Now students can study football

I’ve posted before on various degree courses which sound a bit, well, bonkers. The Daily Mail loves this stuff and gets very excited when something like a degree in footy comes along:

The finer points of the offside rule are not on the curriculum.

But a Championship club is offering its expertise in other aspects of the beautiful game by launching a university degree in football.

new student in Burnley

Burnley student


Burnley FC will enrol undergraduates on a three-year Bachelor of Arts (Honours) course with lectures to be held in classrooms overlooking the pitch in its stadium.

The club is the first to offer a full honours degree in football and is aiming to add income from the £3,200-a-year course to money from ticket sales and merchandise.

Sounds pretty rigorous to me. As I’m sure the Mail would agree.

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Universities spending millions on ‘inadequate’ websites

Money down the drain?

A report in the Telegraph highlights significant spending by universities on website redesigns which seems to deliver less than spectacular results:

Using Freedom of Information legislation the Telegraph discovered eight examples of universities spending between £100,000 and £280,000 on one-off website redesigns, as much as five times higher than the average spending.

The average annual spending on the maintenance of a university website is £60,375. That figure excludes additional spending on one-off redesigns, for which the average spending is £60,882.

The most expensive university website is the University of Hertfordshire’s, which spent £278,094 on a redesign by Precedent Communications and Straker UK, completed in May 2008. The university also employs staff whose salaries cost £221,500 every year, in addition to £14,500 each year for software support.

The reality is though that every university will account for its spend on its website differently with some being more centralised and others being more devolved. Whichever way you look at it though, spending £60k a year on maintaining a website seems an extremely modest investment for such a key recruitment, promotional and communications tool.

The report also quotes a survey by Times Higher Education which asked sixth form pupils to rate university websites:

The survey split university websites into three categories — well performing, average performing and badly performing — based on five principles including accessibility, contact information, the availability of good feedback from students, the uniqueness of the website and the quality of insight into the campus experience. Comparing spending information with the Times Higher Education survey suggests that some universities may be under-investing in their websites.

So, the conclusions are that some universities are under-investing and others are spending too much and no-one has really got the balance right. Helpful.

Simulation software for determining ranking strategy

Tool to improve rankings

Times Higher Education carries an entertaining story about a handy tool designed to help universities determine the best way to improve their league table rankings:

Any doubts that world university rankings are influencing institutions’ strategic thinking are likely to be dispelled by news that academics in Taiwan have developed a tool that predicts the outcome of different management decisions on future ranking position. In a research project for the Higher Education Evaluation and Accreditation Council for Taiwan (HEEACT), Han-Lin Li, a professor at the National Chiao Tung University, has developed what he describes as “a rank simulation system for world universities”.

In a presentation on 3 November at a conference in Taipei, titled “International trends in university rankings and their impact on higher education policy”, Professor Li said his system could help a university to “allocate its resources optimally, to improve its rank”. It could even model the impact of institutional mergers on ranking positions, he said. “We need a system to help us know what kind of strategy we can use to get on the [rankings] list,” he told the audience of senior Taiwanese university administrators.

Whilst there is something mildly amusing about this kind of attempt to improve league table positioning, it is also slightly disturbing to think that resource allocation decisions could be determined in this way. Arguably though it was just a matter of time before someone developed such a tool. It will be interesting to see if there is a market for it.

The Work Foundation: interesting acquisition

Work Foundation thinktank declared insolvent and sold

Unfortunate situation for the Work Foundation. However, things do seem to have turned out reaonably well according to the Guardian.

The Work Foundation, which bills itself as “the leading independent authority on work and its future”, announced today that it had been acquired by Lancaster University. The move came after a winding up petition, citing a £26.9m pension deficit, was filed at the high court yesterday.

The university claims the purchase minimises losses to creditors, including pension fund members, and safeguards 43 jobs, including that of the foundation’s executive vice-chair, Will Hutton. Hutton is a former editor of the Observer, a member of the Scott Trust, which owns the Guardian, and an adviser to the government on public sector pay.

The foundation, which aims to equip “leaders, policymakers and opinion-formers with evidence, advice, new thinking and networks”, will remain at its Westminster base as a separate entity. The alliance…would help the foundation consolidate its reputation for analysis and its ability to advise policymakers.

Private Eye has a slightly less positive slant on the situation in its most recent edition:

THE WORK FOUNDATION
How Will Hutton turned the Industrial Society with an annual income of £20m, into an insolvent disaster that can’t pay its former staff’s pensions – and all on a salary of just £180,000

However, it is probably a good thing that the Work Foundation will continue in existence. I really didn’t realise it was as big as that (although clearly a lot smaller than it used to be). It also will be interesting to see the impact on Lancaster’s REF submission. And what they do with the pension deficit.

Free books for freshers

Persuading freshers to read

Last year St Andrews gave a novel to all freshers to get them reading, discussing and engaging with each other.

This year, according to theBookseller.com, the scheme seems to have expanded:

Nearly 18,000 freshers across five UK universities have been given copies of a winning or shortlisted Man Booker novel for the autumn term.

First year students enrolling at Imperial College, London, Liverpool University, Newcastle University, St Andrew’s University, and the University of East Anglia received a copy of a Man Booker title to read over the summer, regardless of their area of study. Georgetown University, Washington has also initiated a similar scheme.

Just a really good idea. Would be interested to hear how it went.

