More on Beyoncé and Ghostbusting courses

The Telegraph seems to have a bit of a thing about courses featuring popular music and musicians. Especialy Beyoncé.
beyepic

Recently they published this story about Beyoncé and Miley Cyrus studies being offered at US colleges:

It will focus on the growth of the star’s media empire, with an emphasis on her roles as a “black icon” and sex symbol while managing a successful marriage, to rapper Jay-Z, and motherhood.As part of the programme, students will tackle literature by black, feminist writers such as bell hooks and the abolitionist Sojourner Truth.Also this week, Skidmore College, a liberal arts institution in Saratoga Springs, upstate New York, will offer a course on “The Sociology of Miley Cyrus,” focusing on the former child star turned pop temptress.

I posted here about this at the beginning of 2012 and made reference to a number of other seemingly bonkers courses too:

A post last year summarised the latest position in the provision of bonkers degrees and earlier items covered similar ground including a zombie course at the University of Baltimore and a course covering Lady Gaga. Also we previously looked here at the launch of an MA in Beatles Studies and the offer of a degree in Northern Studies as well as offering a podcast on “bonkers or niche” degrees. Most recently there was, shockingly, an MA in horror and transgression at Derby.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph has another piece on Beyoncé studies etc (described as ‘nonsense’ courses) which also includes this one featuring the paranormal:

Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters_logoCoventry University apparently. Psychology lecturer Tony Lawrence set up a Psychology of Exceptional Human Experiences course to teach students how to chase poltergeists, talk to the dead and understand telepathy.

All useful skills indeed, and students have the added bonus of being able to re-watch Ghostbusters films as part of their curriculum.

And, to prove that none of this is actually nonsense, the Telegraph also refers to a Robin Hood themed offering at the University of Nottingham.

Spy kids

GCHQ accredits UK master’s degrees for ‘cyber spies’

Like real spies. Only better educated.

Like real spies. Only better educated.

 

 
Was very much taken by this thrilling news.

Of course we have had Professional Body accreditation for many years and more recently courses supported by Asda and other supermarkets. But this is a little bit different. Not least in the sense that GCHQ is not exactly analagous to an accrediting Professional Body. Or indeed a supermarket.

As BBC News observes this is actually part of a wider government strategy:
 

The degrees form part of the UK’s cyber security strategy published in 2011. The strategy recognised that education was key to improving defences against hackers and online fraud. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said internet cyber security was a “crucial part” of the government’s long-term plan for the British economy. He said the courses would help to make the “UK one of the safest places in the world to do business online”. He said: “Through the excellent work of GCHQ, in partnership with other government departments, the private sector and academia, we are able to counter threats and ensure together we are stronger and more aware. “UK universities were invited to submit their master’s degree courses for certification.The universities now running GCHQ-approved programmes in cyber security are Edinburgh Napier University, Lancaster University, the University of Oxford and Royal Holloway, University of London. GCHQ has also given provisional accreditation to Cranfield University’s cyber defence and information assurance course, and the University of Surrey’s information security course. A spokesman for GCHQ said the universities “were judged to provide well-defined and appropriate content, delivered to the highest standard”.

Of course you don’t actually apply for these courses. If they want you, they will find you.

It also reminded me of this very recent post on a new book by @DavidDuncan64 about a retired agent who becomes a Registrar.

It’s all getting a bit exciting in the world of higher education, isn’t it?

Universities gripped by puppy mania

 Puppies for relaxation

It’s exam time and I’ve written before here about the advent of the puppy room as a means of addressing exam stress. All parts of the media seem to have got rather excited about this and other stress-busting approaches as this  BBC News story demonstrates:

 

Can be used for other purposes too

Can be used for other purposes too

University students have ordered hundreds of metres of bubble wrap to burst as a way of relieving exam stress.

The University of Leicester students’ union is planning “bubble wrap stations” where students can relax by popping the packaging material.

Puppies will also be brought in to soothe stressed-out students.

Michael Rubin, president elect of the students’ union, said “mental well-being is a top priority” during exams.

The students claim that the instant gratification of popping bubble wrap is a better relaxant than meditation or yoga.

Petting zoos

There will also be a more traditional form of emergency support, with free tea on offer.

“We know how stressful exams can be,” says Mr Rubin.

