White Paper inspiration from the US?

A somewhat different approach to cost savings in the new fees regime

Not sure if this was a source of inspiration for the White Paper. It looks like something of a blue print for efficient management at the bargain basement end of the new private providers (but perhaps not for the New College of the Humanities). The model presented here from Professor Vance Fried and published by the American Enterprise Insititute for Public Policy Research has a number of what look like helpful pointers for the new private providers:

“Higher education insiders sometimes point to the increasing cost of auxiliary services like student housing and big-time athletics as a major cause of large tuition increases. This is a red herring,” notes Fried. “Football, good food, and hot tubs are not the reason for runaway college spending. Rather, the root cause is the high cost of performing the instructional, research, and public-service missions of the undergraduate university.”

To identify areas ripe for cost savings, Fried creates a provocative experiment: what would it cost to educate undergraduates at a hypothetical college built from scratch? Fried concludes that undergraduate colleges should consider five major cost-cutting strategies:

1. Eliminate or separately fund research and public service

2. Optimize class size

3. Eliminate or consolidate low-enrollment programs

4. Eliminate administrator bloat

5. Downsize extracurricular student activity programs

“Rather than focusing only on the big-ticket items that tend to dominate debates about college costs, Fried argues that the real levers for increasing efficiency include rethinking student-faculty ratios, eliminating under-enrolled programs, and trimming unnecessary administrative positions,” explains Andrew P. Kelly, AEI research fellow and editor of the Future of American Education Project. “His recommendations are a must-read as states look to rein in college costs.”

There is clearly a strong ideological undercurrent here. And the points about ‘administrator bloat’ and drastically reducing student activities appear particularly narrow-sighted and significantly at odds with the White Paper notion of putting students at the heart of things. So perhaps extremely cheap and not very cheerful is not the way forward after all.

Pet Soundings

Bringing Pets to College

US News and World Report carries a story on the pet care option at university:

For many students, leaving the comforts of home and moving in to college for the first time can be a difficult transition. Thoughts of leaving family, friends, and high school behind can conjure feelings of fear and discomfort, but at some schools, students can bring a piece of home along to ease the process.

While bringing a pet from home can ease the transition to college life, there are many other advantages to housing a pet, says Wendy Toth, editor of pet resource site Petside.com. “A lot of students take in a lot of different factors when deciding where they want to go to school, but I know of lot of [them] worry about the feeling of fitting in,” Toth says. “A huge advantage is that pets provide social support.”

By and large most UK universities don’t allow pets of any kind in halls of residence, for obvious reasons. But there are places, particularly institutions with Vet Schools, where students are encouraged to bring their own horses (I am told). Really though, are pets the right vehicle for providing ‘social support’ for students leaving home for the first time? I don’t think so.

So, if you want to share your student existence with a guinea pig, a gecko or a goldfish, it looks like you’ll have to head to the USA for the time being. The article also names 10 of the most pet friendly institutions, including one that offers a ‘Doggy Daycare’ service. Coming to a UK university soon?

The Times: 2012 University League Table

2012 University Rankings published by The Times

The new Times league table is out and there are some interesting changes. Some shuffling in the middle of the table and a couple of high climbers and a drop out.

Last year’s position in brackets:

1 Oxford (1)
2 Cambridge (2)
3 LSE  (5)
4 Imperial (3)
5 UCL (7)
6 Durham (6)
6 St Andrews (4)
8 Warwick (8)
9 Lancaster (10)
10 Exeter (12)
11 York (9)
12 Bath (13)
13 Bristol (14)
14 Sussex (21)
15 Edinburgh (11)
16 Nottingham (20)
17 Sheffield (18)
17 Leicester (15)
19 Southampton (19)
20 Loughborough (16)

Perhaps the most interesting points here:

  • Lancaster, after a meteoric rise, seems to have consolidated its position in the top 10
  • Sussex has risen 21 places in two years to enter the top 20
  • Buckingham, appearing here for the first time, sits just outside the top group at 21
  • King’s College was 12th two years ago but has now dropped to 24th
  • Nottingham continues to make steady progress (particularly pleased about that)

The full table can be found in The Times Good University Guide or you can buy the book. Both will cost you. Also on the website you can find the Subject Tables (again you will need to subscribe for access).

