Skills not swimming

Alternatives to physical education tests


A previous post reported on the reduction in the number of swimming tests
or other physical education assessments which formed part of graduation requirements at US universities.

Now Inside Higher Ed has a report on another university, Notre Dame, “a sports juggernaut”, which is making the shift too:

The university announced last week that freshmen will soon have to take two graded, one-credit courses on topics like wellness, academic strategies and spirituality instead of having to complete a year of physical education courses – for which there are a range of options – and pass a swim test.

An end to all this?

An end to all this?

The new first-year program, in place by fall 2015, will try to fill gaps in “student socialization,” “cultural competency” and independent learning with 250-student lecture courses and smaller breakout sessions in residence halls, according a report from the committee that recommended the change this month.

As a result of the shift, the department of physical education and wellness instruction – which includes about 13 non-tenure-track faculty – will close. The provost’s office will “work closely with those impacted to explore other opportunities for on-campus employment and to develop appropriate transitional strategies,” according to the report.

The report also refers to a recent study on the decline in required physical education at US universities from almost all having it as a graduation requirement down to just 39%. To those of us in the UK, where to the best of my knowledge no university has such a requirement, this still seems like remarkably large proportion. I have to say though I do think the alternative being introduced by Notre Dame sounds very interesting indeed.

Dealer deals

A fair deal for students?

PA Consulting have produced an interesting report on ‘The Student Deal’:

The Student Deal: designing genuinely student-centred higher education incorporates our latest thinking on current issues and challenges in higher education. Reflecting the changing dynamics of the higher education system, The Student Deal challenges the limitations of the current thinking about students-as-customers, and the related emphasis on student satisfaction and student journeys.

We believe these approaches encourage a limited, transactional view of the relationship between students and providers and do not adequately address the lifetime benefits students should expect from their personal investment in higher education, nor the collaborative relationship between students and learning providers that best fosters those benefits.

A bum deal?

A bum deal?

It’s an intelligent pitch. The full report, available here, offers the following opening:

“The language of students-as-customers neglects the essential mutual commitment between students and learning providers.”

“Students are not simply consumers of a bundle of educational and related services, even when their fees pay for those services.”

This is very well put. Students are much more than just customers and this is certainly true in critical learning-related interactions. However, there is a subset of activities (which do impact on their lives) where they are in a customer relationship with the University. These are important transactions too and can have a negative impact on all of the other aspects of the ‘deal’ set out here.

The paper is right to challenge the rather simplistic ‘student experience’ discourse. In particular the characterisation of the NSS as the TripAdvisor of higher education is an excellent observation. The ‘Student Deal’ does recognize the multi-dimensional nature of the relationships here between student and different parts of the university:

“The primary outcomes sought by students are built around four core essentials:

• grasping a body of discipline-based knowledge

• acquiring expertise in applying and mastering that knowledge

growth as individuals through personal, societal and professional development, and

• enhancing their career and life opportunities.”

This is a reasonable representation but the ‘Graduate Attributes’ notion has been around for at least 20 years (the development of the ‘Graduate Attributes Profile’ was, I think, an HEQC project in the mid-1990s) and, although I do think it is a preferable conceptualisation to that of the ‘T-shaped person’, I’m still not sure it is quite up to the job here. The elements within the core outcomes are all reasonable propositions but there is a huge difference in weighting in terms of effort, duration, impact and importance which is not really addressed in the model.

The Student Deal (a bit like a flower)

The Student Deal (a bit like a flower)

It is though right to observe that one size can’t fit all: “Universities need to tailor the Student Deals they offer to the diversity of learners and markets.”

This is the real challenge for institutions – deciding what the offer is and then looking to do the deals. (Unfortunate though with the choice of UEA’s London Campus as an example given the recent announcement that it is to close in September.) It is though a far from straightforward decision.

“Learners at every level and mode of study are, in effect, entering a ‘Student Deal’ with their chosen provider.”

“The Student Deal is forged at the meeting of individuals’ ambitions and talents with the experiences, resources and personalised support available through their chosen provider.”

I’m really not sure about the ‘student as investor’ line in here or indeed how personal this ultimately can be – are we talking a personalized contract? Haven’t we been there before too?

“The Student Deal, unlike the student experience, is essentially a two-way commitment between providers and learners, which demands as much from the student/investor as from the provider.”

Yes, but it is perhaps unrealistic to expect this to be anything other than an asymmetric relationship. At the end of the day the dealer deals.

Overall though an interesting and stimulating paper.

The 2014 Grant letter: another epistolary triumph

And the wait was finally over

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has written to HEFCE with the Department’s annual message on funding and helpful bag of instructions. As excitement in the sector reached near fever pitch, the contents were being live-tweeted by @TimesHigherEd while everyone else waited to get hold of a copy.

