Preparing for university: “we call this a washing machine”

Some new students need ‘life skills’ it seems

According to the Times “pampered pupils” are receiving lessons in life skills to enable them to cope at university:

Increasing numbers of privileged students are arriving at university unable to use a washing machine, cook a simple meal or look after themselves, according to head teachers and academics. Teenagers have become so used to someone else picking up after them at home or in boarding school that they lack the basic skills needed to survive when they start their degree. One boarding school is so concerned that pupils will not be able to cope at university that it is sending sixth-formers to live in self-contained cabins.

Unlike boarders at other schools, sixth-formers at Abbotsholme in Staffordshire, where fees are £25,000 a year, do their own washing, ironing, cleaning and cooking. Steve Fairclough, the headmaster, said it helped to prepare them for the realities of university. “Independent schools, if they are not careful, can institutionalise kids and give them a silver spoon so they expect things to be done for them,” he said. “These cabins give them a bit of independence.”

This sounds like a major problem and one which has yet to be adequately addressed by many student services centres. It is time something was done.

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‘Wal-Mart U’ v ‘Harrods U’

Two new entrants into HE

From the Chronicle of Higher Education an interesting story explaining that there might have been a Wal-Mart University:

As the world’s largest retailer weighed its options for making a big splash in education, executives told one potential academic partner that Wal-Mart Stores was considering buying a university or starting its own. “Wal-Mart U.” never happened. Instead, the retailer chose a third option: a landmark alliance that will make a little-known for-profit institution, American Public University, the favored online-education provider to Wal-Mart’s 1.4 million workers in the United States.

A closer look at the deal announced this month shows how American Public slashed its prices and adapted its curriculum to snare a corporate client that could transform its business. It also raises one basic question: Is this a good bargain for students?


It may or may not be a good deal for students. Of perhaps greater interest from a UK perspective is whether this opens the door to the American Public University to offer online programmes to 150,000 Asda staff. If so, they will be competing against a different kind of store which is entering the higher education arena, Harrods. Harrods is following a path set out by Lord Mandelson earlier this year when he encouraged the take up of two year degrees:

The theme of cut-price degrees has been continued by the present Government’s Universities Secretary, David Willetts. Earlier this month he called for students to be able to study online or through their local further education college, while still being enrolled on degree courses run by the country’s most successful universities.

The Harrods students, while studying at the store, will be members of Anglia Ruskin University. They will complete what would normally be a three-year BA (Hons) degree in two years, by studying through the summer holidays as well as university term-time. On the agenda will be theoretical modules in human behaviour, psychology and business enterprise, devised to deepen the students’ sales skills and effectiveness.

It’s tough competition (via The Independent).

What’s the point of graduation season?

On Graduation

BBC website carries an interesting feature on differences between UK university graduations and US commencement.

In British universities, especially those with a very large student body, degree ceremonies can sometimes last longer than a week, as each school or faculty or department gets its own session, and as each graduate has the opportunity to shake the chancellor’s hand.

In the US, by contrast, commencement is one single, all-encompassing gathering, often held in a stadium or a gymnasium or a large open space, when all those present are deemed by the university or college president to have received their degrees.

So while graduating from university in Britain is in some ways a personal and individual matter, in the US it is more of a collective act and a shared experience. This may help explain why graduates of US universities – compared to their British counterparts – generally possess a much more powerful sense of what may properly be described as class consciousness.

It does seem odd to suggest that the slightly more personal touch – if having your name mispronounced and a seven second stumble across a stage can be described as such – should result in a weaker binding of the individual to the university. For, whilst everyone is graduating from the University of Nottingham, the stronger identification perhaps remains with course peers, School and even hall. Mind you, if we were to try to do everything in one event rather than over two weeks, we would need to hire the City Ground.

A previous post on a report of a Harvard graduation offers a contrasting view of the value of the collective experience.

Comparing ranking systems: League Tables 101

Comparing League tables

A handy article on the QS website on comparing ranking systems. Whilst it doesn’t go into much detail, it does offer a nice overview:

Since 1983, university ranking has become a world industry. But before we ask how universities can be ranked, it is important to consider why. The main reason for ranking universities is the vast growth in higher education across the world in recent decades. Universities are bigger than in the past. One with 10,000 students is no longer considered large. And there are more of them. The UK had 116 at the last count. As the number of students has grown, so has their need for advice and information, because more of them come from families which are new to higher education. And in the US especially, the sheer cost of going to university also drives rankings. College can cost a six-figure sum, so you need to know you are going to the right one.

