Will swine flu end freshers’ week?


The Guardian is reporting that universities may cancel freshers’ week because of swine flu concerns:

Universities are working on emergency plans to postpone freshers’ week activities and shut down parts of their campuses if the swine flu pandemic peaks when students return in September. Contingency plans to slow the spread of the virus, or to cope if the illness cripples staffing levels, include podcasting lectures and quarantining infected students in their halls of residence. There are fears that the start of term could exacerbate the pandemic, with nearly two million students starting or returning to university, and hundreds of thousands crossing the country to begin their courses.

This is a huge challenge for institutions and everyone will be preparing for such eventualities. Whether it will mean an end to freshers’ week traditions remains to be seen but this will be just one of the many difficult issues universities are going to face in the autumn.

It does seem rather unlikely that wholesale podcasting is going to be the answer though.

Ways universities share information using social media

Universities using social media


A very interesting set of examples this: 10 Ways Universities Share Information Using Social Media

What this really highlights is how many more opportunities there are better to exploit social media for all sorts of useful information-sharing purposes. At Nottingham we use just a few of these methods consistently and therefore there remains plenty of scope for development. Some good progress recently but we have a long way to go to catch up with the leaders in this arena.

Mastering rhetoric

New MA in Rhetoric at the University of Central Lancashire

BBC News has a report on the new degree which, seems to be the first in the UK.

There are many similar courses in US universities and it is perhaps a bit surprising that no-one has pursued this idea before in this country. President Obama may have something to do with the sudden inspiration though:

“We want to promote the idea of considered debate rather than the soundbite,” says Dr Siebers. “Understanding rhetoric is important for citizens to be able to be function in a democracy,” he says.


At the moment, Barack Obama is the finest exponent of political rhetoric, says Dr Siebers. Wartime leader, Winston Churchill, was another great speech maker, he says. And in terms of written rhetoric, he says George Orwell was a “consummate user of rhetoric”.

It is also claimed that

the course will give students “a comprehensive understanding of the history, theory and current status of the field of rhetoric and will be able to apply rhetorical theory and skills in a critical and reflective manner”.

Handy. Should be a ticket to employability too: “the university says it will be useful for law, politics and teaching.”

(See also related post on the Beatles Masters degree)

On ‘The Edgeless University’

The Edgeless University – Demos

Available for download: via Demos Publications

This is an interesting paper which identifies a range of significant technological challenges for higher education. It is suggested that universities are on the brink of an electronic revolution like the music industry in 1999 but struggling to make sense of the opportunities or understand the strategic options:

The next stage of technological investment must be more strategic. The sector currently lacks a coherent narrative of how institutions will look in the future and the role of technology in the transition to a wider learning and research culture.

A reasonable enough proposition although this in the context of welcoming the far-sighted establishment of JANET seems a little bit harsh – it is difficult to get much more strategic than setting up a successful shared sector wide network like this.

Many of the specific points made in the report are quite pertinent (if not entirely novel):

    – openness in terms of publication of research and free access to IP remains a difficult agenda;

    – the importance of recognising the value of teaching in the context of potentially distorting RAE/REF demands is a challenge;

    – high quality e-learning, discrete or blended, is about much more than just providing new tools – it requires huge investment and support;

    – the value of face-to-face learning and teaching should not be discounted.

Fairly straightforward agenda there then.

However, some of the ideas in here are just plain wrong. In particular the idea that there is a deficit of flexible study pathways for credit-based learning and that somehow it is the role of government to take a specific policy lead in this area:

Government policy must help higher education institutions develop new ways of offering education seekers affiliation and accreditation. This might include shorter pick-and-mix courses and new forms of assessment.

Then there is the particularly misguided idea of seeking to reconcile “informal learning” with the formal system of higher education:

Informal learning is growing in popularity and significance, and attracting the attention of politicians, but there are problems in reconciling informal learning with formal frameworks, and managing the relationship between institutions of higher education and the kinds of learning that happen outside them. We have yet to find a model for collating learning from many different sources. Funding and the structure of learning in formal higher education tend to militate against this.

There is a good reason for this – if “informal learning” can be recognised then there are actually costs in doing so and, in order to have currency, it has to be within an educational framework of some kind. More often than not though, such learning will be just “informal” – it is difficult to argue that mainstream HE provision should be skewed to cope with such marginal activity. Indeed, there remains significant adult and continuing education provision parts of which are structured for this purpose.

The overall conclusion though is pretty difficult to argue with:

In building the e-infrastructure for higher education we should not just build around the needs of institutions as they exist already. To pursue the possibilities of the ‘Edgeless University’, technology will have to be taken more seriously as a strategic asset. Technology is a driver for change. But we should harness it as a solution, a tool, for the way we want universities to support learning and research in the future.

So, the future is ‘edgeless’ it seems.

“Top employers cut graduate jobs”

According to BBC Education, at least

But the survey quoted here reports a reduction in the number of vacancies compared to 2008 and a reduction against target:

There is further evidence of a tough graduate jobs market with a survey showing vacancies down 13.5% on 2008.graduation1
Research among the top 100 employers identified by graduates shows that the only area with significant growth was the armed forces – up 11%. As numbers of jobs have shrunk, firms have been getting more applicants for each – a third more than last year. High Fliers Research, which carried out the survey, said employers had cut recruitment targets by 28%. Employers have recruited 14,370 graduates to join their payrolls – against an original target of 19,951. Last year, there were 16,614 graduates recruited.

Yes, it is the most challenging time to be a graduate in the jobs market at the moment and it is going to be really tough for a lot of this year’s cohort, leaving university in the middle of the worst recession for generations. You have to feel a huge amount of sympathy. But the government is, to its credit, trying to mitigate some of the effects, at least in the short run, through internship opportunities etc.

However, if the general media reporting on this issue were to be believed, you would think that there were no graduate jobs available at all anywhere in the country. This simply is not the case, although the position is undoubtedly worse than in previous years, and the way this issue is reported doesn’t help.

The Guardian carries a similar report.

Report claims rankings can have positive effects

It seems that global rankings might not be entirely terrible

The Chronicle carries an item on a report suggesting, somewhat surprisingly, that there are some benefits arising from league tables.

The report, “Impact of College Rankings on Institutional Decision Making: Four Country Case Studies,” comments that more than 40 countries have rankings systems, which it describes as “entrenched.”

The report, which is based on interviews with people at more than 20 higher-education institutions in the four countries, seeks to determine what role rankings play on their campuses and to suggest lessons for American institutions. While criticizing the impact of rankings in ways that will be familiar to American readers — skewing priorities, warping hiring decisions, hurting disadvantaged students, and so forth — the interview subjects say that rankings can have positive effects.

Among them are better decision making based on data, better teaching and learning, prompt recognition and easy copying of model programs, and increased collaboration, not just competition, among peer institutions.

However, all require decisive action by institutions – steps which they should be undertaking in any case – and it is far from clear that these positives outweigh the many negatives.