The most optimistic new year greeting ever?

A great new year message!

I’ve never had any dealings with the Alfred Nobel University but I do like the sound of them on the strength of this extraordinarily positive message which I’ve just received:

Just great!

Happy new year!

League Tables: Football and Higher Education Compared

A rather different angle on the development of a ‘quality culture’

A nice read for over the Christmas break this, an article by Malcolm Tight of Lancaster University from Higher Education Quarterly nearly 10 years ago:  Do League Tables Contribute to the Development of a Quality Culture? Football and Higher Education Compared.

The abstract:

The increasing use of league tables to summarise the relative performance of universities suggests an explicit analogy with association football. The extent to which this analogy is useful is explored through a comparison between the operation of the Premier and Nationwide Football Leagues and Universities and Colleges in England and Wales. This comparison considers issues such as what the league tables actually measure, how performance is linked to rewards or penalties, what mechanisms are available for improving performance, and what similarities there are between the locations of more or less successful football clubs and universities.

It’s a distinctive and entertaining look at football and university league tables.


(This is the last post here until the new year. Normal service will be resumed after the holidays.)

LSE and Libya: The Woolf Inquiry

Woolf reports on LSE’s Libyan Links

And it’s a compelling read:

The Woolf Inquiry was set up on 3 March 2011 following criticism of LSE’s links to Libya and the resignation of the Director, Sir Howard Davies. The terms of the Inquiry were as follows:

An independent inquiry to establish the full facts of the School’s links with Libya, whether there have been errors made, and to establish clear guidelines for international donations to and links with the School. Lord Woolf is to make recommendations to the LSE Council as soon as possible. He is to have total discretion as to how he conducts the inquiry, and as to the matters on which he is to report.

At the same time, the academic integrity of Saif Gaddafi’s PhD was referred to the University of London under the Procedure for Consideration of Allegations of Irregularity in Relation to University of London Awards. The Gaddafi PhD was awarded by the UoL before degree awarding powers were transferred to LSE, and had to be assessed carefully in accordance with UoL procedures. In order to ensure that a comprehensive picture was reached, the Council of LSE decided that Lord Woolf’s report and the University of London Panel decision should be released at the same time.

As a result the Council of LSE is now making the full Woolf report public and the full report of the Inquiry can be found here. The University of London’s report on Saif Gaddafi’s PhD has been passed to the LSE but this does not seem to have been made public. There is no suggestion though of any actions being taken in this regard.

Lord Woolf’s chunky 188 page report covers four main areas:

  • Saif Gaddafi as a student at LSE
  • The donation to the LSE
  • Range of links between LSE and Libya
  • The activities of LSE Enterprise

The central conclusion is reported to be shortcomings in institutional governance:

The School established, in an incremental and piecemeal fashion, a relationship with Libya. Before a global company embarks upon a relationship with a foreign partner, a due diligence assessment should be conducted. No similar exercise took place in this case. The links were allowed to grow, unchecked and to a degree unnoticed, until their effect was overwhelming. In October 2009, the LSE’s council resolved that the links should be monitored carefully in future. That monitoring came too late. By October 2009 the relationship with Libya had been well established.

In addition, the history of the developing connection between the LSE and Libya has exposed a disconcerting number of failures in communication and governance within the School. The errors which I detail in the remaining chapters of this report exceed those that should have occurred in an institution of the LSE’s distinction. The pattern is such that I am driven to the central conclusion that there were shortcomings in the governance structure and management at the LSE.

Woolf’s main recommendations, which are not huge in number, cover the following topics:

  • the establishment of a Code of Ethics and a committee to oversee it
  • procedures around PhD admissions and progression
  • rules on donations
  • incidental links with Libya

As Times Higher reported it some weeks ago:

The Woolf report is not wholly critical of the LSE, and it partially exonerates the institution in some areas.

It finds that despite the failings, LSE staff acted in what they believed to be the best interests of the school.

A £2.2 million contract to train Libya’s elite civil servants was “clearly of merit” and went through stricter due diligence than the £1.5 million donation, the report finds.

However, it was brokered by Dr Gaddafi while he was still a doctoral student. To prevent such a situation recurring, Lord Woolf recommends that the LSE expand its policy of not accepting donations from current students to cover transactions such as commercial contracts.

A notorious video-link lecture by Colonel Gaddafi in December 2010 in which a message from Sir Howard told him that he was “most welcome”, and the dictator proceeded to denounce claims that Libya masterminded the 1988 Lockerbie bombing as a “fabrication”, was deemed to be legitimate, as students were free to question him.

There was also no criticism of the decision to allow Dr Gaddafi to give a Ralph Miliband Programme lecture at the LSE in May 2010.

The LSE has accepted all 15 of Lord Woolf’s recommendations and a subcommittee of its council will now look into how it will implement a code of ethics.

It does seem therefore that all of the recommendations will be followed up properly by the LSE. Some of the details around Saif Gaddafi’s PhD are quite striking (not least his ability to function as a full-time student whilst playing the part of an international envoy for Libya). But I think the thing that I find most surprising in the report is that given the very detailed critique of the shortcomings in the various decision making processes leading up to the acceptance of the large donation from Libya, Woolf’s specific recommendations on governance don’t seem to go very far, essentially amounting to the establishment of a new code of ethics and a committee. Having said that, there has already been significant change at the LSE, including the departure of the former Director, so perhaps there is much in train.

Overall  though it really is an extrordinary report and well worth reading.

UI GreenMetric World University Ranking 2011

Green Metric World Ranking 2011

This world university league table first appeared in 2010 and was headed by University of California, Berkeley. This year there’s a new table topper, the University of Nottingham (very proud we are too). The top 10 is as follows:


1 University of Nottingham, UK

2 Northeastern University, US

3 University of Connecticut, US

4 University College Cork, Ireland

5 Linkoping University, Sweden

6 University of California, Berkeley, US

7 University of California, Los Angeles, US

8 Washington University In St. Louis, US

9 University of California Merced, US

10 University of Bath, UK

The details of the table can be found at UI GreenMetric site. The aim of the ranking is, at least in part, to promote sustainability in universities:

The aim of this ranking is to provide the result of online survey regarding the current condition and policies related to Green Campus and Sustainability in the Universities all over the world. It is expected that by drawing the attention of university leaders and stake holders, more attention will be given to combating global climate change, energy and water conservation, waste recycling, and green transportation. Such activities will require change of behavior and providing more attention to sustainability of the environment, as well as economic and social problem related to the sustainability. We believe that the universities that are leading the way in this regard need to be identifiable and so we have decided to make a start in doing this. Initially, we will collect numeric data from thousands of universities world wide and process the data provided to arrive at a single score that reflects the efforts being made by the institution to implement environmentally friendly and sustainable policies and programs. Universities will be ranked according to this score. We hope that the rankings will be useful to university leaders in their efforts to put in place eco-friendly policies and manage behavioral change among the academic community at their respective institutions.

The methodology, criteria and scoring can be found here but in summary the approach is as follows:

We selected criteria that are generally thought to be of importance by universities concerned with sustainability. These include the collection of a basic profile of the size of the university and its zoning profile, whether urban, suburban, rural. Beyond this we want to see the degree of green space. The next category of information concerns electricity consumption because of its link to our carbon footprint. Then we want to know about transport, water usage, waste management and so on. Beyond these indicators, we want to get a picture about how the university is responding to or dealing with the issue of sustainability through policies, actions, and communication.

So, a good result for Nottingham (and for Bath in 10th place). It will be interesting to see if the table gains greater currency.

True Crime on Campus §17: Best of 2011

True Crime on Campus §17: Best of 2011 (and a poll)

2011 has been an extremely busy year for our hard working Security staff. As the following extracts from real security reports show, almost anything can happen on campus. These are some of my favourites from the past year (note there’s an exciting interactive bit at the end):

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

0858 Report that a Student had collapsed at Lenton and Wortley Hall – Security attended. The Student was on her feet when Security arrived. The Student stated that she had cut her finger and fainted.

2315 Report of a drunken Student attempting to enter Lenton and Wortley Hall. Security attended. On arrival the Student was spoken to she was found to have been resident in the Hall last year and was so drunk she had forgotten that she lived in the City this year. A Taxi was arranged to take her to her new address.

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

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

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

2350 Patrol Security spoke to two males outside the Mooch Bar for urinating into a bin. They were identified an told that they would be reported for urinating on a public place.

1937 Report of a naked male in the Nottingham Medical School. Security attended – the male could not be found. Cleaning Staff reported that the male was naked in the open area of the male toilets. Security are to follow up.

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.

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.

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.

14:20 Routine Security patrol found that windows on LG at Trent had all of the putty removed. Security secured the rooms. Help desk notified.

2040 Report of a white van acting suspiciously at Lenton and Wortley Hall Security attended the area was checked the vehicle was not found.

It is important to note that both of the following reports have been strongly denied by members of the societies concerned:

This will make it to the Olympics one day

2230 Report of noise coming from the Quidditch Match being played at the rear of Lincoln Hall. Security attended and spoke to the players.

2045 Report of a student with a cut to his face in the Portland Building. Security Officers attended and gave First Aid. The student reported that he had been playing Hide and Seek as part of an event with the Hide and Soc Society when he had banged his face while hiding behind a chair. An accident form will be submitted.

Strange things tend to happen when fancy dress is involved:

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.

21:10 It was reported that a group of Students had been seen in fancy dress complete with a baseball bat. Security located the Students in Ancaster Hall bar, Security approached the Student with the baseball bat and advised him it was not an ideal accessory for a night out. Student was told he could collect it in the morning from the Security Office. Student was apologetic and polite throughout.

21:45 It was reported that 25 drunk male students dressed as chickens were destroying the bar at Willoughby Hall. On arrival the Willoughby Hall tomb stone had been ripped up and lying in the middle of the road. The Students were outside and heading in the direction of Florence Boot Hall. On arrival the Students were refused entry, after some initial arguing they moved on in the direction of Cut Through Lane. They caused general disruption to the traffic flow stopping cars and the hopper bus. Due to the Students separating it was not possible to take names. They headed towards the Trent Building, Mooch bar were advised not to let them enter. The Students then headed towards the downs and not seen again.

And these, you just couldn’t predict:

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.

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.

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.

15:45 Security received a report regarding the parking at Cripps Hall. On investigation Security found cars parked on the grass and a group of Students having a party with a swimming pool and water slide. After talking to the group they said they had got permission from the hall porter to do this. The hall porter was contacted and permission was not given. Students removed the pool and slide.

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.

So which is your favourite? I’ve got five special ones for you to vote on below (never done a poll before so hoping it works). Or you could suggest your own.

Let’s hope for more of the same in 2012.

Branch campuses: cut or grow?

Contrasting views of the right direction for internationalisation

A recent piece in the Times Higher covered a report from the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education on what looks like something of a retrenchment in institutions’ international activities:

Opened with great fanfare in the 1990s and 2000s, international branch campuses such as Suffolk’s – which Du Jardin says lost about $1 million (£622,000) a year because of lower-than-projected enrolment – have been quietly closing for financial and other reasons.

This doesn’t mean the end of so-called “transnational education”: universities are increasingly taking the more affordable step of teaming up with host partners. And a report by the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, due to be published next week, will show that the UK has become the international leader in such efforts. More international students are now working towards UK degrees overseas than at home, the OBHE says.

But much of the momentum behind opening entirely new campuses in other countries seems to have been lost. For example, US universities opened a peak of 11 international branch campuses in 2008. Last year they launched just three, and this year, one. And at least 13 US, Irish and Australian international branch campuses have closed, according to the Cross-Border Education Research Team at the State University of New York at Albany. The OBHE report will also show that international branch campus activity has slowed.

“We had a gold-rush mentality. All sorts of universities thought this would be a new way to increase international market share and gain new revenue,” says Jason Lane, the SUNY research team’s co-director.

This was covered in a previous post on US universities and in a report on the ‘branch campus bubble’. But a rather different perspective is provided in a recent report from the 1994 Group of universities (again reported in THE):

Research-intensive universities in the UK should be considering setting up more campuses overseas to counter the threat of falling international student numbers at home, a mission group has said.

A report on internationalisation from the 1994 Group suggests there is more scope for research-intensives to set up abroad – and that they should consider working with other universities to achieve such a goal.

The study says post-1992 universities had been able to deliver more higher education “offshore” than pre-1992 institutions, but there was no reason why they should not follow suit.

This was also imperative given that they had traditionally relied on being able to attract large numbers of overseas students to study in the UK – a trend now at risk from the government’s immigration reforms.

“There is scope for research-intensive institutions to grow offshore provision internationally as University Alliance and million+ universities have successfully been able to do,” says the report, Strategies and trends in the internationalisation of UK universities.

An interesting contrast. But, as previously noted in relation to another set of views on branch campuses, this has to be a long term strategy for institutions and cannot be viewed as simply an income generating activity (ie to offset any drop in international student recruitment to the UK). A gold rush mentality just does not work here.

Undergraduate exodus: more overblown predictions

UK students “switch to US universities”

According to BBC News, it seems that UK students are all switching to US universities.

Within four years, a quarter of sixth formers at a leading UK independent school will be heading for universities in the United States.

That’s the prediction of Anthony Seldon, head of Wellington College in Berkshire.

Dr Seldon, one of the UK’s leading head teachers, says that ambitious teenagers are looking further afield than ever before in their university choices.

