used as a camp site the previous evening.

00:10 Security received a report from a resident at Hugh Stewart Hall that stones were being thrown at the windows. Security attended Hugh Stewart Hall and found two youths crouching near the windows facing the Main Visitor’s car park. No damage to windows recorded. Both youths informed Security that they were from the Summer School and staying at Lincoln Hall. Security escorted the youths back to Lincoln Hall and informed the Summer School Tutors of what had happened. Security to follow up.

00:10 Security discovered two green directional signs one “West Entrance” and the other “Trent Building” in the bushes at Hugh Stewart Hall. These signs were located in the same place as the youths throwing stones at the windows. Security to follow up and Helpdesk informed.

14:20 Security attended the Aspire building on Triumph Road Jubilee Campus after a report that a group of children were breaking the lights which illuminated the Aspire. On arrival it was confirmed that the light which is set into the ground had been broken. A group of teenagers were near the broken light and all denied being involved with the incident. Security have spoken to a witness of the incident and were informed that the male responsible for the damage had left the scene. Helpdesk informed. Police updated. Security to follow up.

1010 Report of a fault with a Kitchen extractor fan in Derby Hall Kitchens. Lilley’s called out. They stated that they would not attend as this is specialist equipment. The Estates Help Desk to be informed.

1531 Report of a male sawing the lock off a Pedal Cycle adjacent to Hallward Library. Uniformed and Covert Security Officers attended the male was stopped and spoken to. The male, a Student, had in fact been using a pump to blow up his tyres and not, as had been reported, sawing the lock off.

sign-44157_640

0250 Report that a deer had been seen on Beeston Lane. Security attended, the area was checked but the animal could not be located. Police were informed in case of traffic issues.

1740 Report of Conference Delegates at Jubilee Campus causing a nuisance to a Resident on Horston Drive. Security attended and caught a group of delegates from the Italian children’s conference causing a nuisance. Officers contacted the conference organiser who dealt with the children concerned.

1715 Report that a hot water tap would not turn off in the Play Centre. Security attended and turned off the water to the tap. Estates Help Desk to be informed.

2348 Report of mini insects in a room in Hall. The resident asked for Security to attend. On arrival Officers suggested that the student close the window.

Very good at hiding

Very good at hiding

2215 Report of a pigeon hiding behind a sofa in the Amenities Building Jubilee Campus. Security attended and the pigeon was removed from the Building.

And finally, one in which I have to declare a personal interest. Following an exciting weekend of den-building, my youngest daughter decided to involve her friends at the University play scheme in similar activity. Unfortunately, the results were misinterpreted:

19:00 Security reported 4 shelters that have been built using branches from a fallen tree in the wooded area at the front of Lenton Fields. It does not appear that the shelters have been used for anybody to sleep in. Security checked the area overnight. Helpdesk informed to make Grounds staff aware.

Amazon on campus

Amazon sets up shop at Purdue

purduelogo

 

According to @insidehighered Purdue University is to become the next “Amazon Campus”, which will allow access to Amazon offered products through the Purdue Student Store.

 

Coming to a campus near you

Coming to a campus near you

Beyond Amazon’s impact on campus bookstores’ bottom lines, the company’s presence in higher education has mostly been felt in the post office, as students opt to order rental or used books online. With the expansion of its Amazon Campus program, the company is aiming for more visibility on college campuses.The co-branded program at Purdue is the second of its kind. The University of California at Davis announced a pilot with Amazon last November, and the company has expansion plans in the works, a spokeswoman said in an email.In addition to offering priority shipping options, Amazon will staff locations on campus where students can pick up their orders and drop off rented textbooks when they are due.
ucdavis_logo
UC-Davis, in comparison, uses Amazon’s bright yellow automated lockers. Both benefits are expected to roll out during the next year at Purdue, according to a press release. As part of its deal with Amazon, UC-Davis collects “a little more than 2 percent of most purchases” from the university-branded store. In the first two academic quarters since the launch of the pilot, the partnership has netted the university $139,000, much of which has gone toward funding short-term financial aid and textbook scholarships.

