About Paul

Registrar at the University of Nottingham. Tend to go on a bit about higher education. In particular: league tables, quality assurance, regulation, teaching and learning, internationalisation and anything else related to university life which seems interesting. Views are my own.

Mobile students

Student mobility in and out of the UK

The British Council has produced this nice graphic on student mobility in and out of the UK:

vis

This new interactive animation shows how the UK as a provider and host of internationally mobile students has evolved over recent years. From 2002 onwards differences in gender, age, level and disciplines studied are displayed for incoming students.The data has been sourced mainly from the Higher Education Statistics Authority and UNESCO Institute for Statistics

It’s fascinating to see the change of patterns of mobility over time and there are several different dimensions to play with. The huge growth in international student recruitment and the shift from European nations to Asia is impressive to watch.

 

Video game scholarships

League of Legends becomes a varsity sport

League_of_legends_logo_transparent

Inside Higher Ed has a story about an Illinois university which has decided to make ‘League of Legends’ a varsity sport and award a number of scholarships to boot:

In the latest blow to the nerd-jock distinction, an Illinois university has added video games to its varsity sports lineup.Robert Morris University-Illinois, a 7,000-student private institution with its main campus in Chicago, announced this month that it would incorporate eSports – organized video-game competitions – into its athletic program. Starting in September, League of Legends players will join hockey goalies, quarterbacks and point guards as varsity athletes at the Chicago campus. The university is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.League of Legends is an online multiplayer battle-arena video game. More than 27 million people play it each day, according to Riot Games, which developed the game.The Chicago-based university, which has no affiliation with Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, is the first institution in the country to assign varsity status to a video game.The university plans to offer between 45 and 50 athletic scholarships to incoming gamers, said Kurt Melcher, the university’s associate athletic director. The scholarships will pay for 50 percent of tuition and 50 percent of room and board for members of the League of Legends team.

I must admit I’m not familiar with this particular game but it does seem rather exciting:

whatislol-intro

League of Legends is a fast-paced, competitive online game that blends the speed and intensity of an RTS with RPG elements. Two teams of powerful champions, each with a unique design and playstyle, battle head-to-head across multiple battlefields and game modes. With an ever-expanding roster of champions, frequent updates and a thriving tournament scene, League of Legends offers endless replayability for players of every skill level.

Still not sure that this quite fits with university sports environment or that video games count as sport. Or indeed that the university will find any other university to play against.

Graduation 2014: Latest

Updates from the Ceremonial Front Line

I recently provided a summary of a series of posts related to graduation (reproduced below):

  1. A recent post on graduation challenges including Decanal difficulties with names and a failed graduand backflip.
  2. The surprising news that swimming was not part of graduation requirements any more for one US university.
  3. The differences between a US-style Commencement and a graduation.
  4. The strange ceremonial use for a weapon at graduation – the place of the mace.
  5. And finally, Graduation as being all a bit lovely like London 2012 (if we can remember that far back).

Since then though there has been the annual Serious or Celeb Honorary Graduates post (mostly celeb as it happens) featuring some real stars such as this fine chap:

Puffed up? Moi?

He worked VERY hard for his honorary


but the key issue I felt I needed to address was this surprising news from China. The Independent reports that thousands of female graduates across China have ditched the traditional mortar board in favour of wedding dresses:

Will it catch on?

Will it catch on?

Unlike Britain, where ingrained traditions of tearful parents, gowned lecturers and celebrity speakers are all part of graduation day, in China there are fewer set in stone traditions and this has given birth to new ideas and rituals, including the wearing of wedding dresses.During this summer’s graduation ceremonies, more and more of China’s female graduates have been adorning white gowns and tiaras to pose for the all-important graduation photo.According to Liu Xiangping a student from Xi’an Polytechnic University in central China “The wedding dress makes things feel more meaningful.”

