Developing higher education in Kurdistan

Vital developments in an emerging nation.

Back in 2009 one of the University of Nottingham’s senior academics took on an unusual new role. Professor Dlawer Ala’Aldeen was appointed as Higher Education Minister and began to draw up plans to improve the quality of and to internationalise higher education in Kurdistan.

The post-Saddam university system he was taking on was described by Professor Ala’Aldeen as “grossly outdated” and designed for a closed, centralised country.

The BBC News report on his reforms tells how he had tomatoes, stones and apples thrown at him in response to his attempts at changing Kurdistan’s universities. However, he did make progress:

Within a week of being appointed, Prof Ala’Aldeen had written up a radical vision document and it was quickly endorsed by the cabinet.

Higher education in Kurdistan was suffering a major crisis of quality, capacity and infrastructure.

There was a consensus in support of reform and it helped that Prof Ala’Aldeen had been very critical of the government in the past.

Flag-map of Iraqi Kurdistan

The reforms, which planned to improve the quality and accreditation of university teachers, brought considerable opposition from student and teacher organisations as well as businesses linked with the burgeoning market in private universities.

Several new private universities were threatened with closure, much to the anger of their staff and prospective students who had paid fees for their courses.

“Many teachers had been licensed prematurely. There were 11 private universities when I started with 18 more waiting to be opened. These mushrooming private colleges were relying on the same pool of resources as the public universities which lacked staff and facilities,” Prof Ala’Aldeen says.

The problem of staffing was particularly acute in medicine, pharmacy and dentistry and in postgraduate studies.

But Prof Ala’Aldeen faced protests and opposition.

He was accused of trying to transplant the UK system onto Kurdistan, something he vehemently denies since he was educated and worked in his home region, before coming to study in the UK.

There was opposition but he did make some major changes to higher education in Kurdistan. It really is a great story.

The Imperfect University: Free Information?

Freedom of Information costs. But does anyone really benefit?

TIU

“You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it.”

These are the words Tony Blair addresses to himself in his memoirs while reflecting on his government’s introduction of the Freedom of Information Act as noted in this BBC report.

Last year Times Higher Education ran a story suggesting that the average cost of FoI compliance equals £121 per request:

A study into the costs of answering Freedom of Information enquiries suggests that less than £10 million was spent across the sector last year.

When the House of Commons Justice Committee called for evidence on the effectiveness of the FoI Act, 23 universities submitted evidence, of which 18 complained about the cost burden, among other concerns.

But Jisc, the UK’s expert body on information and digital technology in higher education, tracked 36 requests in seven institutions and found that the average cost, including staff time, of answering an FoI request was £121.

According to Universities UK, higher education institutions received on average 10.1 requests a month in 2011. This equates to an average annual cost of £14,665, which across the sector’s 155 institutions adds up to £2.3 million a year.

I have to say this looks to be something of an underestimate. I asked my colleague in the University’s Governance team which deals with FoI for data for the past couple of years. The data and some examples of requests is set out below. Before we get there though you might wish to refresh your memory with a glance at the ICO guidance – it is 10 page (yes, 10 pages) definition document of what is expected to be published by universities and colleges and covers everything from staff expenses to tender procedures to CCTV locations.

logoDuring the period from 1st January 2011 to December 2012, the University of Nottingham responded to 370 Freedom of Information requests. In 24% of cases, requests resulted in non-disclosure either because the University applied an exemption successfully, defended a position of ‘over the appropriate time limit’ or the information was not held. 27% of requests received a partial disclosure of information. 49% of requests resulted in the requester being entitled to all of the information requested. Whilst we remain ‘purpose blind’ it is self-evident that the majority of requesters continue to be looking for material for journalistic purposes.

