Table of table of tables

Table of tables

A composite university league table derived from the four domestic league tables has been prepared by THE.

It is presented as a real labour-saving device:

With so many national newspaper league tables, it can be difficult to keep track of the results.

Certainly can, but luckily

a source has amalgamated the available data for Times Higher Education to produce the definitive table of tables. It combines rankings produced by The Independent, The Guardian, The Times and The Sunday Times.

The results are…

1 Oxford
2 Cambridge
3 Imperial
4 StAndrews
5 Warwick
7 LSEmast_blank
8 Durham
9 York
10 Bath
11 Edinburgh
12= Exeter
12= Loughborough
14 Southampton
15 Bristol
16 King’s College
17= Lancaster
17= Leicester
19 Nottingham
20 Glasgow

So, no huge surprises there. Wisely though, THE “acknowledges the methodological limitations”. Bit of an understatement that.

On the need for discretion in discussing HE cuts

Very good piece by David Eastwood in The Guardian.

As he suggests – the cuts being discussed are achievable, perhaps, but hardly desirable. Moreover, they should be a matter for discreet discussion, not broadcast:

Many of us remember the glorious Monty Python Four Yorkshiremen sketch. A quartet of the now-comfortably off, drinking Château de Chasselas, and seeking to outdo one another in recollections of an impoverished childhood. One claims to have lived in a cardboard box. Another immediately counters: “We used to dream of living in a cardboard box”. And so it goes on, ever more preposterous, through eating tar from the road, to getting up to work before you’d gone to bed. (Now that’s something many vice-chancellors can identify with.) And finally the flourish: “If you tell the young people of today that, they won’t believe you”.

Glorious, surreal, and a high point of British social satire. Yet I keep bumping into higher education’s modern reworking of this sketch. I overhear, in the margins of events, one savant saying “We’re modelling 5% cuts”. Another intervenes: “5%, oh, we used to dream of 5%, we’re modelling 10%”; and then another, “10% – luxury! We’re modelling 15%”. And so it goes on, until someone says, without apparent irony, that they are modelling 25%.

Of course, all this might be going on, but is it real and is it helpful to parade it? The cuts to the system in the 1980s were 15%, from a higher baseline of funding, and the consequences were devastating. It took a generation to recover, and the current government should still claim credit for its unprecedented investment in the research base and its courage in legislating for (but not quite introducing) variable fees. The pall of the 1980s cuts hung over the sector for two decades.

Avoiding the posturing would seem to be very sensible advice.

Freshers’ week commercialism

According to the Guardian “Freshers’ week is an education in commercialism”:

…freshers’ fairs have come a long way from the commercial innocence of earlier years. They offer Britain’s businesses “the perfect opportunity for you to enlighten students to your products and services”, according to BAM Student Marketing. “Get face to face with your potential customers … student spending habits have not been developed at this stage, which is why the freshers’ fairs provide excellent potential for forming new customer relationships,” it adds.

week one

Yes, there is more commercial activity than historically, but there really is so much more to it than this. For example, the University of Nottingham’s Students’ Union has a bit more on offer as the Freshers’ Fair site shows. Whilst there is still in many freshers’ weeks an undue emphasis on alcohol-fuelled activity, things are changing for the better although this remains the issue that newspapers generally focus on.

However, the Guardian also notes that:

Other universities run their own lucrative commercial arrangements at freshers’ fairs. Last year Oxford charged £12,000 for sponsorship and £2,000 for a standard stall at its fair, and £1,500 for a bag insert (plus £850 for your name on the bag).

This is more like “commercial innocence” – it seems to be an extremely good promotional deal for the companies concerned, offering huge exposure for very little money.

Dog Earns MBA Online

Dog Earns M.B.A. Online – from The Chronicle of Higher Education

Just goes to show:, an online-learning consumer group, managed to purchase an online M.B.A. for its mascot, a dog named Chester Ludlow. The Vermont pug earned his tassles by pawing over $499 to Rochville University, which offers “distance learning degrees based on life and career experience,” according to a news release from GetEducated. He got back a package from a post-office box in Dubai that contained a diploma and transcripts, plus a certificate of distinction in finance and another purporting to show membership in the student council.

Cue a whole series of dreadful puns about hounding the diploma mills and a promo video about the stunt: “Dog Earns Online MBA: A Cautionary Tail.” promoting university research has just launched (September 2009) – it is a consortium led by Duke University, Stanford University, and the University of Rochester and aims to highlight the latest discoveries from leading universities in the United States and Canada:

Futurity aggregates the very best research news. The site, which is hosted at the University of Rochester, covers news in the environment, health, science, society, and other areas.

Why Futurity? Why now?
The way people share information is changing quickly and daily. Blogs and social media sites like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook are just a taste of what’s to come. It will be easier than ever to share content instantly with people around the globe, allowing universities to reach new audiences and engage a new generation in discovery. futurity_logos31

Equally significant has been the recent decline in science and research coverage by traditional news outlets. For decades, universities have partnered with journalists to communicate their work to the public, but that relationship is evolving. At the same time, research universities are among the most credible and trusted institutions in society, and now have the ability to deliver their news and information directly to readers without barriers or gatekeepers.

In an increasingly complex world, the public needs access to clear, reliable research news. Futurity does the work of gathering that news. Think of it as a snapshot of where the world is today and where it’s headed tomorrow. Discover the future.

Ambitious stuff. It’s still early days for this site but it does look extremely promising. And is there anything similar in the UK? Research TV, now no more, had a similar kind of aspiration.

“Pressure grows” to replace league tables

“League tables should be replaced, says v-c” according to a recent article in THE. As an alternative to league tables it is proposed that comprehensive “quality profiles” be used instead of crude rankings.