Whilst I have yet to see anyone in a wedding dress cross our platform, there have been a disturbing number of examples of this latest fashion:

Highly questionable garb

Highly questionable garb

I’m eagerly awaiting news of other graduation developments this year.

Singalonga Higher Ed

Lyrical challenges at the University of Utah

 

Inside Higher Ed has a diverting piece on the changes being made to the University of Utah’s ‘fight song’ to address some of the lyrical challenges of the original:

The line “our coeds are the fairest” will be replaced with “our students are the finest” and the line “no other gang of college men” will now be “no rival band of college fans.” A further complication is that the song has been called “A Utah Man.” From now on it will be called “A Utah Man/Fan.

 

The Official Athletic Site of the University of Utah has the original lyrics in full:

 

VERSE
I am a Utah man, sir, and I live across the green.
Our gang, it is the jolliest that you have ever seen.
Our coeds are the fairest and each one’s a shining star.
Our yell, you hear it ringing through the mountains near and far.

utah-logoCHORUS
Who am I, sir? A Utah man am I A Utah man, sir, and will be till I die; Ki!Yi!
We’re up to snuff; we never bluff,
We’re game for any fuss,
No other gang of college men
dare meet us in the muss.
So fill your lungs and sing it out and
shout it to the sky,
We’ll fight for dear old Crimson,
for a Utah man am I.

VERSE
And when we prom the avenue, all lined up in a row,
And arm in arm and step in time as down the street we go.
No matter if a freshman green, or in a senior’s gown,
The people all admit we are the warmest gang in town.

CHORUS

VERSE
We may not live forever on this jolly good old sphere,
But while we do we’ll live a life of merriment and cheer,
And when our college days are o’er and night is drawing nigh,
With parting breath we’ll sing that song:
“A Utah Man Am I”.

 
It’s rather quaint in a way but probably needs to be retired rather than edited in this way. I must admit though to being intrigued by the idea of a university having a ‘fight song’. I can understand football teams having songs (see for example this classic which is in a similar vein to the Utah song) but universities?

Anyway, it seems this kind of thing is not as unusual as I had thought as Mike Ratcliffe (@mike_rat) kindly pointed out with this wonderful extract from the Leeds University Song Book from 1922:

Leeds song

 

More recently we have the following, a song produced a few years ago about ‘The student learning experience at Nottingham University’. Not a fight song but certainly offensive in parts:

Any other university songs?

Honorary Degree: serious or celeb 2014

Who are this year’s lucky winners?

A post some time ago on Honorary Degree recipients noted that almost all of them fall clearly into one of two categories: they are either serious or celeb. Back in 2013 I provided a handy list of recent Honoraries for further analysis.

Basically, if you are a serious academic, no matter how outstanding your research, if you haven’t got your own TV series or appearing frequently in the tabloids, you really aren’t going to get the coverage. So, it does rather look like quite a few of the honorary degrees awarded this year might be for something other than sustained and outstanding achoevement in a particular field. But perhaps I’m being harsh and some of these awards are for reasons other than fleeting celebrity:

The very famous breakfast presenter Louise Minchin was recognised by the University of Chester for all of her early morning achievements.

How? Yes, Fred Dinenage got an Honorary from Southampton Solent

HOW?

HOW? (Dinenage at back left. No pipe.)

 

Cheers! Hanover College recognises Woody Harrelson for his many acting achievements.

Pele picks up yet another award, this time from Hofstra.

jeff lynne

Jeff Lynne – All his own hair

Bryan Ferry – Extraordinary that it took so long for Newcastle University to recognise the Roxy Music frontman’s genius

Jeff Lynne, of ELO fame, gets a scroll from BCU.

Placido Domingo – hitting all the right notes at Berklee College of Music
(nope, I’ve never heard of them either).

James Galway, perhaps not as famous as he once was, nevertheless gets an award from Rochester.

Not as famous as he once was

Can you guess which instrument he is famous for?

