The global higher education revolution

‘Tracking the higher education revolution’

A really good article by Philip Altbach, Liz Reisberg and Laura Rumbley in Change Magazine.

A global revolution has been taking place in higher education during the past half-century that is at least as dramatic as the one that happened when the German research model fundamentally changed the nature of the university worldwide in the 19th century. And the transformation of the late 20th and early 21st centuries is more extensive than the earlier one, due to the sheer numbers of institutions and people involved.

In our view, four fundamental and interrelated forces have impelled the current academic revolution: the “massification” of higher education, globalization, the advent of the knowledge society and the importance of research universities within it, and information technology (including distance education). These forces have presented nations with enormous funding challenges and fueled the rise of the private sector and the privatization of public colleges and universities, the accountability movement (including today’s imperative to measure the outcomes of higher education), and deep changes in the nature and role of the professoriate.

The article gives a comprehensive overview of global changes in universities across a wide range of activities before addressing some of the consequences of the financial crisis:

The crisis is likely to have the following consequences worldwide:

* In many cases, the priority will be to allocate funds to ensure that access to the higher education system is not dramatically cut. But at the same time, universities will face pressures to establish or increase tuition fees for students, and higher education is likely to become increasingly unaffordable to marginalized populations. In countries where student loan programs exist, either in the public or private sectors, they may be severely limited.
* Research universities are likely to see significant constraints on their budgets, since governments will be unable to provide the resources needed for their continued improvement.
* Cost-cutting practices at many universities will result in a deterioration of quality. More part-time faculty are likely to be hired, class sizes increased, and other savings implemented that potentially threaten the overall health and effectiveness of higher education.
* We are likely to see freezes on hiring, the construction of new facilities, improved information technology, and the purchase of books and journals.

It’s a grim prospectus but a realistic one. The piece overall is an excellent take on global changes in higher education and one of the best pieces of this kind I’ve seen recently. Well worth reading.

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An NUS league table?

Students debate plan for league table of their own

According to Times Higher Education NUS conference was due to discuss a proposal that students should design their own league table:

The motion says that the ranking would address the fact that most existing league tables are determined by newspapers, sponsors and universities, but not by students themselves.

“While we should resist and fight to reverse the commodification and marketisation of higher education, there is an opportunity for NUS to produce the student movement’s own league table, focusing on the bread-and-butter provision that matters most to students,” it says. It adds that the NUS in Australia already produces its own league table, and that this has had “a major impact”.

However, the motion acknowledges that such a development here would not be without risk, because its design and compilation “would be subjected to significant scrutiny” and would need support from students’ unions across the UK.

Don’t know if this motion was passed but it is an interesting idea although it is difficult to imagine how different this league table would be from others in the market. In principle though there is no reason why such a table could not establish itself as a serious competitor. With the right support and intelligent use of the right source data it could fly.

Lots of Students in Higher Education

Latest HESA data: Lots of students in Higher Education Institutions 2008/09

The newly released Students in Higher Education Institutions 2008/09 publication from the Higher Education Statistics Agency shows that there were 2,396,050 students in higher education in the UK in 2008/09. Of these 2,027,085 (84.6%) were UK domicile students, 117,660 (4.9%) were from other EU member countries and 251,310 (10.5%) were from non-EU countries.

There are some interesting headlines in here. International student (ie non-EU) student numbers have grown 9.4% over the previous year, outstripping the growth in home student numbers which increased by 3.2%.

Students from China and India accounted for nearly one third of all non-EU domicile students at UK HE institutions in 2008/09. The table below shows the growth in numbers of students from the top ten non-EU countries of domicile from 2007/08 to 2008/09:

Further details available via HESA.

Miserable weather makes universities more attractive

Miserable weather makes universities more attractive to prospective students

According to a recent article in the Telegraph:

Schoolchildren who visit a university on a cloudy day are more likely to decide to go there because they prefer to study somewhere that is not sunny. Far from the stereotype of pupils picking a place where they think they will have most fun, they subconsciously prefer somewhere amenable to doing homework, it was found. Professor Uri Simonsohn, of the University of Pennsylvania, made the discovery after analysing data on campus visits by 1,284 prospective students to a university.

He and his team found that students were nine per cent more likely to enrol to the university if the weather was grey and there was no sun. In order to rule out the possibility that students visiting on cloudier months – December rather than September – were keener, he controlled for this and found that the effect of the weather actually gets a bit stronger.

This doesn’t feel quite right. However, the proposition is that students prefer working on cloudier days and having fun outside when it’s sunny. Fair enough. The argument then runs that these associations may mean that weather during a campus visit affects the perception of the institution so that universities visited on cloudy days may seem more compatible with academic activities than those visited on sunny ones.

This is interesting stuff. The general assumption in student recruitment activity is that sunnier days are better because campuses look much more pleasant and attractive. Moreover, rain tends to make concrete, prevalent at many UK universities, look pretty grim and generally off-putting. But then it’s not like you can choose the weather for your open day in any case.

Election 2010: Why the environment is an electoral non-issue

Why the environment is an electoral non-issue

Excellent and (obviously) timely new blog from the University of Nottingham School of Politics and International Relations. An extract from a typical post:

Ask people if they think the environment is an important issue, and they will tell you that it certainly is. A ‘great deal’ or ‘fair amount’ of concern about global warming is reported by 67% of the British public respondents in the UK, and 84% of car drivers are ‘very’, or ‘fairly’, concerned about the effect of transport on climate change (indeed drivers show a higher level of concern for the effect of transport on climate change than non-drivers). But ask people if they are willing to pay for environmental improvements and that support tends to disappear. Whilst 84% of those car drivers were concerned, only 18% were willing to pay higher taxes on their car for the sake of the environment.

Interesting stuff. Election 2010 offers well-informed and pithy comment on key issues in the run up to the election and will be well worth coming back to.

Ranking confessions

Ranking Confessions from THE’s Deputy Editor

Some time ago THE announced a bit of a change in its approach to rankings and its previous league table partner joined up with US News and World Report

Inside Higher Ed carries an interesting piece from Phil Baty in which he admits to the failings in THE’s previous league table methodology:

I have a confession. The rankings of the world’s top universities that my magazine has been publishing for the past six years, and which have attracted enormous global attention, are not good enough. In fact, the surveys of reputation, which made up 40 percent of scores and which Times Higher Education until recently defended, had serious weaknesses. And it’s clear that our research measures favored the sciences over the humanities. We always knew that rankings had their limitations. No ranking can be definitive. No list of the strongest universities can capture all the intangible, life-changing and paradigm-shifting work that universities undertake. In fact, no ranking can even fully capture some of the basics of university activity – there are no globally comparable measures of teaching quality, for example.

There’s lots of interesting critique in here, including the particular problem of the ‘reputation survey’ element of the QS ranking which had a very high weighting but very small number of participants:

The reputation survey carried out by our former ranking partner attracted only a tiny number of respondents. In 2009, about 3,500 people provided their responses – a fraction of the many millions of scholars throughout the world. The sample was simply too small, and the weighting too high. So we’ve started again.

Many of the problems identified with the QS method will be challenging to address. It will be interesting to see how the new THE table pans out. And whether its previous ranking partner prospers with a new publisher.