Times and Sunday Times 2015 University League Table Top Placings

The Times and Sunday Times League Table 2015

A quick look at the top 25 in the all new Times/Sunday Times Good University Guide ranking for 2015. Full details can be found on the Sunday Times website (£). (Last year’s position in brackets.)

1= (1) Cambridge
1= (2) Oxford
3 (4) St Andrews
4 (5) Imperial
5 (3) LSE
6 (6) Durham
7 (8) Exeterrankings
8 (10) Warwick
9 (9) UCL
10 (7) Bath
11 (12=) Surrey
12 (12=) Lancaster
13 (21) Loughborough
14 (17) UEA
15 (16) Birmingham
16 (11) York
17 (29) Leeds
18 (20) Southampton
19 (15) Bristol
20 (14) Leicester
21 (18) Sheffield
22= (23) Nottingham
22= (18) Newcastle
22= (22) Edinburgh
25 (32) Sussex

This may be the first time there has been a tie for first place and it would, of course, be Oxford and Cambridge inseparable at the top of the table.

Warwick is the ‘University of the Year’.

Full details of the table including subject rankings were published in the Sunday Times on 21 September.

Spy kids

GCHQ accredits UK master’s degrees for ‘cyber spies’

Like real spies. Only better educated.

Like real spies. Only better educated.

 

 
Was very much taken by this thrilling news.

Of course we have had Professional Body accreditation for many years and more recently courses supported by Asda and other supermarkets. But this is a little bit different. Not least in the sense that GCHQ is not exactly analagous to an accrediting Professional Body. Or indeed a supermarket.

As BBC News observes this is actually part of a wider government strategy:
 

The degrees form part of the UK’s cyber security strategy published in 2011. The strategy recognised that education was key to improving defences against hackers and online fraud. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said internet cyber security was a “crucial part” of the government’s long-term plan for the British economy. He said the courses would help to make the “UK one of the safest places in the world to do business online”. He said: “Through the excellent work of GCHQ, in partnership with other government departments, the private sector and academia, we are able to counter threats and ensure together we are stronger and more aware. “UK universities were invited to submit their master’s degree courses for certification.The universities now running GCHQ-approved programmes in cyber security are Edinburgh Napier University, Lancaster University, the University of Oxford and Royal Holloway, University of London. GCHQ has also given provisional accreditation to Cranfield University’s cyber defence and information assurance course, and the University of Surrey’s information security course. A spokesman for GCHQ said the universities “were judged to provide well-defined and appropriate content, delivered to the highest standard”.

Of course you don’t actually apply for these courses. If they want you, they will find you.

It also reminded me of this very recent post on a new book by @DavidDuncan64 about a retired agent who becomes a Registrar.

It’s all getting a bit exciting in the world of higher education, isn’t it?

A long list of management principles

Important maxims to live and work by? Or just a long and forgettable list?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a diverting piece on a set of rules the new president of the University of Akron has issued to his senior staff:

If Scott L. Scarborough gets his way, the University of Akron will have the cleanest administration in higher education.Literally.Mr. Scarborough, the Ohio university’s newly minted president, has asked all of his senior administrators to commit to a set of “Leadership and Management Principles” that he says will ensure success. The president’s big no-nos, which are outlined in 28 bullet points, include: Failing to pick up trash. Failing to maintain an orderly and clean work environment. Being late to meetings. Losing one’s cool. The inability to answer a question directly and succinctly.

 

Looking at the first set of success factors it would be hard to describe them as particularly novel or visionary. Here’s a sample:

 

principles
And here’s the list of mistakes:

mistakes

It’s an interesting approach. I suspect though that there are very few memorable ones in here. Apart from the picking up trash one. Which really should not need a reminder.