In addition, the courses and programs offered by universities are increasingly diverse. Observers such as Michael Porter of Harvard Business School point out that advanced economies produce increasingly varied and specialized employment. This means new forms of university education, which in turn means an increasing need for information. Take a look at any national university ranking and you will see that it is mainly geared to the needs of potential undergraduate students, and of course their parents. Measures such as class size, staff/student ratio, completion rates, the achievement of high honours degrees, and your likelihood of employment after you leave, are the sort of thing that gets counted.

The article goes on to look at the UK Times Good University Guide, Shanghai Jaio Tong, US News and World Report, Webometrics rankings as well as offering a bit more detail on the QS league table. Nothing special but a useful introduction to the world of rankings.

New University League Table iPhone App

New League Table iPhone App

QS, compilers of world university league tables, have produced an iPhone app so rankings are never out of reach. My life is now complete.

New Guardian 2011 University League Table

New Guardian League Table for 2011

Top 20 or so of the full list (available here) is as follows (last year’s position in brackets):

1 (1) Oxford
2 (2) Cambridge
3 (4) Warwick
4 (3) St Andrews
5 (6) UCL
6 (16) Lancaster
7 (8) Imperial College
8 (5) London School of Economics
9 (10) Loughborough
9 (11) York
11 (12) SOAS
12 (15) Leicester
13 (9) Bath
14 (13) Exeter
15 (7) Edinburgh
15 (18) Sussex
17 (14) Durham
18 (22) Southampton
19 (35) UEA
20 (27) Surrey
21 (26) Nottingham

The overview of the results from the Guardian offers a few additional points about some institutions which appear to be doing better or worse than in previous years:

Britain’s oldest universities still dominate the high rankings, although several have dropped many places from last year. The University of Manchester, which was formed in 2004 from two universities that were established in the 19th Century, has fallen to 51st place out of 118, from 32nd last year. Edinburgh has gone down to 15th place from seventh last year and Bristol has fallen to 33rd from 29th last year. Some universities founded in the 1960s, however, appear to be on the rise. Lancaster has climbed from 16th to sixth this year, the University of East Anglia has risen from 35th to 19th and York has gone from 11th to joint ninth place with Loughborough.

Overall though not huge changes with the exception of Lancaster which has jumped into the top 10 in all three of the most recent UK rankings.

“Bogus students facing global crackdown”

Tackling “bogus” students

According to the BBC, bogus students are facing a global crackdown.

“Unscrupulous” recruitment agents who bring bogus overseas students into the UK are being targeted in an international initiative. The British Council has for the first time brought together countries including the UK, the US and Australia to try to keep out such students. The council says there are “widespread concerns” about dishonest agents. Universities say the majority of agents are legitimate and are an important way of finding overseas students. Rogue agents are accused of falsifying documents and helping people to get around the student visa system, the rules of which immigration authorities in the UK have tried to tighten.

The scale of the problem is not clear. Nor is it clear what additional steps might be taken given the recent significant changes to visa regulations which are already intended to tackle the issue. Agents are an important part of institutions’ international recruitment strategies and it is in universities’ interests to ensure that agents are legitimate and well-run. Universities have significant experience of identifying fraudulent applicants and, whilst international collaboration on this matter can only be helpful, it is not clear what more is being proposed.

University to Provide Online Reputation Management to Graduates

Online Reputation Management

Just when you thought it was safe to go online… an interesting approach to providing careers advice to graduates:

Syracuse University has purchased six-month subscriptions to Brand-Yourself.com’s online reputation management platform for all 4,100 of its graduating seniors. The platform will help students monitor and shape their online presence during the job search process. According to a recent study by Cross-Tab Marketing services, 75% of HR departments worldwide are required to screen job candidates online. Seventy percent of recruiters and HR professionals in the U.S. clam they have rejected potential hires based on information surfaced online, and nearly half say that a strong online reputation influences their hiring decisions to a “great extent.” A similar study conducted by CareerBuilder last year found that 45% of HR professionals screen job candidates on social media sites.

According to the director of the careers at Syracuse, Mike Cahill, “Our students need a way to put their best foot forward when they’re being researched by potential employers on Google, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn,”. All very worthy but isn’t it likely that students are perhaps in the best place to do this themselves rather than requiring an external agency to help out? Job rejection should be a pretty good incentive to undertake your own reputation management surely.

Fuller piece is available here.