Graduates preparing for work (where available)

From the BBC:

Students should get work experience to boost their chances of getting jobs in the downturn, the head of the CBI says. Richard Lambert says students must get skills and first-hand experience of work while still at university.

In launching the report with Universities UK on preparing graduates for the world of work, Lambert said competition for jobs in 2009 will be particularly intense. The report, ‘Future Fit’, also includes a survey of graduate recruiters and HE institutions. As the BBC says:

Of the 581 recruiters surveyed for the report, 78% rated employability skills, such as team working, as essential. And of the 80 higher education institutions which responded to the report’s survey, 91% thought it likely or highly likely their graduates would acquire five out of the seven desired employability skills while at university.

Those employability skills in full:

    Team working
    Business and customer awareness
    Problem solving
    Communication and literacy
    Application of numeracy
    Application of information technology

But also an entrepreneurial approach and a ‘can do’ attitude are valued by employers. Without wishing at all to be cynical It is possible that we could have guessed the content of the list without the survey though. Moreover, universities are unlikely to suggest that their graduates aren’t, by and large, going to acquire these skills.

It’s an interesting report and highlights the value which students and their future employers can get from developing such skills further – especially when the learning is accredited. It also notes the difficulties for both universities and SMEs of pursuing this agenda with companies which are smaller.

Suspect the survey behind the report was undertaken before the economy fell off a cliff but it is helpful nevertheless and arguably even more relevant.

Student loans good. Graduate tax not so good

Good piece by Nicholas Barr in the Guardian on the reasons the current loan system is better than the NUS-preferred Graduate Tax:

The bottom line is that we have the best of both worlds. Graduates face what looks like a graduate tax, but one that does not go on for ever. And universities face a system that encourages competition and strengthens university autonomy.

Also includes a helpful reminder of the difference between a system which makes the education free for the student and a credit card debt:

Many people conflate student loans with credit card debt. This is plain wrong. A credit card debt of £20,000 rightly causes parents sleepless nights. Student Loans Company debt is very different – low interest rate, long repayment period, and no repayments when income is low. What parent has sleepless nights over their child’s future tax bills – even though a typical graduate over a full career will pay around £1m in income tax and national insurance contributions? Thus university is free to the student, and graduates face an income-related payroll deduction when they start earning. The government should be loudly cheered for bringing in this system and noisily excoriated for its complete failure to get across to the public that this is how it works.

And he is quite right about the under-promotion of the realities of the system.

More on Departmental Headship (as or versus Stalinism)

Following up an earlier post on this topic (with thanks to John Dale and the author for the prompt):

Nice post in which Mark Harrison draws on substantial knowledge and experience to compare and contrast Stalin’s Soviet Union with his reign as Head of Department:

The big difference was this: I had no barbed wire. With a few coils around the campus, I could have blocked off the exits. I’d have had to give guns and spotlights to the security staff. If I could have stopped my professors from leaving, I would have been able to do things to them that would lower their welfare, and they would have had to accept it. They would have grumbled, and then conspired against me, and I would have needed a political police within the department to listen, detect, and report it to me. I’d soon put a stop to that. Forced labour would be next. But I had no barbed wire. If they didn’t like the pay or conditions on offer, and could do better elsewhere, my colleagues would leave. Other universities that could use their talents more productively would make them a better offer, and I would have to match it or lose them. Without barbed wire, I could not accumulate personal power by treating others badly; I could get my way only through reliance on positive motivations.

But there are also some very strong positives here too. Well worth a look and I will get round to reading the article by Radice which prompted this.

Cambridge avoids extra accountability (for a while at least)

“Cambridge dons retain control of university”

According to the Guardian, Cambridge has fended off pressure to change the composition of its Council to include a lay majority. The extent of the additional accountability requirement which has been agreed seems to be an annual meeting between the chair of the Audit Committee and a Hefce officer:

The ancient university has agreed to provide more information to account for the public money it receives from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) — more than £181m in the coming year — but has resisted pressure to have a majority of external members on its governing council. A review by Hefce of how the university accounts for public funds concluded: “We are able to place reliance on the University of Cambridge’s accountability information. This will be strengthened by a new annual process that has been introduced to provide additional assurance on the use of public funds, given that the university does not currently have a lay majority on its council.”


However, the funding council appears satisfied that a “modest extension of its public accountability” — essentially a meeting between the chair of the university’s audit committee (an external member) and a Hefce officer — will meet its needs. Asked if Hefce had reached a face-saving compromise, a spokesman replied: “We recognise with both universities that governance reform will take some time. In the case of Cambridge, in recognition of the fact that the university does not feel able to move to a lay majority on its council at this time, we have agreed that we will undertake an additional annual assurance visit specifically to gain additional comfort about the use of public funds. We will operate this mechanism for three years and expect the university’s governance reform to continue moving forward in that time. At the end of three years, we will review the effectiveness of the annual assurance exercise.

Looks like a pretty good outcome for Cambridge this. The additional requirement seems extremely light touch and it will be interesting to see if anything emerges from these meetings and whether the university is pushed into making more substantial changes in the next three years.

