Just a bit of fun – it’s the table of tables

Table of Tables

Back in June Times Higher Education published its annual table of tables. Essentially it’s a bit of a cheat in that it simply uses the results of the three domestic league tables to derive a score (the Sunday Times table, which isn’t published until August or September, is ignored). As Peter Snow used to say when projecting general election results from one by-election, it’s just a bit of fun.

The University of Cambridge has secured the top spot ahead of the University of Oxford in Times Higher Education‘s fifth annual “Table of Tables”.

Based on the combined results of the UK’s university league tables, Cambridge kept its number one status after ousting its varsity rival from pole position for the first time last year.

Cambridge sealed its triumph over its old foe after it was judged the UK’s top university by The Complete University Guide and in rankings published by The Guardian. Oxford took first place in the Good University Guide, published by The Times.

Methodologically, it is exceptionally dubious. Averaging a bunch of already dodgy data combinations doesn’t eliminate their flaws. All good fun though, I’m sure you agree.

Rank 2012 Rank 2011 Institution Complete University Guide rank Guardian rank Times/ Good University Guide rank Total score
1 1 Cambridge 1 1 2 89
2 2 Oxford 3 2 1 87
3 3 London School of Economics 2 3 3 85
4 4 St Andrews =6 4 6 77
5 7 Durham 5 =7 5 76
6 8 Warwick =6 5 8 74
=7 =5 Imperial College London 4 13 4 72
=7 =5 University College London 8 6 7 72
=9 =10 Bath 10 9 9 65
=9 9 Lancaster 9 =7 12 65
11 =10 Exeter 13 10 10 60
12 16 Bristol 11 18 11 53
13 15 Loughborough 14 11 16 52
14 12 York 12 17 13 51
15 =13 Edinburgh 16 15 14 48
16 21 Glasgow 17 14 15 47
17 20 Southampton 15 =22 =18 38
18 19 Leicester 20 19 17 37
19 26 Surrey 22 12 26 33
20 17 Nottingham 19 26 20 28

Just a bit of fun.

Agent power and international student recruitment

Are agents too powerful?

A recent Times Higher Education story on the use of agents by UK universities in international student recruitment noted:

UK universities recruited more than 50,000 international students through commission payments to overseas agents last year, spending close to £60 million on the practice in 2010-11.

Using data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, THE found that 100 universities enrolled 51,027 students in 2011, or the nearest recorded period, via a process involving agents paid on a commission basis.

This is a lot of money but arguably a reasonable proportion of the income derived from international students and therefore could be seen as a sensible investment. However, the role of agents is not always entirely transparent and there is a danger that, given the high stakes here for UK universities and the money to be made by agents, things could become a bit murky.

My colleague Vincenzo Raimo, Director of the University of Nottingham’s International Office, has recently written a piece for the Professionals in International Education blog on the power of agents in the recruitment process. He has some concerns:

“In an ever more competitive international student recruitment market, UK universities are increasingly relying on the use of student recruitment agents to meet targets. Not only are universities failing to appreciate the full costs of international student recruitment but some are also in danger of failing to meet ethical standards in their work overseas.

Valuable visa

Despite the significant increase in international students coming to the UK in recent years I am concerned that as a result of increasing competition and the more difficult environment resulting from the UK government’s changes to visa requirements, recruitment agents have become too powerful and the balance of power between universities and agents has shifted increasingly towards agents.

One would have expected that with the volume increases our institutions have experienced the margin on international students would also have increased. I think the opposite is the case. One of the reasons for this is that in our competitive fervour we’ve let agents become too powerful.

So, agents really are a challenge. There are those who believe we should dispense with them altogether and there are a few universities in the UK and many in the US which refuse to have anything to do with agents. I do think that agents, provided that there are sufficient controls over their behaviour (and fees), can play a valuable role in international student recruitment. But they do require better management and, as Raimo says, we need to shift the balance of power back to the universities.

On the real bottom line

Transnational initiatives pay dividends far greater than a share of the overseas student market

Times Higher Education carries this piece (by me) on the real value of international activity:

The British Council has predicted that most universities in the West – with the exception of some in Australia – will recruit markedly fewer international students in the years ahead than they have done in the past decade.

Its recent report, The Shape of Things to Come, recommends that universities set up more overseas branch campuses and institutional partnerships rather than relying on attracting students to the UK.

