A new ranking for China’s universities

According to a recent report on a ranking by the China University Alumni Association, Shanghai’s universities rank second in the country behind Beijing in educating future billionaires:

The ranking analyzed the educational background of nearly 2,500 of China’s billionaire based on five domestic and overseas rich lists between 1999 and 2010.

“The report aims to encourage college students to set up their own enterprises and provide guidance to them,” said Zhao Deguo, editor in chief of the association’s website.

Peking University, Tsinghua University and Zhejiang University took the top three spots in the ranking with 79, 70 and 66 billionaire alumni respectively.

Shanghai’s Fudan University was in the fourth place with 46 billionaires. Jiao Tong University and East China Normal University made up the Shanghai top three with 25 and nine billionaires respectively.

It’s a little cruder than the UK’s graduate employment survey but does at least take a long term view. Let’s hope that no-one decides it would be good to include this in the new Key Information Set.

A more detailed commentary on the report appears here.

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Universities ‘must be vigilant’ on campus extremism

Promoting academic freedom and tackling extremism

A new report from UUK is concerned with issues around freedom of speech, academic freedom and extreme views on campus. It’s a good report (but I was on the working group so perhaps biased) and received some straightforward coverage from the BBC News:

The updated guidance from Universities UK sets out the legal duties universities have to protect freedom of speech and also to promote equality and security.

Professor Malcolm Grant, chairman of the review panel, said: “The survey findings confirm how seriously universities take their responsibilities in relation to the safety and security of their staff and students, alongside their obligations to protect and promote free speech and academic freedom.

“Universities are open institutions where academic freedom and freedom of speech are fundamental to their functioning.

“Views expressed within universities, whether by staff, students or visitors, may sometimes appear to be extreme or even offensive. However, unless views can be expressed they cannot also be challenged.

“But all freedoms have limits imposed by law and these considerations are vital to ensure the safety and well being of students, staff and the wider community.

“Universities must continue to ensure that potentially aberrant behaviour is challenged and communicated to the police where appropriate.”

But he added that it was not the job of universities to impede the freedom of speech “through additional censorship, surveillance or invasion of privacy”.

The coverage of the report, which can be downloaded as a PDF, is broad:

The report starts by examining the meaning of academic freedom and freedom of speech: concepts which are often invoked but rarely defined. It then explores the contemporary context in which universities are operating, both in terms of the diversity of current student populations, and the wider national environment. It summarises the relevant law, and describes the Government’s security strategy and other security initiatives and structures. It then reviews the various ways in which universities from across the UK have addressed these challenges and sought to reconcile differing priorities, drawing on an on-line survey conducted by Universities UK of all its members in 2010.

But the Guardian carries a somewhat critical view from Lord Carlile:

The government’s counterterrorism watchdog believes Britain’s universities are reluctant to deal with radicalisation on campus and says a report by vice-chancellors that rejects demands to ban controversial speakers is “weak”.

Lord Carlile, who is in charge of overseeing the government’s counterterrorism strategy, Prevent, urges ministers to develop a “new narrative” for combating extremism, supporting moderate Muslim theologians against al-Qaida. “You have to meet like with like,” he says.

He is scathing about the conclusion reached by Universities UK, representing 133 universities – and says their report contains a “glaring omission”. He told the Guardian: “[There] is a total failure to deal with how to identify and handle individuals who might be suspected of radicalising or being radicalised whilst within the university.”

But this is not a “weak” report and universities are far from complacent on this issue – institutions take their responsibilities in relation to the safety and security of their staff and students extremely seriously, alongside their obligations to protect and promote free speech and academic freedom. We can do with a bit less of the “new narrative” and a bit more support of the good work that is undertaken.