More global goings on

Differing global view points

In a recent post I offered some comments on views about internationalisation’s mid-life crisis. Reports of two other recent conferences in Canada offer different perspectives on the globalisation of higher education. First, the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education has a report on its Global Forum which took place in Vancouver:

The overall theme was ‘Levelling the international playing field’ which, for our purposes, was expressed in the rise of new countries in international higher education and transnational education (TNE), the rise of private providers, the use of immigration controls in traditional education-export countries (which makes the new national players comparatively more attractive), and in how HE is applied as a policy tool for social and economic goals and in national development strategies.

In his welcome remarks, Observatory Director William Lawton sounded a few cautionary notes. He reminded participants that in spite of global and borderless ideals, senior scholars from Iran, India and the Democratic Republic of Congo were absent from their number because they could not get visas to enter Canada. He further noted that while economic and political power were hurtling eastwards, the ‘international playing field’ was still well short of level for poor countries and regions.

‘Mathabo Tsepa, Lesotho’s High Commissioner to Ottawa, kicked off proceedings with an inspirational and moving account of the transformative power of higher education in her country. She and Daniel Schwirtz, an engineering postgraduate at the University of British Columbia, recounted the role of students who participated in a sanitation and clean water project in rural Lesotho.

Joseph Duffey, Senior Vice-President of Laureate International Universities and a former senior official with three US Presidents, spoke of the casual uses of the word ‘globalisation’ and suggested that the nature of public diplomacy had moved on from its roots in ‘winning hearts and minds’. Duffey noted the difference between building branch campuses and working with other countries as partners. The implication was the emergence of new models, as expressed by the Liverpool-Laureate partnership through which Laureate makes the university’s programmes available online and provides personal student support.

At a separate conference, this time in Toronto, reported in the  Times Higher Education, a strikingly different view was offered:

Powerful public universities are manipulating the “desperation of people whose university systems [have been] completely demolished” to make a “fortune” from overseas branch campuses, a senior university leader has claimed.

Adam Habib, deputy vice-chancellor of research, innovation and advancement at the University of Johannesburg, told a conference in Toronto on 16 June that on a recent tour of American universities, he was struck by how many were setting up campuses overseas.

“I was struck by how many really manipulate the desperation of people whose university systems are completely demolished and utilise that opportunity to make a fortune so that they can pad the balance sheets,” he said.

Professor Habib said that this was “not simply an American problem”, but one that afflicted all unequal relationships across and inside continents. He pinned the blame on the move away from state support for higher education around the world.

What are we to make of these very different perspectives? First, the overall picture remains a very messy and confused one. Lots of universities are engaged in a wide range of transnational partnership activities at varying levels of intensity. Secondly, there are major national interests at play here; it’s not just one way traffic and many countries are seeking rapidly to develop their HE systems with international support. Thirdly, while there may be some institutions seeking to establish branch campuses purely for financial gain it is questionable whether such a mission is sustainable or indeed whether there is really money to be made from such activity in the way suggested here. International partnership activity can be a genuine force for good and should be seen as a serious long term mutually beneficial arrangement rather than a vehicle for making a quick buck.

Nottingham wins a THELMA

THE Leadership and Management Awards 2011: Outstanding Communications and Marketing Team

The full details of the results in each category can be found on the THE site. An earlier post reported the nominations Nottingham had received.

On a really entertaining evening this was a terrific win for the University of Nottingham. And this is what the judges said:

“Highly innovative, collaborative and novel in its approach to marketing.”
These were some of the judging panel’s comments about the University of Nottingham, where effective marketing has “changed public perceptions about the institution globally and supported a cultural sea change internally”.
Nottingham set out ambitious yet achievable targets to enhance the univer- sity’s brand, while at the same time saving at least £200,000 by resourceful tendering and bringing web marketing work in- house. The team oversaw a university-wide rebrand, as well as updating Nottingham’s visual identity and logo. Its efforts are credited with contributing to a 14 per cent increase in the number of undergraduate applications and a 29 per cent rise in the number of postgraduate applications.
Nottingham calculated its media coverage for the year at an advertising value of £24 million. It also raised its overseas profile by participating in the 2010 Shanghai Expo world fair.
Cary Cooper, chair of the Academy of Social Sciences, distinguished professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University and one of the judges, said: “The marketing and communications team at Nottingham has demonstrated [itself] this past year to be highly innovative, collaborative and novel in its approach.” He praised the team for using the full range of social media to reach out to students, as well as for a public relations campaign highlighting the university’s research.

This really is great and highlights the excellent work being done by colleagues in Communications and Marketing. Outstanding indeed!