Nia Phillips, a media and sociology student, says many students “may feel too ashamed to speak out about exam stress”.

And she says that public events aimed at reducing stress can help students “without having to announce to anyone how they’re feeling”.

Petting zoos have become a feature of stress-busting during university exams.

 

puppies

Whilst there is perhaps an element of faddishness about this there is certainly a lot to be said for the approach and it does seem popular with students. Be prepared for the backlash though. It’s likely that for every student looking to relax with a puppy there will be another one outside demonstrating against animal cruelty.

Still, it’s something for the media to focus on before it’s time for the traditional A level fuss.

For straightforward (animal free) exam advice there is plenty about such as this University of Nottingham page.

 

 

Timetabling can be fun

A Real Higher Ed Challenge

A really fascinating article by @Graham_Kendall on the maths behind an exam timetable. It’s one of those things that affects everyone at university – staff and students. And it’s hugely important both in terms of teaching and learning and resourcing. But timetabling exams is far from straightforward as this piece demonstrates:

There are hard constraints in timetable design: for example, students cannot sit two examinations at the same time, the size of the exam room must be big enough for the number of students, and some exams need certain facilities, such as computers.

Other constraints are a bit more flexible – so called “soft constraints”. These include spreading the exams out as much as possible to give each student more revision time, or scheduling larger examinations at the start of the exam period so that lecturers have more time to mark them.

 

Not as easy as it looks

Not as easy as it looks

So, the challenge is to create an examination timetable that is as fair to as many students as possible but, in the knowledge that you can’t please all the people all of the time.

An obvious question is why not simply generate every possible timetable, compare them against each other and choose the one that would satisfy most students?

Unfortunately, this is not possible. Assume that we can generate 1,000 examination timetables every second. For an institution the size of the University of Nottingham (which has about 33,000 students in the UK), it would take millions of years to generate every possible timetable, such is the number of possible options.

 

So, much as everyone wants to please all students it seems that this isn’t on. At least not for several million years.

A really interesting insight into an obscure but vital area of university management.

Better Grades for More Ticket Sales

Novel assessment method or student exploitation?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story about marketing students at the Metropolitan State University of Denver who, it says, are graded on the basis of the number of ticket sales to professional sports games they make. Academic staff are now reviewing some of these courses which apparently generate a great deal of income for the business school:

The requirement has angered some professors who worry that students are being exploited.

The university acknowledges that three marketing courses in the School of Business require students to sell tickets to Colorado Avalanche hockey games and Denver Nuggets basketball games. The selling assignment determines 15 percent of each student’s grade in the courses.

cash pile

That will be a B+

Selling more tickets translates into a better grade, with “additional rewards” available to students who achieve “exceptional sales volume,” according to the spring 2013 syllabus for one of the courses, “Personal Selling,” offered by Scott G. Sherwood, a sales professional in residence in the department of marketing. Students are given 10 tickets for each of two games; each ticket accounts for 10 percent of the ticket-sales grade.

Whilst it is possible to imagine that students do learn something about sales from the assessment, it is difficult not to see this as at best, a slightly dubious methodology, albeit a fairly creative one. Not sure it will catch on though.

A stimulating new degree course

A Degree in Coffee?

Inside Higher Ed has an entertaining piece on the advent of a new degree in the critical area of coffee:

 

A_small_cup_of_coffee

Many students and faculty members consider coffee to be essential to their daily existence. The University of California at Davis could be moving toward offering a major in coffee, The Sacramento Bee reported. The university, already known for its research and teaching on wine, has created the Coffee Center. Faculty members will conduct research on such topics as as the genetics of coffee and sensory perception of coffee drinkers. A long-term goal is establishing a major in coffee.

 

About time too.

Earlier posts have covered similar educational innovations, including the following degrees:

  • Viticulture & Enology: Grape Growing and Winemaking
  • Packaging
  • Puppeteering
  • Comic Art
  • Bowling Industry Management and Technology
  • Bagpipes

A previous post on the provision of bonkers degrees and earlier items covered similar ground including a zombie course at the University of Baltimore and a course covering Lady Gaga together with a study of Beyonce. Also we previously looked here at the launch of an MA in Beatles Studies and the offer of a degree in Northern Studies as well as offering a podcast on “bonkers or niche” degrees and an MA in horror and transgression at Derby.

