Animal magic: True crime on campus §14

More true crime on campus

Not all of the challenges faced by our ever-vigilant Security team are down to people. Some involve animals of one kind or another (albeit sometimes with human involvement):

2020 Report of a bird in the Graduate School. Security attended but the bird could not be found.

1800 Report of dogs running loose at the rear of Abbey House. Security attended.

1330 Patrol Security Officer stopped a couple who were walking through Jubilee Campus with a Bull Terrier dog off its lead. The Officers asked them to put the dog on a lead which they complied with.

22:30 Security were informed that a group of students dressed as tigers were threatened by a male in a blue car. The students had shaken a stuffed whale at the car, the car stopped and the driver got out of the vehicle and walked towards his boot to get something out. The passenger had stopped him and then they drove off. Security made a search of the campus but car was not found.


1626 Report of 10 people dressed as chickens walking along Beeston Lane throwing water bombs. Security attended on arrival the Chickens had left the area.[Note, this is not the first time Security have had to deal with giant chickens, see True Crime §12]

1753 Request from a resident of Abbey House to remove a large bee from under a sheet in their flat. Security attended and the bee was removed.

1400 Report of a group of males hare coursing on University Land adjacent to the Sutton Bonington Campus. Security attended, Police informed.

2000 Report of a dog running loose around Abbey house. Security attended – the owners of the dog were asked to put the animal on a lead.

13:00 Security called to room A05 Plant Science, Sutton Bonington Campus. A pigeon was trapped in the office, it had caused a lot of mess. The pigeon was released and Quality First called out to clean up.

1415 Report of two males hunting with a falcon on University Farm Land, Sutton Bonington Campus. Security attended and the males were told to leave University property.

0200 Report of a cat in the Pope Building. Security attended and removed the cat.


The Great Brain Race by Ben Wildavsky


I read this some months ago but, inexplicably, failed to note the fact. Wildavsky is a clear, cogent and persuasive writer. He provides a good review of the global higher education picture and many of the key issues facing nations and universities.

There is, unsurprisingly, plenty of coverage of league table matters and he helpfully provides a handy, and surprisingly long, list of countries which have league tables. Noting the general biases in international tables he highlights a number of additional models – PISA, OECD, AHELO etc – as well as alternative subject-based approaches.

Further topicality comes from his damning indictment of visa restrictions and their consequences. Wildavsky mounts a welcome and powerful argument for free trade in ideas, scholars and HE and therefore against the constraint of movement of academic staff and students (as sadly we are experiencing in the UK at present). It’s a cogent and compelling line.

So, overall, a thoroughly readable and engaging text. My main criticism would be though that lots of this is rather US-oriented, and the NYU material and Sexton discussion is largely prospective. The author seems too willing to accept as yet unrealised institutional plans for international growth at face value rather than looking in detail at what some institutions, for example the University of Nottingham in China and Malaysia and other UK and Australian universities, have successfully achieved in Asia.

THOSE A level pictures

There is only one place to go for the A level pictures everyone expects, namely It’s Sexy A-Levels!:

A blog exploring the hypothesis that UK newspapers believe that only attractive girls in low cut tops do A-Levels.

It is truly entertaining. But there is one pic of a boy, reproduced here for a reminder of what the A level experience is like for a few:

 It is very much the silly season.

More bonkers degrees?

Are they bonkers? Or just very well targeted?

With apologies for repetition. But it is August. And in the context of A-level results day, we all need to reflect on the real value of some of the finest HE provision around. Previous posts have covered similar ground including a zombie course at the University of Baltimore and a course covering Lady Gaga. Also previously looked here at the launch of an MA in Beatles Studies and the offer of a degree in Northern Studies as well as offering a podcast on “bonkers or niche” degrees. Most recently there was, shockingly, an MA in horror and transgression at Derby.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has new update on some of these:

Pop quiz: What is the difference between a tangerine and a clementine? If you’re stumped, then you probably did not get a degree from Florida Southern College in citrus studies, an interdisciplinary major that introduces students to the ins and outs of producing and marketing—you guessed it—citrus fruits. Courses include CIT 3301: “Introduction to Citrus” and a for-credit internship in Florida’s citrus industry. If that experience doesn’t result in a full-time job, at least graduates know they’ll have a leg up in the produce aisle on all those chumps who majored in history.

It also highlights a number of other exciting degrees:

Carnegie Mellon U.