A collection of giants from the world of popular music have also been recognised by some leading institutions:

Sean Puffy Combs received a lot of publicity for his richly deserved Honorary and commencement address at Howard University.

Puffed up? Moi?

Puffed up? Moi?

Yoko Ono urges graduates “Let’s together be the metronome of our very troubled human culture or human race” after picking up her honorary.

Ricky Ross, legendary Deacon Blue frontman, picked up a degree from Abertay.

They don’t come cooler than this – LL Cool J was rewarded for his outstanding achievements by Northeastern.

Let’s rock as AC/DC’s Brian Johnson gets the nod from Northumbria.

And perhaps the most richly deserved is the honorary for Pitbull. Not before time.

Who can begrudge this award to rock titans Rush who picked up a collective award from the improbably named Nipissing University?

No time for 20 minute solos at graduation folks

No time for 20 minute solos at graduation folks

Moving on…

The University of Kent is recognising this celebrity triumvirate: Harry Hill, Sandy Toksvig and Robert Wyatt – all eminently worthy in their fields (well, Robert Wyatt for sure).

And Edge Hill has an equally impressive trio recognising Johnny Vegas, Harrison Birtwhistle and John Foxx.

 

It's a degree certificate

It’s a degree certificate. Nothing legal at all.

And then, of course, for his outstanding and lengthy football career (rather than his temporary stint as manager at Old Trafford presumably), no writs can prevent us knowing that Ryan Giggs has been awarded a degree by Bolton.

Finally, and most youthfully among this collection, Aaron Porter is to be recognised by his alma mater the University of Leicester. Perhaps more serious than celebrity this one.

So, an impressive and rich crop this year. Any exceptional awards I’ve missed out?

Signs of the Times

Is university signage important for academic achievement?

No. And I fear that this story rather overstates the significance of signage on university campuses.

This piece was pointed out to me by Simon @GlobalHE (to whom many thanks) and covers the importance of signage in education. Whilst I really do want to take it seriously and I do recognise that with a big and diverse campus we do need effective signage for students, staff and visitors, it all seems a bit over the top:

This way and that

Too much information?

Educational buildings are used by a range of demographic groups, from small children to mature students, with a variety of needs and requirements.

A good signage strategy is the starting point to make sure that all staff, students and visitors can move around the school or campus in an efficient, clear and secure way.

“Educational wayfinding signage needs to be clear, concise, accurate, durable and stylish,” said Lindsay Burnham, marketing manager for Astley, an established sign provider in the education sector.She continued: “Not only does the information need to be correct and visible, it also has to meet all health and safety regulations to maintain the wellbeing of the individuals.

”Signage can also play a part in a student’s academic achievements, as Burnham explained: “Attending a new a school or university is daunting for any student and being able to work their way round the campus, to be in the right place at the right time, is a key factor as to whether they feel settled in their new place of study and ultimately that they perform well and are successful.”

So, whilst sign providers will, of course, recommend a carefully planned signage strategy from the early stages of a new build project, it probably isn’t business critical. Or perhaps I’m underestimating the importance of all this.

Betting the farm

A very big gamble

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an extraordinary piece about how one investment manager gambled away $13.1 Million of her university’s money:
cash pile

Over a series of three contracts, Ms. Prizevoits signed over more than $8-million of the 96-year-old university’s money in 2008 to a Florida-based company called Betts and Gambles Global Equities LLC, to invest in collateralized-mortgage obligations. The founder of the company, federal-court documents state, instead spent part of the money on a Ferrari, a Maserati, and real estate.B y 2010, Ms. Prizevoits had become suspicious of the investments she had made with Betts and Gambles, documents state. Even so, she made another questionable investment on behalf of Ball State, sending $5-million to a California company, Blackhawk Wealth Solutions Inc., to invest in fixed-income securities called Treasury Strips. Much of that money flowed to another company, and was then used to buy a series of real-estate properties in the Bronx, N.Y.

Really does seem bizarre that anyone would do this and that they would manage to gamble away quite so much money without anyone noticing.