Universities are “well-managed” shock

Remarkable speech at THE Leadership and Management Awards 2011

The THELMAs ceremony, on 16 June, was remarkable for a number of reasons. Not least the fact that Julian Clary was hosting. But perhaps the most surprising thing was the speech by David Willetts. First, it lasted barely a minute: realising that he was all that lay between the audience and their dinner he kept it extremely brief. Secondly, and even more significantly, he praised universities. He described us in glowing terms. He said we were well-managed. And well led. And that everyone working in universities was doing really rather well and that we were all highly valued.

I must admit to being rather gobsmacked by this. Whilst some might take issue with a possible mismatch between these words and some of the government’s other deeds, to me he sounded sincere. Given that the traditional mantra from Whitehall has been that universities are poorly managed and badly organised this was extremely refreshing.

Thank you Minister.

True Crime on Campus §11

More true crime on campus: traffic trouble

Some further reports of the incidents to which our excellent Security staff have to respond. This particular set are all of a kind (apart from the last one):

15:45 Security were called to Landcroft Lane as a student’s horsebox with a horse on board had lost a wheel. Security went to assist and the student called the breakdown service.

0715 Report of a vehicle with its engine running in Willoughby Close. The vehicle did not appear to have anyone in it. Security attended and found the driver asleep on the back seat. They stated they were visiting their sister who was a Student but there was no space in her room to sleep.

13:30 Theft of a wheel from the Jubilee cycle store. Student advised to contact the Police. Security to follow.
11:25 Exit barrier at West Entrance knocked off by Nottingham City Transport Bus. Helpdesk informed.

02:55 Security noticed a driver of a moped acting suspiciously as it passed Security on Beeston lane. A registration number was obtained and Security caught up with it at the bottom of Cripps Hill. The moped then sped off after going around the QMC Island. The moped had no rear lights. A description was obtained and the Police informed. Security to follow up.

1930 Report of a mini motorcycle being ridden around L4 Security attended the rider was spoken to and found to be a member of staff. He stated that he thought it would be ok as the University was private property. Security Staff stated that it was private property however the motorcycle breaches the University Traffic Regulations and cannot be ridden on campus.

17:50 While on Patrol Security had to stop a car for driving too fast on campus. The driver was aggressive to security. Security to follow up.

1600 Report of a youth on a motorcycle causing a nuisance on the grassed areas adjacent to DHL Security attended and the area was checked but no one was found.

1130 Patrol Security Officer at Jubilee Campus observed a vehicle parked causing an obstruction adjacent to Melton Hall. The Officer went up to the vehicle when he observed that the vehicle was occupied and that the occupants were having sex in the rear of the vehicle. The Officer alerted the occupants to his presence and, when they were dressed, he warned them about the parking and behaviour.

Preparing for a zombie attack: the tyranny of FOI

So should every public authority be preparing for this?

Entertaining story on BBC News about Leicester City Council where a worried member of the public has forced the Council to admit it is unprepared for a zombie invasion:

The authority received a Freedom of Information request which said provisions to deal with an attack, often seen in horror films, were poor. The “concerned citizen” said the possibility of such an event was one that councils should be aware of.

“We’ve had a few wacky ones before but this one did make us laugh,” said Lynn Wyeth, head of information governance. The Freedom of Information Act allows a right of access to recorded information held by public authorities. Ms Wyeth said she was unaware of any specific reference to a zombie attack in the council’s emergency plan, however some elements of it could be applied if the situation arose.

So far, so funny. But this highlights one of the fundamental problems with the Freedom of Information Act: there is no sanity test. The City Council had to respond to this as if it were any other ‘normal’ FOI request, regardless of the waste of public money in so doing. Universities up and down the country get the same kind of nonsense on a daily basis, requiring staff in all parts of the institution to waste their time searching for documentation to satisfy the requirements of the Act. Usually the request is from a lazy journalist, a conspiracy theorist, a person with a grudge or someone seeking information for commercial gain. Universities should not be subject to this Act, it serves no public interest in our context and simply wastes public money.

And, to save you asking, no, there isn’t specific provision for dealing with zombie attacks in the University of Nottingham’s incident response plan.

Swings and roundabouts?

UK students rush to Maastricht. European students run to the UK

So what is the story here? Is UK (or English) higher education in the post-Browne era so terrible that a mass exodus to the Netherlands is underway? The Independent reports that a Dutch university has seen a ‘tenfold’ rise in applicants:

The number of British teenagers applying to one of Europe’s leading universities has risen dramatically this year. Maastricht University in the Netherlands has seen a tenfold increase with more than 400 applications from UK students compared with just 35 at the same time last year.

A key factor in the rise is the cost of studying at Maastricht: only £1,526 a year, compared with £3,240 at present at English universities.

Many of those who applied are fearful of their chances of getting a UK place this September as the number of applications has soared as people attempt to beat the rise in tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year next September.


So, shocking news there. But, wait a minute. It seems that there is another flow of traffic here. The Daily Express reports that more students from other EU states want to come to the UK to benefit from our generously subsidised higher education system and low cost loans:

Applications by students from member states in mainland Europe rose by a record 5.8 per cent at the end of May, with almost 46,000 applying in total.

UK candidates increased by 0.8 per cent, meaning they may face even more competition in the race for degree courses this summer, as applicants clamour for places before a rise in tuition fees next year.

Students from across the European Union are subsidised by the taxpayer and are eligible for low-interest Government loans. They also count towards the strict cap on university places, putting them in direct competition with UK applicants.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) revealed that 45,727 EU students applied by last month, up 2,515 on the same time last year.

In 2010, the number of Lithuanians who won places at UK universities increased by 71 per cent. The number of Latvians was up 61 per cent and Romanians 57 per cent.

Shocking stuff. It’s lucky we can have it both ways on this issue.

Trouble with names

Or the importance of having a proper naming policy

So could it happen here? Fascinating story this about Tsinghua University naming a teaching building after a donor. Except the donor is a clothes brand:

China’s prestigious Tsinghua University has triggered heated debates one month after its 100th anniversary of founding as it has named one teaching building after a well-known clothes brand.

The university came to the spotlight on Tuesday after a picture of the building’s new name was posted online. People blamed the university for “selling itself” and the incident was labeled as the “falling of the spirit of universities,” while others said it was normal for campus buildings to be named after a donor.

The No.4 teaching building of Tsinghua, built in 1987, is dedicated with shining Chinese and English characters of “Jeanswest Building,” following a line saying that Jeanswest, as a leading company of casual clothes, has contributed its share to the nation’s education.

So, Jeanswest Building does sound a bit better than the No.4 teaching building. But not much. And it does beg questions about how far a university might go in offering naming rights in return for a decent donation. Whilst the University of Poppleton has probably led the way in the recent past (actually I’m guessing it has a number of buildings named after popular pork-based products), might we expect the Confused.com learning resources building or the Kwik Save Student Services Centre at a UK campus someday soon?

Internationalisation’s mid-life crisis?

Or which way now for internationalisation?

In a recent opinion piece in THE, I argued that genuine internationalisation, including building campuses overseas, was challenging but achievable and required a sincere long term commitment. Others have been asking some hard questions about the whole idea of internationalisation. So, has it lost its way? Is it the end of internationalisation? Or is it just having a mid-life crisis?

Inside Higher Ed has a report on ‘The End of Internationalization?’, a session at the recent NAFSA conference in Vancouver:

Is the internationalization of higher education suffering from a midlife crisis? Jane Knight, a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, posed that question during a standing-room only session provocatively titled “The End of Internationalization?” Thursday at the NAFSA: Association of International Educators conference.

“Or are we having an identity crisis? Or are we losing its true north? Are we losing some of the key values about what is behind and supporting and guiding internationalization?”

Knight proposed a deeper discussion about the values underlying internationalization of higher education, which she suggested have shifted over the years. These shifts, she said, have been from cooperation to competition, mutual benefit to self-interest, exchange and partnership to commercial trade and activity, and, as illustrated by the rise in influence of global rankings, from capacity-building to status- or prestige-building.

Peter Scott, writing in the Guardian, pursues a similar theme:

I prefer a simpler distinction – the good, the bad and the ugly. Internationalisation is a clumsy word used to describe a wide range of activities, some of which we should be very proud of, and others best left in the shadows. But first, we need to dispose of the rhetoric. The overwhelming majority of universities were established as national institutions – for example, the big civic universities here in Britain and the land-grant universities in the US. They were not spontaneously created somewhere in the international ether.


There is an urgent need to reset the compass of internationalisation, to steer towards the good and away from the ugly. Not only is this morally right, it is also probably in the best long-term interests of the sector.

Has internationalisation really lost its way? I think this is something of an over-simplification. It is about focusing on the right values, as suggested here by Jane Knight, but also about long term commitment. With the right approach internationalisation can be genuinely good rather than ugly.

New university ‘to rival Oxbridge’

Exciting news – it’s fantasy uni time

The Telegraph and Sunday Times both carry this most interesting of stories about the establishment of the ‘New College of the Humanities’. The Guardian also has the story but includes reactions from those expressing some consternation at the proposition as well as the key piece of information that the degrees will be awarded by the University of London.