Major: Bagpipes – Notable courses: One-on-one bagpipe studio courses with Andrew Carlisle, a master piper

Bowdoin College

Major: Arctic studies – Notable courses: “Arctic Peoples,” “Arctic Explorations,” “Arctic Politics”

Harrisburg Area Community College

Major: Auctioneering – Notable courses: The program requires two semesters of “Procurement and Appraisal of Merchandise” as well as a semester of AUCT 106: “The Auction.”

Kansas State U.

Major: Bakery science – Notable courses: “Cereal Science,” “Fundamentals of Food Processing,” “Principles of Milling”

There are more…

Meanwhile, back in the UK, the Telegraph has published a list of “unusual university courses”. A remarkable list on two counts. First, few of the courses listed are that unusual (Aerospace Engineering is pretty big in quite a few universities) and secondly (as @TriBen pointed out to me, for which many thanks), it fails to cite Surf Science at Plymouth, which is usually a banker for such lists (there is a picture of a surfer though). The horse pic below relates to Equine Studies, of course.

It is August. And there is a need to fill some space before all those pictures of happy students on A level results day can be published.

2011 Shanghai Jiao Tong World Rankings: Top 10 and UK placings

2011 Shanghai Jiao Tong World Rankings: Top 10 and UK placings

The rankings have been published and are available at the ARWU site I believe but there seem to be problems with access at time of writing. Am therefore going with second hand accounts of the positions (which I hope are accurate).

As last year though there are no surprises and very little movement in the top 10 with Harvard retaining the number 1 spot for the fifth successive year (last year’s position in brackets):

1 Harvard University (1)

2 Stanford University (3)

3 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (4)

4 University of California, Berkeley (2)

5 University of Cambridge (5)

6 California Institute of Technology (6)

7 Princeton University (7)

8 Columbia University (8)

9 University of Chicago (9)

10 University of Oxford (10)

The Times Higher (which clearly has managed to access the ARWU site) has the UK’s top performers (ie in the Top 100) as follows (last year’s position in brackets):

5 Cambridge (5)

10 Oxford (10)

20 University College London (21)

24 Imperial College London (26)

38 University of Manchester (44)

53 University of Edinburgh (54)

68 King’s College London (63)

70 University of Bristol (66)

85 University of Nottingham (84)

97 University of Sheffield (88)

So, very little change at all to report apart from Birmingham dropping out of the top 100. Perhaps there will be more excitement with the Times Higher and QS tables.

Where is the Most Beautiful Campus?

Florida, apparently

In yet another league table, although one yet to capture the public imagination, the Princeton Review has ranked Florida Southern College the nation’s “Most Beautiful Campus”. The ranking is based on a student survey and the full story is here.

College officials learned Tuesday the campus has moved from the No. 9 spot on that list to the top ranking, and they were elated.




“I am thrilled just beyond what I can express,” said President Anne Kerr. She said the award verifies what students, faculty and staff have long known — that they are graced with a campus of tremendous beauty.

The Princeton Review’s “Most Beautiful Campus” list, one of its strongest quality of life on campus indicators, says Florida Southern is an “inspiring place to live and study.”

So, who would win the equivalent in the UK? My money’s on Nottingham, but then I am perhaps a little biased.

Keeping it in the family: Italian academia

Italian academia is a family business according to new statistical analysis

A previous post noted a report highlighting the problems of nepotism in Italian universities. More detailed information has recently been published including statistical analysis which reinforces this point. The analysis focuses on the frequency of last names in disciplines and institutions and suggests “rampant nepotism” according to the piece:

Unusually high clustering of last names within Italian academic institutions and disciplines indicates widespread nepotism in the country’s schools, according to a new computational analysis.

By comparing the frequency of last names among more than 61,000 professors in medicine, engineering, law, and other fields, University of Chicago researcher Stefano Allesina found the pattern to be incompatible with unbiased, equal opportunity hiring. The analysis, published online in the journal PLoS ONE, refutes the notion that recently publicized cases of academic nepotism in Italy were isolated incidents.

“It’s not a few bad apples, it’s really bad,” said Allesina, PhD, assistant professor of ecology and evolution. “I found that in many disciplines there are much fewer names than you would expect to find at random, indicating a very, very high probability of nepotistic hires.”

