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.

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.

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)

When is a campus not a campus?

The QAA has published a report which takes issue with UK international branch campus definition

The United Arab Emirates has many international Branch Campuses including some from the UK. A recent post here commented that branch campuses, including the University of Nottingham’s campuses in Malaysia and China, were a major part of international activity.

Others have branch campuses too (and aren't subject to the QAA)

Others have branch campuses too (and aren’t subject to the QAA)

 

The QAA overview report has fuller details on each of the UK universities inspected. The report covers 11 UK institutions but notes there are 37 campuses in total in the UAE, more than in any other country.

Distribution of the 37 branch campuses in UAE

Distribution of the 37 branch campuses in UAE

It seems that everyone with a branch campus also claims to be a global operation:

All the institutions considered in the TNE review of UAE had global aspirations. In many cases, the word global appears in their mission statements or the strap-lines on their websites. On the other hand, there was some evidence that institutions had not fully considered the organisational consequences of the global offering. In some cases heads of the UAE centres were physically located at the UK campus, even where the UAE operation was developing beyond the scale of an administrative campus. One of the branch campuses, otherwise highly successful in organisational terms, had only an indirect line into the governance and management of the university at large.

So perhaps some way to go there.

The student numbers set out in the report show that there is actually some variety in the UK university provision in UAE:

Student numbers UAE

Student numbers UAE

However, probably the most interesting aspect of the report is picked up in a report in the Times Higher Education which covers the warning in the QAA report over the definition of UK international branch campuses there:

UK universities must be careful not to mislead students about their “international branch campuses”, which are often little more than an office and teaching rooms, the standards watchdog has warned.In its first report on transnational education offered by UK universities in the United Arab Emirates, the Quality Assurance Agency says that only two of the 11 institutions listed as UK branch campuses would meet the definition of a “campus”.“Only two providers, Heriot-Watt and Middlesex, are readily recognisable as branch campuses [offering] the range of facilities a student would expect of a campus in the UK,” according to the Review of UK Transnational Education in United Arab Emirates, published on 4 June.For instance, the University of Exeter’s campus in Dubai comprises an office and a small self-service library, with teaching rooms hired when required, the QAA says.The University of Strathclyde’s Business School, which runs MBAs in Dubai, had no rooms of its own, using spaces within another higher education institution.

So, there really are some definitional problems here. A couple of offices or some rented teaching rooms in another institution do not a campus make. It will be interesting to see if the universities concerned change their descriptions of their activities following this report.

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.

 

 

Capital spend spend spend

Changing patterns of capital spending in universities

 

HESA recently released details of HEIs’ capital spend in 2012-13 showing the total spend on buildings and equipment and the sources of the funds used:

HE capital

 

Times Higher Education has a brief piece on this and notes that, unsurprisingly, as external funding for capital expenditure has declined, universities have replaced this from their own funds:

The proportion of capital investment that universities financed using internal funds has leaped 20 per cent over the past four years, according to data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency

UK universities spent nearly £2 billion from internal sources for capital projects in 2012-13, up from £1.5 billion in 2008-09.

The Finances of Higher Education Institutions 2012-13 report states that during the past academic year, universities’ capital expenditure was nearly £3.1 billion, 64 per cent of which was provided by internal sources. This compares with a total of almost £3.5 billion four years ago, of which 43 per cent was funded by internal sources.

Expenditure funded by loans remained relatively stable, at £408 million in 2008-09 and £326 million in 2012-13, according to the data published earlier this month. Meanwhile, capital projects financed by funding body grants fell by about half over the four years, from £765 million to £359 million.

So, despite the decline in funding agency contributions the total spend on buildings and equipment has increased significantly. Will capital spend continue to grow despite reduced public funding? We can expect so given the greater competition between institutions, the “arms race” of student facilities development and the need to invest ever more to support leading edge research.

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.

A New Student Services Role?

Does every University need a Course Concierge?

