What are academic bloggers up to?

What are academic bloggers blogging about? And why?

A great article for the Guardian Higher Education Network by Pat Thomson ( @ThomsonPat )  and Inger Mewburn ( @thesiswhisperer ) on bloggers in higher education. The piece is a summary of an article in a special edition of Studies in Higher Education and the longer one is well worth reading too.

Both of the authors are academic bloggers (Pat Thompson’s blog can be found here) who wanted to work out what other academics were blogging about and why. This was clearly not an unchallenging exercise and even deciding what counted as an academic blog was far from straightforward:

keyboard

We opted for the blogger who stated an institutional affiliation, had some kind of academic purpose and was connected to other academic blogs. We called the bloggers who weren’t professors, lecturers or fellows ‘para-academics’. We couldn’t get a representative sample as there is no handy index of blogs, the numbers change all the time, and frankly, there were just too many. And because we speak English, our choices had to be blogs we could actually read.

By using various online listings of academic blogs, we eventually compiled a list of 100 we could use as a sample set. Of these, 49 were from the UK and 40 from the US, five from Canada and six from Australia. 80 were by teaching and researching academics, 14 from para-academics and six from doctoral researchers.

By analysing and categorising the content of these blogs, we determined that 41% largely focused on what we call academic cultural critique: comments and reflections on funding, higher education policy, office politics and academic life. Another 40% largely focused on communication and commentary about research. The remainder covered a diverse range, from academic practice, information and self-help advice to technical, teaching and career advice.

The vast majority of blogs studies used informal essay formats and straightforward reporting styles of writing, but a significant proportion (40%) also used a formal essay style, not dissimilar to academic journal articles but with less intrusive referencing. Interestingly, given the rhetoric around blogging, 73% of the content we analysed was geared for other academics, while 38% was designed for interested professional readers.

We conclude that, in this sample at least, most academics are blogging for professional peers, rather than for the public in any general sense. Our results do not coincide with what the loudest advocates of academic blogging suggest we should do. But we think what we saw in our 100 blogs is understandable.

So, academic blogging is perhaps less about public impact than many have thought and much more about building new online communities and the sharing of ideas with peers in new and interesting ways.

A really worthwhile and absolutely fascinating study.

Save universities from more misguided regulation

Well-meaning but fundamentally wrong proposals for yet more regulation

hecommission-regulationreportcoversmaller

Just when you thought things couldn’t get much worse in terms of higher education regulation, another group comes along and proposes a whole load more. Brilliant. (I’ve posted before here on this issue.)

I’ve not seen the report yet (it is due to be published today) but the Guardian has and has commented at some length on its contents under the title “What universities need: regulation, regulation, regulation” which gives us a bit of a steer on the conclusions. It is suggested that there is massive risk here which only what looks like a shed load (technical term for a unit of unnecessary bureaucracy) of additional regulation can mitigate:

They warn that without proper regulation, there is little to protect students from disreputable or fly-by-night institutions. “We are concerned that there is a growing unregulated sector of higher education that may be offering insufficient provision to students,” the report states. “This has the potential to damage England’s reputation as a leading provider of higher education.” It also threatens students’ confidence that the thousands of pounds they pay in fees will secure them a top-quality education, at an institution that will not go bust.Paper_tape_table_dispenser-01

The authors argue that there is also a commercial case for better regulation: it encourages businesses to invest in the sector and banks to lend institutions money. “We believe that the current regulatory environment in higher education, and the changes that are in-train, are insufficient to achieve this,” the report says.

It is far from clear what this “unregulated sector” is. Is it the alternative private providers which have been ushered into higher education by this government? Perhaps, but whilst they are arguably under-regulated they are not exactly “fly-by-night” outfits. So where are these shady backstreet higher education providers which are necessitating all this extra red tape? Perhaps they are listed in the report but it is far from clear from this who we are talking about.

Until now, regulation of higher education institutions has been piecemeal, dictated partly by rules, such as health and safety, that govern any large organisation, partly by institutional committees responsible for setting and monitoring standards on research and course programmes, and partly by academic senates, boards of governors and sector-owned bodies, such as the Higher Education Statistics Agency, supporting effective management. Hefce and the Office for Fair Access also act as independent external regulators, monitoring respectively institutions’ financial health and efforts to be socially inclusive, while Hefce contracts the Quality Assurance Agency to monitor teaching quality.

In his review, published in 2010, which recommended lifting the cap on tuition fees, Lord Browne suggested merging all the regulatory bodies into a single, independent Higher Education Council. Earlier this year, the Institute for Public Policy Research came up with a similar proposal. The government has never acted on the idea.

Now, the commission recommends a “lead” regulator, the Council for Higher Education, incorporating Offa, the Office for Student Loans (formerly the Student Loans Company) and a new, lightly staffed Office for Competition and Institutional Diversity, each retaining individual structures and purposes. Other regulatory bodies, including QAA and Office for the Independent Adjudicator, would be linked but independent.