In recent years, several scandals have hit Italian academia over the hiring of close family members to prominent faculty positions at public universities. At the University of Bari, nine relatives from three generations of a single family are on the economics faculty, several newspapers reported last year. The chancellor of Sapienza University in Rome was recently investigated by an Italian news program after the hiring of his wife, son, and daughter to medical faculty positions.[See earlier post on this.]

To measure the full magnitude of nepotism in Italian academia, Allesina turned to a public database created by the Italian Ministry of Education. Included was first and last name information for over 61,000 tenured professors from 94 institutions, along with their department and sub-discipline.

Allesina used the pool of last names to run a simple analysis of name frequency. More than 27,000 different last names appeared at least once in the dataset, and Allesina sought to test whether certain names appeared more often than expected in a given field. So he programmed the computer to conduct one million random drawings from the pool of names to see how probable it was to obtain the number of last names that exist in the real-life data.

For example, of the 10,783 faculty members working in medicine, 7,471 distinct last names were found. But in one million random drawings from the full pool of names, Allesina’s program never came up with fewer than 7,471 unique names, indicating an improbable frequency of last names indicative of nepotistic hiring.

The pattern is uneven across disciplines though, with this approach demonstrating the highest likelihood of nepotism in areas including industrial engineering, law, medicine and geography. According to hte study the fields with the distribution of names closest to random – and thus with the lowest likelihood of nepotism – were linguistics, demography, and psychology. Not good news for higher education in Italy.

Fraud failings “could cost £1bn a year”

Silly season stuff?

Times Higher carries a story suggesting universities’ counter-fraud failings could cost £1bn a year:

Higher education is the worst at protecting against fraud of all publicly funded sectors, with the annual cost potentially exceeding £1 billion, a new report suggests.

The study, by the University of Portsmouth and accountancy firm PKF, found that the sector performed less well than NHS bodies, local councils and central government.

According to the report, The Resilience to Fraud of the UK Higher Education Sector, which surveyed the strategies of 28 institutions, less than 10 per cent of universities accurately estimate the costs of fraud.

It also says that in more than 60 per cent of institutions, specialist counter-fraud staff do not receive professional training, while less than half of universities put those applying for sensitive posts through full “propriety” checks.

Jim Gee, director of counter-fraud services at PKF, said: “This needs to be addressed as a top priority because loss estimates are important in developing a proportionate, properly resourced counter-fraud strategy.”

Really? This doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. £1 billion is about 5% of total spend on HE in the UK and it is just absurd to suggest this much public money is at risk. The analysis is based on a questionnaire to which around 20% of HEIs responded. The scoring system and identified failings also seem to be based on a somewhat extreme view of the risks and mitigations required to prevent fraud in universities. And the accountancy firm who are co-partners in the report look like they have more than a passing interest in the provision of counter-fraud services and training (which is where it is suggested our biggest weaknesses lie).

Fraud is a serious business and universities do need to protect themselves. But this kind of report really doesn’t help.

Youth club: True crime on campus §13

More true crime on campus

In addition to dealing with the challenges presented by staff, students and visitors to campus, our indefatigable Security team also has to cope with the inappropriate activities of various groups of youths:

1920 Patrol Security Officer stopped a group of youths swimming in the Lake at Jubilee Campus. The youths were told to leave Campus.

1925 Patrol Security Officers spoke to a large group of youths on skateboards at the Jubilee Campus. They were told to leave Campus.

17:40 Security asked youths to leave Campus. A second group of youths nearby had also been reported to be throwing stones at ducks and fish in the lake, youths asked to leave Campus.

2120 Patrol Security stopped a group of youths on Jubilee Campus using skateboards. The youths were told to leave Campus.

2340 Patrol Security Officers at Jubilee Campus stopped a group of youths who were making a noise – they were told to leave Campus.

09:30 [note the time] Security asked a group of youths to leave Jubilee Campus as they were drinking brandy. Security removed the bottle and escorted them towards the gate where they were joined by more youths and they were all getting rowdy. Security called for assistance and youths soon left Campus.

13:59 Staff member witnessed BMX riders on Jubilee Campus near the Exchange building. Security attended, the youths escorted off Campus.

1501 Report of youths causing a nuisance at Jubilee Campus. Security attended – the youths left Campus as Security arrived.

1615 Report of youths in the water at the Millennium garden – Security attended.

2030 Report of youths letting off Rockets in Bramcote Woods – Security attended. On arrival it was discovered that the Scouts had an event taking place and were letting off Rockets. They were asked to let the University know if they were planning an event such as this again.