Celebrating Student Success

We really do have an outstanding Students’ Union

A nice new website publicising the University of Nottingham Students’ Union’s successes over the past year and its centenary celebrations:

For the last week of the semester, your officers decided it was time to celebrate the things we’d achieved. So, we launched our very first Celebration Week. Celebration Week is the perfect time to look back on the successes of the past year. What’s was the most memorable moment of 2013/14? What was your biggest success? What would you have done differently?Most importantly, we wanted to know how you were celebrating everything you’d been getting up to, while we held some celebrations of our own. Special events, such as the free 100 Heroes exhibition tours, Women in Leadership Tea Party and Mooch Big Brunch, were put together just for Celebration Week.Thanks to everyone for a brilliant year – and we’ll see you again at Welcome!

It’s all terrific stuff and serves to remind us of the essential role students’ unions play in the life of universities. Things have certainly moved on in the past 100 years:

Unions have moved on a little...

Unions have moved on a little…

The Varsity win was pretty good too.

So well done to all of this year’s officers and look forward to even more successes next year.

2015 Complete University Guide League Table

It’s spring and it’s time for the first league table of the season.

Once again it’s the Complete University Guide which is first to publish this year. The top 25 is as follows:

1 (1) Cambridge
2 (2) Oxford
3 (3) London School of Economics
4 (6) St Andrews
5 (5) Durham
6 (4) Imperial College London
7 (8) Warwick
8 (9) Bathcug logo
9 (7) University College London
10 (10) Exeter
11 (11) Lancaster
12 (13) Surrey
13 (14) Loughborough
14 (12) York
15 (20) East Anglia
16 (21) Southampton
17 (17) Birmingham
18 (15) Bristol
19 (16) Leicester
20 (22) Newcastle
21 (18) Edinburgh
22 (28) Kent
23 (24) Nottingham
23 (36) Cardiff
23 (32)Leeds

The new Complete University Guide for 2015 has, unsurprisingly perhaps, Cambridge at the top of the heap. The top 10 is unchanged and there are a few moves in and out of the top 20 with Southampton and Newcastle replacing Edinburgh and King’s.

The Top Ten is unchanged compared with last year. The Universities of Southampton and Newcastle enter the Top 20, while Edinburgh (21th) and King’s (28th) drop out.

There is plenty of other analysis (including by subject, region and mission group)  and information on careers, fees etc. on the website.

The main table uses nine indicators: Student Satisfaction, Research Assessment, Entry Standards, Student:Staff Ratio; Spending on Academic Services; Spending on Student Facilities; Good Honours degrees achieved; Graduate Prospects and Completion. The Subject tables are based on four: Student Satisfaction, Research Assessment; Entry Standards and Graduate Prospects. The results tend to be fairly consistent year on year and there is not huge volatility in this table.

But, overall, there is not a whole lot to get excited about this year.

A stimulating new degree course

A Degree in Coffee?

Inside Higher Ed has an entertaining piece on the advent of a new degree in the critical area of coffee:

 

A_small_cup_of_coffee

Many students and faculty members consider coffee to be essential to their daily existence. The University of California at Davis could be moving toward offering a major in coffee, The Sacramento Bee reported. The university, already known for its research and teaching on wine, has created the Coffee Center. Faculty members will conduct research on such topics as as the genetics of coffee and sensory perception of coffee drinkers. A long-term goal is establishing a major in coffee.

 

About time too.

Earlier posts have covered similar educational innovations, including the following degrees:

  • Viticulture & Enology: Grape Growing and Winemaking
  • Packaging
  • Puppeteering
  • Comic Art
  • Bowling Industry Management and Technology
  • Bagpipes

A previous post on the provision of bonkers degrees and earlier items covered similar ground including a zombie course at the University of Baltimore and a course covering Lady Gaga together with a study of Beyonce. Also we previously looked here at the launch of an MA in Beatles Studies and the offer of a degree in Northern Studies as well as offering a podcast on “bonkers or niche” degrees and an MA in horror and transgression at Derby.

But this coffee development seems particularly well-timed.