MP challenges ‘free’ MA degrees

Proposal to eliminate the ‘free’ Oxbridge MA

Entertaining attempt this by Chris Leslie (my local MP). He recently introduced a short ‘ten minute rule Bill’ in the Commons (the Master’s Degree (Minimum Standards) Bill). The Bill seeks to prohibit Oxford and Cambridge Universities from automatically awarding a ‘free’ postgraduate Master’s degree to anyone who left with a BA(Hons), whereas anyone else who wants an MA must actually study for a full year, sit exams and pay rather more in fees than is required for the Oxbridge award.

The Hansard exchanges give a flavour of a good natured but, you fear, sadly doomed proposition:

Eleven years ago, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education said:

    “The Masters title causes much misunderstanding… most employers think it always represents an award for postgraduate study.”

There is no logical or justifiable defence of that historical anachronism, which grew out of ancient circumstances that have long been irrelevant to modern academic practice. To preserve the MA’s academic integrity, it is time to discontinue Oxbridge colleges’ ability to award unearned qualifications that can so easily cause confusion. That is why my short Bill would prohibit granting master’s degrees unless certain minimum academic standards are attained.

So, a worthy effort by Chris Leslie. Whilst it would be unfortunate if Parliament were to think it was appropriate to legislate for or against particular autonomous institutions’ awards, this should serve as a reminder that this really should be sorted out.

Tuition fees: Minister warns universities

More than just sabre-rattling?

The BBC reports on a warning from the Universities Minister concerning fee setting plans. Speaking at the Dearing Conference at the University of Nottingham on 17 February he warned that, because the government had assumed that the average fee would be £7,500, if most universities charged higher than this the additional cost of student finance would have to be met from elsewhere in the HE budget. Thus, higher fees will result in more cuts:

David Willetts has warned that there will be more cuts to higher education if too many universities opt to charge maximum tuition fees. The government wants most universities to pitch their fees lower – because it faces costs from supporting students’ loans. The universities minister said savings would “reluctantly” have to be found.

The government has said it wants the top fee to be charged only in “exceptional circumstances” but as independent bodies, universities are free to charge fees they want. Imperial College, London has become the first to opt to charge the top rate and Oxford and Cambridge appear to be moving that way.

The government says if too many universities charge higher fees, the costs to it will be too high.

The key point here is the independence of universities. Without further legislation on fees the government is not able to dictate what universities will charge. So, the exhortations to pitch low and the assertion that £9,000 will be exceptional represent helpful advice from the Minister but it will be up to universities to decide. And, if we have the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Central Lancashire, as reported in The Times (£), saying that his institution probably needs to charge around £8,000 in order to survive, then we will soon see whether this means that even more cuts will be on the way for higher education or if this was just sabre-rattling.

Replacing Textbooks With iPads

Another interesting experiment

Story in the Chronicle of Higher Education about an interesting experiment at University of Notre Dame where they have tried replacing textbooks with iPads:

It was quieter this past fall in Corey Angst’s project-management course at the University of Notre Dame, but it wasn’t because he and his students were talking less.

Every student was given an iPad to use during the seven-week course, which meant fewer of them brought laptops to class to take notes.

“There was no clicking,” said Mr. Angst, who is an assistant professor of management at the university. Even external keyboards that some students used for their iPads were silent.

Mr. Angst’s class was the first of several at the university to replace traditional textbooks with iPads as part of a yearlong study by the university’s e-publishing working group into the use of e-readers. Many colleges and universities are in the midst of similar experiments, but Notre Dame is one of the first to report results from its effort.

The professor said students were more connected in and out of the classroom because of their use of the tablet device.

Laptop screens can create barriers between professors and students during class, Mr. Angst said: “Students think they can hide behind a laptop.”

Students were surveyed several times throughout the course and said that the iPad made it easier to collaborate and manage group projects.

OK, it’s probably not a panacea but it is interesting that the iPad seemed to promote collaboration rather than isolation. And that it looks like something other than e-reader functionality was the real value of it.

Do academics make the best university leaders?

