Art for Art’s sake?

“In an Era of Campus Cutbacks, Performing-Arts Centers Keep Going Up”

A hugely encouraging story in The Chronicle of Higher Education about the fact that institutions are still building arts centres, depsite the financial climate:

It’s an irony Shakespeare could write a play around: Officials of California State University at Northridge spent 10 years planning a $125-million performing-arts center and figuring out how to pay for it—securing more than $60-million in capital-projects money from the state and raising millions more from gifts and grants. They pleaded with donors and local politicians to make up shortfalls and promised anxious students that none of the money would come from their pockets. It wouldn’t be a surprise to hear that the project’s biggest backer, President Jolene M. Koester, had checked between the sofa cushions in her office for loose change.

Finally Northridge scheduled the opening gala for late January, only to have it take place just two weeks after Gov. Jerry Brown proposed slashing $1.4-billion from state support for higher education. This month Joan Rivers, Kiri Te Kanawa, Ed Asner, and Roseanne Cash are performing in the 1,700-seat main hall, and a student production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is running in the black-box theater—while across the campus, students stage protests against fee increases and program cuts that the university says will be necessary because of the state’s revenue shortfall.

It might be argued that perhaps the example quoted here represented a slightly unwise investment at a time of significant cuts. On the other hand the value of the venue to campus and community life will be significant and it represents a long term benefit to the institution. Let’s hope everyone sees it that way.

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International world rankings – where do you stand? Going Global 2011 §2

International world rankings – where do you stand?

A belated note on one of the sessions at Going Global earlier this month. This session, on league tables, was for me most enjoyable session but sadly there really was insufficient time for debate. The outline looked good:

As with the economic shifts we have seen over the last decade, changes in education are happening at breathtaking speed. The growing differentiation in the higher education sector in terms of universities’ missions, international strategies, capacities and resources, confronts traditional ways of ‘ranking’ institutions. Contributions from Phil Baty, Times Higher Education world rankings, and John Molony from QS, will present the global trends and explain changes in their ranking methodologies to justify the role of the need for rankings.

This session is designed to take the debate beyond the methodologies, to reflect on concerns on the potential impact of rankings, in such a highly competitive higher education market. Who are the audiences: how are they interpreting the information and for what useful purpose? How seriously are rankings taken by the institutions and personnel on which they pronounce judgement?

Responses from Prof Dzulkifli and Prof Malcolm Grant will debate the impact of rankings from both the perspective of internationally focused university leaders and from an academic community that may well feel disenfranchised from the adulation and denigration associated with fluctuating league tables. Giving an alternative perspective, Dr Kevin Downing, will cite the benefits that can be derived from a University’s world-class standing and success, as reflected in these ranking exercises.

Phil Baty, Deputy Editor of Times Higher Education, spoke passionately in defence of rankings. Whilst acknowledging they were rather crude and had many faults, could never be really objective, don’t reflect the diversity of higher education across the globe, they are here to stay. Phil outlined the rationale for the shift from QS to  Thomson Reuters for its data provision and the ways in which he believed THE had behaved responsibly in relation to rankings. It was a spirited defence which included the now customary declaration “I am a ranker and I am proud!”. Fuller details of Phil’s comments were published in THE article (and he really does need some new puns).

Prof Dzulkifli Abdul Razak, Vice-Chancellor of the Universiti Sains Malaysia, also commented on the many faults of league tables, noting the problems with constructing the concept of quality, the risk of ignoring the complexity of the picture and the fact that rankings generally fail to recognize a holistic view of education. Moreover, they can lead to distortion of institutional priorities, fail to reflect the intangible benefits of HE and can leave the Impression of a linear relationship between the data and rankings.

John Molony, Vice-President, Strategic Planning and Marketing, Quacquarelli Symonds, joined Phil Baty (almost) in defending rankings, arguing that QS was already fulfilling a useful role with its focus on students, and particularly those with a propensity to be mobile students. Students want and need rankings, he argued and, when they work and are used properly, the rankings do provide helpful information. He argued that there will be 7m mobile students by 2020, all of whom would be making a massive investment and needed proper information to inform their decision making. Nevertheless, rankings do need to be handled with care, they do simplify and reduce whilst being open and transparent for users. Finally, he argued that rankings, require universities to be more open and can lead to innovation and new forms of evaluation.