Trademarking the obvious in Higher Education

You might be sued for using some pretty common HE phrases

Slate has an amusing piece on universities and colleges which have trademarked seemingly everyday Higher Education phrases such as “student life” and “fast-track MBA”.

According to the piece various institutions have been granted federal trademark registrations on the phrases, presumably to stop other people from using them in any context remotely related to education. At least in the USA. The key terms to avoid:

  • first-year experience has been trademarked by the University of South Carolina

  • fast-track MBA has been trademarked by Eastern University

  • be the difference has been trademarked by Marquette University

  • cure violence has been trademarked by the University of Illinois

  • student life has been trademarked by Washington University in St. Louis

  • students with diabetes has been trademarked by the University of South Florida

  • one course at a time has been trademarked by Cornell College

  • touched by a nurse has been trademarked by the University of Colorado

  • we’re conquering cancer has been trademarked by the University of Texas

  • working toward a world without cancer has been trademarked by the University of Kansas Hospital

  • imagination beyond measure has been trademarked by the University of Virginia

  • tomorrow starts here has been trademarked by East Carolina University

Don't even think of copying this strapline

Don’t even think of copying this strapline

And it does seem that some are not afraid to go after those who use their trademarked property:

The University of Alabama has made legal threats against a cake shop; East Carolina University sued Cisco; West Virginia University sued a company selling blue-and-gold shirts (they said “Let’s Go Drink Some Beers!”—which WVU claimed was too close to their trademarked “Let’s Go Mountaineers!”).

Bizarre. Some of these are such everyday phrases it is difficult to imagine not using them on a regular basis. Although it is a struggle to imagine a context in which “touched by a nurse” might be deployed to positive effect. It couldn’t happen in the UK, could it? (It probably has.)

True Crime on Campus §34: voodoo

New year true crime on campus

Some odd things can happen on campus. Fortunately, our unflappable Security staff are more than capable of responding to any situation:

010 Report of a group of youths on Jubilee Campus. The youths were spoken to by Security and told to leave Campus. The youths ran into Exchange Building and then off the Campus shouting and Swearing at the Officers.

0210 Report of a Conference Delegate lying on the ground adjacent to Cavendish Hall. Security attended the male was found to be so drunk he could not stand without assistance and was resident in Willoughby Hall. Security Officers took the delegate back to his Hall a further check on him was made later in the night to confirm he was well.

cherry picker

1520 A Patrol Security Officer observed a Cherry Picker being manoeuvred on the Science Site. The Officer watched as the Cherry Picker drove into a parked vehicle causing damage to the rear of the vehicle. The driver of the Cherry Picker was stopped and spoken to by the Officer. The owner of the vehicle a member of Staff was informed and attended. Both parties exchanged details.

1845 Security spoke to two youths who refused to leave Jubilee Campus. The youths are part of the larger group that has been causing issues on the Campus. The Police were called and on arrival they spoke to the youths and took them home to speak to their parents. Security are to follow up.

2028 Report of two suspicious males sitting on a vehicle adjacent to Newark Hall. Security attended and spoke to the males who were found to be students.

1740 Report of a suspicious male on Beeston Lane. Security attended and spoke to the male who was identified as a Conference Delegate.

1635 Report of a male on the roof of Trent Building. Security attended and spoke to the male who stated he was free running. The male was told to leave and not to go back on the building roof.

2030 Report of a Student with an injury to her hand in Hall. Security attended. The Student had bruised one of her fingers while “fooling around” with a friend.

0100 Report of a dispute between a Pizza delivery driver and a Taxi driver outside Willoughby Hall. Both Drivers stated that they had been sworn at by the other. Both drivers given advice.

Digital-clock-alarm1240 Report of an alarm clock sounding in a room in Hugh Stewart Hall. Security attended and turned the alarm off.

0010 Report of a disturbance at the Mooch. Security attended. It was reported that a group of Students had stolen a box of Cider from a Beer festival. Students who organised the festival had recovered the Cider but two of the group had been punched while recovering it. Security to follow up. Police not involved.

1545 The Porter of Willoughby Hall reported that a sofa was on the roof of the Porters Lodge and that Estates would remove tomorrow.

2315 A member of Staff from Starbucks cafe reported that they had left two grills on in the Cafe. Security entered Starbucks and turned the Grills off.

0255 Patrol Security Officers stopped two males who were running from Hugh Stewart Hall. The males were stopped by Cripps Hall. Officers stopped one of the males who is a guest of a Student staying in another Hall. The male had taken a tin of food from a student’s room in Hugh Stewart Hall. The Warden is to be informed.

1140 Report of a male by Highfields Lake with a Sword. Security attended. On arrival Officers spoke to a number of Students from a re-enactment Society and informed them of the concerns which had been raised. Students’ Union to be informed of Police request to be notified of any further such meetings in this area.

16:35 Security received a report of a cigarette bin on fire outside the entrance of Humanities. On arrival, the fire had been put out with water by a member of staff. The Helpdesk were already aware.

Vudu1510 A member of the public contacted Security to report that there was a Voodoo doll on the Headless Statue adjacent to Built Environment. The member of the public was concerned that Satanic Practices may affect Students. The person was given reassurance Officers attended the Statue and removed a doll with a pin through its head.

2245 Report of a dead body on the footpath adjacent to the Swimming Pool. Security and Police attended. On arrival a male was found to be drunk and unconscious. The male was woken up and spoken to. He confirmed his details and stated that he had been to a works party on Campus and had far too much to drink. This was confirmed by his line manager. The male was taken home for his own safety by the Police.

24 hour study people

Food: all day and all of the night

It’s perhaps not that novel but Inside Higher Ed has a story about a small US college, Lynn University, which has introduced all-night dining to help, among other things, with more flexible class scheduling:

Lynn made the adjustment in dining hours for a pretty simple and obvious reason: administrators worried that students weren’t eating when they needed to. Athletes, working students and international students, many of whom tend to eat later, would regularly miss meals when the kitchen was only open for a few three-hour periods throughout the day.

A typical cafeteria at some other university

A typical cafeteria at some other university


Sure enough, with all-day access, students started coming in to eat later, sometimes using the cafeteria to study or socialize for hours at a time. But officials hadn’t exactly planned on what happened next: Instead of scheduling classes around when students can and can’t eat, they thought, why not get flexible?

So a two-hour 5 p.m. class that would have been unthinkable before is suddenly an option. And a popular one, at that. As the college experiments with course offerings throughout the day, it has quickly become clear that students much prefer that evening option to the early morning one.

This seems like a good idea to me and one which recognises that students may have many different preferences about when they study and eat. I suspect that more universities will offer this kind of provision, at least at exam time. However, rescheduling classes to accommodate the preferences of some for evening teaching rather than morning may not suit everyone and I suspect that not all academic staff would be wildly enthusiastic about such timetabling.

The 2014 Grant letter: another epistolary triumph

And the wait was finally over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The length of Grant Letters to HEFCE down the years

The length of Grant Letters to HEFCE down the years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The future of counselling?

Is online counselling the future?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a fascinating story on the introduction of an online counselling programme in Florida. Initially developed as a response to resource constraints  it nevertheless seems to have real merit:

Three years ago, facing a particularly acute demand for services, the Counseling and Wellness Center at the University of Florida managed to add four full-time positions to the existing 33. That bought the director, Sheryl A. Benton, and her colleagues just two weeks without a waiting list for appointments.

Concluding that she would never hire her way out of the problem, Ms. Benton set about to expand the center’s capacity by developing an online psychotherapy program, an approach long used and studied in Australia, among other countries.