Whilst it is right to identify that there is a messy patchwork of legislation and regulation affecting higher education, the ideas which have been floated to tidy this up seem to have been motivated by views of a need for tidiness and convenience for those involved in regulating than what is actually in the interest of students, universities, the sector or the country/countries concerned. The government has not acted on these ideas for the very good reason that they don’t make sense. Moreover, it looks from this piece as if the report is seeking to combine UK-wide and English agencies without regard to the positions of the devolved nations.

One final point caught my eye here:

The report also proposes an insurance scheme, paid into by every institution, to safeguard students should an institution or course fail, and based on a scheme run by the Civil Aviation Authority. This may be controversial, with traditional institutions reluctant to pay into a scheme designed to bail out new, riskier operations that fail.

“May be controversial”? What delightfully amusing understatement.

To summarise. We need less regulation, not more. Higher education is already over-regulated and this impacts negatively on institutions’ ability to deliver their missions. This kind of report I fear offers only a recipe for further bureaucracy and waste in higher education and will not benefit students or the sector. So, thanks but no thanks.

The Imperfect University: rational admissions – it’s time for PQA

A brighter future for university admissions?

It will be some time before all of the results are in but it does look at this stage as if this year’s admissions round has been a little less turbulent than last year’s. The mood across many universities seems to be one of some relief after a period of significant uncertainty. More students have been admitted than at this point last year and for most institutions (and those students) this is going to be good news

The 2012 admissions round – which coincided with the move to £9k headline fees for most instutitions – heralded major changes to the system: after years of relative stability and constrained Home/EU undergraduate recruitment targets the cap was removed for students with AAB or better at A level. This caused some significant waves across the sector with everyone seeking to find their way through this uncharted territory.
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Part of the reason for this change was, of course, ideological. The Government’s desire to create a ‘market’ in admissions at the top end of the qualifications ladder with universities competing for the ‘best’ students resulted, perhaps surprisingly, in some significant recruitment shortfalls in a number of Russell Group universities. There were fewer AAB+ students than expected and it seems likely that some universities were taken by surprise by the challenge of operating in the cut and thrust of the market place. This, combined with a dip overall in student numbers, caused problems for many.

Into the Wild West?

In this context I wrote earlier this year of concerns about this year’s admissions and my fear that the response to these challenges would lead to an ‘admissions Wild West’ with a complete free for all in terms of recruitment and an anything goes approach to securing the best qualified students:

Last year was difficult but I’m worried things are going to be a lot worse in 2013. Those universities making lower offers are sending a signal that perhaps A–level results aren’t that important, but ultimately they are at greater risk of undermining their own competitive position by reducing entry standards in what may turn out into a ‘race to the bottom’.

So where do we go from here? In the short term we all have to play by the UCAS rules (which should be made more explicit), restate our commitment to the SPA principles and aim to be fair and transparent to applicants. This is important not just so we do the right things by students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, but also to prevent a fundamental undermining of the UCAS system.

We are keen to ensure that students who want to come to the University of Nottingham and have the grades are able to come here. This is what the UCAS system is all about: students making informed choices and a system supporting the holistic assessment of applicants in a fair and transparent way. The huge risk now is that more shenanigans this year will undermine this system.

The ultimate consequence if everyone decides to ignore the rules and the SPA principles is a return to the admissions Wild West. This would be costly, unhelpful and hugely inefficient as well as being massively unfair to and stressful for students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. This surely cannot be in the interest of students or universities. Or indeed what Willetts wants. We need a bit more honesty and some genuine transparency in order to ensure fairness for all.

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It looked at first that there were going to be some significant issues what with the University of Birmingham’s decision to make 1,000 unconditional offers to students in some subject areas and much talk in the press of fee waivers, bursaries, subsidised accommodation and free ipads as incentives to potential students. Fortunately though my concerns seem to have been largely unfounded and the number of ABB+ students (the cap having been shifted to exclude a larger cohort) was roughly as expected. However, this has nevertheless been a period of significant uncertainty and anxiety, for both applicants and admissions officers.

This significant turbulence in the past two admissions rounds is of questionable benefit for applicants although the Minister is presumably content that the creation of this market is ultimately in their interest as providers compete to offer better products and better deals to these consumers. I suspect therefore this is not going to go away, at least for the foreseeable future, and universities will be obliged to operate in this exciting market environment.

Fit for purpose

Given this I would argue that now is the time to ensure the core elements of the system are fit for purpose – to make certain that we have a stable admissions model which works in the interest of applicants and institutions whilst acknowledging that ministers will inevitably want to play at the margins. We do though need to limit the scope for unhelpful interference, address the core principles for fair admissions as set out by SPA (Supporting Professionalism in Admissions), ensure universities can’t subvert or game the system, seek to secure proper information advice and guidance for applicants and address widening participation needs. The route to achieving this would mean change for all parties but I would suggest such change will be in the long term interests of everyone.