VCs protest: what do we want? Higher fees!

When do we want them? Er, as soon as possible really but it is recognised that there might be the tiny problem of electoral arithmetic to contend with, so bad luck everyone.

The BBC has done a survey of a selection of VCs on their fee preferences:

Many universities in England and Wales want a sharp increase in tuition fees, a survey by BBC News has concluded. Two thirds of vice chancellors, speaking anonymously, said they needed to raise fees, suggesting levels of between £4,000 and £20,000 per year. More than half of university heads want students to pay at least £5,000 per year or for there to be no upper limit.

Higher Education Minister David Lammy said there was an “important debate to be had”. The National Union of Students has warned of debts of £32,000 for students if fees rise to £7,000 per year.

There is an important debate to be had on this issue. Universities do need substantially more money to deliver (a) the teaching and learning students deserve and (b) the world leading science base expected by government. Even before the global recession things were looking a bit dodgy on the long term funding front. Now universities are likely to be so far down the pecking order you might expect the Treasury to be arguing for topping up Fred Goodwin’s pension before investing more in higher education. So where else is the money going to come from?

Magical mystery tour? A new MA in the Beatles

Guardian carries some news about a new course at Liverpool Hope: The long and winding road to an MA in Beatles songs.

Just the kind of stuff to get the IUSS Select Committee going:beatles

The masters degree in The Beatles, Popular Music and Society is being billed by Liverpool Hope University as the first such course in the UK and “probably the world”. Among the topics covered on the course, which comprises four 12-week modules and a dissertation, are the postwar music industry, subcultures, and the importance of authenticity and locality.

Mike Brocken, senior lecturer in popular music at the university, said it was time the band were put under an academic microscope. “There have been over 8,000 books about the Beatles but there has never been serious academic study and that is what we are going to address,” he said. “The Beatles influenced so much of society, not just with their music, but also with fashion, from their collar-less jackets to their psychedelic clothes.”

As well as investigating different ways of studying popular music, the MA will look at the studio sound and compositions of the Beatles and examine Liverpudlian life from the 1930s to see how events helped to shape the music emerging in the city.

It’s a decent enough pitch and given that you can get a Master’s in just about anything, there’s no reason not to do the Beatles. WhiIst I think he could be a bit more confident about its unique status in the world, it is a bit misleading to suggest there has been no serious academic study. Not all of the 8,000 books are trivia.

RAE Funding Results

RAE funding results out

Following the results published in December 2008.

Handy summaries of research funding outcomes are published by the Times Higher Education. Resources have been spread more thinly and there are some perhaps surprising recipients of significant growth in research income:

Biggest winners by cash increase (growth, % increase)

University of Nottingham, £9,685,797, up 23.6%
University of Oxford, £8,769,293, 8.0%
Queen Mary, £7,282,125, 29.4%
University of Liverpool, £6,420,263, up 19.5%
Loughborough University, £5,965,970, 36.9%
University of Bristol £5,607,884, up 12.6%
London School of Hygiene, £4,980,410, 46.5%
University of Plymouth, £4,868,489, 125.8%
Brunel University, £4,542,356, 54.5%
University of Kent, £3,779,827, 46.4%
Cranfield University, £3,621,707, 36.8%
University of Exeter, £3,550,318, 24.4%
City University London, £3,425,676, 50.3%
University of the West of England, £3,342,120, 121.6%
The Open University, £3,323,539, 44.9%

Good news for some of us but some institutions have lost out.

Accountability costs “cut by £50 million”

Times Higher Education: Accountability costs cut by £50 million.

A Hefce-commissioned report from PA Consulting claims universities’ administrative burden has been reduced by £50m. As reported in THE:

Between 2004 and 2008, it says in the report, the costs of accountability fell by just over a fifth, broadly in line with Hefce’s targets. This fall follows a 25 per cent reduction in the administrative burden between 2000 and 2004, and Hefce wants costs to be cut by a further 10 per cent by 2010-11. According to the study’s authors, PA Consulting Group, the total costs of compliance fell from about £240 million in 2004 to £190 million last year.

Seems pretty straightforward – unequivocally good news?

However, despite these headline figures, Mike Boxhall, one of the authors of the report, said that the picture behind the numbers remained “quite mixed”. While the study measured costs linked with specific accountability demands from bodies such as Hefce and the Quality Assurance Agency, it did not consider the impact of more general public regulations such as the costs of complying with health and safety laws or the Freedom of Information Act, he said. Steve Egan, deputy chief executive of Hefce, said the sector was moving from a position in which accountability was seen as a burden to one in which it was a “positive force”.

It really isn’t as clear cut therefore. Day to day experience in universities simply doesn’t feel as if there is lighter regulation. And the idea that all of this regulation is somehow a really good thing and not a burden is just bizarre.

The HEFCE press release is obviously very upbeat and the report itself is worth a look.

The question remains though: what is the problem to which this regulatory regime is the solution?