The much-delayed letter does not contain much of what you might describe as good news although there is some modest improvement on the capital front. Additional student places and the removal of student number controls altogether from 2015-16 are confirmed:

The settlement will mean reductions in funding for higher education institutions in 2014-15 and again in 2015-16 beyond those accounted for by the switch to publicly funded tuition fees. The Government has asked HEFCE to deliver the reductions in ways which protect as far as possible high-cost subjects (including STEM), widening participation (which is funded via the HEFCE Student Opportunity allocation), and small and specialist institutions.

HEFCE is asked to continue its work with the Research Councils and others to support internationally excellent research and the delivery of the impact agenda through the dual-support framework. The ring-fenced settlement for science and research means that recurrent funding is maintained at £1,573 million, the same cash levels as 2013-14.

Overall, the amount of capital funding for teaching and research will increase in 2014-15 to £440 million.

The grant letter confirms the Government’s provision of a maximum of 30,000 additional student places in academic year 2014-15 for HEFCE-funded institutions. The student number control will be removed entirely from 2015-16, and the Government has asked HEFCE to ensure that higher education institutions maintain the quality of the student experience in these circumstances.

Bur enough of the content, what about the important stuff like length? At 22 paragraphs, excluding the covering letter, or 26 if you include the substantive comments in the letter, it is shorter than any of its three predecessors from the BIS duo which have come in at 36, 35 and 28 paragraphs long. It is pleasing though that the Secretary of State’s signature remains as cheerful as ever (see below).

It is far from the shortest on record though which is the initial 10 paragraph punt from back at the start of the Coalition journey. As this utterly pointless graph (now in need of an update) shows, the long term trend is reduced grant letter length.

The length of Grant Letters to HEFCE down the years

The length of Grant Letters to HEFCE down the years

So much for this year then, what of the past?

The earlier post on this topic back in August 2010 noted:

The most recent funding letter of June 24 2010 from Vince Cable and David Willetts to the Chairman of HEFCE is distinctive for three main reasons. First, and unsurprisingly if dispiritingly, it outlines the first major tranche of savings to be made in the 2010-11 financial year. Secondly, it is extremely short – indeed at 10 paragraphs and just over two pages it is the shortest funding letter to the Council in at least 14 years and undercuts all letters under the previous government by some way. Thirdly, it is the first such letter to be signed by both the Secretary of State and the relevant Minister. And thank goodness too or some of us might never have seen this fascinating signature:

Of course those with longer memories will have fond recollections of the briefest of grant letters from the University Grants Committee (UGC) which simply set out the amount of money available for disbursement. Many will long for the golden age of five year funding settlements under the UGC. Whilst it could reasonably be argued that the UGC served as an effective buffer between the state and the universities, the options for the Higher Education Funding Councils, and in particular HEFCE, are much more limited as the directives from government on spending have become ever more detailed and prescriptive. Fortunately though we are able to examine all of the details of these as HEFCE has a nice collection of funding letters going back to 1996.

This decidedly dubious summary of these letters draws on this collection but refers only to English funding allocations. I’m sure the other funding councils receive similar missives from their respective governments but it is beyond my capacity to deal with them I’m afraid.

The length of funding letters has seen two peaks in the last 14 years: January 2003’s letter was 73 paragraphs long and the December 1998 note ran to 66 paragraphs. The November 1999, November 2000 and December 2001 letters ranged from 40 to 46 paragraphs but the January 2004 letter and subsequent missives tend towards the more traditional brevity of only 15-25 paragraphs of instruction to HEFCE.

Just for completeness then here are some of the details about English Higher Education’s most exciting epistles:

  1. The first letter in this series is the last prepared under the previous Conservative government, way back in November 1996. This 41 paragraph note (signed by a Civil Servant) covers: linking funding to assessment of teaching quality, expanding part-time provision, the importance of closer links with employers, not wanting to see longer courses, a planned reduction in student numbers by 2,000 for the following year and keeping the participation rate at around 30%. Some interesting parallels here with the most recent letter from the current government perhaps?
  2. The December 1998 letter is the first New Labour funding letter. At 66 paragraphs it is one of the longest in recent times and the last one to carry the name of a senior Civil Servant rather than the Secretary of State. Topics covered include sector spending, lifelong learning, increasing participation, maintaining quality and standards (a recurring theme down the years), widening access, promoting employability, research investment, capital spend, tuition fee arrangements and Year 2000 issues (we were all worried then).
  3. The November 1999 letter, 43 paragraphs long, provides David Blunkett with the opportunity to wax lyrical on the importance of maintaining quality and standards, increasing participation and employability, widening access, equal opportunities for HE staff, dealing with student complaints, new capital funding, pfi/ppp opportunities, research funding and HE pay.
  4. David Blunkett, in his November 2000 letter, which runs to a sprightly 46 paragraphs, makes some big points on widening participation as a key priority, business links and the e-university.
  5. In November 2001 Estelle Morris provides a neat 40 paragraph letter which gives lots of direction on widening participation, maintaining quality and standards, strengthening research, the importance of links with industry and communities, as well as something on the value of the e-Universities project (remember that?) and, last but not least, social inclusion.
  6. January 2003 represents the high water mark of recent funding letters: in 73 action packed paragraphs Charles Clarke, in his first outing as Secretary of State, is clearly keen to lead the way. The letter covers, among other things, improvement in research, expanded student numbers, foundation degrees, widening participation, improving teaching and learning and increased knowledge transfer. As if that were not enough we also have the establishment of the AHRC, the introduction of a new quality assurance regime but with reduced burdens for institutions (yeah, right), credit systems, FE partnerships, expanded student numbers and new investments in HE workforce development. A real blockbuster of a letter.
  7. The January 2004 message from Charles Clarke comes in at 20 paragraphs in just over 4 pages with reducing bureaucracy, building research and quality and standards and the establishment of Aimhigher as its central features.
  8. December 2004 brings a Christmas treat from everyone’s favourite Santa, Charles Clarke. With just 16 paragraphs and 4 pages of direction Clarke stresses the importance of maintaining the unit of funding for teaching, controlling student numbers and making efficiency gains.
  9. The January 2006 letter, a first and last offering from Ruth Kelly, comes in at a modest 15 paragraphs and 4 pages. No huge surprises in the text with employer-led provision, more widening participation, additional research and capital funding and a strong steer on reducing bureaucracy being the primary features. Additional points to note include equal opportunities for HE staff, efficiency gains, the new conditions which accompany the new tuition fees regime and reference to access agreements. What’s not to like here?
  10. January 2007’s is a punchy 19 paragraphs and merely five pages from Alan Johnson (his one and only letter). Despite the wordiness there isn’t a huge amount in here beyond employer engagement, growing foundation degrees and a lot on widening participation.
  11. January 2008: as with its successor letter this one is 24 paragraphs and 7 pages long (and note the online version on the HEFCE website is erroneously dated 18 Jan 2009). In this funding letter Denham indicates that his priorities are increasing student numbers, developing employer part-funded provision, and widening participation. The letter also refers to encouraging HE to develop stronger links with schools and colleges, greater investment in research, the importance of STEM, a green development fund, closer measuring of performance, and the establishment of the fund-raising match-funding scheme.
  12. January 2009’s letter is 7 pages and 24 paragraphs long and in it John Denham seeks to encourage HE to support the economy through recession, wider engagement with business, promote employer-led provision, innovative ways to support business, promotion of STEM subjects and widening participation and extending fair access. Additionally, there is the confirmation of the ‘university challenge’ with 20 new HE centres to be established, emphasis on the maintenance of quality and standards, plans for continuing to reduce regulation, commitment to dual support as well as the development of REF, steps to tackle climate change and bearing down on over-recruitment by institutions.
  13. The December 2009 letter from Lord Mandelson comes in at 15 paragraphs. This short note follows up on Higher Ambitions (which, in case you had forgotten, “sets out a course for how universities can remain world class, providing the nation with the high level skills needed to remain competitive, while continuing to attract the brightest students and researchers”) and also covers the Economic Challenge Investment Fund, wider and fairer access to HE, increasing the variety of undergraduate provision, new funding incentives to deliver higher level skills, developing REF, new developments in quality assurance including the publication of a standard set of information for students, engaging with communities and penalizing institutions which over-recruit students.
  14. June 2010 sees the first funding letter from the new coalition government: Cable and Willetts give us 10 brief paragraphs covering initial savings, efficiencies and cuts but also 10,000 extra places (but with strings).

So, that’s your lot folks. All you never wanted to know about 15 years of funding letters.

Go West. Or East. Plans for more student mobility

Government wants more students to travel.

There is to be a Government initiative to persuade more students to travel. The aim is that more UK students will be encouraged to broaden their horizons by travelling overseas for part of their degree courses.

The new UK Outward Student Mobility Strategy aims to boost the number of students gaining vital international experience from overseas study and work placements, allowing them to complete in the global race for jobs and skills.

B 4

Currently just one UK student studies abroad for every 15 international students in the UK – and the UK lags behind Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Poland in accessing the European Commission’s Erasmus funding for study or work placements.

The strategy, developed by the UK Higher Education International Unit, comes on the same day as the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, which is providing initial funding for the strategy, publishes its International Education Strategy.