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Fundamental to this is moving away from admissions based on predicted grades to a system of admission on the basis of grades achieved, ie post-qualification admissions (PQA). This has been proposed previously and historically there have been many objections – especially around exam board marking arrangements and universities’ teaching timetables. Whilst solutions to these have become feasible they have been replaced by new concerns particularly around fairness to applicants, information, advice and guidance provision and ensuring wider participation.

Back in 2011 UCAS undertook a review of admissions processes which recommended a number of modest changes to procedures but backed away from endorsing the most significant change, a move to PQA:

There was a widely held view that, in principle, a post-results system would be desirable. Aspects of the proposal for application post-results were attractive to some, but it is clear there are too many systemic problems with the post-results proposals to support implementation.

Respondents felt that applying with results would not necessarily support applicants aspiring to the most competitive courses and concerns were raised about potential negative impacts on widening participation and less well-supported applicants. Loss of teaching time, the impact on standards of achievement, the potential for a more mechanistic approach to the assessment of applicants and the lack of time and resources to provide IAG at critical points were also major concerns.
In the review many detailed objections were raised to PQA but each of these can be overcome in practice if the will is there.

Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of UCAS, commented on the latest position in the Times Higher:

…Ms Curnock Cook had a “word of warning” for universities cheered by the better figures.

“This year you’ve managed to get more [students] in at 18,” she said, but added that “you might pay for it” in 2014-15 because there would therefore be fewer 19-year-olds to recruit in that cycle.

Ms Curnock Cook also remarked that the clearing process was no longer used to recruit “the dregs” any more, and speculated that it could even remove the need for an admissions system based on students’ actual, rather than predicted, grades.

“Every year I get asked: isn’t it now time to go for a post-qualifications applications [system]? My answer is that we already have PQA: it’s called clearing,” she said.

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I disagree with this view. If we were designing a system from scratch we really would not start with the idea that students should apply to university with predicted rather than actual grades. The current set up, whilst historically understandable, is logically indefensible. Academic qualifications are the primary indicator of capability to pursue a course of study. It is logical, fair and sensible to put them at the centre of the admissions process and this should be the basis for our national application system, run by UCAS.

Time for change

The time has now come for change. The starting point should be to decide that we are going to introduce PQA from, say, 2019 entry, and the challenge then is to create the conditions within which this will happen.

Whilst I fear it is inevitable that ministers will introduce more changes – if we establish clearly now how admissions will operate in future this will bring lasting benefits and reduced the potential impact of future ministerial tinkering. Stability in the admissions system will be helpful to HEIs but will also work in the interests of applicants, ensure proper attention is paid to widening participation and be fairer.

So, let’s go for post-qualification admissions. Now is the time to decide to make the change to PQA.

Guardian League Table 2014: One or two changes

New Guardian League Table for 2014

Top 20 of the full list (available here) is as follows (last year’s position in brackets):

1 (1) Cambridge
2 (2) Oxford
3 (3) LSE
4 (4) St Andrews
5 (6) UCL
6 (7) Durham
7 (9) Bath
8 (12) Surrey
9 (13) Imperial
10 (5) Warwick
11 (7) Lancaster
12 (10) Exeter
13 (19) Leicester
14 (11) Loughborough
15 (30) Birmingham
16 (17) York
17 (24) UEA
18 (20) Heriot-Watt
19 (15) Edinburgh
20 (22) Kent

The full story on the extraordinary news that Cambridge has held on to top slot for the second year running can be found here. The top 20 is largely unchanged although Birmingham, UEA and Kent are all new entries.

A couple of other comments in the piece are worth noting if only because of the dramatic and bizarre consequences of the methodology on some institutions’ placings:

Lower down the table but still remarkable is the rise of Northampton, which climbs 39 places to 47 (from 86), largely thanks to improved job prospects and the entry standards of its students. And Portsmouth jumps from 78 to 48 this year. The main contributory factor here is a sharp increase in the number of students achieving a first or a 2:1.

It’s less good news at Sussex, which falls from 27th to 50th place as graduates find it hard to secure a job, particularly in philosophy and anthropology. But it’s not all bad news – on the back of extremely high student satisfaction and entry standards, Sussex has climbed to the top of the table for social work.

The biggest fall of all is by Cardiff Met, from 66th to 105th place. This is because of a sharp fall in student satisfaction. The ratios of expenditure and staffing per student also deteriorated.

Students ‘swayed by league tables’

Some rather unsurprising research findings here.

The Guardian has a report on the impact of university league tables on prospective students. And in what might be the least surprising research finding of the year to date reports that league tables are influential:

rankings

Prospective students are increasingly influenced by university league tables when deciding where to study, according to research that found rises and falls within league standings provoking sharp changes in numbers of applications.

The research by economists at Royal Holloway, University of London, found that individual departments moving up a subject-level league table experienced a rise in applications of almost 5%, with the increase most pronounced among overseas applicants.