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently had a piece about the development of the idea of the ‘Course Concierge’. The label seems to have been assigned to Paul Neill title who is director of the core curriculum at the University of Nevada at Reno, by the students there. He’s the one they contact when they can’t get into a class they need and sorts it out for them:

A few years ago, officials at the university decided that they had to do more to reduce the hassles of registering for courses. They imagined a kind of registration czar, someone who could communicate well with faculty members but who had the authority of an administrator. Mr. Neill, a faculty member who works in the provost’s office, fit the bill.

Someone else's student services centre

Some other institution’s student services centre

Soon Nevada was promoting Mr. Neill as the course concierge, the man advisers and students could turn to when stuck. Each semester, he helps 50 to 60 students solve their scheduling problems, working one on one with those who need a particular course to graduate, or who have trouble getting into classes they must take in a sequence. Often he creates a spot in a class that’s full, or steers students to suitable alternatives.

“In the past, it was often left up to the student and the professor to see who could get in where,” Mr. Neill says. “It was very informal.”

Even in times of plenty, students often learn a tough lesson when they register for courses: You can’t always get what you want. In this era of budget cuts, however, students on some campuses have scrambled to get not only the courses they would like but also those they need for their majors and to satisfy core requirements.

 

Whilst in many ways it seems like a solution to a problem more likely to be encountered on US campuses, the idea of providing additional assistance to students in this way is an interesting one. A contact of last resort on course matters might be a really valuable addition to student services offerings.

Really not sure about the title though.

Mobilising the humanities

Humanities – helping to meet global development challenges

I was pleased to be present at the launch of this study which was conducted by Ipsos on behalf of the British Council. It was launched on 1st May at Going Global 2014, the British Council’s annual conference for leaders in higher education which took place in Miami. You can find the Report, Mobilising the humanities, here.

map-global-connections

 

This study explores, through the eyes of international development organisations, the role of the Humanities in seeking solutions to global development challenges. The study found that all development programmes, even the most technical, need ‘humanising’. An education in the humanities helps develop a base of knowledge and key skills in four main areas of development:

  • Critical/analytical thinking
  • Flexibility and tolerance for ambiguity
  • Communication and negotiation
  • Local knowledge

MobilOther findings included that a Humanities education develops the needed knowledge and skills but experience is important too for those playing these important development roles. In addition, the report concluded that organisations face challenges in finding the right people with the right skills and also faced private sector competition too.

Whilst it is pretty difficult to argue with much of this and it is all very laudable and indeed credible, I would have a concern that there is an element of preaching to the converted here. Moreover, although there are detailed findings to be published, a small number of interviews with a selection of leaders in development agencies is perhaps not the most robust evidence base in support of the argument. However, all good stuff nevertheless.

 

More from Going Global in Miami soon.

Students behaving badly

Crimes and misdemeanours at university

I was greatly taken by this list of fineable offences for 18th-century students at Harvard:

Offense #19, “Cutting off the lead,” seems to refer to the lead on the college building’s roof. Lead was once used for roofing material (especially for more expensively-constructed buildings), and such buildings suffered from the depradations of thieves who would steal the lead and sell it. It’s unclear, in this case, whether the students were cutting off lead for profit or for simple mischief.

 

Students have always behaved badly. Not all of them and not all of the time but universities have often felt the need to seek to constrain the worst excesses and this list from Harvard is typical although clearly very much of its time. (See also True Crime on Campus…)

A previous post here looked at regulations in Oxford and Uzbekistan, in the 16th Century and more recently.

In 1584 at Oxford University, statutes were approved to prevent disorder among the student body. These regulations also contain references to specific degree requirements including attendance at lectures on Aristotle and an instruction not to play football. (Sylvester, D (1970), Educational Documents, 800-1816, London: Methuen pp151-153.)

These days universities around the world tend to have more comprehensive requirements (but perhaps more supportive of sporting activity). See for example the University of Nottingham Code of Discipline for Students.

An interesting development of this has been reported by the Chronicle which noted that Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Higher and Secondary Education issued a ‘code of conduct’ for students, covering such matters as how they should shake hands with professors and the proper time to visit the toilet during classes.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (quoted by the Chronicle) described the code, “Ethical Rules for Higher Education Institutions,” as an attempt by an authoritarian government to keep its youth population in line:

The ministry is requiring that its pedantic “Ethical Rules for Higher Education Institutions” be signed by every university student and professor in the country.