Of the 182 (49%) of requests with full responses requests were themed as follows:

Statistics  88
Supplier and contract details  35
Financial figures  25
Policies 21
Communication 2; a total of 7 emails and 1
letter were disclosed
University structure 6
Role profiles 2
Recruitment timeline 1
Research grants 1
Vice-Chancellor’s external roles 1

Supplier and contract details
We receive a large number of requests asking for details of contract agreements in place. In the main these are from competitors. Whilst these requests are an inconvenience there is no applicable exemption to this information as the ICO have made it clear that they do not consider such information commercially sensitive. The data is readily to
hand therefore significant management time is not accrued.
Financial figures
The majority of requests under this category concern library fines, IT costs, legal fees and expenses. We have received individual requests on a small number of issues including costs of artwork, car parking fees, accommodation fees and funding. This information was not considered commercially sensitive and was therefore released to the requestors.
Applied Exemptions
The most common exemption applied, particularly under partially disclosed requests, is personal data. In the main these requests concerned statistics which were so detailed and/or sensitive that disclosing the information would risk unreasonable identification of individuals.

The following exemptions have been applied, either to whole requests or partially:

Commercial interests 10
Personal Data 62
Information already published 18
Information not held 13
Legal professional privilege 1
National security 4
Intended for future publication 2
Vexatious 4

Some of those specific requests over this two year period:

  • Statistics for disciplinary actions taken against students 2010 – present
  • Statistics for Welsh domicile students
  • Student parking fines
  • University investments
  • Server Hardware Maintenance and Software Licensing Contracts
  • the number of UG Taught and PG programmes 12/13 and 11/12 that did not enrol any students
  • Number of students employed in University catering and library departments
  • Amount paid out in hardship funds over last 3 years
  • University Employee Statistics
  • FOI

  • Statistics for research staff recruitment
  • Information and statistics on student bursaries
  • Information on Microscopes Tender
  • Internet traffic
  • Statistics on parking fines issued
  • Statistics for Physics applicants
  • Information and figures relating to Common Purpose
  • Payments from the Pharmaceutical Industry
  • Statistics on changing employment patterns in the public sector
  • Information on admissions cycle for A100 Medicine Course
  • Information on English classes, student figures and fee income
  • Information on research sabbaticals
  • Information on PhD qualifications of staff
  • Information relating to the University’s parking contract
  • Statistics for students failing first year exams
  • Statistics on student housing
  • Information and statistics on student bursaries
  • Information relating to clinical trials
  • Information on Mobile Phone Contracts

Is it worth it? I am dubious. Essentially we spend a great deal of time and effort and public money responding to this stuff and I struggle to see the benefit for anyone, including the requestors. This list also doesn’t include my personal favourite of all dumb FOI requests received (it was before 2011): a request for data on reported hauntings in university buildings. Not quite as bad as the Leicester City Council zombie attack readiness request but still pretty daft. And no matter how silly or pointless such requests may be we have to treat them all equally seriously.

Back to Blair. He claims that FoI is not used, for the most part, by “the people”, but by journalists. His view is that “For political leaders, it’s like saying to someone who is hitting you over the head with a stick, ‘Hey, try this instead’, and handing them a mallet.” It sometimes feels a bit like that in universities too.

(With thanks to Sam Potter for providing the University of Nottingham material included here.)

“Title arousal” issues in German Education

Another German Minister with Doctoral Difficulties.

BBC News recently reported on German minister Annette Schavan having her doctorate withdrawn following accusations of plagiarism. This comes barely two years after another minister was found to have plagiarised parts of his dissertation.

It’s a rather unhappy picture:

A German university has voted to strip Education Minister Annette Schavan of her doctorate after an investigation into plagiarism allegations.

The University of Duesseldorf’s philosophy faculty decided on Tuesday that she had carried out “a deliberate deception through plagiarism”.

The minister has denied the claims and said she will appeal.

An earlier plagiarism row brought an end to the political career of Germany’s defence minister in 2011.

Large parts of Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg’s 2006 legal dissertations were found by Bayreuth University to have been copied and he stood down before it issued its damning verdict in May 2011.