They also found that the influence of league table standings has increased since the introduction of tuition fees, suggesting that students are now more aware of the reputation and relative standings of university departments.

There is more though. Not only do league table rankings influence students and help with applications they are worth paying attention to if you want to protect your position and are going to be even more significant in future:

The authors – Xiaoxuan Jia, a researcher, and Arnaud Chevalier, senior lecturer in economics at Royal Holloway – conclude that universities should take care to guard their rankings, arguing: “Universities cannot afford to neglect their performance on league tables so long as they wish to establish and maintain a consistent reputation to attract the best of students.”

The emphasis on league table rankings is likely to increase as a result of new regulations relaxing the cap on student numbers for universities accepting students achieving AAB or higher in A-levels.

But in what is perhaps the most surprising of all the comments here, there is the proposal is made that resource allocation should be determined using ranking criteria:

The authors even suggest that university administrators “review their resource allocation based on the criteria used to construct those league tables on a regular basis, to improve and sustain their respective ranking performance”.

Just a bit of fun. I hope.

A winning international strategy

The University of Nottingham wins another award.
 

The Guardian awarded its first HE prizes at a ceremony in London on Thursday. And the University of Nottingham came out top for its international strategy against stiff competition from UCL and Salford.
 

University Awards 2013 buttons_Winner

 

It’s a terrific citation:

As the first university to open a fully operational branch campus in Malaysia in 2000, internationalisation has been in the University of Nottingham DNA for well over a decade. It has since opened a further campus in China, and says that global reach is “hardwired” into its strategic plan.

Ambition on such a scale means you can’t keep your recruitment exclusively based in the UK, so Nottingham has international stude
It’s an approach that’s getting results: over 9,500 students are enrolled in Malaysia and China, and as well as having one of the largest cohorts of international students in the UK, Nottingham is a top 10 recruiter (by volume) in most markets worldwide. With 25% of the university’s academic staff being international, the institution’s commitment to sourcing the best talent available means it also runs one of the largest scholarship programmes for the developing world, explains professor Hai-Sui Yu, pro-vice-chancellor for internationalisation.

 

The University of Nottingham

 

Staff and students also benefit from partnerships with commercial partners in 25 countries across the globe.nt recruiters employed in regional offices in Malaysia, China, Brazil and Mexico. The university’s West Africa office opened in Accra in April 2012 and an India office opened in June last year.

Very pleasing.

Good discipline?

Universities’ disciplinary records under scrutiny.

Some entertaining reactions to a piece in the Guardian which reported that university students had paid over £0.5m in fines in a year:

Universities across the UK issued disciplinary and administrative fines totalling more than £550,000 to students last year.

Freedom of information requests from the Guardian have shown students were fined a total of £551,237.30 for offences such as smoking, drunkenness, and unauthorised parties in the last academic year. One institution said it used the money collected to fund the annual staff outing.

The results also revealed a number of peculiarities in the amounts fined for each offence. At Brunel University, while “assisting students with online tests for money” landed one student with a £250 fine, another was fined £50 for “hitting a member of staff”.

A student at Kent University was fined £50 for “insulting or violent behaviour including or involving racial, sexual or other abuse, harassment or threat of violence” – the same amount that many were charged for smoking offences.

Other offences that resulted in disciplinary action at universities included keeping chickens, leaving food on a window ledge, stealing loaves of bread and being prepared for a post-examination “trashing” of another student. Warwick University issued fines totalling £350 last year to students who were “drunk”, with no further reason given.

Some unusual offences here but perhaps nothing too remarkable for any readers of True Crime on Campus (apart perhaps from the keeping chickens offence, which is a new one to me).

Surprisingly unwelcome on campus

Surprisingly unwelcome on campus

Also, it’s perhaps a rather low sum given the large number of offences against regulations which will be committed by students every year. University do have rules and it is inevitable that many students will breach them at some point, often in halls of residence where they are learning for the first time about shared community responsibilities. The University of Nottingham’s Code of Discipline is outlined in its Ordinances and notes the reasons for the need for such legislation an students’ undertakings:

  1. Regulations on discipline are necessary because the University is a society in which good standards of communal life must be maintained, so that all its members may enjoy conditions enabling them to achieve their aims in joining it. Present students should also, in their behaviour, show proper concern for the reputation of the University and its effect on their contemporaries and their successors.

  2. The acceptance of an offer of admission by students is regarded as an undertaking to obey such University Ordinances and Regulations as are in force at any time during their period of study, and each student is required at registration to enter into such an undertaking.

So there can’t be any real room for misunderstandings there. Unless you decide to keep chickens of course.

Refugee University

Bringing higher education to refugees in Kenya.

A piece last year in the Guardian reported that Kenya’s Kenyatta University was opening its doors to Somali refugees in Dadaab:

Kenyatta University is setting up a campus in Dadaab, which is home to a sprawling complex of camps housing around 470,000 refugees, mainly Somalis who crossed the nearby border to escape the cycles of war and drought in their homeland.