But this coffee development seems particularly well-timed.

Free Education in Rwanda?

edX and Facebook say they are offering free education in Rwanda

rwanda

A previous post on a ‘university in a box‘ noted a report on a project to bring higher education to Rwanda in a novel way. Others are now following.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a report on another initiative in Rwanda, this time involving edX and Facebook.

edX will apparently work with Facebook and two other companies to provide “free, localized education to students in Rwanda on “affordable” smart phones”. It all sounds really positive:

edX, a provider of massive open online courses that was founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will help create a mobile teaching app that is integrated with Facebook and “optimized for a low-bandwidth environment.” As part of the program, called SocialEDU, edX will also work with the Rwandan government to adapt materials for a pilot course.1196px-Facebook_like_thumb

Anant Agarwal, edX’s president, said in a written statement: “Improving global access to high-quality education has been a key edX goal from Day 1. Nearly half of our two million students come from developing countries, with 10 percent from Africa. In partnering with Facebook on this innovative pilot, we hope to learn how we can take this concept to the world.”

Also participating in the program are Nokia, the device manufacturer, and the service provider Airtel, which “will provide free education data for everyone in Rwanda who participates in the program for one year.”

keyboard

The limited duration of the free data offer does rather suggest that some of the partners in the enterprise may not be entirely driven by altruism. However, this kind of initiative, in addition to the others mentioned in the earlier post, does claim to have an appropriate ethos. This really should be one of the great outcomes of current technological advances in higher education. Let’s hope it does deliver on the promise and does not stall for the want of free data packages or Facebook advertising revenue.

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.

More Problems for MOOCs

More gloomy news for MOOC enthusiasts

MIT Technology Review has a striking report on how some data mining has exposed a few embarrassing problems for MOOCs. The research confirms earlier reports about low continuation and completion rates and, perhaps surprisingly, notes that teacher involvement really doesn’t help:

But this new golden age of education has rapidly lost its lustre. Earlier this month, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania reported that the online classes it offered had failed miserably. Only about half of the students who registered ever viewed a lecture and only 4 percent completed a course.binary

That’s prompted some soul-searching among those who have championed this brave new world of education. The questions that urgently need answering are: what’s gone wrong and how can it be fixed?

Today, Christopher Brinton at Princeton University and a few pals offer their view. These guys have studied the behaviour in online discussion forums of over 100,000 students taking massive open online courses (or MOOCs).

And they have depressing news. They say that participation falls precipitously and continuously throughout a course and that almost half of registered students never post more than twice to the forums. What’s more, the participation of a teacher doesn’t improve matters. Indeed, they say there is some evidence that a teacher’s participation in an online discussion actually increases the rate of decline.

Filtering out the small talk from discussions is identified as one way forward but whether that will improve things remains to be seen. And there will still be some way to go to raise those completion rates. But there is plenty of scope for improvement.

(with thanks to Gerry Webber for alerting me to this piece)

Dark Arts: Gothic Studies

There’s a Centre for Gothic Studies. Scary.

A couple of years ago I noted the launch of an MA in Horror and Transgression at the University of Derby. This followed on from posts on some other rather niche offers including  a zombie course at the University of Baltimore and a course covering Lady Gaga. Now this has all been taken to a new level by the establishment of a Centre for Gothic Studies at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The Department of English at MMU has a longstanding interest in the Gothic, which informs both undergraduate and postgraduate curricula. It is home to three Gothic scholars with international reputations, Dr Anna Powell, Dr Linnie Blake and Prof Sue Zlosnik, and their work is supplemented by a number of colleagues who have gothicist interests across the field. These include Victorian Gothic (Dr Angelica Michelis), Female Gothic (Dr Emma Liggins), American Gothic (Dr Liz Nolan and Dr Sarah Maclachlan), vampire and zombie texts (Dr Sorcha Ní Fhlainn) and contemporary gothic film and literature (Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes). On top of this, the university has a dedicated Gothic Research cluster that brings together colleagues in other disciplines with strong interests in the Gothic, such as Prof Joanna Verran (Microbiology), Dr Julian Holloway (Geography and Environmental Management), or Dr Emily Brick and Dr Joan Ormrod (Film and Media Studies), among others.