I would have thought through that the name of the company might have been a pointer to the problems to come: “Betts and Gambles Global Equities” should at least have raised an alarm bell?

It’s graduation time again

It’s gown and mortar board season

grads

Students are required practice this for months before graduation

Having realised that I’ve written quite a few posts on graduation in the past, and being short of something new to say as our graduation season kicks off this week, I thought I would bring together a few recent pieces on this most special of university occasions. So, here they are, in an artificially generated order, my top 5 graduation posts of the past couple of years:

  1. A very recent post on graduation challenges including Decanal difficulties with names and a failed graduand backflip.
  2. The surprising news that swimming was not part of graduation requirements any more for one US university.
  3. The differences between a US-style Commencement and a graduation.
  4. The strange ceremonial use for a weapon at graduation – the place of the mace.
  5. And finally, Graduation as being all a bit lovely like London 2012 (if we can remember that far back).

So, do hope that keeps everyone going until I have something more original to offer.

The luxury gap

Dormitories v apartments

I wrote some time ago here about the advent of extremely luxurious student accommodation in the US. This was linked to anxieties about students having it all just too easy. Certainly the trend in the UK has been away from shared rooms and bathrooms and towards individual en suite rooms and studio apartments in new complexes with gyms and social spaces.

Now @insidehighered has an essay which argues that colleges are better with old-style dormitories than apartment-like facilities:
LoyolaMD_Dorm

Apartment-style dorm rooms are the Hot New Thing at some colleges nowadays. Single rooms instead of doubles or even quads, exterior doors instead of crowded hallways, private bathrooms instead of gang showers and those icky shared toilets, even mini-kitchens instead of the noisy dining hall – all have an undeniable appeal for incoming freshmen looking to maximize the more adult features of undergraduate life.Many contemporary students grew up with their own bedrooms, and perhaps even their own bathrooms, and may recoil from sharing their personal spaces with that mysterious stranger, the roommate or hallmate. So colleges and universities, particularly sensitive to the preferences of full-pay students, are starting to move away from traditional long-hallway dorms to more individualized rooms, some with generous amenities. Prospective students seem to love the idea.

But, the argument runs, essentially this is not good for the students or their personal and academic development. The shared experience of this kind of residential life makes making friends a lot easier and provides students with a supportive environment when they most need it, at the start of their university life.

I think it’s a persuasive argument but a difficult sell to potential students. The line that it may be old, traditional and lower spec accommodation but it’s good for you is not necessarily the best pitch to applicants. Especially if this is the alternative:

Too much luxury?

Too much luxury?

But for many institutions (and students) there may not be much choice.

Celebrating Student Success

We really do have an outstanding Students’ Union

A nice new website publicising the University of Nottingham Students’ Union’s successes over the past year and its centenary celebrations:

For the last week of the semester, your officers decided it was time to celebrate the things we’d achieved. So, we launched our very first Celebration Week. Celebration Week is the perfect time to look back on the successes of the past year. What’s was the most memorable moment of 2013/14? What was your biggest success? What would you have done differently?Most importantly, we wanted to know how you were celebrating everything you’d been getting up to, while we held some celebrations of our own. Special events, such as the free 100 Heroes exhibition tours, Women in Leadership Tea Party and Mooch Big Brunch, were put together just for Celebration Week.Thanks to everyone for a brilliant year – and we’ll see you again at Welcome!

It’s all terrific stuff and serves to remind us of the essential role students’ unions play in the life of universities. Things have certainly moved on in the past 100 years:

Unions have moved on a little...

Unions have moved on a little…

The Varsity win was pretty good too.

So well done to all of this year’s officers and look forward to even more successes next year.

Most serious league tables of the year?

League tables of choice

All rankings have their shortcomings. Some though are perhaps even more methodologically questionable than others. I was struck recently by two league tables which seemed to be even less credible than this very important ranking of universities based on the length of their name.