Courses in subjects including project management, marketing, finance, and peace and conflict studies will be on offer to refugees and locals in this remote town in north-east Kenya, 90km (55 miles) from the border with Somalia.

A really good initiative this in the most difficult of circumstances.

Dadaab refugee camp

Dadaab refugee camp

Now Inside Higher Ed reports on a Canadian initiative to support this work:

York University, in Toronto, announced on Monday that it had received more than $4.5 million from the Canadian International Development Agency to lead the Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) project in Dadaab, Kenya. York is one of four universities — along with Moi and Kenyatta Universities, in Kenya, and the University of British Columbia — participating in the initiative, which aims to provide higher education to primary and secondary school teachers in the six refugee camps on the Kenya-Somalia border. The BHER organizers are focusing on education for teachers – who in many cases have completed only primary or secondary school themselves – with the objective of indirectly improving the quality of education for thousands of their students.

Don Dippo, a professor of education at York, explained that the first cohort of 200 teachers/students will be admitted this summer for a foundation year program. Following the foundation year, the participating universities have committed to offer various two-year diploma and three- or four-year degree programs. The programs will be delivered through a hybrid of face-to-face and online instruction.

BHER’s organizers expect to enroll 200 new students a year, for a total of 1,000, over the five-year term of the grant.

I was hugely impressed with the original steps being taken by Kenyatta University but it is also great to see Canadian universities joining in. It would be even better if UK institutions offered their support to Kenyatta too.

The Imperfect University: Truly Transnational

There is something close to a genuinely international university
TIU

Last year Andrew Stewart Coats, commenting on his appointment and the interesting plans for the new partnership between Warwick and Monash Universities, asserted that in higher education:

there has been little or no globalization in how we organize ourselves; no global entity runs viable universities in multiple countries and no truly transnational offering for students and academics exists

He also noted what he described as the “outposts” of universities in China, South East Asia and the Middle East and questioned whether this could “in itself create a truly global university?”

As a member of a global university, with three truly international campuses, I have to disagree. I drafted this piece late last year at the University of Nottingham’s Malaysia Campus (UNMC), home to some 4,500 students and over 450 staff, located at the edge of Kuala Lumpur in a breathtakingly beautiful setting. After meetings with a range of senior staff and bumping into our UK-based Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Internationalisation who was visiting the campus prior to taking over as Provost I then headed off to the University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC) campus (5,000 students, over 400 staff). As anyone who has visited either campus will attest, these are no outposts. Both campuses are larger than a good number of UK HE institutions and are already, despite their relative youth (UNMC became the first overseas campus of any UK university some 12 years ago and UNNC was founded in 2004), they are already punching significantly above their weight in both research and teaching in their host countries.

Campus at University of Nottingham Ningbo China

Campus at University of Nottingham Ningbo China

OBHE, in its most recent report, identifies some 200 or so branch campuses around the world with another 37 at least in the pipeline.

However, very few of these are of the scale, breadth or depth of the Nottingham developments and many are the outposts Coats describes with teaching delivered in rented office accommodation by staff who fly in for a few weeks before flying back home again.

Nottingham actually has three international campuses at present; as well as those in China and Malaysia there is the original campus in the UK which is also strikingly international with over 9,000 international students from 150+ countries. The international ethos is embraced in all that we do and is strongly articulated in the University’s mission:

At the University of Nottingham we are committed to providing a truly international education, inspiring our students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around our campuses in the UK, China and Malaysia. Our purpose is to improve life for individuals and societies worldwide. By bold innovation and excellence in all that we do, we make both knowledge and discoveries matter.

Our academic staff on all campuses are international in composition (25% are international) and outlook too. One in five of our undergraduates undertakes international mobility. 17% of published research outputs are internationally co-authored and 37% of our research funding is obtained internationally. We have strategic partnerships with other leading universities in over 25 countries and one of the largest scholarship programmes for students from the developing world.

University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus


When universities make claims about their global outlook and deep internationalization there is a tendency for the rhetoric significantly to oustrip the reality. Nottingham is, I think, a bit different. The evidence for the range and depth of the internationalization is pretty much everywhere and is now part of the fabric, culture and practice across the University.

Internationalisation both drives and supports our teaching and research mission, provides wider benefits for staff and students as well as facilitating access to a broad international talent pool. Internationalisation at Nottingham has many facets: it means an extraordinarily diverse staff and student body, outstanding campuses, significant staff and student mobility, a distinctive curriculum, unique international research activity (including, for example, field scale tropical crop trials as part of the Crops for the Future initiative which would simply impossible in the UK) and partnerships as well as the new collaborative Knowledge Without Borders Network which seeks to learn from and build upon all of these developments.