The Centre’s mission is to promote the study of the Gothic both nationally and internationally and to work across age ranges and levels of study – from sixth form to PhD and beyond. To do this we run Sixth Form Gothic Study Days, creative writing workshops and Continuing Professional Development courses that are of particular interest to those who teach the Gothic or, simply, want to take a university-level course for pleasure. From 2014 we will be running a biennial Gothic conference – specifically aimed at postgraduate students and early career academics – and will inaugurate a new online journal, the peer-reviewed Dark Arts: An Online Journal of Gothic Studies.

It’s clearly fertile territory for academic study. And the notion of a “Gothic Research Cluster” involving microbiologists and geographers is a thoroughly fascinating concept. Nothing to be scared of here.

Britain’s lowest price degree course?

Asda is launching an undergraduate degree – will it be Asda price?

Some time ago I posted on a story about Asda’s parent company Wal-Mart and its partnership with a for-profit online education provider in the US. More recently we learned that Morrisons was to offer a degree course to some of its staff. Now Asda in the UK is joining in according to this story in the Independent:

Asda-Superstore_Cape_Hill

30 employees at the supermarket chain, which currently has over 500 stores across the UK, will be able to take a degree in distribution or retail operations at Middlesex University. The employees will keep their jobs at the store, and study alongside work.

The scheme is being formally launched today, after a successful pilot programme last year. It will be open to all employees who have worked for Asda for at least six months.

Asda’s Executive People Director Hayley Tatum said: “The current economic climate – coupled with the spiralling costs of higher education – means that many of our colleagues have missed out on university degrees.”

The degrees will be entirely funded by Asda, who are hoping to create a pool of ‘home grown talent’ as future leaders of Asda. Employees will take 12 days of classroom workshops, online study, peer networking and work-based assessment.

It’s a modest development but an interesting one nevertheless and, as we have seen, other supermarkets (and Harrods) have already gone down this route. So soon we will have every major retailer offering degrees to their staff. That’s Asda price!

A ‘University in a Box’ in Rwanda

More educational innovation in Africa.

Earlier this year I posted about the initiative by Kenyatta University to establish a campus in Dadaab, a huge refugee camp filled with Somali refugees. A fantastic initiative, also supported by some Canadian universities, which I am still hoping will be followed by UK universities.

More recently, The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on a programme in Rwanda which is aiming to offer a ‘University in a Box’. The programme, called Kepler, has been established in Kigali by Generation Rwanda, a non-profit organisation:

Free for students, Kepler threads together open-source, online content from Western universities, on-site classroom instruction, and an associate degree from Southern New Hampshire University’s competency-based program, College for America.

The goal is to build a low-cost, high-quality blended-learning model that can be replicated anywhere, says Generation Rwanda’s executive director, Jamie Hodari. Kepler’s first four years are being financed by a corporate foundation that insists, at least for now, on keeping its name and the size of its contribution secret. The 10-year plan includes scaling up from the inaugural class of 50—Ms. Musanabera among them—to 100,000 students at replica programs around the world.

This is a great idea it seems to me – a really positive way of exploiting the best free online material in a way which could make a real difference in supporting cost-effective higher education development in emerging nations. The programme wants others to copy it too as its director says:

“We want people to steal everything and anything we create. Our intention is to create a university in a box, a kit, down to every lesson plan.”

Let’s hope others do take him up on this.

Oprah in the classroom

I’m a Celebrity – get me in there

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a diverting article on the appointment of celebrities as visiting academics at US universities. Celebrity adjunct culture as it is described brings many challenges, not least of which is the resentment of existing staff at the pay and perks afforded the star academic. But it can be positive too:

Celebrity hires can work out well, says Cary Nelson, a former president of the American Association of University Professors, but institutions must be more open about their motives. “Universities have tried to find pedagogical cover for their publicity ventures,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with trying to attain publicity for your school, but there needs to be more truth in advertising what these positions are all about.”

Celebrity professors, says Stephen M. Walt, a Harvard professor of international affairs, can be particularly helpful for lower-profile institutions that want to improve their name recognition. When the University of North Florida hired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the South African social-rights activist, as a visiting scholar in 2003, for example, the institution was not shy to publicize its professorial catch.