First up is the ranking of the most influential UK universities on Twitter. This appeared recently in Times Higher Education but has since sunk without trace. The methodology, if it may be called that, is simply to use a site called followerwonk which magically creates a ‘Social Authority’ score for institutions based on some combination of followers, and number of retweets etc. It doesn’t get much more authoritative than this.

 

influential on twitter

Meanwhile, at the slightly more salacious end of the league table spectrum we have the University Sex League 2014. Nothing dubious about the scoring method here. It’s a self-selecting survey in which there is a slim possibility that respondents might be less than entirely accurate in their recall:

unisexleagueThe bottom 10 has not been reproduced here for obvious reasons.

Anyway, there you have it, two league tables which if they achieve nothing else manage the remarkable feat of making other rankings look pretty credible and methodologically robust.

 

Real or Fake Universities: the results

 Real or fake universities? The votes are in

 

universitybanner

Definitely fake

 

Most of the following list of institutions are from the US and the UK but there are a few from other countries too. Five of these are fake but all the other ones are real. Did you manage to identify the five HE fraudsters?

IHere’s your last chance to have a go at the poll:

So the results are below.

Are you sure?

OK, then you can have a look at the top 10:

 

The Top 10

The Top 10

 

But I guess you will be wanting to know the real from the fake ones then.

Tricky.

There were five definite fakes. And, I’m slightly ashamed to admit, one which has necessitated a stewards’ enquiry.

Four of the definite fakes appear in the top 10.

They are as follows:

  • Watermouth University (You’ll find it in Bradbury’s The History Man.)
  • Rooney University (A university named after one of England’s finest footballers? I think not.)
  • Rummidge University (From the David Lodge trilogy Changing Places, Small World and Nice Work.)
  • Euphoric State University (Also a David Lodge creation appearing in the same novels.)

And then from near the bottom of the poll, spotted by hardly anyone:

  • DuPont University (which appears in Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons.)

Then we run into a bit of a problem. The improbably named University of Hip-Hop, which topped the poll of likely fakes, does actually exist. However, it is possible that it is not actually a real university either by the common sense definition or by virtue of being likely to earn a place on the HEFCE Register of Higher Education providers. It may even just be a blog and does not actually appear on the highly inclusive UK Register of Learning Providers.

Anyway, here are the staff and students of said institution so it must be real:

 

This really is the University of Hip Hop

This really is the University of Hip Hop

So, apologies for leading anyone up the garden path. But at least we all now know how difficult identifying fake providers is…

Graduation Fails

It’s that time of year again

I’ve previously commented on graduation matters here but omitted to mention one particular challenge of the season: pronouncing graduands’ names.

Our Deans work very hard on this and it really is not a task I envy them. But now there is a possible solution. The Chronicle of Higher Education has a piece on a start-up business designed to address this most distinctive of higher education problems:

What''s in a name?

What”s in a name?

Stanford University, whose students gave us the modern search engine, the modern sneaker company, and the modern method of money transfer, is finally tackling a native challenge: commencement. At graduation ceremonies over the past weekend, eight departments at the university used a web-based service that allows students to record their names before commencement for the benefit of whoever reads aloud the list of graduates.

Dubbed NameCoach, the start-up was founded last year by students at—where else?—Stanford. Universities using the service send a link to graduates, who are directed to a web page where they can record their names as they want them pronounced. Nervous deans can then review them at their leisure.

Praveen Shanbhag, who graduated from Stanford this year with a doctorate in philosophy, thought of the idea for NameCoach after a particularly brutal reading of his sister’s name at her 2010 undergraduate commencement. Mr. Shanbhag said the mangling clouded an otherwise happy day for the family. “It kind of tinged it with a sense of alienation and invisibility,” he says. He points to recent research on name mispronunciation as evidence of the psychological and societal damage such incidents can cause.

It’s a simple and rather neat idea and you can see on the demo page quite clearly how it works.