True Crime on Campus §5

True Crime on Campus

The fifth instalment in a series of items extracted from university security reports. These are all real reports and highlight the varied nature of the challenges faced by our indefatigable security staff:

0845 Request for Security to attend an office in Trent Building. A member of staff had a pigeon in his office, which would not leave. Security attended and the pigeon was escorted from the building.

07:20 Whilst patrolling the campus Security Officers observed a man slashing at foliage with a golf club. Security spoke to the gentleman and asked him not to continue.

22:30 Security attended Archaeology and Classics Building where a fire alarm had been activated. A ‘Haze’ machine/smoke dispenser had been used in the ground floor theatre and the performers/students had forgotten to close the door, which had activated the alarm. Security ensured the ‘smoke’ was cleared and reset the alarm.

12.05 Report of a person trapped in a lift in the Medical School. It appears that the lift was being worked on by engineers when a person entered the lift car without the engineers being aware. The Fire Service were called to release the person as he was keen to use the toilet.

00:40 Security received a report from a member of the public that 3 males were fishing in the lake at the front of the Exchange Building at Jubilee Campus. Security attended and, after checking that they had no fish on them, moved them on.

23.50 Report of a suspicious vehicle parked at the rear of Cripps Hall with its engine running. Security attended and on approaching the vehicle a male and female emerged from the back seat in a state of undress. They apologized and after getting dressed left campus.

21.15 Report of a group of students with a pig’s head being offensive in a hall of residence. Security stopped the group and removed the head from them. The Warden is to be informed.

Some surprising views on the internationalisation of Higher Education

Why institutions think internationalisation is important

Really interesting piece in the Chronicle by Francisco Marmolejo on the Internationalization of Higher Education.

Those of us involved in the internationalization of higher education rely on a series of assumptions that are often not supported by data or evidence. For instance, we believe that internationalization is not only positive but also very relevant as a key component of the changing landscape of higher education. When asked about why internationalization is important we are prepared to recite a list of its many benefits for the students, the faculty, the institution, and to society in general. Well, if we don’t defend our cause (and our jobs) well, who will do it? We assume that internationalization is good, but we often lack any data to support our assumptions. Also, we don’t think too much about the fact that there are different rationales as to why, how, and for which purposes an institution or, for that matter, a whole region, wants to engage in an internationalization effort. At least, that’s what new data from the International Association of Universities (IAU) shows.

And there are some really striking differences across regions:

Where significant regional differences exist, it is not in the lamenting for the lack of proper funds, or in the importance of internationalization, but on the main rationales for these widely agreed upon beliefs. Worldwide, the top five reasons for internationalizing an institution are, in order of importance, to improve student preparedness; internationalize the curriculum; enhance the international profile of the institution; strengthen research and knowledge production; and diversify its faculty and staff. However, when the information is analyzed by regions, interesting variations are found. For instance, both North America and Latin America give much more importance to international preparedness of students than Europe. Interestingly, institutions in Africa consider as the more important internationalization rationale, to strengthen research and knowledge production. The Middle East gives the highest importance equally to improving student preparedness and also strengthening research.

The most interesting points for me are about the attitudes of North American institutions which do not seem to be interested in internationalisation for the purpose of profile raising of the university or for extending “international cooperation and solidarity”. Which does raise some questions about their main motivations.

Overall, it’s a really interesting piece on what looks like a very informative piece of work from the IAU.

Another daft course? Sociology goes Gaga

Or is this a case of academia at the cutting edge of contemporary culture?

Have posted before about slightly unusual programmes, including a zombie course at the University of Baltimore. Anyway, this time it’s Lady Gaga at the University of South Carolina. According to a story in the Washington Post also picked up by the BBC, the University will be offering a serious course on this most serious of topics:

The course will examine how exactly Lady Gaga managed to become so famous so quickly. Right now, the pop diva has more then 10 million Facebook fans and 6 million Twitter followers. (And yet again she is one of the year’s most popular Halloween costumes.)

“What is important about the course is it isn’t a musicology course,” Deflem told the Daily Gamecock. “It also isn’t a literary criticism course. It’s not a poetry course. It’s not like a dance course. It’s not an art course. It’s distinctly sociological.”

And not before time.

Restricting international staff recruitment by universities

The problems with the Tier 2 cap

The THE recently carried a story about the problems being caused by the cap on immigration from non-EU countries which is particularly affecting universities:

The UK Border Agency has given each university a quota on recruitment from non-European Union countries under Tier 2 of the points-based immigration system, which covers “skilled workers”. The quotas cover new visas – and renewals for existing staff – between 19 July 2010 and 31 March 2011, when the permanent cap will be imposed.

The government’s interim immigration cap has left one of the UK’s major research universities able to recruit or keep only 78 “skilled” overseas academics this year – and the permanent cap could bring further reductions.

The institution in the THE report is UCL but Nottingham is in almost exactly the same position. We are a global university operating in a global market. We have to recruit the most talented academics and researchers, wherever they come from, in order to sustain our international competitiveness. It is only by sustaining and advancing our excellence in research, teaching and knowledge transfer that we can deliver what the country demands from a leading university. Measures which hamper our ability to recruit the best staff inevitably risk jeopardising the success of this enterprise and the efforts of other leading UK universities. At a time when the country desperately needs its universities, which are among the UK’s best export businesses, to perform to capacity, it seems perverse to put such constraints on us. The UK’s immigration policy needs to be robust and transparent but it will be counterproductive if it reduces the competitiveness of such an important export industry as higher education.

Universities UK has been working hard to persuade government to think again and the University of Nottingham has also been talking to our local MPs, resulting in my first (and, in all likelihood, last) appearance in Hansard.