No more drinking ‘games’

Exeter, according to the Guardian, has banned them following the death of a student as part of a society initiation.

A previous post referred to the problems of the Freshers’ Week drinking culture and the Government’s concerns. The initiation ritual, here involving golfers (perhaps surprisingly?), remains a deeply unpleasant extension of this.

A coroner’s inquest yesterday heard that [the student] took part in a drinking initiation for the golf society that involved downing a cocktail of shots, followed by pure spirits. The inquest heard that [he] was violently sick after the challenge, which was part of a three-hour pub crawl in his first month of university. [The student] joined the society days after he started at Exeter in October 2006. As part of the initiation, he and other new members were taken on a pub crawl on November 28, 2006, visiting nine bars. The students, some in fancy dress, downed strong drinks with extra “penalty” shots if they failed to drink them in less than 30 seconds.

…a fellow student claimed that [the student] drank four vodkas, three pints of cider, a glass of wine and numerous sambucas before downing a pint of spirits.

Just awful.

Managing an academic department

There are, I think, quite a few solid textbooks out there which are full of helpful advice for Heads of academic departments or schools.

(For example: Managing the Academic Unit, by Allen Bolton, Open University Press, 2000 and Chairing an Academic Department by Gmelch and Miskin, Atwood, 2004)

None though is quite as pithy as Mark Harrison’s “Survival Guide for Department Chairs”. Would be hard to imagine anything more straightforward and to the point.

He also has a slightly more extensive set of advice pages for undergraduates which are well worth a look.

(Thanks to Rona for spotting these).

An education in drinking?

According to a recent story in The Times it is “Last orders for boozy freshers”.

THE days of new students being initiated into binge drinking at universities may be numbered. The government is considering plans to clamp down on “freshers’ weeks”, where students are encouraged to consume vast quantities of cheap alcohol.


The prime minister and his policy team have been impressed by experts at a Downing Street seminar who deplored the scale of drunkenness at university. Professor Oliver James, a liver disease specialist and head of the medical faculty at Newcastle University, told Gordon Brown that he was “appalled” by the quantity of drinking during freshers’ week at his university.

There are all sorts of excellent reasons for agreeing with all of this and seeking to change the rationale of freshers’ week from being a training course in excessive drinking to one which is primarily focused on easing the transition to university life and starting the induction and orientation process to help students to get the most out of their higher education. However, it is genuinely difficult to see how this can be driven by government (other than in a general way by imposing substantial rises in duty on alcohol). But, things do have to change and it is, I think, good that government is at least aware of the issue and supportive of change.

World university league table: field rankings

Snappily titled SJTU-ARWU Field rankings have just been published. These are the companion tables to the overall world rankings produced by the team at SJTU. Due to overwhelming demand it seems:

Since the first publication of Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) in 2003, we have received numerous requests to provide ranking of world universities by broad subject fields/schools/colleges and by subject fields/programs/departments. In addition, many top Chinese universities are interested in learning their positions in the world by subjects. In response to the requests, we have been studying the possibility of ranking world universities by broad subject fields. This is the final results of 2008 Academic Ranking of World Universities by Broad Subject Fields (ARWU – FIELD 2008); top 100 world universities in each of five broad subject fields are provided.

The University of Nottingham does rather well in three of these tables: top 30 in Clinical Medicine and Phamacy, Top 50 for Agricultural and Life Sciences, and the world’s Top 100 universities in the Social Sciences.

Even more information for applicants?

According to the Guardian, in a report on a conference they have sponsored:

Universities should offer more detailed information about courses to the Facebook generation, the shadow universities secretary, David Willetts, said today. The Guardian’s Higher Education summit heard that students were sharing information about the offers they receive for university courses on social networking sites, forcing universities to rethink the kind of information they give out.

But there is already an abundance of information about universities, much of it generated by institutions themselves but also a huge amount by government, its agents, newspapers, league table compilers and various websites. Just because some of this now appears, in an even less well-informed state, on Facebook, does not mean universities have suddenly got their marketing campaigns all wrong.


Willetts said students should be able to find out how crowded seminars were likely to be, how much access time they would receive from lecturers and what form this access would take.

Fine and helpful but it is extremely difficult to produce accurate and meaningful data on these items (within a single university, let alone on a comparative basis) and institutions themselves aren’t going to start publishing data describing themselves as overcrowded or offering minimal access to academic staff except on Tuesday afternoons.

But, and this is where he does have a point, if there is no authoritative information about the undergraduate experience then it becomes more likely that gossip and misinformation will dominate. And that is not particularly good news for anyone.

First-years perhaps not so IT-literate

There is a tendency for many of us to assume that every new cohort of students is even more IT-savvy than the last (and significantly ahead of almost all staff) and that we therefore need to offer them just about everything online and loads of exciting kit to play with too. But maybe first years aren’t quite as IT-literate as we thought they were:

It pays to look at some sound evidence, though, and put these rosy speculations to the test. One such examination came out a year ago, conducted by Educational Testing Service. The Chronicle write-up is here. The study had 6,300 students take a 75-minute test that asked them to complete 15 Web-based research tasks, the kind of things they have to do in college courses, such as determining bias in Web sites and finding relevant Web pages.


The report concluded: “Few test takers demonstrated key ICT literacy skills” Only 35 percent of the subjects could narrow an overly broad search properly, and only 40 percent of them chose the right terms to tailor a search effectively. In constructing a slide presentation, only 12 percent of them stuck to relevant information.

So maybe we shouldn’t make too many assumptions about students’ IT expertise.