Using the same words as Duesseldorf’s Heinrich Heine University, it concluded that he had “deliberately deceived”.

ctrl_c_ctrl_v_plagiarism

The New York Times offers an additional angle, commenting that the scandal reflects a distinctive German fascination with titles:

Coming after Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg was forced to step down as defense minister over plagiarism charges in 2011, Dr. Schavan’s déjà-vu scandal can only hurt Dr. Merkel ahead of September’s parliamentary election. But the two ministers are far from the only German officials to have recently had their postgraduate degrees revoked amid accusations of academic dishonesty, prompting national soul-searching about what the cases reveal about the German character.

Germans place a greater premium on doctorates than Americans do as marks of distinction and erudition. According to the Web site Research in Germany, about 25,000 Germans earn doctorates each year, the most in Europe and about twice the per capita rate of the United States.

Many Germans believe the scandals are rooted in their abiding respect, and even lust, for academic accolades, including the use of Prof. before Dr. and occasionally Dr. Dr. for those with two doctoral degrees. Prof. Dr. Volker Rieble, a law professor at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, calls this obsession “title arousal.”

“In other countries people aren’t as vain about their titles,” he said. “With this obsession for titles, of course, comes title envy.”

Title arousal and title envy do seem rather striking reasons for plagiarism but something very strange does seem to be happening in German politics. But also in Romania and Hungary where similar accusations have been levelled at ministers there too.

Undergraduate exodus: more overblown predictions


UK students “switch to US universities”

According to BBC News, it seems that UK students are all switching to US universities.

Within four years, a quarter of sixth formers at a leading UK independent school will be heading for universities in the United States.

That’s the prediction of Anthony Seldon, head of Wellington College in Berkshire.

Dr Seldon, one of the UK’s leading head teachers, says that ambitious teenagers are looking further afield than ever before in their university choices.

The lure of well-funded US universities, with more broad-based course options, is proving increasingly attractive to youngsters in the UK, he says.

At a recent talk with pupils, he said that about 40% claimed to want to go to US universities, with the expectation that many of these will actually go on to enrol.

This surge in academic wanderlust reflects the experience of the Fulbright Commission, which promotes educational links between the US and UK.

The level of interest is “rising sharply” this year, says commission director Lauren Welch.

An earlier post noted the hype around potential departures for attractive European destinations (it’s usually Maastricht) versus the actual inflow. This piece looks like another version of the same thing. Yes, it’s undoubtedly true that some students will look for international opportunities and there will be more than ever before. This is good news for them and for the UK. But it’s also still the case that the numbers involved are tiny. Numbers may be up at Fulbright events but they are also way up at most university open days.

So, Wellington’s 6th Form is about 190 pupils which means that the prediction is that just under 50 will be leaving for the US. That’s really not going to make much of a dent in things.

Following the money: paying out for AAB

“Universities cut fees for top students”

According to The Sunday Times that is. However, the headline doesn quite match the story which is a bit more complicated than that. The BBC presents it a little differently as “Universities to offer A grade students cash”.

All of this seems to be sparked by comments from Steve Smith as he hands over the Presidency of UUK but presumably the details are buried in institutions’ access agreements. The Sunday Times notes:

Kent and Essex universities are among the first to offer special deals. They will give £2,000 scholarships to any recruit for 2012 who gains three As in their A-levels, regardless of their family income.

Kent’s scholarship will be available for every year of the degree course, although the Essex version is a one-off for the first year.

Goldsmiths College will waive its £9,000 annual fees for the brightest 10 students it admits from its south London borough.

Essex and Goldsmiths are both members of the 1994 Group of research-based universities, conventionally seen as an elite grouping. At Essex, however, only 8% of 2009 entrants gained at least two As and a B, while at Goldsmiths the figure was 16%. At Durham, by contrast, another 1994 Group member, the figure was 85%.

Other institutions that have already decided on new deals for 2012 include De Montfort University in Leicester, which will give £1,000 a year to any student with AAB or above.