So it sounds like it might be a pretty good deal for universities and for their students. And it might ensure that campus bookshops, which have slowly been disappearing, might have a future after all. But it also means of course that Amazon’s dominance will continue to grow. Presumably they could also extend into wider provision of goods and services to universities from laboratory supplies to stationery. So is the future Amazon for everything?

Archers Academics

Beyond @LegoAcademics

Inspired by the novelty of Lego Academics and by the chance meeting (by my wife) of an Archers namesake at a conference I wondered how many Archers characters also had academic counterparts. (For those not familiar with the world’s longest running radio soap opera see the Wikipedia page which helpfully summarises the plot and background to this everyday story of country folk.) Anyway there are quite a few #ArchersAcademics it seems:

First up is Linda Snell, MD, MHPE, FRCPC, FACP: Linda Snell is a Professor of Medicine and Core Faculty member of the Centre for Medical Education, McGill University.

Brian Aldridge (not the academic version)

Brian Aldridge (not the academic version)

Almost appropriately Brian Aldridge is Clinical Professor, Veterinary Clinical Medicine at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Jill Archer can be found in the Social Work department at Lakehead University in Canada.

There are quite a few Roy Tuckers out there but one, quite appropriately, is to be found at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and gets some decent scores on Rate My Professors. Choice comment from a student: “This teacher is cool. He loves his wife to death & you will hear about his sex life often.” A bit less of that kind of thing in the current storyline might be welcomed by some Archers listeners.

Alistair Lloyd AO RFD ED is a distinguished alumnus of Monash University. Mr Lloyd (PhC 1956) joined the Victorian College of Pharmacy Foundation when it was founded in 2001 and has since served as Foundation Chairman.

David Archer (Not the  Ambridge one)

David Archer (Not the Ambridge one)

Closer to home, Neil Carter is based in the Department of Politics at the University of York.

And perhaps most excitingly close to the image one might have of the ever-happy badger-loving farmer, David Archer is Professor in the Department of the Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago.

So, that’s my first attempt. Are there any other academic Archers namesakes out there?

#ArchersAcademics

Can we have our Honorary Degree back please?

Honorary Degree revocation is pretty unusual

Previous posts have commented on the awards of Honorary Degrees to celebrities. The risk for universities in making such awards though is that famous people sometimes turn out to be not such terrific assets to the institution’s reputation. There are only a few examples of this but they are pretty striking.

The most significant was arguably the decision by the University of Edinburgh in 2007 to remove the degree awarded to Robert Mugabe. As the Observer reported at the time:

Edinburgh University will tomorrow revoke an honorary degree awarded to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. The degree was awarded in 1984 for Mugabe’s services to education in Africa. He has since been blamed for Zimbabwe’s failing economy and accused of running an oppressive regime.

The decision to revoke the degree is the first in the history of the academic institution and follows years of campaigning by politicians and students, concerned about Mugabe’s human rights record.

Although Mugabe never replied, the government of Zimbabwe said the decision to revoke the honorary degree was a ‘humiliation’ for Edinburgh University and branded the institution ‘a disgrace’ and its students ‘uninformed’.

robert-mugabe-03The University of Massachusetts Amherst also withdrew its award to Mugabe (although some years later than Edinburgh).

Interestingly Edinburgh has instituted a specific withdrawal procedure to cope with this very eventuality:

Principles underpinning the procedure
In recognition of the need to guard against (a) a proliferation of proposals for withdrawal and (b) an honorary graduate falling foul of populist thinking the following principles underpin the procedure:
• Any review of an Honorary Degree can only be considered on receipt of substantial new information which, for good reason, was not available previously.
• The situation and values of the time of award conferment remain the relevant considerations.
• Non application posthumously.

 

Jimmy Savile, who was awarded an Honorary Degree by Bedfordshire University in 2009, had it rescinded in 2012 after his death and the subsequent revelations about his activities. (Note that this would not have been possible under the Edinburgh procedure…)

 

savile

Fred Goodwin, former CEO of RBS, who had his knighthood revoked also faced calls for the withdrawal of the Honorary Degree awarded by St Andrews University. But this appears, despite a campaign by students back in 2012, to have been resisted by the University.