The University of Nottingham has many years of experience in this area. We set up international campuses in Malaysia in 2000, and then in 2004 became the first institution to establish a Sino-foreign university in China.

In May, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, invited universities and banks to a round-table meeting to talk about establishing international branch campuses. This was seen, by some at least, to be a response to the impact of visa controls on international student recruitment to the UK. It was also suggested, rather cynically, that it was a good way for cash-strapped universities to make money in the wake of overseas student recruitment problems arising from the government’s immigration policy

 

The piece is linked to this year’s International Leadership Conference: Managing Global Universities taking place from 29 October – 1 November 2012 at the University of Nottingham Ningbo, China.

Campus at University of Nottingham Ningbo China


The conference, which takes place annually, has previously welcomed delegates from the UK, Denmark, China, Colombia, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, the US and Belgium. The event is designed for senior leaders to discuss and share best practice on important topics around the internationalisation of higher education. Including the real value of international higher education activity. Do come – we would really like to see you there.

Offshoring opportunities – a real alternative?

Minister proposes overseas campuses as alternative to international student recruitment

Times Higher Education reports that David Willetts seems to be pushing overseas campus expansion – with private finance support – to compensate for reduced international student recruitment resulting from government immigration policies. The idea features, not for the first time, in a speech on international higher education he delivered at the Goldman Sachs-Stanford University Global Education Conference on 20 June:

His call for universities to seek alternative financing for expansion overseas comes amid a drive for every government department to identify sources of economic growth.

The minister is also seeking ways for UK universities to maximise the number of overseas students they teach abroad. The government’s tougher immigration controls threaten to cut the number of students able to enter the UK for study at universities.

Mr Willetts said: “Our universities are internationally recognised: they are a great British brand. We can do more to take advantage of our position. Our universities are well financed for what they do but underfinanced for big expansion. I want to see investors from Britain and abroad helping our universities access these big overseas markets. I know that companies like Goldman Sachs who have organised this conference…are keen to investigate this possibility.”

The minister hopes that Goldman Sachs will be able to identify private investors willing to finance developments such as overseas branch campuses and distance-learning operations.

A previous post reported on an earlier speech by Mr Willetts on the issue of internationalisation. He is undoubtedly serious about the proposition. And he is right to point to the success of the University of Nottingham and others in establishing campuses overseas. However, there are several fundamental problems with this notion:

  1. The income generated by overseas campuses will do very little to offset losses from underrecruitment of international students in the UK. Even where it may be possible and appropriate to repatriate surpluses, the sums involved will not get anywhere near the level of international student income currently received by UK universities.
  2. The de-diversification of UK campuses resulting from the decline in international students will harm the learning experience for all.
  3. Building, growing and sustaining an overseas campus is a long game. Even if every UK university had one it would take a very long time to get to a point where they were capable of providing the scale of export benefit the UK currently enjoys.
  4. If the primary aim of building an overseas campus is to make money then it is unlikely to provide a good basis for a productive relationship with a host country.

So, even with the backing of Goldman Sachs it is not clear that the overseas campus option is going to come close to compensating for the anticipated impact of immigration policies on international student numbers in the UK. The other angle discussed by the Minister, distance learning, may offer possibilities but again is unlikely to deliver on the scale required. Better perhaps to review those immigration policies instead.

Exciting new league table: 30 under six!

The 30 Universities making their names count

Following the outstanding success of the ’100 under 50′ ranking in the Times Higher Education (a ranking which acknowledged that some universities didn’t enjoy all the advantages that hanging around for a couple of centuries or more bestowed in terms of league table performance) it seemed that it was about time there was recognition for those institutions which have done jolly well despite having really short names. So, a new ranking has been developed for those universities with very few letters to their name.

Using the core criteria from THE World Rankings mixed in with some unique UK indicators we get a fabulous result for British universities with no fewer than one third of the universities in the top 30 being from this country. Let’s have a look at those who are top in the short name stakes:

  1. Ulm
  2. Yale
  3. Duke
  4. Rice
  5. Lund
  6. Utah
  7. York
  8. Iowa
  9. Oslo
  10. Bath
  11. City
  12. Kent
  13. Hull
  14. Tokyo
  15. Brown
  16. Kyoto
  17. Emory
  18. Tufts
  19. Ghent
  20. Basel
  21. Osaka
  22. Leeds
  23. Seoul
  24. Essex
  25. Fudan
  26. Milan
  27. Padua
  28. Aston
  29. Keele
  30. Derby

The number one slot then is, perhaps unsuprisingly, taken by Ulm University. Located in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, Ulm University was founded in 1966. It chose its name wisely. Terrific results too for Hull, City, Bath, Essex, Aston, Keele and Derby Universities all of which have done well with four or five letter monikers.

Note that whilst complaints have been received about the methodology for this league table, from those who argued that it should be syllables rather than letter counts which matter to those who battled passionately for their acronyms to be regarded as their names (especially MIT, UCL, NUS, NYU, ANU and UEA) and also the legal team at Sciences Po, these have been set aside in order to maintain the essential arbitrariness of the core criteria.

I’m sure we can look forward to some more creative rankings.

International students: not an immigration issue

Students really aren’t immigrants

Excellent piece in a recent edition of Times Higher Education by Edward Acton. The essence of his argument is that international students make a massive contribution to the UK economy and most of them leave the UK after graduating. In other words, they really should not be considered as part of the immigration debate. Unfortunately, for entirely political reasons, they are:

Students, in so far as they are regarded as immigrants at all, cause least concern. The vast majority leave after completing their studies. A Home Office study of the cohort entering in 2004 found that after five years, only 3 per cent had settled. Concern only rises if there is doubt that students are visa-compliant and duly exit when their visas expire. But it is acknowledged by all sides and underlined by the Home Office’s own detailed analysis that those with visas sponsored by universities have excellent standards of compliance.

No queuing here

…one clear solution is to lift university-sponsored students out of the net migration calculation. The case for doing so is overwhelming. These “migrants” are distinct. They are, as public policy in other countries recognises, temporary. They are known to have excellent standards of visa compliance. And, in spite of the Home Office, the government as a whole commits considerable resources to encouraging them to come to the UK.

The data needed to separate them is readily available. The Higher Education Statistics Agency collects from its members meticulous detail on each non-EU student joining and completing a higher education course. Every university records student visa start- and end-dates, as well as passport numbers. From this it is possible to derive and publish annual estimates of both the inflow and the outflow of non-EU students who come to the UK for university study.

While influential figures in both governing parties are supportive of the proposal, the Home Office is nervous. A spokeswoman has talked of the need to avoid “fiddling the statistics”. No doubt this reflects ministerial fear that any change to the net migration calculation might arouse public distrust. The fear is misplaced. It underrates the scope for raising the level of public debate. The pressure group MigrationWatch UK, often taken to be the fiercest immigration guard dog, repeatedly emphasises that legitimate international students are not an immigration problem.

As Acton concludes, students have to taken out of the migration stats. We should be focusing on other migrant categories and not students and then, it is to be hoped, it will be possible to undo the damage done internationally to the UK’s reputation.

The PIE news reports on a wave of media attention for UK student visa cap following an IPPR report which suggests that the government has included international students in the net migration count as a way of “gaming” the figures:

IPPR points out that the UK’s main competitors in the overseas student market – the USA, Canada and Australia – do not include temporary or “non-immigrant” admissions in immigration figures, and says only the 15% of overseas students who stay on to work permanently in Britain should be counted within the net migration figures.

More worryingly, it says the government’s plans – which include issuing 250,000 fewer student visas by 2015 – threaten to wipe £4bn to £6bn a year off the UK economy.

The major media response to the report will be welcomed by the education sector, and put pressure on the government as it prepares to announce the latest immigration statistics on May 24.

Higher education is one of the UK’s biggest and most successful export earners and one sector in which we enjoy a real competitive advantage. Now more than ever we need to support it.

European Union university ranking plan: the sector holds its breath

Latest news on the most eagerly awaited league table

A post just over a year ago noted the development of a new EU ranking method. Now University World News carries a piece about the European Union defying criticism of its university ranking plan. Speaking at a rankings event in April Jordi Curell, director of lifelong learning, higher education and international affairs, did accept that not everyone was wildly enthisastic about the U-Multirank non-league table. But he did attempt to defend the idea:

“Rankings which are carefully thought out are the only transparency tools which can give a comparative picture of higher education institutions at a national, European and global level,” he told the symposium.

In March the UK House of Lords’ European Union committee called the initiative a waste of money. Its report argued that U-Multirank brought nothing new to a market already crowded by other international ranking systems, such as those developed by China’s Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Times Higher Education magazine and QS.