1330 Report of youths drinking with dogs in the UNSSC Garden. The dogs were loose and running around. Security attended and on arrival the youths were told to put the dogs on leads and leave the Campus.

0610 Report of youths throwing stones and exposing themselves on Beeston Lane Security attended and stopped four males one of whom is a Student. Two of the group including the Student admitted to exposing themselves to motorists as they drove past them. A file will be submitted to the Head of Security.

2100 Report of 30 children with tents in Bramcote Woods. Security attended – no children or tents were found.

Sustaining Excellence conference

2011 APM Conference – Sustaining Excellence

A brief note on what felt like a really good event, building on the success of first APM conference last summer and involving nearly 300 professional services staff from across the University.


In the main sessions we heard about the development campaign from Professor Jane Seymour together with an outline of the formal campaign laumch week in October and details of lifecycle, the John O’Groats to Land’s End ride being undertaken by the Vice-Chancellor and colleagues in August.

Chris Thompson, CFO, updated everyone on fees, funding and finances, highlighting the many financial challenges we are facing and how we are responding. We remain in a strong position but there is absolutely no room for complacency.

Professor Wyn Morgan, Director of Teaching and Learning, reported on the range of initiatives currently under way in teaching and learning including how we all have a part to play in delviering a world class student experience.


There were some great workshops on offer, with the lean and speed-dating sessions proving extremely popular:

Workshop 1: An Introduction to Lean Process Methodology & Its Application Within The University
Workshop 2: Virtual Tour Of Campuses In Asia, Teaching Partnerships And Internationalisation
Workshop 3: Professionalising Marketing And Recruitment In Changing Times
Workshop 4: What Is Research Margin And Why Does It Matter?
Workshop 5: Why Do Universities Need To Make A Surplus?
Workshop 6: Speedy Professionals: Putting A Face To A Name
Workshop 7: Go Greener
Workshop 8: Balancing The Demands Of Work And Non-Work Commitments
Workshop 9: Building Positive Working Relationships: Why Do Colleagues In Teams Have Differences At Work?

Final session

We also had an entertaing Q and A session covering car parking, IT, marketing and environmental issues.

And finally the Vice-Chancellor wrapped things up, stressing the critical contribution made by all professional services staff in supporting the delivery of the University’s strategic plan.

Thanks are due to all the speakers, panellists and those staffing the stalls as well as the organising committee, headed by Hannah Robinson. Particular thanks too Karen of Classy Cupcakes for running the charity cake sale.

I hope colleagues found the day useful, met people they had not come across before and learnt something new.

Following the money: paying out for AAB

“Universities cut fees for top students”

According to The Sunday Times that is. However, the headline doesn quite match the story which is a bit more complicated than that. The BBC presents it a little differently as “Universities to offer A grade students cash”.

All of this seems to be sparked by comments from Steve Smith as he hands over the Presidency of UUK but presumably the details are buried in institutions’ access agreements. The Sunday Times notes:

Kent and Essex universities are among the first to offer special deals. They will give £2,000 scholarships to any recruit for 2012 who gains three As in their A-levels, regardless of their family income.

Kent’s scholarship will be available for every year of the degree course, although the Essex version is a one-off for the first year.

Goldsmiths College will waive its £9,000 annual fees for the brightest 10 students it admits from its south London borough.

Essex and Goldsmiths are both members of the 1994 Group of research-based universities, conventionally seen as an elite grouping. At Essex, however, only 8% of 2009 entrants gained at least two As and a B, while at Goldsmiths the figure was 16%. At Durham, by contrast, another 1994 Group member, the figure was 85%.

Other institutions that have already decided on new deals for 2012 include De Montfort University in Leicester, which will give £1,000 a year to any student with AAB or above.

West London is offering 45 scholarships to students who score at least AA B at A-level, paying 50% of first-year tuition fees, which will average £7,498. South Bank in London will waive its £8,450-a-year fees for up to 85 highly qualified students.

It is possible to envisage this turning into a crazed bidding war with AAB students being offered ever more lucrative details to sign up with one university or another (and is this what was really envisaged in the White Paper?). More likely though is that most students will continue to focus on the courses and institutions which most closely meet their needs. Some may chase the money but most surely will base their decisions on other criteria. Or perhaps we are entering the mercenary period for university admissions?