Academics DO make the best university leaders

Amanda Goodall has published a brief piece on why academics make the best university leaders. It’s a powerful argument and it is difficult to disagree with Goodall’s thesis – top universities do need top academics to lead them. Goodall’s recent book, Socrates in the Boardroom, makes this compelling case in more detail.

And yet. There is a suggestion here that it is sufficient simply to appoint a top academic. That, somehow, everything will come good if only the university can find the right leader, someone with the strongest academic credentials, with the most citations:

Why should scholars lead universities? In short, it is because the knowledge acquired through having been a career academic, provides the necessary wisdom to make the right decisions when that person becomes a leader.

The core business of universities is research and teaching. My research suggests that in specialist organisations, such as universities, experts not managers make the best leaders and that the performance of universities improves if they are led by presidents, vice-chancellors or rectors who are outstanding scholars.

Take Queen Mary, University of London. It went from 48th position in the Times Higher Education RAE ranking in 2001 to 13th in 2008. Who led Queen Mary? Adrian Smith, one of the most distinguished academic leaders in post at the time.

My research shows that the higher up a university is ranked globally, the more likely it is that the citations of its president will also be high. In other words, better universities appoint better researchers to lead them. Interestingly, US universities select more distinguished academics as leaders compared with universities in Europe and the rest of the world.

It is not only current performance that is affected. The research shows that the higher a president’s lifetime citations, the more likely it is that the university will improve its performance in future research assessment exercises. Why?

Leaders who are scholars have a deep understanding of the core business and, therefore, are more likely to create the right conditions under which other scholars will thrive. Similarly, professional managers will create the necessary conditions for other managers. These are not interchangeable situations.

The outstanding scholar leader is necessary, I would suggest, but not sufficient. Goodall also argues that:

An administration beset with burdensome managerial processes will likely have a negative impact on the productivity of researchers

Again, agreed BUT if a university simply disregards the importance of a first class administration to support first class teaching and world-leading research then it will end up with disorganised, chaotic and expensive processes which hinder rather than help -it is this scenario which has the most negative impact on the productivity of researchers. It’s like building an excellent football team but paying no attention to the pitch, stadium or finances. You might perform well for a time but not sustainably. And sooner or later those star players will get fed up with washing their own kit, selling programmes and clearing up the stands after the game.

There is also the suggestion here that if only the “power” of the manager could be reduced then academics would be free to deliver on the core business:

The increase in managerial processes is correlated with a rise in the number of university managers: between the years 2003-04 and 2008-09, the number of managers employed in British universities increased from 10,740 to 14,250 (up 33%). During the same period, academic staff rose in numbers from 106, 900 to 116,495 (up 10%) and students rose from 220, 0180 to 239,605 (up 9%), according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

It is somewhat surprising, therefore, that specialists in universities – academics – should be expected to concede power to generalists, or managers.

The category of managers identified here makes up only around 7-8% of all non-academic staff in universities and the HESA data doesn’t reflect differences in the way institutions record different kinds of professional staff. For example, some universities will now describe the most junior non-academic staff, who might previously have been categorised as secretaries, as managers, simply because of general moves away from more traditional nomenclature.

However, the key question here is what are these managers doing? In the best institutions, their primary concern is to support and encourage the best academics to do what they do best, to minimise the distractions and to reduce the unwelcome and bureaucratic incursions of the state into academic life.

Top leaders need top lieutenants too. Leaders need to be free to lead and therefore need to focus on the core business as Goodall says. To enable this to happen, the management needs to be strong, supportive and effective. Not dominant but a key element of the infrastructure for success.

Valentine’s special: “Top 10 Most Loved Schools”

A top 10 of colleges with the highest percentages of alumni donors according to US News and World Report:

Webb Institute 70.9

Carleton College 61.3

Princeton University 60.3

Middlebury College 60.1

Amherst College 59.5

Williams College 57.6

Centre College 56.7 4

Indiana Institute of Technology 55.1

Davidson College 54

Thomas Aquinas College 52.5

Although these don’t give an indication of the value of donations this does represent an extraordinary level of engagement of alumni. Especially when you think that for most UK universities the figure is below 2%. These really are well-loved institutions.