Professor Malcolm Grant, President and Provost, University College London, sought to demolish league tables and succeeded, at least partially, identifying a number of major “fracture points” including:

  • failure to cope with the diversity of the system and address atypical but excellent institutions such as the LSE
  • the difficulty in picking the indicators make a university world class –  many are intangible and indicators can’t necessarily reflect the real values of an institution
  • we can’t measure many things directly and therefore have to use proxies
  • international league tables do have lots of data, but it is distorting and misleading
  • comparisons compound the problem and can be of limited significance when higher education is so varied.
  • there is a problem with the weighting of indicators and the preconceptions of what university is that this implies.

Damning stuff. He added that we needed to retain academic rigour and should not abandon skepticism when dealing with rankings. We should not sleepwalk into accepting a commercial version of higher education.

Dr Kevin downing, Senior Co-ordinator (Academic Planning and Quality Assurance), City University of Hong Kong, shared many of the reservations expressed by others, noting also that none of the tables took into account community roles nor did teaching enjoy proper coverage. Arguments in favour of rankings did exist including that they were better than the alternatives including  simple subjective judgement. Pragmatically, rankings are inevitable and we need to get used to it.

THE report is here and this and many of the sessions from the conference, including this one, can be seen on the Policy Review TV site.

Sorbonne goes global in Abu Dhabi

The Sorbonne Abu Dhabi has been formally inaugurated.

It all looks very impressive:

Welcome to Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi; your first step towards an international prestigious degree. Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi is a higher education institution that attracts not only the best students from the UAE, but also the best students from all over the Middle East and the world.

The building will accommodate up to 2,000 students and it will be interesting to see the take up rate for the courses on offer. The undergraduate programmes seem to be:

  • Archaeology & History of Art
  • French and Comparative Literature
  • Geography & Urban Planning
  • History – Civilisations and International Affairs
  • Information & Communication
  • International Business & Languages
  • Philosophy and Sociology
  • Law and Political Science
  • Economics and Management
  • The substantial financial support provided by Abu Dhabi and the reputation of the Sorbonne should ensure this is a success. One notable point, the list of professional staff is particularly impressive (to me at least).

    Value of iPads for teaching and learning?

    iPads: “Bane or Boon”?

    An earlier post commented on the use of iPads in the classroom. The Chronicle of Higher Education notes two contrasting reports of the value of iPads for teaching and learning, the one referred to in the previous post and the other in the FT. The latter was much more positive about the value than the former:

    How could this be? The two articles even reported on some of the same studies. One possible reason for the differing conclusions is that the FT story focused more on students’ reactions—the devices are great for reading, and just plain cool—and less on teaching.

    For instance, both articles quoted Corey M. Angst, an assistant professor of management at the University of Notre Dame who tested the tablets in class. The FT reported, correctly, that students felt the iPad was easy to use and hard to give up. The Chronicle, however, also noted students’ complaints that it was hard to use iPads to take notes—the finger-touch interface isn’t good for writing. And one more telling fact: “For their online final exam, 39 of the 40 students put away their iPads in favor a laptop.”

    Mr. Angst felt the iPad was an overall plus, but other professors who use computers in class to highlight material and respond to students’ questions said the iPad couldn’t do what they wanted.

    No doubt iPads aren’t for everyone but, as the article also notes, iPad2 is arriving and may well address some of the issues identified in the piece.

    World Education: The New Powerhouse – Going Global 2011 §1

    Some comments on Going Global 2011 – World Education: The New Powerhouse?

    I was fortunate to be present at the British Council’s Going Global Conference in Hong Kong earlier in March. There were about 1,000 delegates there and as might be expected for this kind of event many of the presentations were high level and whilst some were pretty strategic others felt rather abstract.

    There was a distinct UK flavour to some of the discussions and the particular current domestic issues relating to the new English fees regime and Tier 4 student immigration did intrude in a number of sessions. Despite this there was a lot which was of interest including some really good perspectives from other nations.

    The opening session on “world education, the new powerhouse” (does this really mean anything?) had a number of set piece presentations from Ministers and then contributions from Hong Kong to Brazil to Africa:

    Donald Tsang Yam-Kuen, Chief Executive of Hong Kong spoke about the idea of HK as a regional higher education hub. However, you get the real impression that they won’t be just another regional hub, but rather that they have the foundations, the location, the money, strong institutions and the real vision to do make this happen. Two other points of note here: first, education is the Hong Kong government’s single biggest spending priority and accounts for 25% of annual expenditure (25%!); second, Harrow School (yes that Harrow) is intending to open a branch campus in HK.

    Professor Tony Chan, President of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and Convener of the Hong Kong Heads of Universities Committee, spoke about the changing patterns of international HE and reinforced the commitment to the idea of a regional hub. Hong Kong universities are offering a real international education not the more traditional Eastern model. And, lest anyone doubt the intent here, he noted that HKUST was aiming for 20% international students, increasing international study opportunities for its own undergraduates and more collaboration with universities in mainland China. HKUST is still a young institution but is an impressive one and hugely ambitious: “We are in aggressive recruitment mode for international staff and students”.