According to the International Unit the Strategy will be consulted on during summer 2013 and published at the start of the coming session. The strategic activities involved will include:

  • Research and data collection
  • Promotion and awareness-raising campaign for study and work placements overseas
  • Coordination of financial support for mobility opportunities
  • HEI services to build capacity and influence
  • An online hub for all information and resources relevant to outward student mobility.

There is some way to go it seems before we get a full strategy. It is to be hoped that it does offer some useful assistance to universities as there is undoubtedly real value in student mobility and the UK is genuinely lagging in this area. Significant improvement to the position will though require substantial and sustained activity, by Government and institutions, and will not happen overnight.

Badges, badges, badges

Earn your first badge now!

I’ve posted before about this nonsense but then I heard the exciting news about how you can bypass all that messy unpleasant formal education stuff and get straight on and get some real recognition for your achievements via this super Open Badges concept:

Want to get started? Earn a Mozilla Webmaker badge.

Or set up your Mozilla backpack to start storing, collecting and sharing your badges across the web.

Earn a badge from one of these members of the Open Badges community.

Need a demo? Take the badges 101 quiz, and earn a badge in the process!

Get recognition for the things you learn, online and off

 Not an accredited qualification

Not an accredited qualification

Open Badges includes a shared technical standard for recognizing your skills and achievements. Badges help make them count towards an education, a job or lifelong learning.

Earn badges from anywhere. Then take them everywhere. Collect and store your badges in your backpack, sort them into categories and then display them across the web — on social networking profiles, job  sites, websites and more.

Prove skills. Employers, organizations and schools can explore the data behind each badge issued using Mozilla Open Badges to verify your skills, achievements and interests.

Knit your achievements together. Whether they’re issued by one organization or many, badges can build upon each other, joining together to tell the full story of your skills and achievement.

And if you go to this site you can make your own badges. It’s all a bit Blue Peter really. I made my own:

Badge-1

Still struggling to see any merit in any of this. Also I really can’t take claims of shared standards at all seriously. And which employers are treating these kinds of things as comparable to formal qualifications.

Badge

Higher education funding letters: another bundle of joy

On government HE funding letters

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has written to HEFCE with the Department’s annual message on funding and helpful bag of instructions.

The letter

sets out Government funding and priorities for HEFCE and for higher education for the second year of the new financial arrangements for higher education in England. The Government’s vision for higher education, outlined in the higher education white paper ‘Students at the heart of the system’, remains, and HEFCE is asked to continue to support learning and teaching activity, quality assurance, widening participation and an enhanced student experience. HEFCE will also continue our support for postgraduate provision.

Super. More instructions.

Not only does it offer even more directions to HEFCE, at 36 paragraphs and eight pages it is the second longest of the four to date issued by the Secretary of State and the Minister and confirms a return to the sterling epistolary efforts made by the previous government.

Last January’s effort really set the standard though – although it contained 35 paragraphs was in fact nine pages long. The December 2010 was somewhat shorter at only 28 paragraphs and can be seen as the BIS duo just getting into their stride.

The earlier post on this topic back in August 2010 noted:

The most recent funding letter of June 24 2010 from Vince Cable and David Willetts to the Chairman of HEFCE is distinctive for three main reasons. First, and unsurprisingly if dispiritingly, it outlines the first major tranche of savings to be made in the 2010-11 financial year. Secondly, it is extremely short – indeed at 10 paragraphs and just over two pages it is the shortest funding letter to the Council in at least 14 years and undercuts all letters under the previous government by some way. Thirdly, it is the first such letter to be signed by both the Secretary of State and the relevant Minister. And thank goodness too or some of us might never have seen this fascinating signature:

Of course those with longer memories will have fond recollections of the briefest of grant letters from the University Grants Committee (UGC) which simply set out the amount of money available for disbursement. Many will long for the golden age of five year funding settlements under the UGC. Whilst it could reasonably be argued that the UGC served as an effective buffer between the state and the universities, the options for the Higher Education Funding Councils, and in particular HEFCE, are much more limited as the directives from government on spending have become ever more detailed and prescriptive. Fortunately though we are able to examine all of the details of these as HEFCE has a nice collection of funding letters going back to 1996.

This decidedly dubious summary of these letters draws on this collection but refers only to English funding allocations. I’m sure the other funding councils receive similar missives from their respective governments but it is beyond my capacity to deal with them I’m afraid.

The length of funding letters has seen two peaks in the last 14 years: January 2003’s letter was 73 paragraphs long and the December 1998 note ran to 66 paragraphs. The November 1999, November 2000 and December 2001 letters ranged from 40 to 46 paragraphs but the January 2004 letter and subsequent missives tend towards the more traditional brevity of only 15-25 paragraphs of instruction to HEFCE.

