Another view on Honorary Degrees

Another view on Honorary Degrees

Following an earlier post, here we have a slightly different take, this time from the Daily Mail:

Degree day at a university in 21st-century Britain…’And our honorary doctorates this year,’ he intones, ‘go to . . .’ And the crowd tenses, expecting the name of some international polymath with numerous and learned achievements to his credit. Who will it be? Internet inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee? Pianist Alfred Brendel? Mathematician Sir Michael Atiyah? Dream on.

‘Our honorary doctorates this year go to . . . Mr Dickie Bird, Mr Murray Walker, Miss Cilla Black and Monsieur Raymond Blanc.’

With which the whole edifice of university intellectualism collapses like a bouncy castle the moment its electric blower has been switched off at a kiddies’ birthday party. Honorary doctorates could be the most prized academic possessions, but in our egalitarianised education system their potency has been trashed.

Whilst it is something of an overstatement to suggest that Honorary Degrees have ever been central to the academic standing of universities, celebrities are certainly more frequent recipients than they used to be. Not sure that this is a manifestation of some form of misplaced egalitarianism though. Nor is the ‘solution’ to make Simon Cowell Secretary of State.

via X Factor’s Simon Cowell for Secretary of State for Education?.

See also recent podcast on this topic.

Another top 100 global universities ranking

A league table with a slightly different emphasis

Top 10 of the Top 100 Global universities ranking:

1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

2 California Institute of Technology, USA

3 University of Tokyo, Japan

4 Columbia University, USA

5 Lomonosov Moscow State University, Russia

6 Harvard University, USA

7 Stanford University, USA

8 University of Cambridge, UK

9 Johns Hopkins University, USA

10 University of Chicago, USA

via Top 100 Global universities ranking.

Some of the places in the top 100 are filled by Russian institutions which tend not to feature so prominently in other global league tables. The methodology seems to be based on the views of a panel of experts but is pretty opaque. Having said that, many of the universities in the 100 are the same as in the SJTU and THE tables.

Suspect this one won’t catch on.

“Top scholars should lead research universities”

Top scholars should lead research universities:

Review of fascinating new work in University World News.

Research universities should be led by brilliant scholars and not merely talented managers, says Warwick University fellow Amanda Goodall. It is not sufficient for leaders to have management skills alone, Goodall states in a new book. In Socrates in the Boardroom: why research universities should be led by top scholars, Goodall challenges the orthodoxy of “managerialism” which began in the Thatcher era and continued during the Blair decade. Using a mix of empirical research of 100 universities and interviews with 26 of their leaders in the UK and the US, she concludes that institutions led by highly regarded academics perform better.

Goodall gives four reasons why leaders should be able scholars. They are more credible to academic colleagues and appear more legitimate which, in turn, extends a leader’s power and influence. A top scholar provides a leader with a deep understanding and expert knowledge about the core business of universities which informs decision-making and strategic priorities. The leader sets the quality threshold: “The standard bearer has first set the standard that is to be enforced.” Finally, she says a leader who is a researcher sends a signal to the faculty that he or she shares their scholarly values, and that research success is important to the institution. It also transmits an external signal to potential job candidates, donors, alumni and students.

Some choice quotations here too:

When Goodall asked Patrick Harker, University of Delaware President, if non-academics could lead research universities, he replied: “To be the leader of a jazz group you have to be able to play. That is true of higher education as well. You might not be in the classroom or laboratory now but it helps if you have been there.”

One UK vice-chancellor told her: “A successful international businessman should be appointed as CEO into an international business. An editor of the Financial Times will have been a competent journalist. A vice-chancellor of a university must have been an academic to understand the culture. Universities are profoundly intellectual and can only be led by an academic.”

Have bought a copy now and look forward to reading it!

Changes in university email?

From the Chronicle: Are College E-Mail Addresses on the Way Out?

A report from Educause on IT issues in higher education suggests that provision of university email addresses for students may be a thing of the past.

It found, among other things, that in 2008 nearly 10 percent of associate, baccalaureate, and master’s institutions as well as 25 percent of doctoral institutions were considering putting an end to student e-mail addresses because so many students were already using personal e-mail accounts. That is a large shift from
typethe 1 to 2 percent of institutions that were considering this in 2004. The survey also highlighted findings from IT categories like networking and security, information systems, faculty and student computing, financing and management, and organizational structure and leadership.

Whilst there may be short term savings here, there are significant challenges in maintaining accurate lists for communication purposes but, as importantly, the ability to retain connections with alumni, through life-long email addresses, is greatly compromised.

Facebook for Scientists?

Researchers need networks too

A report in the Chronicle notes:

A $12.2-million federal stimulus grant from the National Institutes of Health will finance a network some are calling a Facebook for scientists. Several universities, including Cornell University and the University of Florida, will develop the network over the next two years in the hopes of helping scientists find other academics to work with.

If a researcher is looking for someone else in a very specialized field, he or she would usually think of all the people he has met or simply scan recent scientific journals for names, said Michael Conlon, interim director of biomedical informatics at the College of Medicine at the University of Florida and the principal investigator on the grant. Mr. Conlon calls those methods “haphazard.”


People using the network will be able to enter targeted inquiries into a search box. The results will show scholars in very specialized fields. The site will also reveal relationships between academics, such as whether someone has published an article with someone else, or whether someone was an adviser to someone else.