West London is offering 45 scholarships to students who score at least AA B at A-level, paying 50% of first-year tuition fees, which will average £7,498. South Bank in London will waive its £8,450-a-year fees for up to 85 highly qualified students.

It is possible to envisage this turning into a crazed bidding war with AAB students being offered ever more lucrative details to sign up with one university or another (and is this what was really envisaged in the White Paper?). More likely though is that most students will continue to focus on the courses and institutions which most closely meet their needs. Some may chase the money but most surely will base their decisions on other criteria. Or perhaps we are entering the mercenary period for university admissions?

Preparing for a zombie attack: the tyranny of FOI

So should every public authority be preparing for this?

Entertaining story on BBC News about Leicester City Council where a worried member of the public has forced the Council to admit it is unprepared for a zombie invasion:

The authority received a Freedom of Information request which said provisions to deal with an attack, often seen in horror films, were poor. The “concerned citizen” said the possibility of such an event was one that councils should be aware of.

“We’ve had a few wacky ones before but this one did make us laugh,” said Lynn Wyeth, head of information governance. The Freedom of Information Act allows a right of access to recorded information held by public authorities. Ms Wyeth said she was unaware of any specific reference to a zombie attack in the council’s emergency plan, however some elements of it could be applied if the situation arose.

So far, so funny. But this highlights one of the fundamental problems with the Freedom of Information Act: there is no sanity test. The City Council had to respond to this as if it were any other ‘normal’ FOI request, regardless of the waste of public money in so doing. Universities up and down the country get the same kind of nonsense on a daily basis, requiring staff in all parts of the institution to waste their time searching for documentation to satisfy the requirements of the Act. Usually the request is from a lazy journalist, a conspiracy theorist, a person with a grudge or someone seeking information for commercial gain. Universities should not be subject to this Act, it serves no public interest in our context and simply wastes public money.

And, to save you asking, no, there isn’t specific provision for dealing with zombie attacks in the University of Nottingham’s incident response plan.

First Liverpool Beatles graduate

Exciting graduation news

A previous posting noted the launch of an MA in Beatles Studies.

Rather than being one of those slightly bonkers courses this is a more serious proposition and it now has at least one graduate as this BBC report notes:

A Canadian singer has become the first person in the world to graduate with a Masters degree in The Beatles.

Former Miss Canada finalist Mary-Lu Zahalan-Kennedy signed up for the course at Liverpool Hope University when it launched in March 2009.

As well as examining the studio sound and composition of The Beatles’ back catalogue, the course looks at how the city of Liverpool helped to shape their music.

The significance of their music and how it helped to define identities, culture and society is also examined.

Mike Brocken, founder and leader of the Beatles MA course, said: “This programme is the only postgraduate degree programme in the world of its kind.

“Mary-Lu now joins an internationally recognised group of scholars of Popular Music Studies who are able to offer fresh and thought-provoking insights into the discipline of musicology.”

It is to be hoped that she wasn’t the only student on the course.

More on ‘groundbreaking’ partnership

“Midlands mutuality breaks new ground”

Excellent article in Times Higher Education about the new collaborative agreement between the University of Nottingham and the University of Birmingham

Two competing Russell Group universities are launching a groundbreaking partnership that will feature joint academic appointments, research, degrees and overseas ventures.

The universities of Birmingham and Nottingham, which collectively have about 67,000 students and 14,000 staff, announced their “framework for collaboration” on 3 February, unveiling a model that they believe could be adopted by other institutions.

In an interview with Times Higher Education, David Eastwood and David Greenaway, the vice-chancellors of Birmingham and Nottingham respectively, said they hoped the partnership – a first for UK higher education – would be driven by academic collaboration.

They said the universities would also work together on entering new international markets and did not rule out the prospect of partnering on developments such as overseas campuses – an area in which Nottingham, with branches in China and Malaysia, has long led the pack.

This received a goodly amount of press coverage including in The Guardian and the BBC. All very gratifying. But this is I think an important and interesting development.