Just for completeness then here are some of the details about English Higher Education’s most exciting epistles:

  1. The first letter in this series is the last prepared under the previous Conservative government, way back in November 1996. This 41 paragraph note (signed by a Civil Servant) covers: linking funding to assessment of teaching quality, expanding part-time provision, the importance of closer links with employers, not wanting to see longer courses, a planned reduction in student numbers by 2,000 for the following year and keeping the participation rate at around 30%. Some interesting parallels here with the most recent letter from the current government perhaps?
  2. The December 1998 letter is the first New Labour funding letter. At 66 paragraphs it is one of the longest in recent times and the last one to carry the name of a senior Civil Servant rather than the Secretary of State. Topics covered include sector spending, lifelong learning, increasing participation, maintaining quality and standards (a recurring theme down the years), widening access, promoting employability, research investment, capital spend, tuition fee arrangements and Year 2000 issues (we were all worried then).
  3. The November 1999 letter, 43 paragraphs long, provides David Blunkett with the opportunity to wax lyrical on the importance of maintaining quality and standards, increasing participation and employability, widening access, equal opportunities for HE staff, dealing with student complaints, new capital funding, pfi/ppp opportunities, research funding and HE pay.
  4. David Blunkett, in his November 2000 letter, which runs to a sprightly 46 paragraphs, makes some big points on widening participation as a key priority, business links and the e-university.
  5. In November 2001 Estelle Morris provides a neat 40 paragraph letter which gives lots of direction on widening participation, maintaining quality and standards, strengthening research, the importance of links with industry and communities, as well as something on the value of the e-Universities project (remember that?) and, last but not least, social inclusion.
  6. January 2003 represents the high water mark of recent funding letters: in 73 action packed paragraphs Charles Clarke, in his first outing as Secretary of State, is clearly keen to lead the way. The letter covers, among other things, improvement in research, expanded student numbers, foundation degrees, widening participation, improving teaching and learning and increased knowledge transfer. As if that were not enough we also have the establishment of the AHRC, the introduction of a new quality assurance regime but with reduced burdens for institutions (yeah, right), credit systems, FE partnerships, expanded student numbers and new investments in HE workforce development. A real blockbuster of a letter.
  7. The January 2004 message from Charles Clarke comes in at 20 paragraphs in just over 4 pages with reducing bureaucracy, building research and quality and standards and the establishment of Aimhigher as its central features.
  8. December 2004 brings a Christmas treat from everyone’s favourite Santa, Charles Clarke. With just 16 paragraphs and 4 pages of direction Clarke stresses the importance of maintaining the unit of funding for teaching, controlling student numbers and making efficiency gains.
  9. The January 2006 letter, a first and last offering from Ruth Kelly, comes in at a modest 15 paragraphs and 4 pages. No huge surprises in the text with employer-led provision, more widening participation, additional research and capital funding and a strong steer on reducing bureaucracy being the primary features. Additional points to note include equal opportunities for HE staff, efficiency gains, the new conditions which accompany the new tuition fees regime and reference to access agreements. What’s not to like here?
  10. January 2007’s is a punchy 19 paragraphs and merely five pages from Alan Johnson (his one and only letter). Despite the wordiness there isn’t a huge amount in here beyond employer engagement, growing foundation degrees and a lot on widening participation.
  11. January 2008: as with its successor letter this one is 24 paragraphs and 7 pages long (and note the online version on the HEFCE website is erroneously dated 18 Jan 2009). In this funding letter Denham indicates that his priorities are increasing student numbers, developing employer part-funded provision, and widening participation. The letter also refers to encouraging HE to develop stronger links with schools and colleges, greater investment in research, the importance of STEM, a green development fund, closer measuring of performance, and the establishment of the fund-raising match-funding scheme.
  12. January 2009’s letter is 7 pages and 24 paragraphs long and in it John Denham seeks to encourage HE to support the economy through recession, wider engagement with business, promote employer-led provision, innovative ways to support business, promotion of STEM subjects and widening participation and extending fair access. Additionally, there is the confirmation of the ‘university challenge’ with 20 new HE centres to be established, emphasis on the maintenance of quality and standards, plans for continuing to reduce regulation, commitment to dual support as well as the development of REF, steps to tackle climate change and bearing down on over-recruitment by institutions.
  13. The December 2009 letter from Lord Mandelson comes in at 15 paragraphs. This short note follows up on Higher Ambitions (which, in case you had forgotten, “sets out a course for how universities can remain world class, providing the nation with the high level skills needed to remain competitive, while continuing to attract the brightest students and researchers”) and also covers the Economic Challenge Investment Fund, wider and fairer access to HE, increasing the variety of undergraduate provision, new funding incentives to deliver higher level skills, developing REF, new developments in quality assurance including the publication of a standard set of information for students, engaging with communities and penalizing institutions which over-recruit students.
  14. June 2010 sees the first funding letter from the new coalition government: Cable and Willetts give us 10 brief paragraphs covering initial savings, efficiencies and cuts but also 10,000 extra places (but with strings).