Chris Brink, vice-chancellor of Newcastle University, said assessments should ask if the university is “good at what it does”, rather than if it is “better than the others”:

The intention is to supersede the lists compiled by newspapers with a tool that allows more detailed comparison of institutions’ strengths and weaknesses and better reflects the sector’s diversity. Last autumn, the Higher Education Funding Council for England suggested that web-based “spidergrams” could be used to illustrate university performance across a range of areas. Times Higher Education understands the proposal was accepted by the former Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, and appeared in the draft Higher Education Framework drawn up by John Denham as Universities Secretary.mast_blank

Professor Brink said that “quality is a more subtle and multi-dimensional concept than can be captured in a linear ranking…If we could find a way of quality profiling that allows for all three core functions as well as sector diversity, we would be doing ourselves and the general public a favour. Quality profiling of this kind would give us a fresh way of dealing with the issue of comparability – particularly if profiles could be compiled on the basis of some sector-wide guidelines and categories.”

An analysis of newspaper rankings commissioned by Hefce last year raised a number of concerns, but acknowledged that institutions were strongly influenced by league tables. The “spidergram” approach, being considered by the Government, is based on performance indicators in research, knowledge transfer, teaching, workforce skills and widening participation.

This is an interesting contribution. Spidergrams or similar profiling mechanisms in the form described here can be helpful tools and can offer a useful snapshot of an institution’s position. This could be useful not only to prospective students and external stakeholders but also to the university itself. All good stuff then. But no matter how helpful, meaningful and accurate such profiles are, it seems extremely unlikely that they will supplant league tables. Whether we like it or not the rankings are here to stay – what these kind of mechanisms can do though is, possibly, influence the indicators used in some of the league tables and that might represent some positive progress. We shall see.

Sunday Times League Table

Sunday Times League Table is now out

The 2010 Sunday Times Good University Guide. Change at the top but not really “a year of upheaval” as billed:

1. Oxford (2)
2. Cambridge (1)
3. Imperial (3)
4. UCL (6)
5. St Andrews (5)
6. Warwick (7)
7. Durham (8)
8. York (9)
9. LSE (4)
10. Bristol (16)
11. Bath (10)
12. Southampton (12)
13. King’s College London (17)
14. Nottingham (13)
15= Edinburgh (15)
15= Loughborough (11)
17. Exeter (14)
18. Sheffield (19)
19. Lancaster (20)
20= Leicester (18)
20= Birmingham

University of Oxford

The University of Oxford is on something of a winning streak. After a second successive victory over Cambridge in the boat race this year, the university has now knocked its light-blue rival off the top of The Sunday Times university league table for the first time.

This feat, after 11 years in second place, earns Oxford The Sunday Times University of the Year award. It edged narrowly ahead of its principal British rival in a year of upheaval in our league table, prompted by the first research assessments in seven years and the move to measuring teaching quality primarily by levels of student satisfaction expressed through the annual national student survey (NSS).

Not really a huge change to the table since last year apart from the diversion of a bit of a boat race going on at the top. Although new NSS scores and 2008 RAE do figure they don’t seem to have made a big difference. The numbers involved in the survey of Heads and peers, which results in one indicator, aren’t obviously identified.

HE in Ireland: “Axe hangs over 750 posts”

Whilst UK institutions are facing significant financial challenges, the situation in Ireland seems distinctly difficult according to the Irish Independent.

The paper states that up to 750 jobs are to be cut by December and that academics, research staff and administrative, technical and other support posts will be equally affected by the instructions to reduce numbers by 3% by December:

There will be no compulsory redundancies and the cuts will be achieved through non-filling of posts and the non-renewal of fixed-term contracts. The move is part of the Government’s effort to slash the size and cost of the public sector. The cutbacks mean that colleges also have to get special approval to fill certain jobs. Where a college seeks an exemption to fill a vacancy, it must get permission from the Higher Education Authority (HEA), the Department of Education and the Department of Finance.

It must complete a form explaining the basis for filling the post and, in the case of lecturers, confirm all existing lecturing capacity is being used. In the case of lecturers, colleges have been advised that they won’t get approval in the absence of confirmation that all available lecturing capacity is already being used. The HEA has put in place an Employment Control Framework setting out how the colleges are to achieve the cuts.

In the case of academics, the HEA has notified each individual college of the actual number of academic/teaching posts that must go. Colleges have some discretion about what academic posts should be suppressed, but must deliver on the December 2009 bottom line figure dictated by the HEA. In the case of administrative, technical and other support jobs, vacancies may not be filled, contracts may not be renewed and no new posts may be created.

This really is pretty dramatic stuff. Whilst we might think things are pretty bad in the UK, we are a long way from this kind of intervention.

University of Nottingham: Graduate Trainee Programme

The first group of four Graduate Trainees are coming to the end of their year-long programme which has been extremely successful.


As the advert for the 2009-10 scheme describes it:

The University is delighted to announce the Nottingham Graduate Trainee Programme. This innovative programme, aimed exclusively at University of Nottingham graduates from any of the University campuses interested in developing a career in university administration. It offers an invaluable insight into this dynamic management activity whilst developing an understanding of:

* markets
* income streams
* resource allocation processes
* client bases including students, parents, employers, funding bodies and commercial partners.

The programme offers four trainees the opportunity to experience key components of university operation and build an understanding of the institution’s strategy. Trainees will spend 12 months undertaking a planned rotation of placements in different areas of the University, reporting to senior staff. Placements will be across central services and schools, and trainees may have the opportunity to experience activity at one of the University’s overseas campuses in Malaysia or China.

The evidence from the presentations by each of the trainees on their experiences and the results both for them and the University is extraordinarily positive. They have all done outstandingly well and all four have now secured other posts within Nottingham which really is excellent news.

Comments on some of the outcomes of the programme can be seen in a recent podcast: