Developing the alternative global university ranking

U-multirank – The European alternative

An update on U-Multirank: “a multi-dimensional global university ranking”. This is a European Commission-funded feasibility study into developing an alternative approach to rankings:

The objective of the project is to develop a feasible transparency instrument that can contribute to enhancing the transparency of institutional and programmatic diversity of European higher education in a global context and test its feasibility. The general intention is to create a transparency instrument that will have a global outreach, potentially covering higher education institutions of all continents.

A huge amount of effort seems to be going into the project and there are lots of credible partners in the consortium. The outcome of the study will be published in June. Whether it will take off remains to be seen. And we will also have to wait to discover whether anyone will be able adequately to explain what a ‘transparency instrument’ is.

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“Doubling foreign enrolments is ‘unbelievable’ aim”

So, are international student numbers set to double?

According to Times Higher Education:

English universities are relying on “unbelievable” plans to increase international student numbers by up to 100 per cent in four years as government policy leads to fears of volatility in home student numbers.

Durham University plans for a 97 per cent increase in non-European Union undergraduates between now and 2014-15, while the University of Exeter is planning for a 73 per cent rise in certain areas in the same period.

Senior figures in the sector warn that universities are relying too heavily on unrealistic targets for overseas income in their financial planning.

For 2010-11, English higher education institutions aimed to increase their non-EU student fee income from £2.1 billion (9.6 per cent of total income) to £2.3 billion, according to figures from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

But in a statement to Times Higher Education, the funding body highlights increased competition for international students between UK universities, and fiercer recruitment battles with other nations.

A Hefce spokesman said this “implies optimism in some of the current growth forecasts”.

Les Ebdon, chair of the Million+ group of new universities, said Hefce had used stronger words in informal discussions about future projections.

“Every (institution’s) strategic plan includes losses of money on home students and a massive increase in international students. (Hefce) says it is unbelievable. It is unlikely the numbers would increase by the amount people are predicting.”

Are HEIs’ targets ‘unbelievable’? There will undoubtedly be optimism here. There may even be a little desperation in some quarters. But no university can ‘rely’ on targets. It’s the delivery that counts. And sustained delivery of recruitment targets depends in large part on delivery of a high quality student experience. It’s about an awful lot more than just clever marketing and a large dose of optimism.

Of course there will be institutions which fail to deliver fully on over-optimistic targets but many more will be able to grow in a sensible and managed way. This is despite the likely negative impact of Tier 4 visa changes. Unfortunately though this line of argument does rather take us into Daily Mail ‘foreign students steal our degree places’ territory.

Nottingham shortlisted in THELMAs 2011

THE Leadership and Management Awards 2011 Shortlist Announced

Times Higher Education has published the shortlist for the 2011 THELMAs

Having sifted through almost 200 entries from 95 different institutions, we can now unveil the shortlist for the Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards 2011.

The shortlisted entrants are competing in 16 categories ranging from top library team and best in marketing and communications to the outstanding student services team and those who have delivered the best departmental administration. Other categories cover procurement, research management, university finance and human resources.

Ann Mroz, editor of THE, said: “Our annual awards always serve as a reminder of the extraordinary quality and dedication of those working in our universities and colleges.

“This year is no exception. Our sector, like every other, has already gone through some tough times and is facing more turbulence as the new funding regime beds in. But a glance at the shortlist for our Leadership and Management Awards is enough to instil confidence that we have the right people in place to continue to prosper and deliver the world-class higher education for which the country is rightly renowned.”

All very nice. But the best bit is that the University of Nottingham has six nominations. It really is extremely impressive and reflects fantastically well on the calibre, commitment and quality of delivery of our professional services staff. We may not win them all; we may not win any, but it’s still a really good achievement. Thank you THE!

Pushing Paper – in praise of administration

Or, in praise of memoranda.

A special post to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Association of University Administrators (AUA), currently enjoying their annual conference here at the University of Nottinghsm. A very good piece on paper pushing in Lapham’s Quarterly:

Why is there no Norton Anthology of Paperwork? Though the trove of Franz Kafka manuscripts hidden away in safe-deposit boxes has attracted more attention from the mainstream media, the collection of newly translated memos that the author crafted during his years as a staff lawyer for the Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute in Prague is the real treasure. Kafka: “The Institute is convinced that if the case were such that the risk category for sheep’s-wool-weaving mills had been higher than the category for cotton-weaving mills, pressure would have been exerted to get the mixed-weaving mills classified as cotton-weaving mills, a change that would, if only coincidentally, have corresponded to actual conditions.”

