New league table amusement

An outstanding new table from the École des Mines de Paris


The École des Mines de Paris is proposing a new international classification of higher education institutions with regard to the performance of their training programmes, based on the professional future of their alumni. The criterion chosen for this new classification is the number of alumni among the Chief Executive Officers of the 500 leading worldwide companies. The governing principle of this classification is very different from that of the Shanghai ranking, which is based essentially on the performance of higher education institutions in research.

This really is great. 500 CEOs, 338 different institutions. Most of the institutions listed boast a connection with only one or two CEOs. Which makes you question why they bothered (unless you come from the University of Huddersfield of course, in which case this is the best league table going).

(With thanks to Professor Ken Starkey for drawing this one to my attention)

UK students: understretched or just efficient?

UK students spending less time studying than elsewhere in Europe

A new HEPI report on a survey of 15,000 students finds that they averaged 26 hours of class contact and private learning.

The BBC coverage provides a helpful list of findings:

    Vice-chancellors’ group Universities UK said length of study provided no information about degree quality.

    The think tank’s survey found that students were offered 14.2 hours of teaching per week on average.

    The range was from just over 20 hours to 8.4 hours.

    The three subjects with the lowest hours of teaching – historical and philosophical studies, linguistics and social studies – had less than half the level of teaching of the most heavily taught subject, veterinary and agricultural science.

    In addition, the amount of private study ranged from 16.5 hours a week among those on architecture, building and planning courses to 9.5 hours in mass communications and documentation. The average was 12.5 hours.

    A separate survey, Eurostudent 2005, collates comparable data on the socio-economic background and living conditions of students throughout Europe. Those taking their first degree in Germany typically spend nearly 35 hours per week in total studying, and in Portugal it is about 40 hours per week.

Oh dear. So why does it take German students so much longer, on average, to complete their degrees?

But worse is to come. In a quote, which surely could not be anything like a gross over-simplification, the director of HEPI, Bahram Bekhradnia, said there was also:

a marked gender difference in the amount of studying that students did. “Boys are down the pub and the girls are in the library, you can characterise that as”

Despite this, the report really is worth reading.

Degree awarding powers for private company

Degree awarding powers for BPP College


According to their website:

BPP College of Professional Studies (“BPP College”) today announced that the Privy Council has approved the grant of degree awarding powers to BPP College (which comprises BPP Law School and BPP Business School). BPP College is owned by BPP Holdings plc, a publicly quoted company on the London Stock Exchange. The grant of degree awarding powers makes BPP College the first private sector company to be a degree awarding entity in the United Kingdom.

The decision by the Privy Council follows a very full and careful audit and review by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (“QAA”) of BPP College’s organisation, governance and management as well as close scrutiny of BPP College’s quality assurance mechanisms, academic standards and its support systems for students and staff.

The report of the review is not published under the current procedures so guess we will have to wait for the first audit to learn more.

Further coverage offered by BBC.

So, the question for all other institutions is – should we be worried?

Last league table of the season?

The Sunday Times has now (23 September) published its University Guide.

The full breathless analysis can be found here and the ranking details (which, excitingly, enable you to compare two institutions by removing all of the other ones) elsewhere.

The use of a survey of Secondary Heads and Academics to rate subjects is interesting but the fact that only 100 Heads and 250 academics responded must surely call into question whether it is really valid to allocate a mark out of 100 on the basis of these results.

Another winning QA idea: international standardisation

From the Chronicle

Quest for International Measures of Higher-Education Learning Results Raises Concerns

A fledgling international effort to develop comparable assessment standards for measuring how much students are learning at higher-education institutions throughout the world is provoking concern from several quarters, even though the project is still in its preliminary stages.

The project is being led by the OECD and it seems that at a meeting of education ministers they were a bit short of discussion topics over dinner:

the apparent dearth of available data on student-learning outcomes prompted discussion about how to fill that void. “It became evident that there are a lot of measurements about research outcomes at institutions of higher education, but what about the learning outcomes?” said Barbara Ischinger, director for education at the organization, which is known as the OECD.


