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.

Dealer deals

A fair deal for students?

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

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

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

A bum deal?

A bum deal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

• grasping a body of discipline-based knowledge

• acquiring expertise in applying and mastering that knowledge

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

• enhancing their career and life opportunities.”

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

The Student Deal (a bit like a flower)

The Student Deal (a bit like a flower)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall though an interesting and stimulating paper.

The 2014 Grant letter: another epistolary triumph

And the wait was finally over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The length of Grant Letters to HEFCE down the years

The length of Grant Letters to HEFCE down the years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Falling short: careers guidance in schools

A new Ofsted report on the parlous state of careers guidance

Ofsted has recently published a report entitled Going in the right direction? Careers guidance in schools from September 2012.

The report covers a sample of 60 schools to assess how they were addressing their legal responsibility, in place since September 2012, for securing access to independent and impartial careers guidance for all their students in Years 9 to 11  in order to enable them to make informed decisions about their future.. It doesn’t look pretty.
ofsted logo
The overall conclusion is that careers guidance in schools really isn’t working and three quarters of schools are not meeting their statutory duty. The survey also finds that guidance for schools on careers advice is not explicit, the National Careers Service is not promoted well enough and there is a lack of employer engagement in schools.

The report recommends:

  • The Government provide more explicit guidance to schools on careers advice.
  • The Government monitor students’ progress and achievement when they leave school through accurate collection of ‘destination data’ to give a better understanding of a young person’s journey to employment.
  • The National Careers Service markets its services more effectively to all young people aged 13-18 and does more to disseminate information on national skills shortages so that young people gain a greater understanding of where there are likely to be greater employment opportunities.
  • Ofsted also recommends that its own inspectors take greater account of careers guidance and students’ destinations when conducting future school inspections.

This strikes me as insufficient. It is all very well to place these responsibilities on schools and asking them to do more but more marketing of the National Careers Service really is not enough to deliver the quality and quantity of careers advice and guidance required. Schools do need to look to make better provision but they do need the resources to enable them to do so.

This is the challenge which Inspiring Futures (declaration of interest – I am a member of the board of trustees) and others are working hard to address. This report confirms the scale of the effort required.

The Graduate Programme for University Leadership

An excellent programme for graduates looking to develop careers in university management.

Recruitment for the Graduate Programme for University Leadership has recently gone live and the pitch is a good one:

The university sector is one of the most innovative, vibrant and exciting environments in which to build your future career. If you’re looking for a graduate programme that leads to a highly successful and dynamic career in an entrepreneurial, global business, The Graduate Programme for University Leadership is it.

Are you ready for a career in a world of discovery?

This cutting-edge programme will show you how the challenging and stimulating business of a university operates. You’ll meet some of the most talented people in the country, if not the world, and gain an inside view into the sector’s management and business processes. A key aspect of your training will see you working alongside a diverse range of partners, from students and employers to funding bodies and commercial organisations.

It’s the opportunity to contribute to a life you have already experienced and enjoyed, and make a difference to the learning of future generations of students. What’s more, you’ll be working at the heart of fast-paced and world-leading commercial organisations that, rather unusually, are not primarily motivated by profit-making.

The University of Nottingham has run a similar programme for number of years (and indeed has played an active role in the development of this national scheme) and you can find details of the Nottingham offer here.

It’s a great initiative and one I’m really pleased that the University of Nottingham is part of. The sector really does need to train and develop many more professional service leaders and this programme will be a major contributor to that as it grows in future years.

Investing in careers support

More careers support for Nottingham students.

The University of Nottingham has invested in a major expansion of its Careers and Employability Service intended significantly to enhance provision for students.

6132webThe new investment will support the vision for tailored career development, learning and employability support to Faculties. So far, the following steps have been taken:

  • 22 new members of staff have been recruited and have started work in the last week.
  • Five Faculty teams have been created – they are managed by a Faculty Employability Consultant and consist of Senior Careers Advisers, an Employability Education Projects Officer and an Employability Officer. These teams are constituted in order to provide a broad range of skills and experience from individual career guidance, career development learning, advice and CV support, workshop delivery and the creation of learning and development materials/programmes, employer engagement, event organisation, and student engagement.
  • The Faculty teams will also draw upon the expertise of our central team for e-information/web content, statistics, employer engagement, Unitemps, Nottingham Advantage Award, employability education, e-mentoring and administration.
  • A Global Labour Market team has been created and currently comprises three members of staff covering China, Malaysia and UK. This team will be proactively seeking opportunities for students and graduates globally and will be primarily focused on business engagement and labour market intelligence.
  • A School Employability Fund has been launched to give support to school/faculty-based employability projects.

6127web

These are really important developments. The 22 new members of staff are now involved in a two week induction programme (as part of which I was very pleased to meet with all of them), which is introducing them to the work of Careers and to key aspects of the University’s activities.

The objective here is to enhance the employability of Nottingham students and graduates and to deliver, in partnership with Schools, an effective, professional and tailored service.

I think this is a striking confirmation of the commitment of the University to the Careers and Employability Service and the development of our students. It represents a significant investment for the future.

Higher education funding letters: another bundle of joy

On government HE funding letters

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

The letter

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

Super. More instructions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These charming men. And women.

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

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

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

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

“And we call these ‘buttons’…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What difference does it make? We’ll see.

Go compare – Which advice to take?

Which? University adds to the university information mix

Last week saw the launch of the new Which? university comparison website. Trailed in the White Paper n June 2011 it offers yet more information to prospective students in what is already a very crowded landscape.

The Which? University website enables comparisons of courses by students by price, A-level entry requirements and graduate starting salaries. There are also ranking lists, based on a poll of students, which rate universities for creativity, political action, nightlife and sportiness, among other things.