As the article notes, there were positives and negatives with a number of celebrity hires, including:Oprah Winfrey

David Petraeus

Eliot Spitzer

Michael Dukakis

Arnold Schwarzenegger

and, most strikingly

Oprah!

Meanwhile, back in North Florida:

Earle Traynham, the university’s interim provost, says he recalls university officials asking Archbishop Tutu to participate in a handful of fund-raising events while he was on campus. During his single semester at North Florida, Mr. Tutu led several noncredit mini-courses, as well as one semester-long course titled “Truth and Reconciliation,” focusing on his time heading South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a post-apartheid restorative justice body.

It is not uncommon, some administrators say, for institutions to pay more than they would ideally like to hire a high-profile adjunct professor if they perceive a potential payoff. That payoff, says Richard K. Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, may come through things like positive publicity or fund-raising opportunities.

So, pluses and minuses. But you are unlikely to get much in the way of a REF return out of them.

A higher education report to remember?

Or not much of an impact?

It’s a month or so now since the publication of the IPPR report on securing the future of higher education in England.

ippr_large_logo

It was a big report based on a considerable amount of work by a group headed by Nigel Thrift. But, despite an initial flurry, it doesn’t seem to have had much an impact. 23 recommendations covered a number of funding issues but also postgraduate matters, teaching, admissions, regulation, R&D and student visas.

The one recommendation which seems to have gathered more interest than any others (at least in the mainstream press) is the proposal to allow large FE colleges which already have degree awarding powers to apply to use the the title ‘Polytechnic’. According to BBC News the report wanted to ‘bring back polytechnics’ with the title representing a “mark of vocational excellence”:

Nigel Thrift, chairman of the commission and Vice-Chancellor of Warwick University said the revival of polytechnics “would signal that the university title and the university route are not the only form of high status in our system”.

The first 30 polytechnics opened in the 1960s “in an attempt to ensure working-class communities benefited” from the expansion of higher education, say the authors.

Unlike universities “polytechnics tended to serve their local communities and offered more vocational-oriented qualifications, accredited by professional bodies”.

But by the early 1990s changes to the labour market meant academic qualifications were seen as the best route to a good job, says the study.

So in 1992 the government turned the polytechnics into ‘new universities’. Now almost half of school leavers go to university. The downside, according to the report, was that a “distinctive role for higher vocational learning was arguably lost”.

The authors say reviving polytechnic status would give vocational learning a much needed boost in an economy which suffers from “significant shortages” of technical skills.

It’s an intriguing and rather striking proposal. But it is not clear that it is really offering anything meaningful in terms of vocational education. Rather it looks like a perpetuation of inflationary designations in higher education following the decision last year to allow very small HEIs to become universities.

On the plus side it is effectively a cost-free recommendation.

But the chances of this or indeed many of the other recommendations in the report having much impact look slight. So it doesn’t exactly have the feel of a Robbins or a Dearing. But perhaps it is a bit too early to tell

School of Rock

New foundation degree in heavy metal makes some noise.

The Nottingham Post reports on a new degree in heavy metal launched at New College Nottingham:

Performance, recording and promotion will also feature heavily, with students having career options with recording companies, teaching and performance.

MV5BMjEwOTMzNjYzMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjczMTQyMQ@@._V1_SX214_“You can study music at Oxford, Cambridge and in cities all over the UK, but here in Nottingham we wanted to offer something special,” said course lecturer Liam Maloy.

“Nottingham’s music industry is becoming stronger each year. Our students aspire to work in metal music marketing, at festivals and as promoters – this course will make that happen for them.”

More than 20 students have already signed up for the course, which launches in September.

In terms of curriculum it seems that there will be a strong focus on the heavy metal canon including Iron Maiden, Metallica and Black Sabbath. Heavy.

Strange degrees have been the focus of a previous post with another summarising the position in the provision of bonkers degrees. Earlier items covered similar ground including a zombie course at the University of Baltimore and a course covering Lady Gaga together with a study of Beyonce. Also we previously looked here at the launch of an MA in Beatles Studies and the offer of a degree in Northern Studies as well as offering a podcast on “bonkers or niche” degrees and an MA in horror and transgression at Derby.

Just confirms there is a course in almost every subject you care to mention.