“The notion of measuring students’ achievement within the United States has been very controversial,” said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education. “The notion of developing a mechanism to do it across the world seems orders of magnitude more controversial.”

(which is putting it mildly)

The OECD has held two meetings of about a dozen experts this year, with a third scheduled for next month in Seoul, South Korea. “We’ve started to exchange information and views about existing assessment programs in some countries,” said Ms. Ischinger. “It is now shaping up more into a direction of what could be done in terms of assessing generic-skills competencies, such as analytical reasoning, critical thinking, and also discipline-related competencies — for instance, in the natural sciences and engineering.”

But this is hard enough to achieve within disciplines, it’s pretty challenging at the institutional level and next to impossible in any meaningful way in a national context. It is difficult to imagine quite how generic these things are going to be when articulated in a (literally) universal way.

No grounds for concern though, it will all be up to us to decide:

According to summaries of the minutes of the first two meetings, the OECD has decided to focus its approach, at least initially, on voluntary participation at the institutional level.

Different views on internationalisation

Following a recent debate on UK universities in China where different views and experiences were shared on whether or not this was all a terribly good idea, a handy summary is provided by a newly spotted HE blog which looks rather interesting.

The piece can be found here.


The health club v country club argument is a powerful one. However, I think the University of Nottingham experience shows that many of the challenges can be overcome.

Education exports worth £28 billion

From the Guardian

This total, which dates back to 2003-04, shows that education is worth more to UK exports than financial services or the car industry, according to a British Council report.

The Guardian, which also has links to the report, observes:

A total of £28bn in 2003-04 was earned from overseas students by a sector ranging from world famous universities to small English language colleges, from independent schools to publishers and broadcasters. The success of British universities in attracting overseas students against strong competition from the US, Australia and, increasingly, Europe has been celebrated but there are concerns that institutions are becoming too dependent on a changeable overseas market. Overseas student fees are worth more than £2bn to UK universities – compared with the £6bn the latter receive from the government for teaching and research.

But there is a sting in the tail:

Next month a report from the Higher Education Policy Institute will warn that dissatisfaction among overseas students about poor value for money poses a threat. However i-graduate, which carries out opinion surveys of international students for universities, said yesterday that 85% of those questioned would recommend a British degree to others.

Grounds for concern there then but overall just a staggering amount of money and an outstanding success story.

Just the ticket – more US university rankings

The Wall Street Journal’s blog (“The numbers guy”) has an interesting piece on the addition of a couple of new rankings by US News.

The new ones are:

best black colleges, and best of the highly ranked schools that are easier to get into. “We do have others in the works,” the magazine’s editor, Brian Kelly, told me, but he declined to elaborate.

But as the numbers guy rightly observes:

U.S. News does more than just compile data. It also chooses which data to compile, and sets the relative weight of different criteria. Critics of the rankings call these choices arbitrary, and also point out that the rankings themselves change what is being measured — for instance, when schools try to manipulate their numbers in order to climb the charts.

Universities manipulate data to gain league table advantage? The very thought!

It is interesting to consider though whether we will see in the UK any genuinely “specialist” tables beyond the Business School ones in the FT.

Discounts for arts degrees?

Interesting story in the Guardian reporting on a presentation at BERA conference.

I’ve not seen the research so there isn’t a huge amount to go on here:

The government’s policy of expanding university education has reduced the value of arts and humanities degrees and lower tuition fees should be charged in these subjects…while degrees still have high value in the UK labour market, the study found evidence that recent graduates in some humanities and arts subjects are already being paid similar amounts to non-graduates.

However, all this would seem to suggest is that recent graduates in some subjects have yet to get ahead of their non-graduate peers in terms of earnings. What is not clear is whether that pattern is sustained over the next 40 years of work.

Moreover, a degree in any subject is not a guarantee of future high-salary success, just a very valuable investment for those who have such ambitions. Is it not therefore up to the prospective student to decide what they want to study and to judge the value of her/his potential investment? Will this lead to a major decline in applicants for English and History and mean that universities will start discounting on a £3,000 fee? I doubt it.