    Three other international perspectives of note here. Professor Olugbemiro Jegede, Secretary-General and Chief Executive, Association of African Universities, Ghana spoke about the challenges for Africa. It was a very long list and the challenges exist across the board. Collaboration and a continent-wide academic framework including mobility and mutual recognition is the way forward. He also noted the importance of using ICT to help the growth of HE in Africa. Ultimately this was an optimistic prospectus but the massive scale of challenges here remains rather daunting.

    Dr Javaid Laghari, Chair of the Higher Education Commission in Pakistan, reported that Pakistan still has a long way to go to achieve its ambitions for having two universities in the world top 100. Pakistan was seeking to grow PhD numbers significantly, including through split PhDs with foreign universities. And all of this was happening in the context of being in the ‘frontline of the war on terror’. Again we were given an optimistic outlook but these are really challenging circumstances in which to be growing and strengthening HE.

    Dr Carlos Alexandre Netto. President of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, gave a sense of the huge scale of HE in his country. With over 2,000 institutions but only a 15% age participation rate there is ongoing major growth in public university enrolments. Most HE students are at private universities though and growth in student numbers is actually being funded through loans for private university study. A major quality assurance operation now been through its first cycle. Overall, left with the impression of a system of extraordinary scale.

    Between them Professor Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, University of Exeter and President, Universities UK, and David Willetts, UK Minister for Universities and Science, sought to paint a positive picture of UKHE. The THE report on the event notes the following:

    Claims that the UK government is cutting funding for higher education are “not factually accurate” and gloomy media coverage is damaging the sector’s reputation overseas, according to the president of Universities UK.
    Steve Smith, vice-chancellor of the University of Exeter, told an audience of international higher education leaders at the Going Global conference in Hong Kong last week that the reality of the government’s funding changes in England was “rather different to the headlines”.
    He also countered suggestions that fees for overseas students would triple and described the UK as still being “welcoming” to international students despite visa restrictions.
    Professor Smith’s message on funding echoed that from David Willetts, the universities and science minister, who told the conference: “We expect universities to get the same amount of cash, if not more than they have received up to now.”

    Both were therefore arguing there would be more money in the system, international fees would not be tripled (although the contrast with David Cameron’s assertion in China last year that international fees would actually be reduced to bring them in line with domestic fees was noted by the anoraks) and international students would continue to be extremely welcome in the UK (although this is somewhat at odds with the Government’s proposed Tier 4 visa changes). Willetts said he was embarrassed by small number of UK students going abroad and says Government was trying to help with this (but it was far from clear how this help would be offered). Steve Smith meanwhile added that the revised visa proposals which would be published soon would be good news for universities and international students. We’ll see.

    World education may or may not be the new powerhouse but the challenges in some parts of the globe remain huge and in other areas the difficulties are self-imposed. Overall though there seems to be a strong degree of consensus that the future of HE is global.

    More Guns on Campuses

    The freedom to bear arms – in class

    Piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that legislators in nine US states, including Florida, Texas, Michigan, and Arizona, are considering laws that would restrict institutions’ campus anti-gun policies:

    Proposals to bar campuses from banning weapons have been common since the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, which gun-rights advocates say may have been stemmed or even prevented if students and faculty members had the ability to defend themselves. All but one of those proposals—in Utah—have failed. But legal victories for gun-rights advocates have raised questions about the rights colleges have in restricting firearms on campus.

    A proposal this year in Kansas, for example, would require campuses to either maintain a certain level of security, with measures such as metal detectors and armed guards, or to allow guns on their grounds. But legislation in most states would simply bar campuses from banning guns altogether. In most cases, anyone with a valid gun license could carry weapons on campus.

    Just crazy.

    WikiLeaks for Higher Education

    Because you can never have too many distractions…

    The Chronicle of Higher Education has a report on the launch of “UniLeaks”:

    WikiLeaks, scourge of governments worldwide, now has a copycat for academe. And the new group is itching to publish your university’s deepest secrets.

    Its Web site, UniLeaks, debuted this month with a pair of open letters to university leaders in Australia and Britain. The Australian activists who run UniLeaks are pushing for openness in the face of what they see as the corporatization of higher education. They complain of unprofitable courses abolished, employees made less secure, and students reduced “to mere customers or clients of the university.”