 

 

 

Times Higher Education reported on the launch:

Loughborough University is the top university for sports, while the universities of Northumbria and Newcastle, and the University of Liverpool, are judged to have the best nightlife, according to a poll of almost 10,000 students by market research firm YouthSight.

The School for Oriental and African Studies, University of London, ranks the highest for having the strongest political scene.

Students at the University of Oxford are the most happy, based on scores from the 2011 National Student Survey – though the ancient university was ranked equal in this respect with Neath Port Talbot College and Ruskin College, an adult education college in Oxford.

Graduates from the London School of Economics had the highest average starting salary, beginning on £28,968, the site says.

The site was launched at Westminster College by David Willetts, the universities and science minister and Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students.

“Choosing the right course and the right university is an important, and often daunting, decision,” said Mr Willetts.

“I want prospective students to have all relevant information at their disposal.”

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: “It’s worrying how many people are making one of the biggest decisions of their lives without proper guidance or advice.

“That’s why we’ve launched Which? University so that people have free access to impartial information and can more easily choose the right course and university for them.”

 

 

I’d agree with this point – there really isn’t enough proper guidance and advice available for prospective students. There is however more than enough information and data out there. Before Which? University arrived there was already a similar site doing a similar job (although it now seems to have been suspended) and bestcourse4me.com offering similar information. Beyond this we have all of the main UK league tables and universities’ own websites and prospectuses to draw on for comparative information. Not to mention the National Student Survey and the new Key Information Set (KIS).

There is no information deficit. As noted in a previous post about the KIS there is huge amount of information available for prospective students. The Minister and other partners in the Which? enterprise, including the National Union of Students, demonstrate a touching faith in the power of information and data and popularity polls to help students make the right decisions. But really we don’t need more course comparison sites. We don’t need more information. Students need high quality professional advice and guidance to make sense of this information and to make the right choices for them. That is the real deficit.

Which? University is not the silver bullet.

 

Career Advice by ‘Virtual Inkblot Test’

A new approach to careers advice

The Chronicle has a short piece on a new approach to delivering careers advice. Essentially it is a contemporary take on the traditional inkblot test which has been updated to a set of images in an app:

Researchers at the company, Woofound Inc., have built an application for students that uses their reactions to a series of images to predict their personalities and to suggest careers tailored to their preferences. The creators also plan to have the application suggest what degrees they should pursue and what extracurricular activities they should join.

The project is part of a wave of technology applications that colleges are testing to help track students into fields that fit their interests.

While using the Woofound Career Module, students sift through 84 slides of images with words associated, such as a picture of a tent along with the word “camping,” or a picture of a man painting along with the phrase “creative expression.” Students click either “Me” or “Not Me” in response to each image.

There is, rightly, some scepticism about the approach. Whilst it is, of course, possible to distinguish broad preferences in this way surely this is one area in which students need a bit more than just an app in order to develop their career intentions? And there aren’t huge numbers of jobs for visionaries these days.

Online Badges v Degrees

Is the gig up for universities? You decide

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

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

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

 

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

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

A rather narrow view of higher education?

Uganda’s President Criticizes ‘Non-Marketable’ Courses

Inside Higher Ed has a story on the Ugandan president’s view of higher education

Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s president, has been giving speeches around his country calling for students to stop taking courses in “non-marketable” subjects such as literature and conflict resolution, Voice of America reported.

In one recent talk, he said: “The problem is not jobs, the jobs are there. What is crucial are the skills. There has been a course at Makarere [University] called Conflict Resolution. OK, but what will you do when the conflicts are finished? This unemployment you are talking about. Is it unemployment or is it employability? Is it that you are unemployed, or is it that you are not employable because you have got skills which are not needed on the market?” Faculty members and students are split on the president’s campaign, with some praising it and others questioning whether he is defining the purpose of higher education in too narrow a way.

Given that Makarere University defines its mission as being “To provide innovative teaching, learning, research and services responsive to National and Global needs” it rather looks like they are delivering on this. After all, we really aren’t going to get to a position in the very near future where all conflicts have been resolved (as this list of likely international flash points identified by the BBC’s Frank Gardner demonstrates). These graduates should therefore be pretty employable.

Nottingham Advantage

Impact Campaign: Nottingham Advantage

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

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

Will you help promote the employability of our graduates?

The issue

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

Our solution

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

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

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

Our impact

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

What will your Impact be?

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

US Universities Producing the Most Interns

Internship League Table

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

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

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

Colorado School of Mines              620 graduates, 84%

American University                        1,384 graduates 81%

Seton Hall University                       1,017 graduates 76%

Duke University                                 1,625 graduates 75%

Fordham University                          1,885 graduates 75%

University of Pittsburgh                   3,856 graduates 72%

George Washington University       2,485 graduates 68%

Johns Hopkins University                1,487 graduates 66%

Florida Institute of Technology       449 graduates 65%

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

A new ranking for China’s universities

According to a recent report on a ranking by the China University Alumni Association, Shanghai’s universities rank second in the country behind Beijing in educating future billionaires:

The ranking analyzed the educational background of nearly 2,500 of China’s billionaire based on five domestic and overseas rich lists between 1999 and 2010.

“The report aims to encourage college students to set up their own enterprises and provide guidance to them,” said Zhao Deguo, editor in chief of the association’s website.

Peking University, Tsinghua University and Zhejiang University took the top three spots in the ranking with 79, 70 and 66 billionaire alumni respectively.

Shanghai’s Fudan University was in the fourth place with 46 billionaires. Jiao Tong University and East China Normal University made up the Shanghai top three with 25 and nine billionaires respectively.

It’s a little cruder than the UK’s graduate employment survey but does at least take a long term view. Let’s hope that no-one decides it would be good to include this in the new Key Information Set.

A more detailed commentary on the report appears here.

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