Less fortunate than Goodwin is Constance Briscoe who, on top of other humiliations, found herself having her honorary degree from the University of Wolverhampton revoked. As reported in the Express & Star:

Disgraced judge Constance Briscoe has been stripped of her honorary degree by the University of Wolverhampton.

It comes just days after she was removed from the judiciary after being jailed for her part in the speeding points scandal that saw former Liberal Democrat minister Chris Huhne and his estranged wife sent to prison. The university confirmed it was considering stripping Briscoe of the award in May and has now revealed it did go ahead with the removal. Professor Ann Holmes, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, said: “The University of Wolverhampton’s nominations committee has revoked Constance Briscoe’s honorary award, as we take the award of honorary degrees very seriously.”

And then we have the case of Brandeis University which, according to the Guardian,  decided to withdraw an Honorary before it had even conferred it:

A university has reversed a decision to grant an honorary degree to an advocate for Muslim women who has made comments critical of Islam.

Brandeis University said in a statement that Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali would no longer receive the honorary degree, which it had planned to award her at the May 18 commencement.

Possibly a first.

Of course the lesson here for universities is to be very careful about the selection of Honorary Degree recipients. Easier said than done though. Although you could always introduce a new procedure to facilitate withdrawal when required.

New Sino-Foreign Fun

US and Russian universities in new Sino-Foreign ventures

Exciting news from Asia as not one but two universities announce new Sino-Foreign higher education institutions.

The new institute will hopefully be built on foundations other than sand

First up is the University of Pittsburgh which has recently held a groundbreaking for the new Sichuan University-Pittsburgh Institute:

Officials from the University of Pittsburgh and Sichuan University in China participated in a groundbreaking ceremony on July 2 at the Sichuan University campus in Chengdu to launch construction of a 100,000-square-foot building that will house the Sichuan University-Pittsburgh Institute, a joint engineering institute to educate undergraduate students and foster collaborative research. The partnership between Pitt and Sichuan University was established in 2013. Pitt is one of only five U.S. universities to have entered into a large-scale partnership agreement with a Chinese university; the others are Carnegie Mellon University, Duke University, New York University, and the University of Michigan. Sichuan University is the premier university in western China, located in Chengdu within the Sichuan Province, and it is consistently ranked among the top 10 universities in China. With emphases on advanced sustainable manufacturing and educational innovation, the institute will initially offer three undergraduate degree programs: industrial engineering, mechanical engineering, and materials science and engineering. Students in the institute will be recruited from the United States, China, and possibly other countries, with the first class in fall 2015 expected to comprise 100 students. Enrollment is projected to grow to a final total of 1,600.

Not entirely clear why they only mention US partnerships in China and omit the first such venture, ie the University of Nottingham Ningbo China but it is interesting to note that the ultimate target enrolment is a pretty modest 1,600 students. And you’ve got to love the ground-breaking pic.

Then we have Moscow State University which is to create a joint university in Shenzhen free economic zone.

msu

A real building

Russia’s top university will open a branch in China, in the country’s rapidly developing Shenzhen free economic zone. The building will bring an iconic element of Moscow’s skyline to China.

On Monday, representatives of Lomonosov Moscow State University MSU, Beijing Institute of Technology and the local administration signed an agreement to create a joint university in Shenzhen.

The project is aimed at training skilled professionals in China using MSU’s advanced educational programs and standards.

Those behind the project believe graduates of the new university will be in demand not only in Russia and China, but everywhere around the world.

The construction of the university facilities, the campus and the operations of the academy will be funded from the Shenzhen budget.

It’ll be in an area with “excellent infrastructure and environment,” previously used to host the 2011 Summer Universiade, the project’s press-release said.

The numbers aren’t clear but the map of the projected campus looks pretty large. And if they do build a replica of that iconic MSU building then it should be an impressive development.