Can Nottingham claim to be a genuinely international institution? I think so. At the very least we are, as the Sunday Times observed, “the closest Britain has to a truly global university”. It is not enough simply to have outstandingly successful and growing international campuses or to host visits from the British and Malaysian Prime Ministers or the then Chinese Premier (as happened at UNMC and UNNC respectively last year) it has to permeate the institution from top to bottom. In short, it is all about delivery and Nottingham has delivered and continues to deliver real international higher education. This is the experience at our global institution. It’s not perfect and there is still a long way to go to develop fully the potential of all three of our international campuses in Malaysia, China and the UK but I think it is real, meaningful, deep and sustained internationalisation. I wish Warwick and Monash well in their collaboration; I am sure we would be delighted to welcome Professor Coats to any of our campuses to see our truly transnational offering and experience a real global University.

Giving league tables a bad name

This kind of thing really shouldn’t be given any airtime

Yes, sad to say it is the ‘University Drinking League’. Fortunately it does not deserve to be taken at all seriously given that it is simply self-reported consumption by students.

Being the responsible folks that we are we would never stoop to making lazy generalisations, so you can decide whether or not you’re surprised to find Queen’s University Belfast sitting top of the pile – with each student drinking a headache-inducing 27.3 units per week.

The uni in second place – Heriot-Watt – also came second in this year’s University Sex League, suggesting that its students have found more than a couple of ways to keep out the cold during the harsh Scottish winter.

The top three is rounded off with Bath Spa (who came in 4th place in the 2011 drinking league), whilst at the other end of the table we find Wolverhampton, Glasgow and Robert Gorden Uni propping things up – with the latter having an average of just 11 units per student per week.

Average units drunk per student per week
1 Queen’s University Belfast 27.3
2 Heriot-Watt University 26.3
3 Bath Spa University 26.3
4 University of Hull 26.1
5 Sheffield Hallam University 24.5
6 University of Strathclyde 24.3
7 University of Wales Institute, Cardiff 23.9
8 Nottingham Trent University 23.8
9 University College London 23.1
10 University of Manchester 22.7
11 Swansea University 22.7
12 University of Aberdeen 22.5
13 University of Leeds 22.3
14 University of Edinburgh 22.1
15 Manchester Metropolitan University 21.6
16 Bangor University 21.5
17 University of Liverpool 20.8
18 University of Glamorgan 20.7
19 University of Plymouth 20.6
20 University of York 20.5

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, from the same source we have the ‘University Sex League 2012 where self-reporting is likely to be even less reliable than with alcohol consumption:

After the University of Glamorgan topped the list last year, the Welsh domination of the bedroom continues as Bangor University find themselves in pole position with 8.31 sexual partners per student. Llongyfarchiadau! (That’s Welsh for ‘congrats’, by the way.)

The former table-toppers have slipped to 15th, whilst their neighbours Aberystwyth Uni find themselves in the top five for the second consecutive year.

At the other end of the spectrum it would seem that The Only Way is No-Sex, with The University of Essex propping up the rest of the table with just 1.15 sexual partners per student.

 

 

Rank University Average number of sexual partners since starting uni*
1 Bangor University 8.31
2 Heriot-Watt University 5.8
3 University of Plymouth 5.75
4 Liverpool John Moores University 5.48
5 Aberystwyth University 5.34
6 Manchester Metropolitan University 5.31
7 Brunel University 5.22
8 Aston University 5.19
9 Sheffield Hallam University 4.89
10 Teesside University 4.86
11 University of Wolverhampton 4.86
12 Swansea University 4.75
13 Newcastle University 4.72
14 Edge Hill University 4.7
15 University of Glamorgan 4.67
16 University of Huddersfield 4.66
17 University of Cambridge 4.62
18 University of Exeter 4.59
19 University of Portsmouth 4.53
20 University of Wales Institute, Cardiff 4.52

No doubt the Guardian, Times, THE and QS will be reconsidering their criteria with some urgency…

QS World subject ranking – UK universities

New QS world rankings by subject

The Guardian has a summary of UK universities’ performance in the latest QS subject rankings and it looks like Oxford comes out top

Institution name
Highest rank
Subject
University of Oxford 1 Geography
History
Philosophy
University of Cambridge 1 English Language and Literature
London Business School 3 Accountancy and Finance
London School of Economics 3 Politics and International Studies
Imperial College London 6 Pharmacy and Pharmacology
University of Edinburgh 7 Linguistics
University of Manchester 11 Geography
Durham University 12 Geography
University College London 12 Psychology
King’s College London 16 Pharmacy and Pharmacology
University of St Andrews 16 Philosophy
Institute of Education 17 Education
University of Nottingham 21= Pharmacy and Pharmacology
University of Warwick 21 English Language and Literature
University of Bristol 22 Geography
Lancaster University 24= Environmental Science
University of York 27 English Language and Literature

On the face of it this looks like a fairly creditable performance in a limited range of subjects. The full subject ranks are available here.

Troops to Teachers

New directions for service leavers: but should UK be doing more?