Not bad. Nor is Kafka the only important modern author to have spent much of his time and energy at work on sentences like these. Who wrote, “I paid a visit to the Ministry of Public Instruction. There I verified that you have only one justificatory document to provide…I am confident that the minister, in his letter to the prefect of La Manche, will not ask for anything more. I thus believe that writing this letter of justification and transmitting it to monsieur the prefect, explaining to him the particular circumstances in which you find yourself, should suffice for him to recognize his error”?

Or who wrote, “Probationary faculty are reminded that enrollment, the needs of the department, teaching excellence, service, and the candidate’s scholarly productivity are essential considerations in annual pretenure reviews, third-year reviews, and tenure recommendations”?

If you guessed Alexis de Tocqueville and my dean, congratulations. Like Kafka, they are masters of the craft. Tocqueville’s sentences are confident, sensible, reassuring. At the time, he was working as a member of the council general of the prefect of La Manche; the mayor of St. Sauveur-le-Vicomte, to whom this memo was addressed, almost certainly grasped its meaning and import after only one reading, which is the best you can ask for in circumstances like these.

Makes you feel good about all that time spent crafting precise sentences in memos or papers that no-one ever read. And shows why university administration is the career of choice.

Pride and Prejudices: Problems with National and International League Tables

Presentation from AUA Conference 2011

Thank you to all who attended this session on 19 April 2011

As promised, here is the presentation:

2012 Complete University Guide League Table

First league table of the season

The Complete University Guide and league table is now out. The details can be found on the Guide website together with lots of other stuff (actually there really is a surprising amount of useful information in here).

Rank 2012 Rank 2011 Institution
1 (2) Cambridge
2 (1) Oxford
3 (3) Imperial College London
4 (5) London School of Economics
5 (4) Durham
6 (6) St Andrews
7 (9) University College London
8 (7) Warwick
9 (8) Lancaster
10 (12) Bath
11 (16) Bristol
12 (10) York
13 (11) Edinburgh
14 (14) Southampton
15 (24) Exeter
16 (13) King’s College London
17 (18) Nottingham
18 (15) SOAS
19 (21) Loughborough
19 (19) Sussex

So, no big surprises in there and little movement in the top 10 (apart from the Oxbridge swap at the top). Two new entries to the top 20 from Exeter and Loughborough but otherwise it’s as you were. (Modest advancement for Nottingham too, as I’m sure everyone has noticed.)

The Telegraph carries a story leading on the big news of Cambridge beating Oxford into second.

Regulation, Regulation, Regulation

More Regulatory Woes

In University Governance: Questions for a New Era, Professor Malcolm Gillies looks at a whole set of issues around university governance. A previous post noted his suggestion about a greater involvement of alumni but he suggests that they will become more important than the state, at least in governance terms, because of the change in balance of funding from public to private, ie from government to graduate:

42. State denial:  The withdrawal of the state as chief funding agent of higher education creates new balances in governance authority.  The body which can be most expected to fill that space is the alumni, as they now become the chief funding agent of most English universities in direct replacement of that state interest, through their decades-long repayment of state-provided loans.  The alumni also have the greatest, life-long stake in the institution’s reputation and its protection.  They understand the institution’s symbolic value.

But will the reduction in public funding really mean less government involvement in university affairs? Sadly, no. Rather than cuts in government funding to HE resulting in a bonfire of red tape, there is a whole host of new or augmented regulations, including:

  • The new fee arrangements which institutions are all deeply engaged in considering at present
  • Student number controls, which may well change in the light of fee developments
  • The move to more comprehensive annual access agreements with OFFA
  • The changed financial memorandum between institutions and HEFCE
  • New visa arrangements for Tier 2, staff, and Tier 4, students, together with monitoring arrangements for the latter
  • The Key Information Set (KIS) which will require all universities to provide more information to prospective students
  • The proposed introduction of a Student Charter
  • The idea of extended transcript information for all graduates through the Higher Education Achievement Record
  • The revised Quality Assurance Agency institutional review method
  • The increased burden of Freedom of Information requests
  • Developments in the work of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator

Private HE institutions, which are expected to increase in number under the new fee regime, benefit from significantly lighter  regulation. However, for everyone else there remains the seemingly iron law that as government funding declines the volume and range of government regulation inevitably increases. So, less money and ever greater constraints on how it can be spent.