So, that’s your lot folks. All you never wanted to know about 14 years of funding letters.

These charming men. And women.

Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before.

A couple of years ago I noted a report on the teaching of “life skills” to students preparing to leave home for university and having to look after themselves for the first time. Now there is a report on how universities are stepping in to fill students’ social-skills gaps ready for the world of work after graduation. The basics of everyday working life seem to be on offer:

After final exams are over, MIT students will return from their holiday break to experience something different from their usual studies—but almost as important.

It’s the university’s annual Charm School, offering instruction in everything from how to make a first impression to how to dress for work to which bread plate to use.

“And we call these ‘buttons’…”

Other colleges have started teaching students how to make small talk, deal with conflict, show up on time, follow business etiquette, and communicate with co-workers.

These programs may be fun, or even funny, but there’s a deadly serious purpose to them: to give students the kinds of social skills they need to get and keep a job.

All highly necessary I am sure but I suspect it is rare to be faced with a choice of bread plates in most social situations these days.

It does seem a bit surprising that this kind of activity is required but it is clearly widespread:

York teaches a workshop for sophomores called Mastering the Art of Small; Talk two majors, education and sports management, require their students to take it. It also offers a seminar in taking criticism.

“This generation talks better with their thumbs than face to face,” Randall says.

And it’s not just communicating that appears to challenge this latest group of college students. It’s mingling, networking, handling conflict, eating—even dressing.

MIT students participate in Charm School, a series of short classes designed to teach everything from how to network with alumni to tying a bowtie.

“Students don’t really know what’s meant by professional dress, whether it’s a young lady wearing a skirt that’s way too short or a young man whose pants aren’t really tailored,” says MIT’s Hamlett. “Most students just roll out of bed in whatever it is they want to wear. There’s this ‘come as you are’ about being a college student.”

This ‘come as you are approach’ is not confined to the US. Here at the University of Nottingham the Careers and Advisory Service also runs an annual fashion show highlighting the importance of a professional appearance in the workplace.

What difference does it make? We’ll see.

Widening participation in the USA


Preparing for study: a new approach to WP in the US

The Chronicle carries a story on a new report about student readiness for higher education in the US.

The proposition contained in a new report from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities is that institutions have to be more involved in earlier stages of education if they want to improve students’ preparedness for higher education.

The report, written by a dozen college presidents and released here at the association’s annual meeting, calls on its member campuses to begin preparing students as early as preschool, helping children to acquire the building blocks of a successful academic career. And to have the greatest impact, the report says, colleges should focus on areas with high concentrations of poverty, where children have the greatest disadvantages in academic preparation.
Specifically, the report recommends four approaches that every member campus should be involved in: improving teacher-preparation programs, increasing the availability of dual-credit classes, aligning elementary and secondary curricula with college expectations, and giving high schools reports on how their graduates are performing in college.

This approach shares a number of features with the programmes for widening participation undertaken by all UK universities but goes some way further and indeed bears a strong resemblance to the recent introduction of Nottingham Potential at the University of Nottingham.

Working with education charity IntoUniversity, Nottingham Potential is expanding the University’s work with children from as young as Year 2 (age 7) and supporting the transition to secondary school and beyond, by providing a pathway that helps to raise attainment and aspirations.

Two of three new IntoUniversity Centres have now opened in local communities and are providing vital after-school Academic Support sessions for years 2 – 13, as well as theme-based study days for partner schools. In addition, local secondary and post-16 teachers are being offered access to funds and support to lead projects designed to improve life in their communities.

The University is also supporting pupils’ attainment through programmes in primary schools for literacy, numeracy and English as an additional language. Beyond this the programme is extending secondary and post-16 outreach work by delivering more school and college activities, as well as additional on-campus masterclasses and summer schools.

The commonalities are interesting but the AASC report does go further. Aligning school and university curricula is, of course, a live issue in England at the moment with the Secretary of State’s strong desire for HE to become more involved in A Level syllabi. Moreover, I’m not sure how good universities are at providing updates for secondary schools on the progress of their students.

No more swimming to graduation

You can now graduate without being able to swim

Inside Higher Ed carries the shock news that the University of Chicago has decided to drop its swimming, fitness tests and PE requirements for graduation:

The University of Chicago this month became the latest institution to drop a swimming proficiency test required for graduation. But Chicago made another change, as well: it will eliminate its physical education requirements and, in doing so, cut the fitness test students could take to place out of the fitness classes.

In a statement sent to all undergraduates, College Dean John W. Boyer and Karen Warren Coleman, vice president for campus life and student services, said students will instead “be invited to participate in an expanded array” of voluntary physical education, athletics and recreation programs.