First Liverpool Beatles graduate

Exciting graduation news

A previous posting noted the launch of an MA in Beatles Studies.

Rather than being one of those slightly bonkers courses this is a more serious proposition and it now has at least one graduate as this BBC report notes:

A Canadian singer has become the first person in the world to graduate with a Masters degree in The Beatles.

Former Miss Canada finalist Mary-Lu Zahalan-Kennedy signed up for the course at Liverpool Hope University when it launched in March 2009.

As well as examining the studio sound and composition of The Beatles’ back catalogue, the course looks at how the city of Liverpool helped to shape their music.

The significance of their music and how it helped to define identities, culture and society is also examined.

Mike Brocken, founder and leader of the Beatles MA course, said: “This programme is the only postgraduate degree programme in the world of its kind.

“Mary-Lu now joins an internationally recognised group of scholars of Popular Music Studies who are able to offer fresh and thought-provoking insights into the discipline of musicology.”

It is to be hoped that she wasn’t the only student on the course.

True Crime on Campus §6

True Crime on Campus §6

More extracts from real Security reports. The fun continues for our hard working Security staff:

2040 Patrol Security Officers stopped a motorcyclist outside DHL Building and warned the rider not to ride the vehicle on pavements around the Building.

2220 Emergency room alarm activated in Newark Hall. Security attended. The Hall Porter stated that the cause was the occupant of the room having pulled the alarm cord by mistake.

2350 Patrol Security spoke to two males outside the Mooch Bar for urinating into a bin. They were identified an told that they would be reported for urinating on a public place.

1045 Report of a male with a dog off its lead at the rear of Melton Hall. The male was also reported to be throwing stones into the Lake. Security attended and spoke to the male who was told to leave Campus.

2020 Report of a humming noise in Sherwood Hall. Security attended but were unable to locate the cause of the noise. Estates Help Desk to be informed.

11:00 Security caught two people trying to steal out of a skip opposite entrance at Coates Building. Security made them aware that if they took anything out of the skip then this would be stealing. They were asked to leave the Campus.

0145 Patrol Security Officers observed a male asleep on a bench on the Jubilee Campus. The male was woken.

18:20 Male student attempted to climb up the fire escape adjacent to the Dearing Building, Security prevented him from doing so.

1937 Report of a naked male in the Nottingham Medical School. Security attended – the male could not be found. Cleaning Staff reported that the male was naked in the open area of the male toilets. Security are to follow up.

1630 Report of a student feeling unwell in Lincoln Hall. Security attended. The Student had collapsed and could not be aroused. [with thanks to Will Vickers for the spot]

More on ‘groundbreaking’ partnership

“Midlands mutuality breaks new ground”

Excellent article in Times Higher Education about the new collaborative agreement between the University of Nottingham and the University of Birmingham

Two competing Russell Group universities are launching a groundbreaking partnership that will feature joint academic appointments, research, degrees and overseas ventures.

The universities of Birmingham and Nottingham, which collectively have about 67,000 students and 14,000 staff, announced their “framework for collaboration” on 3 February, unveiling a model that they believe could be adopted by other institutions.

In an interview with Times Higher Education, David Eastwood and David Greenaway, the vice-chancellors of Birmingham and Nottingham respectively, said they hoped the partnership – a first for UK higher education – would be driven by academic collaboration.

They said the universities would also work together on entering new international markets and did not rule out the prospect of partnering on developments such as overseas campuses – an area in which Nottingham, with branches in China and Malaysia, has long led the pack.

This received a goodly amount of press coverage including in The Guardian and the BBC. All very gratifying. But this is I think an important and interesting development.