But why create a new network to achieve this? Aren’t existing networks like Facebook or LinkedIn able to do this kind of thing better and more efficiently?

World’s Best Universities: Another Top 200

World’s Best Universities: Top 200 from US News and World Report

Slighly misleading this as is the same league table as previously published by THE.

What is a little more interesting is that, from next year, THE will be using a different compiler but QS will, it seems, be continuing to partner with US News. Therefore there are going to be three international league tables in 2010. Meantime, the top 25 is as follows:

1 Harvard University (1 in 2008)
2 University of Cambridge (3)
3 Yale University (2)
4 University College London (7)
5= Imperial College London (6)
5= University of Oxford (4)globe-europe
7 University of Chicago (8)
8 Princeton University (12)
9 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (9)
10 California Institute of Technology (5)
11 Columbia University (10)
12 University of Pennsylvania (11)
13 Johns Hopkins University (13=)
14 Duke University (13=)
15 Cornell University (15)
16 Stanford University (17)
17 Australian National University (16)
18 McGill University (20)
19 University of Michigan (18)
20= Eth Zurich (24)
20= University of Edinburgh (23)
22 University of Tokyo (19)
23 King’s College London (22)
24 University of Hong Kong (26)
25 Kyoto University (25)

Shanghai Jaio Tong league table: Field Rankings

World league table: Field rankings

Following the publication of the World League Table, the ARWU Field rankings have been released. These are the companion tables to the overall world rankings produced by the team at SJTU and highlight relative standings in five broad discipline areas:

As in 2008 the University of Nottingham does rather well in three of these tables: top 30 in Clinical Medicine and Phamacy, Top 75 in Agricultural and Life Sciences, and the world’s Top 100 universities in the Social Sciences.

Shanghai Jiao Tong World Ranking 2009

2009 Shanghai Jiao Tong University League Table just published….

The latest SJTU rankings for 2009 have now been published.

Harvard is again top as in 2007 and 2008, and Cambridge remains in 4th position and top from the UK. Top 20 as follows:

1 Harvard University
2 Stanford University
3 University of California – Berkeley
4 University of Cambridge
5 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
6 California Institute of Technology
7 Columbia University
8 Princeton University
9 University of Chicago
10 University of Oxford
11 Yale University
12 Cornell University
13 University of California – Los Angeles
14 University of California – San Diego
15 University of Pennsylvania
16 University of Washington – Seattle
17 Univ Wisconsin – Madison
18 University of California – San Francisco
19 Johns Hopkins University
20  Tokyo University

Note that the Top 18 are identical to 2008.

UK universities appear in the top 100 as follows (change from last year in brackets):

4 Cambridge (no change)
10 Oxford (no change)
21 UCL (up 1)
26 Imperial (down 1)
41 Manchester (down 1)
53 Edinburgh (up 2)
61 Bristol (no change)
65 King’s London (up 16)
81 Sheffield (down 4)
83 Nottingham (down 1)
94= Birmingham (down 3)

No other UK institutions feature in the Shanghai Jiao Tong world 100.

Higher ambitions…

New HE Framework

Follow up to earlier post on HE as food-labelling:

Lord Mandelson has launched Higher Ambitions. There’s a lot in here and much of it yet to be fully fleshed out. And the much trailed element on improved consumer information still requires some work:

Higher ambitions

All universities should publish a standard set of information setting out what students can expect in terms of the nature and quality of their programme.

This should set out how and what students will learn, what that knowledge will qualify them to do, whether they will have access to external expertise or experience, how much direct contact there will be with academic staff, what their own study responsibilities will be, what facilities they will have access to, and any opportunities for international experience. It should also offer information about what students on individual courses have done after graduation. The Unistats website will continue to bring together information in a comparable way so that students can make well-informed informed [sic] choices, based on an understanding of the nature of the teaching programme they can expect, and the long-term employment prospects it offers. We will invite HEFCE, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) and UKCES to work with the sector and advise on how these goals should be achieved.

Hmmm. Should be an interesting consultation.

Higher education as food labelling

Food labelling for university courses

From the BBC website:

School leavers applying to English universities will get more data about courses under government plans to treat them more like consumers. A food labelling-style system will flag up teaching hours, career prospects and seminar frequency, says the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

On Tuesday, it will announce a new framework for higher education. The plan aims to set out priorities for universities ahead of a review of the way students fund their education. Tuition fees were introduced in 1998 and Business Secretary Lord Mandelson believes this entitles students to act more like consumers.

He has said government and industry must scrutinise and monitor courses on behalf of students, encouraging “a greater degree of competition between institutions” to drive improvement in courses. His department already publishes statistics on employability after six months and three-and-a-half years, but the latest plans would put information in one place. This could include graduates’ typical future earnings, contact hours with tutors, assessment methods and frequency of tests.

So instead of detailed descriptions of each course in prospectuses, via ucas, on university websites and the detail of league table subject comparisons, we are going to have something like this:


It really isn’t at all clear how this is going to be in any way an improvement or of real value to prospective students. Consolidating small pieces of information into one place in this way suggests that a much more superficial assessment of quality is the aim here. And how is it going to be decided what is red and what is green?

Let’s hope that the real proposals are a bit better than this implies.