Therapist Assisted Online, or TAO, began at Florida this past fall. Designed specifically for students battling anxiety—a primary mental-health issue on college campuses—it is the first research-supported program of its kind in the United States, Ms. Benton believes.

resizer.aspx

It does seem to have been an extremely successful pilot:

In the pilot program, 26 students treated under TAO showed more improvement, calculated using a system called Behavioral Health Measure­-20, than 26 participants in the in-person group-therapy sessions at the counseling center. The students treated under TAO also made more progress than about 700 students receiving individual in-person therapy.cwc with building

“The results blew me away, not to mention the fact that it stunned all of my counselors, who I think are still trying to come to terms with what happened,” Ms. Benton says.

The director is the first to point out the limitations of the pilot. Both the student patients and the counselors self-selected, indicating a certain level of motivation and comfort with new technology. The pool of participants was small. Other research studies show that online patients experience results equal to those of in-person patients.

Whilst many universities in the UK will be very envious of the sheer scale of the Florida counselling operation, it does seem like a really interesting development. And, while online counselling is unlikely to replace face-to-face it may be a valuable and cost-effective additional student support tool.

The damage caused by the athletics arms race

Uncontrolled expansion of athletics can cause real problems

Interesting piece in Inside Higher Ed on a paper which looks at the academic damage of an expanding independent athletics program with a particular focus on Berkeley:

calbearslogocos-1

When describing the approach that administrators at the University of California at Berkeley took to the university’s sports program, John Cummins consistently uses a somewhat unexpected term: ambivalent.

Unexpected, says Cummins, a former associate chancellor at the university, because Berkeley, like all other big-time football programs in the major athletic conferences, is in a “spending race” on facilities, coaching salaries and conference-related travel in order to lure – or, as the paper puts it, “in the hopes of luring” – the best recruits.

Because the university continues to admit underprepared students because of their athletic prowess, he says, despite football boasting the lowest graduation rate (44 percent) of athletes of any Division I program this year, and despite athletes consistently graduating at lower rates (especially black athletes) than non-athletes do.

And because administrators have allowed the athletics department to move further and further outside the institution and operate simply as a business, he argues, no matter what deficits, internal conflicts, scandals and National Collegiate Athletic Association violations ensue.

Given the general direction of things, that all sounds pretty purposeful, not evidence of ambivalence.

It’s a pretty scary piece overall but really does feel like a completely different world to the UK experience. Could it happen here? I don’t think so and certainly not at such scale. But it is conceivable that institutions may compromise on admissions standards in order to recruit sporting stars.

The Imperfect University: 2013 collection

Because universities are still difficult, but still worth it

With the latest post, on Robbins, we are now up to a total of 18 pieces to date in the Imperfect University series. Covering a wide range of occasionally relevant issues I do hope there is something for everyone in here. And there is a question at the end.  Anyway, do let me know what you think – here are the posts from 2013:

The first chapter

A collection of the first series of Imperfect University posts from 2012

Sectoral change since Robbins and into the future

A piece based on a conference presentation looking at changes in higher education in the past 50 years and what the future might hold.

Rational admissions

On why it is time to look again at a move to post-qualification admissions or PQA.

Know your history

A piece about the value of a well-developed sense of institutional history.

The end of internationalisation?

Why MOOCs really aren’t going to end universities’ international activities.

Free information?

On the problems with and impact of freedom of information requests.

What do we know about leadership in higher education?

Not a great deal seems to be the answer.

Truly transnational

A look at the dimensions of a genuinely global higher education operation.

Finally, from the top - The Imperfect University provides the original introduction to the series

More to follow in the year ahead. In the meantime, here’s a question. Is it time for an Imperfect University book?

Whatever the answer, will keep the series going.

Shared Services in the USA

It’s probably not quite what they were hoping for.