But Brussels plans to plough ahead regardless.

Earlier this year the Commission announced that it would spend €4 million (US$5.2 million) testing its new ranking method and invited HEIs to tender for the work with the results due at the end of next year.

Curell told the symposium that generally, a reluctance to support rankings had evolved. But while they might not reflect the full diversity of reality, rankings shape the perception of that reality.

He advised representatives of higher education institutions present at the event to try to influence how rankings develop rather than opposing the trend.

This final point is a good one: universities do have to engage with the rankings. Although you don’t have to express support for them in order to do so. However, I’m still not clear why U-Multirank, a league table which will not be a league table, is necessary. We’ll have to wait and see.

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.

Why Students’ Unions Matter

Students’ unions are important for many reasons

I’ve got a piece in the Times Higher Education about some of the reasons I think students’ unions are important:

Students’ unions have a long and distinctive history in UK higher education, but their character has changed significantly in the past decade.

While they have always been concerned with student representation and support, and with the extracurricular aspects of student life, they are now much more directly interested in – and increasingly involved in – the core issue of teaching and learning.

Following the lead of the National Union of Students, which has displayed a new willingness to work with the government, students unions’ have shifted from a position of general opposition to change (particularly on student finance) and campaigning on international policy matters (often combined with leftist posturing), to arguing for better libraries, improved IT, more class contact and improved feedback on assessed work.

When I was a student many years ago, student unionism was primarily concerned with fighting apartheid, denouncing Margaret Thatcher and supporting the miners. Debate was passionate and it all felt massively important, but unions rarely concerned themselves with day-to-day university life. How times have changed.

And the change is for the better. The full piece is available via Times Higher Education. (Thank you THE for asking me to do the piece.)

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Risk of managers swamping universities?

Some seem to think that management numbers are growing too fast

HESA, the Higher Education Statistics Agency has recently published its annual summary of staff numbers in higher education. The headline data follows:

Academic staff

Of the 181,185 academic staff employed at UK HEIs, 44.2% were female, 12.4% were from an ethnic minority and nearly a quarter (24.8%) were of non-UK nationality.

17,465 academic staff had contracts conferring the title of ‘Professor’. Of these 19.8% were female, 7.3% were from an ethnic minority and 16.7% were of non-UK nationality.

Non-academic staff

As well as academic staff, there were a further 200,605 non-academic staff employed at HEIs in 2010/11. The majority (62.4%) of these staff were female. 10.0% of non-academic staff were from an ethnic minority and 9.3% were of non-UK nationality.

16,395 non-academic staff were coded as ‘Managers’. Of these 52.4% were female, 6.0% were from an ethnic minority and 5.9% were of non-UK nationality.

This is the definition of ‘Managers’ used by HESA:

Non-academic Managers are defined as those individuals who are responsible for the planning, direction and co-ordination of the policies and activities of enterprises or organisations, or their internal departments or sections. Senior academics who act as vice chancellors or directors/heads of schools, colleges, academic departments or research centres are coded as academic staff.

To summarise this HESA offers a handy infographic:

On the face of it this all looks pretty innocuous but it seems that, despite the relatively small number of managers in the sector, around 4% of the staff total and smaller than the professoriate, the rate of growth of managers has been faster than academics. For some, according to the Times Higher Education, (which seems to use different data in places) this is a bit of a problem:

The percentage increase in the number of managers in higher education in recent years is more than twice that for academics, an analysis of new figures has suggested.

Data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency reveal there were 15,795 managers in higher education in December 2010 – up by almost 40 per cent on the 11,305 employed in the 2003-04 academic year.

That was compared to the 19.2 per cent increase in academics since 2003-04. It means there is now a manager for every 9.2 academics compared with a ratio of one to 10.8 seven years earlier.

Sally Hunt, University and College Union general secretary, said: “Despite the fact that there has been a large increase in the number of students in recent years, there has been a larger increase in the number of managers than academics.

“We have raised fears about the changing nature of universities as the market in higher education continues to grow. However, institutions and government must never lose sight of universities’ key roles in teaching and challenging students.”

Meanwhile, statistics released by Hesa on 1 March showed staffing levels at universities fell by 1.5 per cent last year.

The figures showed there were 381,790 people working at UK higher education institutions in 2010-11, down by 5,640 from 2009-10.