    But are there any more open public authorities than universities? In the UK there are many ways for staff or students to voice their concerns within institutions without fear. There is also the Freedom of Information Act which makes it possible to get just about anything you want. And the fact that, by their very nature, universities are very open organisations.

    At a time of significant financial challenge though what universities really don’t need is to spend more time and money engaged in pointless diversionary activity (FOI compliance costs enough as it is thank you) – responding to this kind of thing merely adds to the burden.

    New Guardian Higher Education Network

    New online Guardian HE offering

    The Guardian has just launched its new Guardian HE Network, which looks rather nice:

    it’s an online space where higher education professionals can talk to one other, get advice and insight from peers and industry experts and grapple with the challenges that face the whole sector.

    With so many changes and challenges facing the sector and its workforce, we feel this is the perfect time to create a place where HE professionals can share their experiences, ideas and even horror stories. We’ve started the ball rolling here with an anonymous blog exposing the less glamorous aspects of international officer’s role – the first in our series of ‘confessions of a…’

    There’s lots of really good stuff in here and hope it will develop. I’m not just saying that because they happen to have carried a piece by me on students as consumers (or not). OK, that does have a bearing but there is I think a gap to be filled here. Will be interesting to see if it works out.

    US Universities Producing the Most Interns

    Internship League Table

    US News and World Report carries a piece on a mildly interesting league table of the US universities which produce the most interns.

    The table below highlights the 10 national universities with the highest percentage of 2009 graduates who worked as interns at some point during their studies.

    University of Pennsylvania           2,831 graduates, 90% graduating with internship experience

    Colorado School of Mines              620 graduates, 84%

    American University                        1,384 graduates 81%

    Seton Hall University                       1,017 graduates 76%

    Duke University                                 1,625 graduates 75%

    Fordham University                          1,885 graduates 75%

    University of Pittsburgh                   3,856 graduates 72%

    George Washington University       2,485 graduates 68%

    Johns Hopkins University                1,487 graduates 66%

    Florida Institute of Technology       449 graduates 65%

    Presumably they can’t all have wealthy parents paying cash for the internships. I’m not sure that similar data exists in the UK but would be interesting to see the results. Suspect even those institutions with the most sandwich and professional courses wouldn’t get to these percentages.

    True Crime on Campus §7

    True Crime on Campus §7

    More challenging situations for our dedicated Security team:

    22:55 Security attended Rutland Hall after the Porter requested assistance. A student had left their hall to have a cigarette and his friends had turned the tap on in his room causing it to leak into the room below. The student in that room was given a humidifier and the occupant upstairs cleaned his own room. Nobody would own up to turning the tap on. The Warden to be informed.

    0815 Report of a Student causing a nuisance in the Hallward Library. Security attended and spoke to the Student who was feeling unwell due to being drunk. The Student was asked to leave the Library. [Note the time]

    0150 Mobile Security Officers were driving to Jubilee Campus from University Park when while driving along Triumph Road they observed a body lying on the pavement. The Officers stopped and were able to wake the male who was found to be a Student. The Student was very drunk and had passed out at the side of the road. The Student was taken to a residence where his friends stated that they would look after him.

    1026 Report that the Table Tennis Table in Nightingale Hall had gone missing. Security are to follow up.

    1000 Report of the theft of cushions from a sofa in Willoughby Hall. Security attended and traced the Students responsible to Ancaster Hall. The cushions have been returned. The Warden is to be informed.

    1540 Further to the report of the Table Tennis Table going missing from Nightingale Hall, Security have been able to trace it to a Student’s room within Nightingale Hall. The Warden has been informed.

    22:15 Security were called to Rutland Hall as five males, one of whom did not have any clothes on, were making a noise in a hall and one urinating in the Quad. They were all third and fourth year students and had no reason to be there. The naked student had left the area when Security attended. Warden to be informed.

    Universities forging ‘strategic alliance’

    More significant university collaborations

    Following the recent announcement about the collaboration between the University of Nottingham and the University of Birmingham there have been some interesting developments in Wales. WalesOnline carries a piece about a new ‘strategic alliance’ between Bangor and Aberystwyth:

    Bangor vice-chancellor Professor John Hughes said the university would continue to develop its “trusting relationship” with Aberystwyth, but there were no plans to merge.

    “The geographical implications of merging two institutions 2½ hours apart are just not sensible,” he said.

    The development follows recent news that three higher education institutions in South Wales are to merge, forming a new “super university”.

    Perhaps not that exciting and interesting to note that the first question which is always asked is about whether this is the first step to merger.