“Whatever the reason for the initial decision [by the dean of students] in 1953, our students’ needs have changed over the years,” Warren Coleman said in prepared comments sent to reporters via e-mail. “Our community members can pursue their varied athletic interests without the need for a curricular requirement.” She added that “more than half” of the university’s peer institutions do not have physical education requirements for graduation. The number of PE courses in the catalog, which now will be taken voluntarily and not-for-credit, has “decreased,” a spokesman said.

I must admit to being rather astounded that such a requirement existed in the first place. Even more so that it has remained in place for nearly 60 years. But it does seem that others have similar requirements. Whilst in the UK we would all be keen to promote sporting activities to students and healthy living more broadly I simply can’t imagine it being included as any kind of formal requirement for graduation. Bizarre.

Students flogging it

Should universities be concerned?

Good report in the Chronicle about students hawking goods on campuses and the fact that university staff don’t seem to have a response or, in some cases, even an awareness of the issue.

 

When classmates market products on campus, it’s hard not to notice. Students handing out logo-emblazoned T-shirts, complimentary energy drinks, and invitations to corporate sponsored “parties” have turned many universities into de facto commercial zones. It’s an appealing arrangement for both sides: Companies get inside access to a large market at a low cost, and students earn extra cash and lines on their résumés.

But a handful of administrators have voiced concern about student marketing, saying that it violates university policies and could jeopardize contracts with other companies on campus. Observers outside academe question the effects of such marketing on campus culture and student life.

Still, few colleges have procedures in place to handle the practice, so relatively little is done to stop it. And some administrators don’t even know it’s happening.

“I personally have not heard of it or seen it,” said William F. Merck II, vice president for administration and finance at the University of Central Florida. “I think if it were at any significant scale, we would have picked up on it.”

One of the major energy drink producers is particularly big in the student market and you only need to look at the “Red Bull University” site to get a sense of their approach. More detail can be found in this interesting case study report which highlights the strength of the word of mouth model for this company and the ways students are involved as part of this approach.

Campus Group is a company which organises marketing to students for a wide range of clients:

They note that the student market is a particularly lucrative one as students are making independent purchasing decisions for the first time, they are concentrated in small locations and tend to be early adopters. Moreover, student spending power is estimated at £15 billion per annum in the UK. It’s perhaps understandable therefore why so many companies will want to target students and why they will use students themselves to do this. Campus Group describe their student brand managers thus:

To reach students, it’s important to be a student. Our Campus Brand Managers are the eyes, ears, voice, hands and feet of our clients. Recruited on the basis of coursework, interest, and experience, our Brand Managers are specifically selected to represent your brand and target relevant students. Trained to fully understand the objectives and targets to be met, they are involved from the beginning of the campaign by bringing their insider knowledge and creativity to the campaign.

Is it a win:win then or should universities be concerned? I have to admit I don’t like the approach at all and find the presence of brash, highly visible promotional material deeply irritating. Challenging it however is pretty difficult. Whilst the more obvious activity can be prevented, much of the promotion simply isn’t visible to staff and therefore hard to do anything about. So is it really a case of out of sight, out of mind? I hope not but whilst there are companies looking to get a slice of this £15 billion market and plenty of students keen to make some money as brand managers it is unlikely to stop.

Online Badges v Degrees

Is the gig up for universities? You decide

The Chronicle carries some entertaining hokum about degrees being overtaken by online badges:

Employers might prefer a world of badges to the current system. After all, traditional college diplomas look elegant when hung on the wall, but they contain very little detail about what the recipient learned. Students using Mozilla’s proposed badge system might display dozens or even hundreds of merit badges on their online résumés detailing what they studied. And students could start showing off the badges as they earn them, rather than waiting four years to earn a diploma.

“We have to question the tyranny of the degree,” says David Wiley, an associate professor of instructional psychology and technology at Brigham Young University. Mr. Wiley is an outspoken advocate of so-called open education, and he imagines a future where screenfuls of badges from free or low-cost institutions, perhaps mixed with a course or two from a traditional college, replace the need for setting foot on a campus. “As soon as big employers everywhere start accepting these new credentials, either singly or in bundles, the gig is up completely.”

 

Death of the university etc etc, we’ve been here before but the phrase “tyranny of the degree” is what got to me in this report. What this really means is that someone genuinely believes that a bit of online twiddling is in some way to be regarded as intellectually comparable to a three year intensive, rigorous, properly assessed undergraduate degree. Cobblers. Whilst not everyone who achieves a medical degree can be a top surgeon, who would you trust to operate on you? A qualified doctor or some teen who did his bypass badge online? And will the world’s most successful companies suddenly start choosing staff by the duration of their online experience or their Klout score rather than their real qualifications? I wonder.

Whilst we must never be complacent about competition I think the gig is very far from up.