These numbers though really are not large and manager numbers have grown by just under 4,500 at a time when academic numbers have grown by over 16,000 (which makes the point from Sally Hunt factually incorrect).

The UCU comment suggests it is taking its lead from David Willetts.  He made a similar point in a speech made to a UUK conference back on 9 September 2010:

There are other ways of cutting overhead costs. In 2009 the number of senior university managers rose by 6% to 14,250, while the number of university professors fell by 4% to 15,530. On that trend the number of senior managers could have overtaken the number of professors this year. I recognise that universities now are big, complex institutions with revenues from many sources which need to be professionally managed. But we owe it to the taxpayer and the student to hold down these costs – we are now in a different and much more austere world. Again, we are not going to shirk our share of responsibility for tackling this. We will to do away with unnecessary burdens upon you that require the recruitment of more administrators. Do tell me – and HEFCE, of course – of any information requirement or regulation which you believe comes at a disproportionate cost. They have to go: we cannot afford them.

So this is the moment to be thinking even more creatively about cost cutting. I congratulate you on your initiative in inviting Ian Diamond to chair a UUK group on efficiency savings. You are right to get to grips with this. We can work with you on this agenda without getting sucked in to micromanaging our universities. No returning to a time – a century ago, actually – when one vice chancellor reacted to a Board of Education demand for figures on staff teaching hours by complaining that “Nothing so ungentlemanly has been done by the Government since they actually insisted on knowing what time Foreign Office clerks arrive at Whitehall.”

As noted in a recent post, these claims about reducing regulation ring rather hollow and, given that government demands on universities have increased rather than declined, this does perhaps provide one explanation for the growth.

How signifiicant is all this though? While the staff group ‘managers’ has grown faster than academic professionals at all universities and at Russell Group universities (but not at Nottingham as it happens), this is a small category of staff representing only 7-8% of all non-academic staff. The definitions of the various staff groups provided by HESA do allow some judgement in the allocation of staff to the various groups and there is some evidence of differing practice at different institutions. However, the definition of academic professional is straightforward and unambiguous and it is clear that at Nottingham such staff have grown considerably more than non-academic staff since 2003-04.

Universities need managers to function effectively. They are key to enabling academic staff focus on delivering excellent research and first class teaching and for protecting academics from the worst regulatory excesses of government. So this modest growth is really nothing to get excited about.

Too much data?

Will more data help prospective students?

Richard Partington, writing in THE, expresses concern about the ‘data overload’ which the Key Information Set (KIS) will deliver. He notes that the provision of information to applicants via the KIS is intended to work in a similar way to price comparison websites such as those offering car insurance. And that this, despite what Ministers might think, is not necessarily a good thing:

But what really worries me, is how the data will be “innovatively presented” by the third-party providers whom the government envisages will advise applicants. Comparing universities and courses is already really difficult. Unless students are lucky enough to be supported by excellent careers advisers, they struggle to make sense of substantially incomparable information regarding course content, teaching, learning, costs and support. The problem has arguably been exacerbated by newspaper league tables that seek to distinguish themselves by weighting data differently, or including additional delineators – sometimes of comical spuriousness. The impossibility of comparing like with like will only get worse under the new arrangements. Try, for example, comparing the fee-waiver, bursary and scholarship packages of Oxford and Cambridge. Both are, I believe, strong and broadly similar. But they look very different.

An earlier post noted similar issues around the provision of advice to students in the new system. It seems to me to be quite likely therefore that the excessive provision of detailed but not necessarily meaningfully comparable data will, as Partington suggests, baffle rather than enlighten students.

A currently pretty much empty site shows an example of what the KIS data will look like and it’s easy to see how seductive this might be for those looking for a cheap solution to the provision of advice to prospective students

Enlightening or baffling? We’ll have to wait and see.

Branch campuses: cut or grow?

Contrasting views of the right direction for internationalisation

A recent piece in the Times Higher covered a report from the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education on what looks like something of a retrenchment in institutions’ international activities:

Opened with great fanfare in the 1990s and 2000s, international branch campuses such as Suffolk’s – which Du Jardin says lost about $1 million (£622,000) a year because of lower-than-projected enrolment – have been quietly closing for financial and other reasons.