    The so called super university mentioned here is described, according to the BBC,  as a “radical” move which “bridges educational boundaries”. It will comprise the University of Wales Institute Cardiff (Uwic), Swansea Metropolitan University and Trinity Saint David in Carmarthen which will merge as The University of Wales. Others may be encouraged to join in the fun later.

    Meanwhile Newport University is reported to be looking to merge with an English institution. It’s all kicking off in Wales where HEFCW has certainly taken on a much more directive role than its English or Scottish counterparts in relation to university mergers.

    Age matters

    For university rankings, at least

    QS Intelligence unit has a diverting posting on the influence of age on university “performance”

    As this post puts it, the world is changing, fast and HE is part of it

    In Saudi Arabia there are 28 universities, 22 of which were founded after the turn of the millenia. Economies worldwide are turning to the ever enticing notion of creating a “knowledge economy”. I read somewhere that we have generated more written content since 2003 than the in the whole of human history until that point.

    In that environment – whilst rankings such as ours may treat all institutions equally – the reality is that date of establishment clearly has a part to play in the current success profile of universities. In broad terms, universities over 100 years old, and perhaps those over 50, have already reached their “terminal velocity” – the combination of reputation, government funding, scale of operation, organisational culture, international mix and alumni profile have reached a degree of equilibrium which makes radical shifts in performance – as measured by rankings or otherwise – exceedingly difficult to impose.

    It is undoubtedly the case that radical changes in rankings are going to be difficult to achieve, particularly in the international QS table. But should the tables adjust for age to allow rapidly improved performance to outweigh historical achievement? Should longevity be discounted to enable us to compare Al-Jouf University with Oxford? I’m not certain what that would prove. Age does matter.

    One alternative approach might be this:

    We have begun some work on developing an adjustment algorithm for our rankings tables which can potentially help identify universities that are ahead of where we might expect them to be for their given age.

    Still not quite clear how this would look but is an interesting idea nevertheless.

    Funding the Effort to Send More Students to China

    The US wants more students to go to China

    An opinion piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education suggests a new approach to supporting US students studying in China:

    During his 2009 visit to Shanghai, President Obama made a public promise to sharply increase the number of Americans studying in China. That promise became the 100,000 Strong Initiative, introduced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last May with the stated goal of doubling the number of Americans studying in China by 2014. However, the U.S. State Department explicitly said that no public funds would be provided to assist with the effort, and suggested instead that colleges turn to the private sector to raise an estimated $68-million.Even those of us who are committed to the goal of sending more American students to China realize that making the case for major gifts to meet the goals of the 100,000 Strong Initiative, and competing with other worthy causes for much-needed funds, is difficult at best. While it’s true that some philanthropic funds do find their way to supporting study abroad and other international programs, the reality is that only $3.25-million has been committed since President Obama’s goal was announced, leaving $64.75-million to go. We are, therefore, compelled to identify and cultivate new sources of financial support.

    These aren’t great times to be seeking private funding for such programmes. Therefore, the proposition here is that universities share the resources generated from inbound international student fees in order to provide the funding required to support the ambitions of the 100,000 Strong Initiative. It’s an interesting notion and would represent something of a collaborative landmark were it to happen. However, I suspect it is probably as likely to succeed in the US as it would in the UK. Which is a pity because such student mobility ambitions are admirable.

    Code of practice needed to “halt degree course mis-selling”

    Should universities stop using NSS data to promote courses?

    An interesting article by John Holmwood on the questionable validity and reliability of the National Student Survey – he argues that universities and others should not therefore use the outcomes of the NSS in league tables or promotional material. Furthermore, he argues that a code of practice is needed to stop what he says is degree course mis-selling:

    It is a clear public interest that there be proper standards in the presentation of information to prospective students. The changes to higher education funding are of such far-reaching importance that the presentation of information should be subject to scrutiny by the UK Statistics Authority. A first step might be for Universities UK —and the separate University Mission Groups, such as Russell Group, 1994 Group, and Million+ to agree a Code of Practice among its members not to use statements of rank order position in their claims about their own institution and courses. It is a matter of shame for universities that this is necessary in the presentation of evidence, appropriate standards for which are intrinsic to their raison-d’être.

    It’s a well-argued case. But in an environment where every institution will be competing even more fiercely for applicants, where they will be required to publish a particular set of information by government, where there is a plethora of league tables which draw on NSS data it would be surprising if any university or mission group would sign up for such a code. Of course the National Student Survey and league tables have flaws and there aren’t any league tables which stand up to serious academic scrutiny. But they aren’t going to go away and universities aren’t going to stop using the outputs where they believe it is in their interest to do so. And as for involving the UK Statistics Authority, do we really want even more regulation and intervention in universities’ business than we already have?