Six areas have been identified for initial collaboration, with the potential for further areas to be considered as the partnership evolves. There isn’t a huge amount of detail in the press reports so the following supporting information may be of interest to some:

1. Joint academic appointments

Creative approaches to developing intellectual capital are at the heart of the partnership and attracting the best international minds to the UK in general and Midlands in particular is key.  Where appropriate, the Universities will seek opportunities to appoint staff jointly in order to better support collaborative ventures.

2. Teaching, learning and student experience

Both Universities are major innovators in teaching and learning and the student experience.  They will work together to share ideas for enhancing undergraduate and graduate opportunities at both institutions.  Ideas include the development of jointly awarded degree programmes, the sharing of facilities, widening participation initiatives and other means of improving the student experience.

3. Research Initiatives

Sustaining world-class research is fundamental to both Universities’ missions. Through working together, the institutions can deliver more and more impactful research in areas of mutual strength.  Ideas here include bringing together potential collaborators from both institutions, submitting joint research grant applications and sharing of research equipment. The Midlands Ultracold Atom Research Centre is one example of an existing UoB/UoN collaboration that operates this model.  Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to the tune of £6million, the research centre is investigating the interface between cold atoms, condensed matter, and optical physics.

4. International Opportunities

Birmingham and Nottingham are world-class universities, each with strong international vision and a significant global footprint. The Universities believe in particular in the value of international experience for students as part of their programmes and in preparation for sustained employability in the global marketplace.  Ideas include greater opportunities for student mobility and exchange, including through the Universitas 21 network and to the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus and the University of Nottingham Ningbo, China for years, semesters and summer schools. In fact, places have been specifically set aside for UoB students wishing to study at the two Nottingham overseas campuses.

Opportunities will be explored for working together in new markets with an initial geographical focus on South America – a joint mission to South America is already being planned for summer.

Collaborative international research opportunities arising as a result of the framework will be encouraged and supported.  International collaborative research ideas are currently being developed in the fields of energy, innovative manufacturing, water, neuro-imaging, genetics, and urban resilience.

5.     Business Engagement and Knowledge Transfer

The Universities, both individually and collaboratively, are major partners with business, regionally, nationally and internationally.  Developing further effective engagement with businesses, commerce and industry is a key component of both institutions’ strategic plans and will be further enhanced through collaboration.  The Manufacturing Technology Centre, currently being built at Ansty Park in Coventry to which both institutions are key partners, is a prime example of how experts from academia and industry will work together to push the boundaries of global manufacturing research and translation to innovation.

6.     Management and administration

Both Universities have a strong track record in delivering effective management and administration and building financial resilience.  The institutions will explore novel approaches to collaboration in management and administration to enhance our mutual capacity to respond to the new realities.  Ideas include shared IT solutions, joint approaches to procurement, sharing best practice in management of common problems and collaboration on professional development for staff.

So, these are early days yet but there is huge potential here.

Online plagiarism crackdown “catches thousands”

Tackling plagiarism

It seems that it is still difficult for newspapers to report intelligent steps to tackle plagiarism in a non-sensationalist way. See for example an earlier post on the Sun’s coverage of cheating by students.

The Scotsman is the latest offender in reporting steps taken by universities to tackle plagiarism:

THE number of Scottish students who are trying to cheat their way to a university degree has soared to unprecedented levels in the past five years, according to new figures.

A survey has shown that thousands of undergraduates have been caught plagiarising other people’s work to pass their degree exams.

But last night the leader of Scotland’s students insisted the record plagiarism numbers reported by many of Scotland’s top universities was down to improved detection systems, rather than an increase in cheating by undergraduates.

Liam Burns, the president of NUS Scotland, said: “These figures shouldn’t be seen as a sign of increased cheating, but the inevitable effect of improvements to anti-plagiarism software.

“It’s not as if there are hundreds more students actively trying to cheat.”

Sensible words from the NUS Scotland President. This isn’t totally straightforward but it really is down to improved detection.