“These rules are being introduced to form and retain, as well as defend, the ethical integrity of members of higher educational institutions,” the document says. It promises to “prevent the decay of students…and defend them from alcoholism and drug addiction, as well as the threats of religious extremism and mass culture.”

(It’s good to see that someone is still fighting that last battle, particularly after Rutgers University paid Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” $32,000 to lecture its students in March 2011. Snooki got $2,000 more than Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize-winning author who for $30,000 delivered the keynote address at Rutgers’ commencement ceremony in May 2011.)

 

This is the kind of thing which Harvard used to have to put up with

This is the kind of thing which Harvard used to have to put up with

Notwithstanding the lofty language of the prologue, many of the new guidelines read like a rather poor joke, the work of ministry officials with an acutely sardonic sense of humor. Article 3.8 stipulates that “members of a higher education institution, when moving, should take the right side. It is recommended to greet each other in the following way: students first greet professors; men first greet women; younger students first greet older students. Shaking hands is excluded from this rule, since elders should reach out to shake first.”

And as if that weren’t enough:

“It is prohibited to post on the Internet materials that are not in line with national values or related to the internal problems of higher educational institutions,” the rules say, before going on to note that they “categorically ban publishing, saving, or distribution via computers of different materials not related to a higher education institution.”

And just when you thought things could not get any worse: “Don’t walk around a university campus with no reason,” the rulebook advises.

So, it really does feel like a bit of a homage to Harvard. Unfortunately it is the Harvard of over 200 years ago rather than today.

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.

Guidance or directive?

Easy finance

A new statement from HEFCE advises universities how to make financial information more visible to students. But is it advice, guidance, assistance or in fact a clear directive?

New guidance aims to help universities and colleges in England present information about income and expenditure on their web-sites in a way that is transparent and accessible to current students and the general public.

The guidance has been developed by the British Universities Finance Directors Group (BUFDG), GuildHE, HEFCE, NUS and Universities UK. It follows a request from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to HEFCE for universities and colleges to publish financial information more effectively.

It draws on findings from recent research, including a survey of 2,400 current students which found that there is interest in this type of information but that it was often difficult to find and understand.

The research identifies priorities for improving the presentation of financial information such as accessibility, clear signposting and ensuring technical language is clearly explained, as well as keeping information up to date.

Clear enough for you?

In summary, it seems that all this finance stuff is a bit difficult to find and understand and therefore needs to be provided in accessible and easily digestible form. In other words we need to ensure that this aspect of university management can be represented by infographic. Perhaps it would be better if every dimension of university life were to be represented in pictures?

This just adds, as previously posted, to the excess of information already made available to students. And, if it does turn out to be a requirement rather than just encouragement, then isn’t this yet another piece of unwelcome regulation to add to an already excessive burden?

Note that Hugh Jones has a slightly different take on this, favouring transparency and openness with students. He has a similar line on fancy pictures though…

 

More means worse? (Data that is)

 Lots of information is not necessarily a good thing for prospective students

I’ve written before about concerns about too much data and the importance of quality rather than just quantity in the information provided to applicants to higher education.

Now a new HEFCE report on Improving information for prospective students has come to a similar conclusion.

keyboard
The report summarises existing research into decision-making behaviour and comes to some interesting conclusion:

 

Relevant research was identified across a wide range of disciplines, including information science, cognitive and behavioural psychology, behavioural economics and social theory. This research is likely to be relevant to how prospective students make their higher education choices.

The research draws attention to the need to examine fundamental assumptions about how people use information in decision-making.

Key findings in the report include:

  • The decision-making process is complex, personal and nuanced, involving different types of information, messengers and influences over a long time. This challenges the common assumption that people primarily make objective choices following a systematic analysis of all the information available to them at one time.
  • Greater amounts of information do not necessarily mean that people will be better informed or be able to make better decisions.

 

It’s a really detailed, serious and comprehensive report and sets out eight principles which it is proposed should govern future information provision for prospective HE students. Let’s hope it is taken seriously and that we now take a fresh look at this important issue. Mike Hamlyn has also commented on this report and is entertainingly sceptical on its findings.