It might turn out to be really helpful. But it still depends on Deans getting it right on the day and there are all sorts of reasons things can go a little bit wrong with one or two pronunciations. But on the whole our Deans do a fantastic job and there is not a lot of butchering.

Even bigger fail

But name errors are sometimes the least of the problems on stage. In many years of daft behaviour by graduands I’ve not seen anything quite as splendidly dumb as this student’s failed backflip attempt during Davenport’s graduation ceremony:

 

It’s not uncommon to see a celebratory gesture or two as students make their way across the stage at college and university commencement ceremonies.

But on Sunday, the antics of one Davenport University student didn’t work out quite as planned.

After walking across the stage and shaking hands with university administrators, Robert Jeffrey Blank removed his cap, planted his feet in place and attempted a backflip.

It didn’t go well.

Blank failed to rotate quick enough, and appeared to land face first on the stage, drawing a gasp from the audience. He didn’t appear to suffer any serious injuries, though, as he can be seen quickly getting up and walking off stage.

 

Let’s hope we don’t see too many more of these. Or indeed this striking example of a typo on a Degree Certificate:

Crazy College, crazy spelling

Crazy School, crazy spelling

(this one via Inside Higher Ed)

Taking Student Mental Health Seriously

 Students Supporting Students

Have only just learned of Student Minds.

Did you know: Students, after joining university, are more anxious and more likely to develop depression? It’s no surprise, university can be a stressful and daunting environment. Estimates show that around 25% of all students experience distress at a worrying level. The move away from home is particularly stressful, inducing symptoms of anxiety. In the case of one fifth of students, reaching levels of clinical significance mid-way through second year. We found that most students are most likely to talk to their peers, primarily their friends. However, this can not always be a comfortable experience.

 Student Minds was chosen as the supported charity at this year’s Times Higher Leadership and Management Awards. The organisation believes we should take student mental health issues much more seriously:

If tackled early we have the opportunity to prevent the development of more severe mental health problems. Early adult life is a crucial stage in the transition from adolescence independence as an adult. Underachievement or failure at this stage can have long-term effects on self-esteem and the progress of an individual’s life. The opportunity to share experiences can help break down isolation and the format of a group can boost motivation, and the informality of a group session run by Student Minds volunteers – groups do not have waiting lists, and students can self-refer, using the support as and when they feel they need it. Finally, we do not keep records of attendance, removing the concern that accessing help will reflect negatively on a student’s CV or university record.

 It’s a great range of activities and clearly making a really valuable contributuon on campuses around the country. The University of Nottingham Students’ Union is also involved:

Student Minds Nottingham (formerly known as UoN Mental Wealth) is a campaigns group that works to promote positive wellbeing and mental health for students whilst studying at UoN.

Our objectives are:

- to tackle the issue of social isolation and stigma of mental health.

- to enhance the mental health provision within the university.

- to break down potential barriers to students and provide opportunities for personal development for students.

We run support groups with the help and training of Student Minds.

We also run events and workshops over the academic year to inform people about mental health conditions and break down barriers.

 

Universities do, of course, provide services to support students with mental health issues but the work of Student Minds seems to provide a valuable complement to these. This is particularly important given the challenges to public mental health services for young people.

So, a great charity and do hope it continues to grow and provide excellent support for students.

 

 

Universities: real or fake?

 Real or fake universities? You decide

I’ve written here before about Monsters U and Sim U

Monsters University FB Posters 1.jpg

…and also, there is the very convincing University of Antarctica

 

universitybannerElaborate creations all of them.

So, are you smart enough to get a job with the BIS Higher Education Governance Team? Can you tell real from fake universities? The following list contains a number of top drawer institutions. Most are from the US and the UK but there are a few from other countries too. Five of these are fake but all the other ones are real. Can you identify the five fakes?

(Don’t wast time Googling them – life’s too short and will provide the answers in due course.)

Pointless eh?