This doesn’t mean the end of so-called “transnational education”: universities are increasingly taking the more affordable step of teaming up with host partners. And a report by the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, due to be published next week, will show that the UK has become the international leader in such efforts. More international students are now working towards UK degrees overseas than at home, the OBHE says.

But much of the momentum behind opening entirely new campuses in other countries seems to have been lost. For example, US universities opened a peak of 11 international branch campuses in 2008. Last year they launched just three, and this year, one. And at least 13 US, Irish and Australian international branch campuses have closed, according to the Cross-Border Education Research Team at the State University of New York at Albany. The OBHE report will also show that international branch campus activity has slowed.

“We had a gold-rush mentality. All sorts of universities thought this would be a new way to increase international market share and gain new revenue,” says Jason Lane, the SUNY research team’s co-director.

This was covered in a previous post on US universities and in a report on the ‘branch campus bubble’. But a rather different perspective is provided in a recent report from the 1994 Group of universities (again reported in THE):

Research-intensive universities in the UK should be considering setting up more campuses overseas to counter the threat of falling international student numbers at home, a mission group has said.

A report on internationalisation from the 1994 Group suggests there is more scope for research-intensives to set up abroad – and that they should consider working with other universities to achieve such a goal.

The study says post-1992 universities had been able to deliver more higher education “offshore” than pre-1992 institutions, but there was no reason why they should not follow suit.

This was also imperative given that they had traditionally relied on being able to attract large numbers of overseas students to study in the UK – a trend now at risk from the government’s immigration reforms.

“There is scope for research-intensive institutions to grow offshore provision internationally as University Alliance and million+ universities have successfully been able to do,” says the report, Strategies and trends in the internationalisation of UK universities.

An interesting contrast. But, as previously noted in relation to another set of views on branch campuses, this has to be a long term strategy for institutions and cannot be viewed as simply an income generating activity (ie to offset any drop in international student recruitment to the UK). A gold rush mentality just does not work here.

International Leadership Conference: Managing Global Universities

Last week saw the second International Leadership Conference at the University of Nottingham. Building on the success of the inaugural event held in China in November 2010, the 2011 event took place at The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, 30km from Kuala Lumpur.

This intensive four day programme is designed for senior managers and leaders from higher education institutions from across the world. This was a really good event and I hope that all the delegates enjoyed it as much as I did.

We had a terrific line up of speakers, including:

Ken Sloan, Serco
Paul M. Marshall, 1994 Group
Graham Cartledge CBE, Benoy
Dr. Janet Ilieva, British Council
Tan Sri Lodin, Boustead Holdings
Phil Baty, Times Higher Education
Professor Robin Pollard, Monash University
Emma Leech, Director of Communications and Marketing, University of Nottingham
Professor Craig Mahoney, The Higher Education Academy
Professor David Greenaway, Vice-Chancellor, The University of Nottingham
Datuk Prof. Dr. Roziah Binti Omar, Higher Education Leadership Academy (AKEPT)
Dato Prof. Dr. Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

Thanks to all speakers and participants for making it such a good experience. Already looking forward to the 2012 event which will be held at University of Nottingham, Ningbo China.

Open for business

Small countries are open for higher education business

A taster for a session to be delivered at next week’s International Leadership Conference at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus: this piece in Times Higher Education covers the openness of some countries in relation to higher education.

The article reports on a session which Janet Ilieva of the British Council is delivering at the conference in which she will refer to the fact that small countries often have the most “open” higher education systems, just as their economies are the most open to international trade:

Janet Ilieva, head of research for education intelligence, cited Hong Kong, Singapore and the Netherlands as examples of small countries with higher education systems that were open to imports and exports in terms of students, academics and institutions.

But she said that some others with ambitions to join the list, particularly a few Gulf states, were struggling to do so because of “over-regulation” by their governments.

Her comments were made in an interview with Times Higher Education ahead of a conference on International Leadership: Managing Global Universities to be held at the University of Nottingham Malaysia campus next week.

Dr Ilieva is due to present the findings of a study into the openness of higher education in 22 different countries, including a subset of eight countries in Southeast Asia.

Of these, Hong Kong was ranked top, followed by South Korea and Malaysia.

However, Dr Ilieva said that the ranking misrepresented the openness of Singapore (rated seventh in the region), because it looked only at national policy.

In Singapore, she said, the government had handed over responsibility for many policy decisions to the institutions themselves.

Looking forward to it.