The Telegraph reports that the College will charge £18,000 a year and that for this princely sum students will enjoy a range of benefits:

”Our priorities at the College will be excellent teaching quality, excellent ratios of teachers to students, and a strongly supportive and responsive learning environment.

”Our students will be challenged to develop as skilled, informed and reflective thinkers, and will receive an education to match that aspiration.”

The college claims to offer a ”new model of higher education for the humanities in the UK” and will prepare undergraduates for degrees in Law, Economics and humanities subjects including History, Philosophy and English literature.

Students will also take three ”intellectual skills” modules in science literacy, logic and critical thinking and applied ethics.

Practical professional skills to prepare them for the world of work including financial literacy, teamwork, presentation and strategy will also be taught.

And the staff will largely be star academics (Grayling, Ferguson, Dawkins, Pinker to name just the back four), motivated it seems by the desire to bring more high quality education to the UK HE sector and to improve society.

College chiefs say students will receive a ”best in class education”, with one-to-one tutorials, more than 12 contact hours a week and a 10/1 student to teacher ratio.

Prof Grayling said that budget cuts and dwindling resources are likely to limit both quantity and quality of teaching in the UK, leaving the fabric of society poorer as a result.

But there are a few questions here:

  • Will anyone sign up at these prices?
  • Will students be eligible for any public financial support?
  • Who are the “College chiefs” quoted above?
  • What does the logo look like?
  • Will a ‘BA Hons (London) DNC’ award be embraced by employers?
  • Did they test out the model using Virtual-U (it really does exist) before launching?
  • And, most importantly, who is doing all the administration here? Or are they dividing it up amongst themselves?

Whichever way you look at it, it’s certainly a different approach to the challenges facing UK higher education. And it does create an entirely new game – fantasy uni league – where you too can put together your own team of top academics to deliver an Oxbridge-rivalling student experience (but perhaps best to do the dry run using Virtual-U beforehand).

Not such a good example?

“Don’t Look to the Ivy League” is an interesting article in the London Review of Books by Howard Hotson. Essentially, his argument is that a wider reading of the league tables suggest that the UK generally punches above its weight. The USA, despite dominating the very top of the table, lacks strength in depth. In short, he argues that the US model really isn’t that great an example to follow:

The top ten or 20 places typically grab all the attention. What happens when we consider all 200? No summary of the mean rankings of the top 200 universities over the past seven years is available, but we can examine the data in the THE rankings for 2010-11. In the top 50 places, US outnumber UK universities by five to one. In the second tier (places 51-100), American universities begin to lose their edge, and the proportion drops to three to one. In the bottom half of the table (places 101-200), the number of places held by both countries is much reduced, as universities from other countries crowd onto the table, but the significant point is that here the US and UK universities are virtually at level pegging. UK universities are distributed fairly uniformly throughout the table, which suggests that there is a smooth and gradual transition from the top tier of universities to the next level down, and so on. The US university system, by contrast, appears to concentrate a hugely disproportionate share of resources in a small group of very wealthy and exclusive private institutions.

The consequence of this concentration of resources in this exclusive group of elite insitutions is, according to Hotson, an endless escalation of tuition fee levels which further reinforce the position of the elite. Moreover, the increase in tuition fees is partly justified by a need to fuel a student experience arms race:

Jonathan Cole, former provost and dean of faculties at Columbia, wrote in the Huffington Post last year that in addition to fee inflation, a major contributor to the increased cost of higher education in America stems from the

perverse assumption that students are ‘customers’, that the customer is always right, and what he or she demands must be purchased. Money is well-spent on psychological counselling, but the number of offices that focus on student activities, athletics and athletic facilities, summer job placement and outsourced dining services, to say nothing of the dormitory rooms and suites that only the Four Seasons can match, leads to an expansion of administrators and increased cost of administration.

If Cole is correct, then the marketisation of the higher education sector stimulates not one but two separate developments which run directly counter to government expectations. On the one hand, genuine market competition between elite universities drives up average tuition fees across the sector. On the other, the marketing of the ‘student experience’ places an ever increasing portion of university budgets in the hands of student ‘customers’. The first of these mechanisms drives up price, while the second drives down academic value for money, since the inflated fees are squandered on luxuries. To judge from the American experience, comfortable accommodation, a rich programme of social events and state of the art athletic facilities are what most 18-year-olds want when they choose their ‘student experience’; and when student choice becomes the engine for driving up standards, these are the standards that are going to be driven up.

Will it happen here? And what might be the consequences for academic standards?