The Sun investigates academic offences

The Sun seems to have a new found interest in academic offences. It says that “160 exam cheats were booted out of university last year”.

According to the respected journal:

DIMWITS with notes scrawled on wrists and arms were among 160 exam cheats booted out of university last year. The brainless old wheeze of writing answers on body parts continued to beat hi-tech scams such as accessing the internet with mobile phones, The Sun can reveal.

We submitted a Freedom of Information request to discover the most popular ways of cheating – and which campuses had the most culprits. Worst was Teesside University in Middlesbrough – where 17 students were caught. Middlesex University expelled 15, followed by Kingston (10), Sheffield (7) and University College London (6).

Scams were: Notes written on SKIN, including palms and legs; BUYING coursework such as essays off the internet; STEALING – like the Chester University student who swiped another’s memory stick and passed work off as theirs. Faking ILLNESS to have poor results upgraded; Nipping to the LOO after hiding notes there; PLAGIARISING work on the web and HIDING notes in pencil cases and dictionaries; STAND-INS taking the exam; PRETENDING a bereavement affected performance – and lastly using a MOBILE.

Great to see tabloids interested in this particular aspect of higher education.

University funding: devastating cuts or continued investment?

Russell Group and UCU lining up against government cuts

Rhetoric overload has kicked in pretty early. If we’re not careful we’ll have used the full armoury of adjectives to describe the cuts far too early in the campaign.

The UCU line, as reported in the Guardian, envisages huge class sizes and thousands of academics on the dole. The apocalyptic vision from the Russell Group is 30 university closures and ‘meltdown’ for all others.

Universities in the UK will be among the most overcrowded in the world within three years if savage government cuts to higher education go ahead, ­academics warned today.

The lecturers’ union, UCU, said more than £900m of cuts announced last month would fill lecture halls with “some of the biggest class sizes in the world” by 2013.

Sally Hunt, the union’s general secretary, said that “the dreams of many hardworking parents for their kids to go to university … will be over”. The cuts would send at least 14,000 academics to the dole queue.

The warning comes after top universities accused Gordon Brown of jeopardising 800 years of higher education, saying the cuts – which the Institute for Fiscal Studies says may reach £2.5bn – would “bring them to their knees”.

Leaders of the Russell Group of 20 leading universities, which includes Warwick, Liverpool and Glasgow as well as Oxford and Cambridge, said ministers failed to appreciate one of the “jewels in the country’s crown”. At least 30 universities could disappear and the rest faced possible ­meltdown.

Dramatic stuff (leaving aside the inexplicable omission of the University of Nottingham from the Russell Group list above). So dramatic in fact that it prompted a rather testy response from Lord Mandelson in The Guardian. In short his line is that the government has invested heavily in universities, this is not going to vanish overnight and the cuts are modest in the context of the global funding of HE:

The Russell Group of universities seemed to suggest our higher education system is teetering on the brink of collapse (Universities: cuts will bring us to our knees, 12 January).

“Cuts on university budgets will have a devastating effect,” they said, “not only on students and staff, but also on our international competitiveness, national economy and ability to recover from recession.” But the reality is different. While universities cannot escape the coming squeeze on public finances, nor are they under any kind of threat.

So the reduction of £950m in public funds over the period 2010-2013 is only one part of a complex funding picture. Given that the proposed reductions stretch between now and 2013, is it really reasonable to describe the equivalent of a reduction of under 5% over three years as “swingeing”?

The Russell Group says “cuts of this magnitude in overall funding will impact on the sustainability of our research”. But teaching and research funding – even after the £180m efficiency savings and the reductions in December’s grant letter – will still actually grow between 2009-2010 and 2010-2011. Research funding will grow in real terms this year by 7%.

So, apocalypse now?

Global Institutional Profiles Project

Interesting announcement this, linked to the latest Times Higher league table developments:

Thomson Reuters, a global leader in providing information, will address industry concerns over current profile systems with the Global Institutional Profiles Project. The 21st century research institution has many fluid layers, and Thomson Reuters is committed to developing an equally robust and dynamic dataset. The Profiles Project, launched in 2009, rests on the principle that one size does not fit all—as the world continues to flatten and specialize, profile databases must broaden in scope, deepen in content, and become increasingly flexible.

Our aim with the Global Institutional Profiles Project, which includes our work with Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings, is to develop a data source that provides the best informed and most effective resource to build profiles of universities and research-based institutions around the world. The Profiles Project will create data-driven portraits of globally significant research institutions, combining peer review, scholarly outputs, citation patterns, funding levels, and faculty characteristics in one comprehensive database. Thomson Reuters also brings a celebrated legacy of data transparency to the Profiles Project, operating with clear methodology and data gathering practices.

via Thomson Reuters

Whatever this actually means, and how they decide to represent the ‘fluid layers’ of the 21st century research institution, remains to be seen. Will be interesting to see how it pans out.

New Zealand “winning the educational rankings war”

New Zealand claims to be top of the world in higher education

Some new year cheer from what is undoubtedly the most entertaining interpretation of league table data for some time from Education New Zealand:

In the global battle to attract international students, academic rankings have become an important tool and one of the main factors used to help students decide where they want to study. New Zealand’s consistently high quality of education has given this country the edge when it comes to staying ahead of the pack.
“University rankings have always been a bit controversial as they tend to favour older, larger universities,” says Education New Zealand’s Chief Executive Robert Stevens. “Given New Zealand’s small size, we are thrilled that our universities continue to put us on top of the academic world.”

Stevens is referring to the latest Academic Ranking of World Universities released by Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. It is one of the most used rankings in the world, and this year has featured five of New Zealand’s eight universities in its “Top 500” list.

Universities in the rest of the world clearly don’t measure up:

“No other country has 63% of its universities included on that list. We are absolutely leading the pack,” says Robert Stevens. The only country that came close to matching New Zealand’s performance was the Netherlands, with 61% of their universities on the list. Australia had 43% of their universities make the list, and the UK had 35%. The US, despite dominating the Top 100, had only 8% of their total number of universities feature on the rankings. The New Zealand universities which featured on the rankings were: University of Auckland, University of Otago, Massey University, University of Canterbury and Victoria University of Wellington.

Everyone else should probably just give up now.

How the iPhone Could Reboot Education

Follow up to post a year ago on the big iPhone giveaway at Abilene Christian U.

How do you educate a generation of students eternally distracted by the internet, cellphones and video games? Easy. You enable them by handing out free iPhones — and then integrating the gadget into your curriculum. That’s the idea Abilene Christian University has to refresh classroom learning. Located in Texas, the private university just finished its first year of a pilot program, in which 1,000 freshman students had the choice between a free iPhone or an iPod Touch.

The initiative’s goal was to explore how the always-connected iPhone might revolutionize the classroom experience with a dash of digital interactivity. Think web apps to turn in homework, look up campus maps, watch lecture podcasts and check class schedules and grades. For classroom participation, there’s even polling software for Abilene students to digitally raise their hand. The verdict? It’s working quite well. 2,100 Abilene students, or 48 percent of the population, are now equipped with a free iPhone. Fully 97 percent of the faculty population has iPhones, too. The iPhone is aiding Abilene in giving students the information they need — when they want it, wherever they want it, said Bill Rankin, a professor of medieval studies who helped plan the initiative.


So, sounds like progress but will be interesting to see how sustainable this is and whether it leads to real changes in delivery and student learning.