5,000 ‘soft degree courses axed’

‘Staggering’ reduction in numbers of degree courses

Everyone’s favourite source of educational critique, Mail Online, conflates several stories and comes up with some earth-shattering news. Some universities are responding to changes in student demand by discontinuing some courses:


Universities have axed 5,000 degree courses in preparation for cuts in state funding and the trebling of tuition fees, due to take effect in 2012.

Figures show there are 38,147 courses on offer through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service for entry in 2012, down a staggering 12 per cent, from 43,360.

Vice-chancellors have targeted their least popular non-academic courses – ‘soft subjects’ that offer poor employment prospects such as Caribbean Studies – because they are loss-making.

Some universities, such as London Metropolitan, have slashed more than 60 per cent of their courses, including philosophy, performing arts and history.

The University of East Anglia has announced the closure of its music school, which was opened in the 1960s with the help of Benjamin Britten.

The figures, from Supporting Professionalism in Admissions, come as universities fear applications for so-called ‘Mickey Mouse courses’ will reduce to a trickle when students face the prospect of £9,000 a year fees.

So, universities behave as you would expect them to in response to changes in student preferences. And there really is no case to be made that music, philosophy, performing arts, history and Caribbean Studies are either ‘soft’ or only appropriate for study by diminutive cartoon characters.

International Leadership Conference: Managing Global Universities

Last week saw the second International Leadership Conference at the University of Nottingham. Building on the success of the inaugural event held in China in November 2010, the 2011 event took place at The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, 30km from Kuala Lumpur.

This intensive four day programme is designed for senior managers and leaders from higher education institutions from across the world. This was a really good event and I hope that all the delegates enjoyed it as much as I did.

We had a terrific line up of speakers, including:

Ken Sloan, Serco
Paul M. Marshall, 1994 Group
Graham Cartledge CBE, Benoy
Dr. Janet Ilieva, British Council
Tan Sri Lodin, Boustead Holdings
Phil Baty, Times Higher Education
Professor Robin Pollard, Monash University
Emma Leech, Director of Communications and Marketing, University of Nottingham
Professor Craig Mahoney, The Higher Education Academy
Professor David Greenaway, Vice-Chancellor, The University of Nottingham
Datuk Prof. Dr. Roziah Binti Omar, Higher Education Leadership Academy (AKEPT)
Dato Prof. Dr. Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

Thanks to all speakers and participants for making it such a good experience. Already looking forward to the 2012 event which will be held at University of Nottingham, Ningbo China.

Junk food for league tables

Perverse incentives for misreporting the data


Inside Higher Ed carries a cautionary tale about a US College Provost who misreported data to external bodies over a number of years to enhance the College’s profile:

Iona College acknowledged Tuesday that its former provost had, for nearly a decade, manipulated and misreported student-related data to government officials, accrediting bodies, bond rating agencies, and others.

“I do think there probably is a pattern” in the case at Iona and other recent incidents involving law schools at the University of Illinois and Villanova University, Clemson University’s reporting to U.S. News and World Report, and even the grade-changing scandal in the Atlanta public schools, said Jane Robbins, senior lecturer in innovation, entrepreneurship, and institutional leadership at the University of Arizona.

While making clear that she did not in any way excuse the “egregious” individual behavior on display at Iona, Robbins said the situation reflects the intense pressure and “perverse incentives” in an “intensely competitive system” in which colleges are often deemed worthy or excellent based on standardized test scores and the giving rates of their alumni.

“It’s the kind of thing that if everybody was audited, we might see a lot more of it,” said Robbins.

Iona officials sought no refuge in an “everybody does it” argument. In an interview Tuesday, Joseph E. Nyre, who became the Roman Catholic college’s president on July 1 and heard within weeks from employees at the college who suspected problems with institutionally provided data, attributed the wrongdoing there to “the actions of a person that, because we didn’t have a proper system of verification, were allowed go to undetected.”

As the table below from Inside Higher Ed shows, there were some significant differences between reported data and reality, particularly in relation to overstated SAT scores, SSRs, completion rates and alumni giving.

Could it happen in the UK? Whilst some creative reporting was feasible in the early days of league tables (I have heard of at least one institution which adopted a somewhat over-optimistic view when much of the data was self-certified), the rigorous data collection standards of HESA, Hefce, DeLHE etc make such wilful misreporting extremely difficult these days. The system though remains intensely competitive and the perverse incentives undoubtedly exist in relation to data which contribute to league table positioning.

A new UK university league table – based on (a few) student rankings

There’s a new league table on the block

Welcome to the university league table which has been influenced by student feedback from all across the United Kingdom – find the most popular university, rated by students that currently study there or have been studying there. Honest, unbiased reviews, uninfluenced by the universities themselves, that show both sides of UK university life – the good and the not so good.

Younilife – The Student Website claims to offer a new kind of league table. It certainly makes interesting reading:

1 Kingston University 100.0%

2 Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL) 99.5%

3 Anglia Ruskin University 97.0%

4 Southampton Solent University 96.0%

5 Oxford Brookes University 94.5%

6 St Andrews University, Fife 94.5%

7 Loughborough University 94.0%

8 Hull University 93.0%

9 Glasgow University 92.5%

10 Exeter University 90.8%

11 De Montfort University 89.0%

12 Huddersfield University 89.0%

13 Bath University 86.8%

14 Cardiff University 83.5%

15 Canterbury Christ Church University 83.0%

16 Leeds University 82.0%

17 Portsmouth University 82.0%

18 Liverpool John Moores University 81.7%

19 Cambridge University 81.0%

20 University College London, University of London (UCL) 80.0%

(accessed on Saturday 19 November)

An interesting ranking. And rather different from the main UK league tables. However, it doesn’t seem terribly rigorous. Especially when you note that Kingston’s position at the top of this particular table is based on ratings by only two students. Indeed none of the institutions in the top 10 has more than three votes. You can rate your uni here in 10 different areas:


Your vote on accessibility Accessibility & Location
How well is the university accessible? Cost of travel etc. Where is your university located? Attractiveness of location?
Your vote on accommodation Accommodation
What is your room like? Is the price justified?
Your vote on facilities Facilities
What sport/IT/Library facilities are available and what is their status and quality?
Your vote on student union Student Union
What is the SU like, do they support you effectively?
Your vote on security Security
Do the students feel safe? How easy is it for non-students to access the campus?
Your vote on nightlife Nightlife
What is the nightlife like in and around the university?
Your vote on canteen and shops Canteen & Shops
What is the food quality and choice in the canteen? Range of shops available? How would you rate their service and range of products?
Your vote on student/tutor ratio Student-Tutor Ratio
How many students are there in relation to tutors? Are the lectures and seminars overcrowded?
Your vote on the town Town & Gown
How well does the town or city in which the university is located relate to the students? are there appropriate students discounts?
Your overall feedback Conclusion
What is your overall impression you have gained during your time at university?

Early days perhaps but think they will need a bit more audience participation before they are challenging the big boys.

Open for business

Small countries are open for higher education business

A taster for a session to be delivered at next week’s International Leadership Conference at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus: this piece in Times Higher Education covers the openness of some countries in relation to higher education.

The article reports on a session which Janet Ilieva of the British Council is delivering at the conference in which she will refer to the fact that small countries often have the most “open” higher education systems, just as their economies are the most open to international trade:

Janet Ilieva, head of research for education intelligence, cited Hong Kong, Singapore and the Netherlands as examples of small countries with higher education systems that were open to imports and exports in terms of students, academics and institutions.

But she said that some others with ambitions to join the list, particularly a few Gulf states, were struggling to do so because of “over-regulation” by their governments.

Her comments were made in an interview with Times Higher Education ahead of a conference on International Leadership: Managing Global Universities to be held at the University of Nottingham Malaysia campus next week.

Dr Ilieva is due to present the findings of a study into the openness of higher education in 22 different countries, including a subset of eight countries in Southeast Asia.

Of these, Hong Kong was ranked top, followed by South Korea and Malaysia.

However, Dr Ilieva said that the ranking misrepresented the openness of Singapore (rated seventh in the region), because it looked only at national policy.

In Singapore, she said, the government had handed over responsibility for many policy decisions to the institutions themselves.

Looking forward to it.

Europe as “one higher education space”

The President of Maastricht University argues in a piece for the Guardian Higher Education Network for greater European integration in higher education:

Not before time, the House of Lords in the UK has announced an inquiry into European Union support for universities and student mobility. By now, the vision of a single higher-education space across Europe was supposed to be a reality. But achieving that goal is taking longer than expected.

The idea was that by 2010 students and academic staff would be moving freely between European countries and institutions, secure in the knowledge that the qualifications they achieved would translate between EU member states.

Some significant progress has been made in the 12 years since all this was first envisaged in the Bologna protocol, drawn up by 29 countries across Europe, and in the five years since recognition of common European degree standards was agreed in Lisbon. More than 210,000 students now spend part of their degree abroad through the Erasmus exchange scheme alone, and the number of academics crossing national borders to teach is increasing year on year.

But no-one would argue that we are anywhere near reaching all the goals these two agreements set out. A report last month on the Erasmus scheme showed that one in five students was forced to retake courses and exams after failing to receive full credit for studies abroad, while the European Commission has just put forward new measures to support the aims of the higher education area, including profiling institutions and giving financial support to master’s students studying abroad.

Professor Paul is right to be critical of the slow pace of change. He suggests closer collaboration between a small group of universities with international outlooks from different member states as a pilot project to acheive a more meaningful model for a European education. This would then be the ‘blueprint’ for the new European University.

I’m not sure that we need a new blueprint – there are many excellent internationally-focused universities across Europe and I think it is unlikely that many of them will wish to change their approach because of such work. Greater convergence will happen where it is in the interests of universities to do so. Some change has happened, albeit slowly, towards the Bologna and Lisbon agreements but what all of this does highlight is the difficulty of imposing external standards or structures on autonomous universities where the benefits are not immediately obvious. It is far from clear that a standardised European view of international education is what is needed to deliver a “knowledge-based workforce” for Europe in a singke higher education space.

“Topsy-turvy ranking” in social science teaching

Research which challenges some league table views of teaching quality

Times Higher Education has a piece on a detailed study of teaching of Sociology at a range of instututions which has some interesting results:

Teaching in universities that are usually ranked towards the bottom of higher education league tables is more consistently of a high standard than instruction at institutions towards the top of the rankings, a study has suggested.

The in-depth examination of pedagogical quality in sociology and related degrees at four different types of institution found that rankings were not a good guide to teaching quality or the “personal transformative” effect of an undergraduate education on students.

Researchers from the universities of Nottingham, Lancaster and Teesside interviewed students at four other unnamed institutions over the three years of their degree courses.They also surveyed 700 students, interviewed lecturers and observed teaching as well as analysing assignments and each department’s curriculum documents.

More details of the research are on the University of Nottingham website. The problems with league table and ‘student as consumer’ approaches are questioned and the deeper benefits of the students’ educational experiences highlighted:

These research findings have a number of significant policy implications that contradict approaches endorsed by government and higher education leaders following recommendations in last year’s Browne Report.

Principal investigator Dr Monica Mclean from The University of Nottingham’s School of Education worked with Dr Paul Ashwin from Lancaster University and Dr Andrea Abbas from Teesside University to evaluate courses. They interviewed students over the three years of their degree courses, surveyed over 700 students, interviewed lecturers, observed teaching and analysed assignments, each department’s curriculum documents, and national policy documents.

In their research, the team identified indictors of high quality learning outcomes and processes which are not accounted for in the measures currently used in higher education league tables (such as, staff: student ratios, money spent on library resources, or numbers of research students).
They found three broad outcomes of a high quality undergraduate social science education, which included both individual and social benefits. These were:

· enhanced academic and employability skills
· understanding of and empathy for a wider range of people
· a change in personal identity and an intention to change society for the better.

The extent to which students experienced each of these individual and social benefits was positively and significantly related to their levels of engagement with academic knowledge or mastery of their subject.

Students experienced engagement with academic knowledge as a process of personal transformation that required hard work to achieve. Research showed that facing the difficulty of acquiring knowledge makes it valuable and enjoyable. Experienced difficulty of the disciplinary knowledge was very similar across all institutions.

Differences in the quality of undergraduate education, as defined by the indicators above, did not reflect the institutions’ positions in higher education league tables. Scales used in the survey reveal the complexities of the experiences of a high quality undergraduate degree. They show that students at all surveyed HEIs grapple with – and value – the same kinds of knowledge and report achieving similar individual and social outcomes.

All of this shows that undergraduate education is a lot more complex and difficult to capture than league tables suggest and raises real questions about current Government higher education policies.

Back to the future? Reverting to single-sex accommodation

Is this really the solution?

Fascinating piece on Inside Higher Ed on a reversion to single sex accommodation at Catholic University:

“Life is Co-Ed” has become the unofficial rallying call of the Catholic University students unhappy and unconvinced by their president’s unprecedented decision to revert all dormitories to single-sex living quarters.

John Garvey, president of Catholic, announced in June that the university would be phasing in single-sex residence halls, in an effort to curb binge drinking and casual sex. He said that the change would better align the university with its moral obligations as a Roman Catholic institution.

The decision to eliminate co-ed living to revert to single-sex living, which looks to be the first of its kind, has been the talk of the campus since it was enacted at the beginning of this semester, with opinion split almost 50/50 on the issue, students say. Administrators are phasing in the living policy with this year’s freshman class, with units for older students remaining co-ed. But that doesn’t mean its intended outcomes are coming to fruition. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, some students say.

On the face of it this looks like classic tabloid headline material – “Catholic University bans sex and drinking” – but there are some really significant issues here about the nature of the student experience, how far University regulation of student behaviour should reach and the extent to which there can or should be a religious dimension to regulation (inevitable at Catholic Universities but not fully replicated in church-founded institutions in the UK as far as I am aware).

However, the main issue here is whether such a policy will succeed in its aims of reducing binge drinking and casual sex. It strikes me as unlikely. Students are extremely inventive and resourceful individuals and I would be very surprised if single sex dorms have any impact (although it is not entirely clear how university officers are measuring casual sex rates).

A bit of a lift

Or, beyond car parking charges

(Continuing the left/elevator theme of the previous post.)

Until very recently the University of Nottingham was one of only a tiny number of universities in the UK which did not charge for car parking on campus. The introduction this summer of car parking charges here at the University has not, it is fair to say, been greeted with universal acclaim. Whilst many are supportive of the range of charges levied (dependent on salary and vehicle emissions) and the various other traffic improvements introduced, some remain less than pleased with the whole situation.

This document, which is by an unknown author, was passed to me the other day. Building on the new rules for car parking, it sets out the arrangements for a new Lift Permit Scheme with fees to be determined on the basis of salary and BMI. I think it is a very good idea indeed and I’ll be suggesting that the University adopts it as soon as possible.

True Crime on Campus §16: A series of unfortunate events

More true crime on campus: where stuff happens

Unfortunate things can happen on campus. Fortunately, our unflappable Security staff are more than capable of responding to all kinds of events:

1215 Report that a pedal cyclist had fallen from his cycle outside the Pharmacy Building. Security attended. The student had been attempting to jump his cycle over the kerb when he fell off. The student suffered cuts and bruises and was taken to Hospital to be checked.

2315 Report of a student trapped in his room in Kingston House Sutton Bonington. Security attended and released the student who was advised to contact Opal staff for a permanent repair to be made.

1258 Report that a cyclist had ridden into the exit barrier of South Entrance. The barrier was broken off as the cyclist rode through and fell off his cycle. The cause of the collision was due to the cyclist not slowing down and allowing the barrier time to rise up and out of the way.

2340 Security were called to Nightingale Hall where a visitor had arrived to see her friend who was supposed to be a student at this University. Security attended and after speaking the visitor and checks made on our Student database plus further checks with Trent University it was found that the visitor was at the wrong University. The visitor had also lost her all of her belongings on the train to Nottingham and had no way of getting to her friend’s accommodation. The Security Supervisor took her in a Security vehicle.

19:32 Security were informed by Willoughby Hall Deputy Warden that a student required first aid as they had run into a fire door on D Floor at Willoughby Hall. Student went to hospital in a taxi with a friend. There was damage to the glass panel, Long Eaton Glass called out.


2245 Report of the lift not working Willoughby Hall. Security attended. Morris Vermaport called out. Due to there being 10 people stuck in the lift the Fire Service were requested to attend and they removed the occupants from the lift.

1000 Report that a window had fallen out of its frame in Hugh Stewart Hall Security attended contractor called out.

1030 Report of the lift not working with a person trapped in Portland Building. The Building Attendant and Security Officers attended. The button was pushed which started the lift working and released the person.

11:50 Security attended a report from 5 students that their belongings, which had been put under a bush whilst they played football on Florence Boot Field, had been stolen. Police informed and Security to follow up.

14:45 Security Control received a telephone call from a concerned relative that a student was stuck in a toilet in the Trent Building. A search was conducted but nobody was found. At 17:48 Trent received a telephone call from Ancaster Hall that the student had been found and the relatives have been informed.

17:15 Security attended a request to remove a padlock from a cycle as the student had lost her key.

22:39 Security Control received a call that there was an umbrella on fire in the Quad at Lenton Hall and the Porter was dealing with it. Security did not attend.

02:00 Security attended a report of broken glass in a door at Cavendish Hall caused by a student who was play fighting with a third party. Long Eaton Glass called out and details to Hall Warden.

Are US universities retreating from international ventures?

It seems there is a “new caution” for US universities overseas

Seattle P-I has a piece on what looks like a slowdown in the international activities of US universities:

High-profile and expensive failures of Middle East branch campuses run by Michigan State and George Mason were a wake-up call. Suffolk University recently closed a campus in Senegal after concluding it would be cheaper just to bring the students to Boston. The University of Connecticut dropped plans for a campus in Dubai amid criticism of the United Arab Emirates’ policies toward Israel. Plans for a University of Montana campus in China never panned out, and Singapore’s government shut down a Johns Hopkins University biomedical research center.

Even elite schools still pushing forward, like Duke, Yale and New York University, have faced resistance from faculty concerned about finances, quality and whether host countries like China, Singapore and the UAE will uphold academic freedom.

The result: a new era of caution, particularly toward a model that once looked like the wave of the future. Some experts say branch campuses — where a U.S. university “plants a flag,” operates its own campus and awards degrees in its own name — are falling from favor.

“The gold rush mentality of the 2000s is over,” said Jason Lane, a professor and co-director of the cross-border education research team at the State University of New York-Albany. His data show 60 U.S. institutions with 83 overseas campuses in 39 countries. But the number of new international branch campuses peaked at 11 in 2008 — just before the financial crisis — and only four have opened since.

Caution is certainly advisable. However, the real caution here is against a view of internationalisation of university operations which sees it as a “gold rush”. No institution should see developing a presence in another country as an income generating activity as a response to a time of financial challenge. Whilst some universities have been extremely generously supported by host governments, most notably NYU and the Sorbonne in Abu Dhabi, for most the dowries are much smaller. And, as previously argued here, internationalisation, and the establishment of an international campus in particular, is a long game. There are no get rich quick schemes here. The article goes on to note that:

Instead, schools like UCLA and the Universities of Michigan and North Carolina have opted for more of a soft-power approach — a range of partnerships often starting on the departmental or school level where the home university is less invested but also offering an easier exit strategy if things go south.

But surely such partnerships are part of the everyday life of internationally engaged universities – it’s not about choosing one strategy over another but rather different facets of a genuine approach to international partnership. Again, this is about building long term and enduring partnerships which will, ultimately, be of benefit to all.

More on iPads in the classroom

Another report on experimentation with iPads

Have posted before on the use of iPads on campus and for teaching and learning. An article in the Chronicle reports on some recent experiments involving iPad use in the classroom.

Pepperdine University, for example, has been experimenting in a few courses, where some students are given iPads loaded with reading materials and applications, and others stick with laptops and traditional printed books. The initial findings show that iPads increase engagement and collaboration, acting as a facilitator for more easily sharing information, rather than the clunky barrier that a laptop can sometimes be in a group setting.

When observing classrooms with and without iPads, the difference ranged from barely noticeable to a stark contrast, said Dana K. Hoover, assistant CIO for communications and planning at Pepperdine. The most noticeable difference was how students in the iPad classes moved around the classroom more and seemed to be more engaged in the material.

“The goal is specifically to see if the iPad has the potential to impact student performance on learning outcomes in the classroom,” says Ms. Hoover. “Our secondary goal is to see if we can produce some sort of formula for success.”

The study, which began last fall, is now in its third and final semester and is in the data-collection phase. At the conference, Ms. Hoover and a colleague will be presenting some of the preliminary results from their study. The main findings they will discuss, which they did not have when Ms. Hoover was interviewed, will be results from a quiz comparing students in sections with and without iPads.

So, some mixed results, and not entirely clear that they answer these 10 essential questions to ask when designing a teaching and learning techonology project, but interesting nevertheless. I do think that part of this is perhaps wishful thinking – we all think iPads should be really useful in educational settings, but it’s just a bit hard to decide what to do when we have the solution to an as yet unidentified problem.