Ranking in Latin America

New Latin American league tables emerging

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on a league table developments in a number of Latin American nations:

The growing influence of university rankings has reached Latin America, with governments, news media, and private researchers drawing up domestic versions that they say are important for the institutions and students alike.

Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru each have at least one national ranking. Some were first published in recent months, and all use different approaches to evaluate their higher-education institutions.

A few, such as in Chile, are produced by news-media companies. Others, as in Colombia, were carried out by independent researchers. And some, like Brazil, are not so much rankings as government-sanctioned ratings.

Whatever their origin, they all serve a purpose that goes beyond boasting or one-upmanship, experts say. The rankings put pressure on lagging universities to up their game, and they give government officials, students, and parents a useful yardstick.

“Global rankings are very important. But there are close to 15,000 higher-education institutions in the world, and the global ranking deals with only 400, 500 of them,” says Kazimierz Bilanow, managing director of the Warsaw-based International Observatory on Academic Rankings and Excellence. “There are millions and millions of students who never think of going to Harvard. But they want to go to university and get an education, so they look at their own country. National rankings give them some guidance.”

The Brazil government rankings are intended to result in failing institutions being closed. The Colombian ranking uses a narrow range of indicators focusing on graduate student numbers, journals and recognised research staff numbers. Chile seems to have broader range of published indicators to draw on which are published by government including “courses most likely to lead to jobs, expected salaries on graduation, and space on campus per student”.

Whilst these national rankings seem to be having a local impact in some countries, it does seem that international developments are on the way with QS planning to introduce a new Latin American ranking. In time there will undoubtedly be more Latin American institutions in the global rankings too.

Twitter banality = academic credibility?

Professors With Personal Tweets Get High Credibility Marks

A piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on an experiment at a US college to investigate students’ views of their teachers’ use of Twitter. The article also highlights a number of academics using Twitter in creative ways to support their teaching. It’s a small and slightly dispiriting study:

Kirsten A. Johnson always wondered whether her personal posts on Twitter, Facebook, and other social-networking Web sites affected her credibility in the eyes of her students.

So the assistant professor in communications at Elizabethtown College designed an experiment for 120 students at the college and has just reported the results. It turns out that professors with personal Twitter streams appear to be more credible than those who stick to business. The study, co-authored with Jamie Bartolino, one of her students, appears in the most recent issue of Learning, Media and Technology.

The researchers created three accounts on Twitter for three fictional “professors” named Caitlin Milton, Caitlyn Milton, and Katelyn Milton. One account was filled personal tweets (“Feeling good after an early morning swim at the rec center”), the second with scholarly ones (“working on a study about how social-networking sites can be used in educational settings), and the third with a combination.

To Ms. Johnson’s surprise, when the students were surveyed, they rated the personal professor the highest on measures of competence, trustworthiness, and caring—which adds up to credibility.

So it would seem that academics should just forget about using Twitter for anything useful in the classroom. Unless they are unconcerned about their “competence, trustworthiness, and caring”. Meantime, we’ll wait for the experiment looking at attitudes to administrators who post personal tweets.

True Crime on Campus §8

True crime on campus §8

A selection of some more interesting security reports:

2210 Report that eggs had been thrown at a Shuttle Bus whilst it was passing Cripps Hill. Security attended, the area was checked, no one was found. The remains of eggs were found and a number of plants had been ripped in the area.

2200 Report of males acting suspiciously in the area of Derby / Lincoln Halls. Security attended and the area was checked. The only person found was a Student urinating up the side of a Block at Lincoln Hall. The Warden is to be informed.

18:15 Security received a telephone call from the Police that people were swimming in the Highfields Boating Lake. Security attended but nobody was found.

1325 Report of an argument taking place at the Costa Cafe in the Portland Building. On arrival Security Officers were informed that a Customer was complaining that there were worms in a cake they had purchased. Security Officers and the Staff at the Cafe examined the cake and no worms were found. The Customer was provided with a replacement cake.

14:53 Students observed on Golf Buggy driving around Campus. Students advised to remove vehicle from Campus. Security to follow up.