Inside Higher Ed reports on a bold plan at the University of Michigan to address shared services within the institution. The idea must have seemed such a good one at the time – centralise large parts of departmental administration into a single place in order to improve productivity and save money ($17m was the planned saving). The approach, described rather unfortunately as “lift and shift” seems to have run into a few problems though:

For one thing, department chairs were kept in the dark about the effort and then given what faculty members have described as “gag orders” to prevent them from talking about it. Now professors and graduate students are speaking out publicly, and it’s clear they are unhappy about losing staff members with familiar faces from down the hall to an off-campus facility.

For another, the plan is no longer expected to save nearly as much as once hoped: just $2 million or $3 million in its first year and $5 to $6 million per year in the near term, according to a university spokesman.

University of Michigan August 2013 210 (Weill Hall)

They probably didn’t move to this building

That savings doesn’t factor in $1 million a year the university will pay to lease a new building to house the staff in one place. Or the $4 million the university expects to spend fixing up that building. Or the $11.7 million contract Michigan has with the consultant Accenture for advice about how to save money. All told, an effort to save money might barely break even in the short term, though officials expect savings to ramp up in the long term.Michigan is just the latest campus to turn to “shared services,” a cost-saving approach being tried at an increasing number of colleges across the country, including the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Kansas, the University of Texas at Austin and Yale University.

The idea is simple. Instead of each academic department having its own staff to handle bookkeeping, departments should rely on a pool of staffers. The theory is each of the employees in the pool could specialize in quickly dealing with certain paperwork instead of trying to be jacks-of-all-trades in departments across campus. One staff member would get really good at travel reimbursements, for instance, while another focuses on payroll.

So, all a bit messy. Whilst such shared service developments can work it does rather seem as the consequences of this kind of big bang approach might not have been fully anticipated in this case. It will be interesting to see if the promised savings do materialise. And whether the departments get the right level of service too.

France invents the “Pop-Up Campus”

A bold assertion.

An interesting claim this – France Info says that France has invented the ‘Pop Up Campus':

On connaissait les cours par correspondance, les MOOC (Massive open online course) des cours universitaires disponibles en ligne sur internet et bien là débarquent les “Pop Up Campus”. Une approche inédite qui a pour objectif de former des étudiants dans les pays émergents ou en voie de développement.

C’est une véritable innovation, révolution pour l’enseignement supérieur à la française à l’étranger.

La France séduit et attire pour ses grandes écoles, ses cursus universitaires. Mais tout le monde n’a pas la chance de pouvoir pousser les portes de ses grandes institutions. C’est pour cette raison que la “Kedge Business School”, une école privée en management lance le concept de “Pop Up Campus”… Des campus éphémères en Chine, en Afrique ainsi qu’en Amérique Latine. Avec au programme: des cours en ligne, des coachs virtuels et des rencontres en entreprise. Une nouvelle approche de l’enseignement qui s’adapte aux besoins dans les pays émergents nous explique Bernard Belletante, directeur général de la “Kedge Business School”.

One day all universities will be like this

One day all universities will be like this

(More details about Kedge Business School can be found on its website.)

So did France invent the pop-up campus? I don’t think so. There are many other variants on this theme including a company called Pop Up Campus who specialise in “community based professional development”.

pop up campus logo

The University of Hull offered pop up campuses in several UK cities in August as part of its clearing recruitment activity. More recently, the Times Higher has reported that City University’s Cass Business School has been offering a pop-up university in London’s “tech city”, located, perhaps dangerously, close to “silicon roundabout”.

A 2008 post from Global Higher Ed on mobile learning spaces noted an innovative idea for a mobile art gallery although looking at the images you’d have to say it looks a bit unlikely that it will be popping up anywhere in a hurry.

Still, regardless of who can lay claim to the invention, the idea of the pop-up university is a fascinating one and, given the growth in free online provision, offers the prospect of lower cost blended learning. Perhaps it might also address the need for higher education in some of the most challenging parts of the world, as envisaged by this “university in a box” concept being delivered in Rwanda.