Spicing up computer science

See the full story about this on the improbably named Canoe site.

Schools across the country are taking steps to broaden the appeal of the major. More than a dozen universities have adopted “media computation” programs, a sort of alternate introduction to computer science with a New Media vibe. The classes, which have been launched at schools from the University of San Francisco to Virginia Tech, teach basic engineering using digital art, digital music and the Web. Others are turning to niche fields to attract more students. The California Institute of Technology, which has seen a slight drop in undergraduate computer science majors, has more than made up for the losses by emphasizing the field of bioengineering.

It’s a computer!

At Georgia Tech, computing professor Tucker Balch says the brain drain is partly the fault of what he calls the “prime number” syndrome. It’s the traditional way to teach computer science students by asking them to write programs that spit out prime numbers, the Fibonacci sequence or other mathematical series. It’s proven a sound way to educate students dead-set on joining the ranks of computer programmers, but it’s also probably scared away more than a few.

This is an angle that some Schools in the UK have taken but not many. Is it just a passing fancy? Looks unlikely – especially with the bioengineering tie-in.

I was also surprised at the statement that there were only 7,800 new Computer science students enrolled in the USA (I assume) last year. What is the UK figure – it can’t be too far behind?

I want my very own prospectus

A novel approach to overcoming rising postage costs…

The initiative, developed by Anglia Ruskin University, cuts down on production and postage but has yet to prove whether it also brings an increase in the number of applications.

A traditional paper copy of a full prospectus from the university, which has campuses in Cambridge and Chelmsford, runs to around 200 pages and costs £1.60 to produce.

A personalised prospectus – which includes all university core information such as student services and accommodation, as well as information on up to four courses – has a maximum of 60 pages and costs just 80p to produce. Prospective students can, if they prefer, create their own tailor-made publication online using the university’s website, and then run it off as a PDF for free instead.

It’s quite a nice idea actually but printing it off yourself is certainly not “free”!

See the Guardian for the full story

See the University’s website for the offer – not actually quite as exciting as the newspaper article made it sound

Faddish behaviour…

Management Fads in Higher Education: Where They Come From, What They Do, Why They Fail by Robert Birnbaum


This is just an outstanding book. Although the focus is on the USA, the messages are eminently translatable to the UK context. Birnbaum carefully analyses and deconstructs the big management fads to have hit US universities including:

    Management by objectives
    Zero-based budgeting
    Strategic planning
    Business process re-engineering.

The reasons behind the popularity of each and the vulnerability of institutions and managers to their charms are also explored at length.

Despite the fact that he demonstrates their failures in the USA on all terms, Birnbaum concludes, surprisingly perhaps, that their introduction in a controlled and measured way can have positive benefits in forcing managers to think differently about the way in which they tackle big challenges. The conclusion of the book includes a strong exhortation to a humane and pragmatic approach to management in universities. Such an approach he argues, whilst not easily seduced by fads such as these, is capable of positive adaptation to changing environments.

“From hack to boffin”

Hack to boffin in six months? University seeks journalist

Let us ignore the shorthand of “hack” and “boffin” here – it is a really good story…

A university is hoping to turn a journalist from a hack into boffin in six months, opening its doors to give them an in-depth look at the world of scientific research.

The University of Nottingham is looking for a willing journalist to ’embed’ themselves in its Science, Medicine and Engineering faculties for six months.

The volunteer will spend time with scientists, engineers, professors and their lab teams as they conduct research. The aim is to get a detailed understanding that is not normally possible with the pressure of newsdesk deadlines.

…and a great idea. However, I can’t believe we’re going for embedding in science – what about joining the administration? Perhaps the next one…

See here for the full story.

Restrictive practices?

Google bans essay writing ads


The advert ban from the Google search engine has been “warmly welcomed” by university authorities.

But it has angered essay writing firms which say this will unfairly punish legitimate businesses.

From next month, Google will no longer take adverts from companies which sell essays and dissertations – and the internet company has written to advertisers to tell them about the policy.

A step in the right direction but any search will still show them up – it’s hardly a huge clampdown. It’s not entirely clear which authorities are doing the welcoming (or is a UUK quote enough?) And how many of these businesses are really “legitimate”?

See full BBC Education story

The really top UK universities?

Is this really that shocking?

Not quite controversial (but entertaining as always) article by Peter Knight in the Guardian.

Basically, he argues that some universities are genuinely better than others. Difficult to disagree, especially when his nominations include Oxford and Cambridge. But the really interesting point here is that part of his argument in selecting the other “top” institutions is that they are charging higher fees (where they can) than everyone else and this demonstrates their market pre-eminence.

So, we just need to put up fees as high as the market will bear and this will show how good we really are!

Students in bloom

Bloomin’ marvellous

As part of Nottingham in Bloom students are being encouraged to do a spot of gardening. This should also serve to show that not all students conform to the traditional stereotype. Decent prize too. Although I think the closing date has now passed.


Anyway, just a really good idea I think.

Students in Bloom link to the brochure

Studentification in Swansea

It seems we’re not the only place with issues…

The “studentification” of peaceful localities is destroying communities, says Liz Morris, secretary of the residents’ association for the Brynmill and Uplands area of Swansea. Transient populations of students with no long-term interest in the area turn up for eight months of the year, party hard, dump their rubbish to fester on the streets, crowd residential roads with their cars and make a noise late into the night, she says. Come the summer, she adds, they disappear, leaving “ghost” streets behind them. Many families have sold up – to private landlords – and fled to quieter parts of town.

A slightly simplistic representation of the position but not unrecognisible.

And the solution….

A university lettings agency has been launched, giving landlords an incentive to bring their properties up to a good standard by reducing the management fee according to the quality of accommodation. The idea, says Price, is that students are more likely to respect a property and a neighbourhood if they’re not presented with digs that are a total dump.

Then all students need to work out is how to operate the volume knob and put their rubbish out on the right day.

It’s that last bit which seems to me to be particularly challenging.

See full Guardian story

League Tables presentation from AUA 2007

For information

Presentation delivered at AUA conference 2007 at Nottingham

Nothing terribly revolutionary and pre-dates the Guardian 2007 table so already past its sell by date. Probably the last time it will appear in this form so there is some merit in posting I guess.

Sim University – More real than reality?

Writing about web page http://thesims2.ea.com/about/ep1_index.php

Now I suspect that this has been around for a while but have only just noticed.

There is something absolutely appalling and yet fascinating about these descriptions though:

In The Sims 2 University players for the first time will play through the new “young adult” life stage as their Sims head off to university and join the campus crowd. Whether they live in the halls or rush a fraternity or sorority that’s just the beginning…Sims can choose from one of 11 courses and by keeping their grades on track, they’ll secure a final degree and open up 4 new career paths. Players will enjoy all-new university based wants and fears that are tied to their Sims’ social life and academic goals which will lead to new rewards and powers that will help them achieve their goals and aspirations in university and beyond.


Pranks, parties and university social interactions add to the excitement while your Sims explore campus locations such as university lounges, pool halls, gyms and coffee houses. As in real life, if your Sims start running low on funds, they can earn Simoleans by picking up a part time job, like tutoring, or engaging in riskier affairs like printing money as a member of the “secret society”.

Of course, making the right decisions can lead your Sim to the ultimate goal of becoming “Big Sim on Campus” in The Sims 2 University.

I really do want to know what being “the Big Sim on Campus” actually involves though.