The University of Nottingham is offering extra places for for former service personnel wishing to retrain as teachers. It’s an interesting development and one which has arisen as part of a government initiative:

British servicemen and women who are leaving or have left the forces within the last two years are being offered the chance to bring their unique skills into the classroom and train as teachers at The University of Nottingham.

The University’s School of Education will provide extra places from September 2012 as part of its established and highly successful Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP). The School has developed a course which is tailor-made for graduates who have served in the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force.

The new Troops to Teachers course is part of a government scheme which pledged a package of support for ex-military personnel wanting to retrain as teachers when they leave the forces. It was prompted by a similar scheme in America which showed that ex-servicemen and women are proving to be excellent teachers, particularly in high-poverty areas and in high-demand subjects such as modern languages, mathematics and science.

When the policy was launched The Guardian questioned whether more ex-soldiers should become teachers and offered two contrasting viewpoints, the latter from someone who had followed this route:

Against:

The truth is that this is a deeply nostalgic policy, harking back to the two previous wars of the last century when demobbed soldiers entered our classrooms in their droves. But they were very different times; only a tiny fraction of the school population went to university and corporal punishment was rife. Times have moved on, but sadly Gove and his miserable policies have not.

For:

My military background was something that gave me instant respect and the training in instruction I could draw on from the army was very useful. The students enjoyed my lessons and other teachers would ask me to be the disciplinarian. So, yes, if you ask me, I think former soldiers make excellent teachers. If these plans go ahead, it’ll be good for them, and it’ll be good for their students.

I do think that it is possible that there is an element of nostalgia underlying the policy as is suggested here. However, helping ex-military personnel to find meaningful careers is surely something we should be concerned with. The USA demonstrates a significantly greater commitment on this front having a Government Department dedicated to Veterans and specific advice and substantial financial support for those wishing to return to higher education. Should we be doing more in the UK?

Guardian League Table 2013: Ups and downs

New Guardian League Table for 2013

Top 20 of the full list (available here) is as follows (last year’s position in brackets):

1 (1) Cambridge
2 (2) Oxford
3 (4) LSE
4 (3) St Andrews
5 (6) Warwick
6 (5) UCL
7 (8) Durham
7 (7) Lancaster
9 (14) Bath
10 (11) Exeter
11 (9) Loughborough
12 (19) Surrey
13 (10) Imperial
14 (21) Glasgow
15 (16) Edinburgh
16 (na) Buckingham
17 (15) York
18 (25) Bristol
19 (17) Leicester
20 (27) Heriot Watt

The full story on the (not terribly surprising) news that Cambridge has held on to top slot for the second year running can be found here. A couple of comments in the piece are worth noting:

Most of the shifts in this year’s league table are due to changing levels of student satisfaction. Sussex dropped to 27th place from 11th after students in English and geography became significantly less happy with their departments. Stirling dropped from 44th to 67th after value-added scores in business and law declined.

Aberystwyth fell in six subjects, with declines in all performance measures. It drops from 50th place to 81st.

Among the climbers is Brunel, up from 82nd to 44th, taking the top spot for social work. Chester went from 80th to 52nd, with student satisfaction results driving improved ratings in biosciences, history, law and psychology. The career prospects of its biosciences graduates also improved. Coventry rose from 63rd to 46th, with student survey results a major factor.

Overall, there is plenty of swapping of places inside the top 10 and some more dramatic movements inside and beyond the top 20. Given the emphasis placed on NSS scores this is perhaps not much of a shock. But the high level of volatility in the table does keep things fresh every year. Irritating that University of Nottingham slips out of the top 20 though.

Pride & Prejudices: Problems with National & International League Tables

Presentation from AUA Conference 2012

Thank you to all who attended this session on 3 April 2012

As promised, here is the presentation:

 

 

As mentioned at the presentation, this will be the last time I deliver this session at AUA conference. I’ve done it too many times but the main reason is that my co-presenter, Tony Rich, is no longer able to join me. Tony is seriously unwell and I would encourage everyone  to sponsor Jonathan Nicholls, Registrary at Cambridge University, who is running the London Marathon to raise funds for Bristol University’s cancer research fund.

See Jonathan’s Just Giving page for details.

On Meaningful University Collaboration

Collaboration Theory and Practice

There’s an exciting new HEFCE report out on the lessons learned from collaborations, alliances and mergers. It has also resulted in an exciting new acronym, CAM. In these austere times it’s good to know that we are still able to produce good acronyms. The report, available here, is also a consultation document which invites further comment and evidence from the sector:

Collaborations, alliances and mergers among universities and colleges have been an important feature of the higher education sector throughout its history, but relatively little information has been published on this activity. We have therefore published this study to help the sector learn from the experiences of others and improve the likelihood of success considering or implementing change. The information has been drawn from case studies in England and overseas, interviews, existing literature and other published information.