1820 Security were requested to attend office in the Geospatial Building as the member of Staff whose office this is thinks that they had left their portable heater on.

1735 Security received a complaint of a couple in the male toilet adjacent to the Senate Chamber making a film. Security Officers attended and after banging on the door to the toilet a couple came out. They were spoken to by Security Officers they were given advice. The male was told to get dressed.

Should more alumni take governance roles?

A new report on governance: “University governance – questions for a new era”

This is an interesting pamphlet from HEPI written by Professor Malcolm Gillies who has clearly been on the receiving end of a fair bit of governance. One of his core suggestions which is picked up by Times Higher Education is that alumni should play a bigger part in governance.

University governance must be overhauled to address the problem of “dispassionate” independent board members who protect their own interests at times of crisis rather than those of the institutions they serve, according to a new study.

Under changes proposed by the review, alumni would be handed a central role as government reforms necessitate a move towards governors that have a direct interest in their universities’ well-being.

The Higher Education Policy Institute report on the future of governing bodies, authored by Malcolm Gillies, vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University, says that alumni have the “greatest lifelong stake in the institution’s reputation and its protection”.

Professor Gillies argues that the old arm’s-length “common-sense” approach to governance detailed in sector guides needs to be updated, as independent board members lack the incentive to act in tough times.

One of the arguments in favour of this proposal is that student/alumni funding will, for many institutions, become the single biggest source of their income in the near future and therefore it is right that they play a greater role in the governance of their university. However, there are some possible pitfalls with this approach. Whilst the commitment of alumni to their university undoubtedly ensures they are ready and willing to contribute in all sorts of ways, they may also bring all sorts of baggage with them from their student days which might be unhelpful. In addition, their views on certain policy issues may be excessively coloured by their own student experiences or they may tend to have a slightly rose-tinted view of the past which leads them to be somewhat averse to necessary change. Alumni can though bring a distinctive perspectve and, as always with governance it’s about getting the right balance.

One other particular point in the report is the suggestion that government, because it is providing less funding, will be less interested in university governance and will have a reduced legitimacy. I’m really not sure that this will be the case as, for all of the rhtoric, government inevitably and inexorably seeks to regulate and direct higher education more and more, regardless of the level of funding it provides.

A timely report though.

Still the End of the Campus Novel?

Why aren’t there any good campus novels these days?

Inspired by an article in the Guardian by David Lodge about Pnin by Nabokov I wrote a brief piece some five years ago on “The End of the Campus Novel?“. With the possible exception of Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, have there been any decent campus novels since then? If not, why not? Isn’t the whole post-Browne fees scenario ripe for comic treatment? Or is it just that universities aren’t funny or interesting enough any more?

Some of the classic and/or recent efforts (mainly Lodge):

Groves of Academe, Mary McCarthy

Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis

The History Man, Bradbury

Changing Places, Lodge

Small World, Lodge

Nice Work, Lodge

Thinks…, Lodge

Porterhouse Blue, Sharpe (but at the Carry on end of the spectrum)

The Human Stain, Roth

Disgrace, Coetzee

A Very Peculiar Practice, Andrew Davies

I am Charlotte Simmons, Tom Wolfe

So, where is the next great campus novel going to come from?

Another world ranking – this time for Islamic universities

A new ranking for Islamic universities

University World News has a story about another international ranking, this time for Islamic universities:

The Iran-based Islamic World Science Citation Center has launched a new classification system for Islamic universities, using the criteria of research and education performance, international cooperation and scientific impact. The first phase of the system has been implemented by ranking Iran’s universities and research institutes.

Extracting data from databases such as ISI, Scopus and Google Scholar allows for powerful and useful analysis for evaluating research performance from an international perspective. But this is inadequate for assessing scientific research in Islamic universities, as most of the Islamic countries’ journals are not covered – especially those not using English.

The new Islamic World Science Citation Center (ISC) classification system uses key performance indicators, including research (50%), education (35%), international outlook (7%), facilities (3%) and socio-economic impact (5%). The system extracts data both from direct contact with universities and from institutions’ research journals, which are collected and processed in different subsystems of the ISC.

It seems that the heart of this is the journal issue. Is this just about language or is it subject matter? In any case, it will be interesting to see how this one pans out and how many institutions feature in both this and the other international tables.