Six areas have been identified for initial collaboration, with the potential for further areas to be considered as the partnership evolves. There isn’t a huge amount of detail in the press reports so the following supporting information may be of interest to some:

1. Joint academic appointments

Creative approaches to developing intellectual capital are at the heart of the partnership and attracting the best international minds to the UK in general and Midlands in particular is key.  Where appropriate, the Universities will seek opportunities to appoint staff jointly in order to better support collaborative ventures.

2. Teaching, learning and student experience

Both Universities are major innovators in teaching and learning and the student experience.  They will work together to share ideas for enhancing undergraduate and graduate opportunities at both institutions.  Ideas include the development of jointly awarded degree programmes, the sharing of facilities, widening participation initiatives and other means of improving the student experience.

3. Research Initiatives

Sustaining world-class research is fundamental to both Universities’ missions. Through working together, the institutions can deliver more and more impactful research in areas of mutual strength.  Ideas here include bringing together potential collaborators from both institutions, submitting joint research grant applications and sharing of research equipment. The Midlands Ultracold Atom Research Centre is one example of an existing UoB/UoN collaboration that operates this model.  Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to the tune of £6million, the research centre is investigating the interface between cold atoms, condensed matter, and optical physics.

4. International Opportunities

Birmingham and Nottingham are world-class universities, each with strong international vision and a significant global footprint. The Universities believe in particular in the value of international experience for students as part of their programmes and in preparation for sustained employability in the global marketplace.  Ideas include greater opportunities for student mobility and exchange, including through the Universitas 21 network and to the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus and the University of Nottingham Ningbo, China for years, semesters and summer schools. In fact, places have been specifically set aside for UoB students wishing to study at the two Nottingham overseas campuses.

Opportunities will be explored for working together in new markets with an initial geographical focus on South America – a joint mission to South America is already being planned for summer.

Collaborative international research opportunities arising as a result of the framework will be encouraged and supported.  International collaborative research ideas are currently being developed in the fields of energy, innovative manufacturing, water, neuro-imaging, genetics, and urban resilience.

5.     Business Engagement and Knowledge Transfer

The Universities, both individually and collaboratively, are major partners with business, regionally, nationally and internationally.  Developing further effective engagement with businesses, commerce and industry is a key component of both institutions’ strategic plans and will be further enhanced through collaboration.  The Manufacturing Technology Centre, currently being built at Ansty Park in Coventry to which both institutions are key partners, is a prime example of how experts from academia and industry will work together to push the boundaries of global manufacturing research and translation to innovation.

6.     Management and administration

Both Universities have a strong track record in delivering effective management and administration and building financial resilience.  The institutions will explore novel approaches to collaboration in management and administration to enhance our mutual capacity to respond to the new realities.  Ideas include shared IT solutions, joint approaches to procurement, sharing best practice in management of common problems and collaboration on professional development for staff.

So, these are early days yet but there is huge potential here.

Vocational qualifications: ‘a great idea for other people’s children’

A new review of vocational qualifications

The BBC reports on Education Secretary Michael Gove’s announcement of an independent review of vocational qualifications for students aged 14 to 19 in England.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said the government wanted qualifications in practical subjects to be more “hands on”. The number of vocational qualifications taken has risen fast in recent years.

But critics say schools push weaker pupils to do courses of little benefit to them, to boost league table scores.

Professor Alison Wolf, an expert on education and skills from Kings’ College London, is to head the review. It will look at “ways to improve vocational education’s organisation and responsiveness to a changing labour market, and to ensure vocational education is progressing young people to the next stage,” the Department for Education said.

Professor Wolf is an obvious choice to lead this. In her fascinating 2002 book, Does Education Matter?, she has a lot to say (not much of it positive) about vocational qualifications and NVQs in particular which she observes pointedly are ‘a great idea for other people’s children’. Let’s hope we do better this time.

NSS: can things get any worse in universities?