Nottingham Advantage

Impact Campaign: Nottingham Advantage

Another update on the Impact Campaign which has launched this week at the University of Nottingham.

This theme, Nottingham Advantage, is one which I think is particularly important. On this site you can see a nice video, fronted by Vicky Mann who heads up the Nottingham Advantage Award, all about how the University is helping our graduates who need more than academic knowledge and skills to stand out from the crowd in today’s competitive global job market.

Will you help promote the employability of our graduates?

The issue

Competition in the global employment market is fiercer than ever. Employers expect much more from prospective graduate recruits than a good degree. Taking part in extra-curricular activities encourages students to develop a range of skills, such as leadership, organisation, communication and teamwork – great preparation for the world of work and a way to stand out from the crowd.

Our solution

The Nottingham Advantage Award offers students the chance to develop the competencies, learning and evaluation skills that employers seek in graduates. Launched in 2008, the Award is voluntary and is open to students at our UK, China and Malaysia campuses.

Students choose modules, which focus on developing key attributes, such as oral and written communication, teamwork, self management and learner autonomy, problem solving and critical thinking, commercial awareness, information technology and numeracy, environmental citizenship and employability and a global perspective.

The emphasis upon reflective practice is built into all modules and allows students to develop greater self-awareness and techniques for self-improvement. Over 75% of the modules are delivered in collaboration with employers, helping students to associate academic learning with the professional context of the global employment market.

Our impact

The Nottingham Advantage Award provides formal recognition of the student’s employability skills, promoting them as flexible, adaptable employees of the future to support their transition into the global job market.

What will your Impact be?

Supporting the Nottingham Advantage Award will have a genuine impact on the success of our students in today’s fiercely competitive global job market. Do support the Impact Campaign.

Launch of the Impact Campaign at the University of Nottingham

The Impact Campaign launches today at the University

 


 

A rather different focus here on the blog for the next few days. The University of Nottingham is launching a significant and important campaign today:

About the campaign:

By helping us to raise £150 million over the next five years you will be supporting a series of high-impact projects on the local, national and global stage.

Across five campaign themes these projects will have a positive and lasting influence on society. We want to make an impact that will touch generations. So join with us and contribute to securing an ambitious and sustainable future.

 

The campaign is key to the long term ambitions of the University in looking to deliver outstanding research outputs, impactful knowledge transfer and the best possible experience for our students. I’m enormously proud to be a supporter of the campaign and to be part of this important development at the University. It should be a great launch week.

More details can be found on the Impact campaign site.

US Universities Producing the Most Interns

Internship League Table

US News and World Report carries a piece on a mildly interesting league table of the US universities which produce the most interns.

The table below highlights the 10 national universities with the highest percentage of 2009 graduates who worked as interns at some point during their studies.

University of Pennsylvania           2,831 graduates, 90% graduating with internship experience

Colorado School of Mines              620 graduates, 84%

American University                        1,384 graduates 81%

Seton Hall University                       1,017 graduates 76%

Duke University                                 1,625 graduates 75%

Fordham University                          1,885 graduates 75%

University of Pittsburgh                   3,856 graduates 72%

George Washington University       2,485 graduates 68%

Johns Hopkins University                1,487 graduates 66%

Florida Institute of Technology       449 graduates 65%

Presumably they can’t all have wealthy parents paying cash for the internships. I’m not sure that similar data exists in the UK but would be interesting to see the results. Suspect even those institutions with the most sandwich and professional courses wouldn’t get to these percentages.

Are Undergraduates Actually Learning Anything?

Are Undergraduates Actually Learning Anything? Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses By Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa

The Chronicle carries an extract from what sounds like an extremely interesting new book. The paper reports that, drawing on survey responses, transcript data, and results from the Collegiate Learning Assessment (a standardized test taken by students in their first semester and at the end of their second year), the authors concluded that a significant percentage of undergraduates were failing to develop the expected skills and knowledge.

While higher education is expected to accomplish many tasks—and contemporary colleges and universities have indeed contributed to society in ways as diverse as producing pharmaceutical patents as well as prime-time athletic games—existing organizational cultures and practices too often do not put a high priority on undergraduate learning. Faculty and administrators, working to meet multiple and at times competing demands, too rarely focus on either improving instruction or demonstrating gains in student learning.

More troubling still, the limited learning we have observed in terms of the absence of growth in CLA performance is largely consistent with the accounts of many students, who report that they spend increasing numbers of hours on nonacademic activities, including working, rather than on studying. They enroll in courses that do not require substantial reading or writing assignments; they interact with their professors outside of classrooms rarely, if ever; and they define and understand their college experiences as being focused more on social than on academic development.

Might be sensationalist and playing to the tabloid view of university education but, on the face of it, sounds like a serious and interesting study.