Sir Alan Langlands, HEFCE’s Chief Executive, said:

‘CAM activity might well continue to be part of the higher education sector’s response to change, and has the potential to provide opportunities for educational development, new research directions and greater effectiveness. However, any decision about change is a matter for institutions – there is no question of a top-down approach. HEFCE’s primary role is to safeguard the collective interests of current and prospective students and the wider public. In seeking to encourage the development of a more diverse and dynamic sector and supporting student choice, we will respect the autonomy of institutions and support them in any way we can.’

The CAM report coincides with the first anniversary of the University of Birmingham/University of Nottingham collaborative partnership, the marking of which was reported in the Times Higher Education:

Publication of the report came as David Eastwood, University of Birmingham vice-chancellor and former Hefce chief executive, gave his view on the sector’s future as the collaboration between his institution and the University of Nottingham marked its first anniversary.

Professor Eastwood told Times Higher Education that while Nottingham and Birmingham each had annual turnovers of around £500 million and were “financially strong”, there were universities with £30 million to £50 million turnovers “having to carry a lot of the same infrastructure costs that we do”.

“If we can see some issues from a combined operation of almost £1 billion, you would expect others to be in search – rather urgently – of those kinds of efficiencies.”

In their year of collaboration, Nottingham and Birmingham have jointly appointed an international officer to boost student recruitment in Brazil and established a £480,000 joint investment fund for research partnerships with institutions in Sao Paulo state. At home, they shared research equipment and won a share of £5 million to set up one of two national centres for ageing and pain research funded by the Medical Research Council and Arthritis Research UK.

Professor Eastwood said the collaboration had stimulated “a lot of interest both in the sector and in government. What we are doing will remain relatively rare, because it is relatively rare to have two big universities, financially strong, which over a period have built good relations. There will be other issues that move other institutions to alignments and mergers.”

Nottingham and Birmingham “have their own identities…and are not going to do anything that undermines that”, he added.

Nottingham vice-chancellor David Greenaway put the collaboration in the context of “diversifying research income streams – which is important to do in the current climate”, arguing that “there are resources out there, especially in the big emerging economies”.

Professor Greenaway said of the joint MRC funding: “I don’t think that would have happened without the collaboration. We probably would have ended up putting in competing bids – neither bid would have been big enough, strong enough, in its own right.”

He also highlighted the potential for the two universities to work together in pre-university education on “changing life opportunities in [the] two cities”.

(See also the University of Nottingham statement on the milestone.)

Another dimension of the collaboration, a research partnership in Brazil, was also reported recently on the Guardian Higher Education Network:

The ability to operate at scale has allowed us to develop 20 full-fee PhD scholarships annually for Brazilian students; a visiting fellows programme and a £480k joint research investment fund with the São Paulo Research Foundation. We have also planned a series of joint workshops in-country focused around energy (oil and gas, bioenergy), with further themes under discussion.

Alongside the benefits of scale are the traditional benefits of complementarity. Our collaboration enables each partner to bring its individual strengths to the table. We have found this could be research expertise or in areas such as student exchange and teaching links. An example of this is in the area of ultra-cold atoms and energy – Birmingham has expertise in optical lattices and nuclear energy and Nottingham in atom chips and bioenergy; both areas being of particular relevance in our links with Brazil.

Although it is still early, there is a real sense of purpose around what we are doing in Brazil. We hope what will follow will be additional academic collaborations, increased research income, and greater visibility. Overall, we need to be prepared to invest considerable time and energy working together and acknowledge that the effort may take a while to bear fruit.

These are just a couple of case studies of how the Birmingham/Nottingham collaboration is playing out. It still feels like early days but there are some striking examples of how working together is proving to be mutually beneficial. This is very much at the softer end of HEFCE’s CAM spectrum but it is extremely fruitful for both universities.

Other universities have sought to emulate the success of the Nottingham/Birmingham partnership in the last year including Liverpool and Lancaster (although that does seem to have gone a little quiet of late). Most recently though Warwick and Queen Mary have announced a partnership. According to the Times Higher though they seem to be slightly at odds about some elements of the collaboration:

The University of Warwick and Queen Mary, University of London, could share lecturers as part of a new programme of research and outreach collaboration.

In a joint statement, the two institutions said “cross contributions to undergraduate teaching” by their scholars would “ensure that the universities’ students benefit from the partnership by having access to an even broader range of leading academics”.

Overall, the collaboration in teaching, research and widening participation “aims to ensure that both universities continue to thrive amidst the increasing uncertainty and pressures facing higher education institutions in England”.

A spokeswoman for Queen Mary added that the universities would share lecturers in third-year undergraduate history, English and computer science seminars, and look to expand to other subjects in the future.

However, a spokesman for Warwick stressed that no decisions had been taken, claiming that there were no specific plans to share lecturers.

This comes on the back of the international partnership recently announced between Warwick and Monash University in Australia which will be secured by, among other things, the appointment of a shared Pro-Vice-Chancellor.

So, everyone is at it and that HEFCE report is looking rather timely.