Press stories on latest NSS results seem to be largely of the glass one fifth empty variety

Indeed, you could be forgiven for thinking the sector was already in meltdown if you read the Independent which says “one-third of university students unhappy with lecturers’ performance”:

Thousands of university students still find their lecturers too remote despite pledges that standards of service would improve with the introduction of top-up fees of up to £3,225 a year. A national survey by the Higher Education Funding Council for England showing the level of student satisfaction with their courses reveals there has been no improvement in three years. Overall, 82 per cent are satisfied with their course – but the figure dips to 67 per cent when it comes to assessment of their work and the feedback they get from lecturers.

The BBC has a similar line:

UK students’ satisfaction with their undergraduate courses has stalled, the National Student Survey has found. Overall, 82% of finalists at UK universities in 2010 were satisfied with the quality of their course, the same percentage as last year. Universities warn satisfaction ratings could deteriorate as funding cuts bite. The NSS, in which 252,000 students took part, is published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) to help maintain standards.

But really. OK, there remains plenty of scope for improvement, particularly in the area of feedback to students on their work but to deliver an overall satisfaction rating of more than 80% over such a large number of students is surely hugely positive? So why are universities getting a kicking for this? Presumably even an average satisfaction rating of 90% plus would be inadequate.

Students to learn how to protest

Innovative teaching and learning approaches at Sheffield Hallam

At one time student protest was as much a part of university life as getting drunk on Freshers’ Week. Now a university is giving some of its politics students lessons in how to campaign and take direct action. The Sheffield Hallam students will have to conduct an activism project and campaign on a theme of their choice. Course leader Dr Annabel Kiernan said many students did not have time for protest as they were too busy working to pay off their tuition fee loans. She said this course, a module on the politics BA, was a way of giving the students some experience of how to campaign.

via BBC News.

Excellent news. There must be other traditional aspects of university life which students are now just too busy to undertake in their own time and should be factored into curricula. There will, of course, be a compulsory module in essay avoidance displacement activity.

External Examiner review (and quality and standards)

Universities UK is to undertake a review of external examining

A press release from Universities UK gives some background to the recently announced review of external examiners:

In his keynote speech at the Universities UK Annual Conference, President Professor Steve Smith announced that UUK, together with GuildHE and in collaboration with agencies such as the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA), would lead a UK-wide review of external examiner arrangements. This review will seek to ensure that the system remains robust, recommending any improvements uniuk240px
which would continue to support the comparability of academic standards and meet future challenges.

The Group, which will be chaired by a Vice-Chancellor (to be announced) and include representatives from across the sector, will address various issues, including:

  • The need to develop Terms of Reference for the role, to support consistency
  • Reinforcing the specific role of external examiners in ensuring appropriate and comparable standards
  • Analysing the level of support given by institutions to external examining, both financial and professional
  • Current and future challenges and changing practice (such as modularisation) and their implications for external examining
  • Comparing the UK system with international practice

After 12 months, the Group will produce a report, highlighting the immediate short-term improvements, as well as longer term challenges and how these should be addressed.

Meanwhile, HEFCE has just announced the outcome of a study on quality and standards which has been picked up by the BBC. Its recommendations include:

  • a review is needed of publicly available information provided by higher education institutions (HEIs) to meet the needs of students, parents, advisers and professionals
  • a complete review of the external examiner system should be undertaken
  • the degree classification system should be improved so that it better reflects student achievement.

Looks like there will be a bit more work then beyond external examiners but these do not seem to be hugely challenging tasks (indeed they have been on the agenda for some time) and reflect the conclusions of the HEFCE report that “There is no systemic failure in quality and standards in English higher education (HE), but there are issues needing to be addressed”.

This UUK external examiner review, supported by the HEFCE study, represents a speedy response to the recent (truly dreadful) report of the IUSS Select Committee. The IUSS report recommends the implementation of one of the 1997 Dearing recommendations, rejected at the time, on the creation of a national system of external examiners. It is to be hoped that the UUK review arrives at something sensible. (For anyone with a longish memory on these things it feels a bit like 1994-95 again and the Graduate Standards Programme and its reviews of external examining.)

NSS results – just about the same as last year

Good news or bad news?

Not a lot to write home about with very little change but BBC reports that satisfaction rate ‘slips’:

This year’s final year students in England were marginally less happy with their university experience than last year’s leavers, an annual survey shows. The National Student Survey shows 81% were mostly or definitely satisfied with the quality of their course, against 82% last year. In Wales the rating was unchanged, 83%, and in Northern Ireland up one at 84%. Twelve Scottish institutions also took part, achieving the highest overall score of 86%, the same as in 2008.

Pretty positive stuff you’d think but the NUS has a different perspective

NUS president Wes Streeting said: “Tuition fees in England were trebled in 2006, but students have not seen a demonstrable improvement in the quality of their experience. “Universities have a responsibility to deliver substantial improvements in return for the huge increase in income they are receiving from fees.”

nssf

And the Guardian also focuses on the negative:

Almost a fifth – 19% – of final-year students told the National Student Survey they were dissatisfied with or ambivalent about their courses – a rise of 1% on last year.

HEFCE though offers a more positive interpretation and the full details of results.

But overall this is surely a good news story, albeit one that is pretty much the same as in 2008.

Graduates preparing for work (where available)

From the BBC:

Students should get work experience to boost their chances of getting jobs in the downturn, the head of the CBI says. Richard Lambert says students must get skills and first-hand experience of work while still at university.

In launching the report with Universities UK on preparing graduates for the world of work, Lambert said competition for jobs in 2009 will be particularly intense. The report, ‘Future Fit’, also includes a survey of graduate recruiters and HE institutions. As the BBC says:

Of the 581 recruiters surveyed for the report, 78% rated employability skills, such as team working, as essential. And of the 80 higher education institutions which responded to the report’s survey, 91% thought it likely or highly likely their graduates would acquire five out of the seven desired employability skills while at university.

Those employability skills in full:
snapshot-2009-03-30-16-13-53

    Self-management
    Team working
    Business and customer awareness
    Problem solving
    Communication and literacy
    Application of numeracy
    Application of information technology

But also an entrepreneurial approach and a ‘can do’ attitude are valued by employers. Without wishing at all to be cynical It is possible that we could have guessed the content of the list without the survey though. Moreover, universities are unlikely to suggest that their graduates aren’t, by and large, going to acquire these skills.

It’s an interesting report and highlights the value which students and their future employers can get from developing such skills further – especially when the learning is accredited. It also notes the difficulties for both universities and SMEs of pursuing this agenda with companies which are smaller.

Suspect the survey behind the report was undertaken before the economy fell off a cliff but it is helpful nevertheless and arguably even more relevant.

VCs protest: what do we want? Higher fees!

When do we want them? Er, as soon as possible really but it is recognised that there might be the tiny problem of electoral arithmetic to contend with, so bad luck everyone.

The BBC has done a survey of a selection of VCs on their fee preferences:

Many universities in England and Wales want a sharp increase in tuition fees, a survey by BBC News has concluded. Two thirds of vice chancellors, speaking anonymously, said they needed to raise fees, suggesting levels of between £4,000 and £20,000 per year. More than half of university heads want students to pay at least £5,000 per year or for there to be no upper limit.

Higher Education Minister David Lammy said there was an “important debate to be had”. The National Union of Students has warned of debts of £32,000 for students if fees rise to £7,000 per year.

There is an important debate to be had on this issue. Universities do need substantially more money to deliver (a) the teaching and learning students deserve and (b) the world leading science base expected by government. Even before the global recession things were looking a bit dodgy on the long term funding front. Now universities are likely to be so far down the pecking order you might expect the Treasury to be arguing for topping up Fred Goodwin’s pension before investing more in higher education. So where else is the money going to come from?