The lure of well-funded US universities, with more broad-based course options, is proving increasingly attractive to youngsters in the UK, he says.

At a recent talk with pupils, he said that about 40% claimed to want to go to US universities, with the expectation that many of these will actually go on to enrol.

This surge in academic wanderlust reflects the experience of the Fulbright Commission, which promotes educational links between the US and UK.

The level of interest is “rising sharply” this year, says commission director Lauren Welch.

An earlier post noted the hype around potential departures for attractive European destinations (it’s usually Maastricht) versus the actual inflow. This piece looks like another version of the same thing. Yes, it’s undoubtedly true that some students will look for international opportunities and there will be more than ever before. This is good news for them and for the UK. But it’s also still the case that the numbers involved are tiny. Numbers may be up at Fulbright events but they are also way up at most university open days.

So, Wellington’s 6th Form is about 190 pupils which means that the prediction is that just under 50 will be leaving for the US. That’s really not going to make much of a dent in things.

Latin American universities get ranking

League tables breaking new ground

An earlier post noted the emergence of league tables in Latin America.

The Economist recently addressed this issue noting the emergence in particular of Brazil:

The São Paulo state universities that are pulling ahead of the pack are doing so with the help of generous state funding, which allows them to scoop up the region’s best researchers. They are also specialising. Brazil is emerging as what Demos, a British think-tank, describes as a “natural knowledge economy”: one that boosts the value of its plentiful commodities by the application of technology, such as making biofuels from sugar cane. That in turn makes it possible to gather a critical mass of researchers in one place.

The Economist also commented on the first ranking of Latin American universities to be published, by QS, and raised a few questions about its methodology:

QS relies much more heavily than the other ranking organisations on measures of reputation, which allows it to move swiftly into new regions. However, that carries the disadvantage of potentially over-rating large institutions, especially those whose names include countries or capital cities, such as the University of Buenos Aires or the National Autonomous University of Mexico. They have hundreds of thousands of students apiece and sound like you must have heard of them, even if you have not. Still, a start has now been made on opening the region’s universities to greater scrutiny. That can only help them to improve.

The QS rankings can be found here. The Top 10 is as follows:

1 Universidade de São Paulo Brazil
2 Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile Chile
3 Universidade Estadual de Campinas (Unicamp) Brazil
4 Universidad de Chile Chile
5 Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) Mexico
6 Universidad de los Andes Colombia
7 Tecnológico de Monterrey (ITESM) Mexico
8 Universidad de Buenos Aires Argentina
9 Universidad Nacional de Colombia Colombia
10 Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais Brazil

So, it’s a start and no doubt there will be much more to follow in due course as higher education in Latin America really takes off. And in this context it’s also worth noting the recent joint mission to Brazil by the Universities of Nottingham and Birmingham, as reported here in the THE.

Lowry at Lakeside

Lowry’s paintings and drawings

A slightly different topic today. But well worth showcasing I think. The University of Nottingham is hosting a terrific new exhibition of Lowry’s paintings and drawings:

This exhibition focuses on Lowry’s work from the beginning of the 20s to the immediate post-war period, from his early forays into the industrial scene to the point at which he began to achieve a degree of commercial success and his interests shifted into the territory of figure painting.

In the 1930s, personal crisis brought about by the death of his parents, and the artist’s growing sense of isolation, produced a kind of artistic derailment resulting in an extraordinary body of work whose subject matter chimes with the national zeitgeist of pre-war angst: his views of empty industrial wastelands, derelict buildings and a disturbing series of staring portrait heads will all come as a revelation to those who only know Lowry as the poet of the Lancashire mills.

Neil Walker, exhibition curator, said: “I hope that people who might come to the exhibition with a preconceived idea of Lowry based solely on his industrial subjects will leave with a much fuller appreciation of the breadth and complexity of his life’s work.”

Hugely impressive and well worth seeing. The landscapes and portraits are particularly striking. It’s on at the Djanogly Gallery, Lakeside Arts Centre at the University of Nottingham until 5 February 2012.

Researchers Rate RateMyProfessors

Rating RateMyProfessors

Surprising news from The Chronicle of Higher Education on the possible utility of RateMyProfessors. The survey tool, the use of which is a bit more widespread in the USA than in the UK, is generally regarded by universities with, at best, deep scepticism or, more likely, downright hostility. However, there is a different view:

new research out of the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire suggests the popular service is a more useful barometer of instructor quality than you might think, at least in the aggregate. And the study, the latest of several indicating RateMyProfessors should not be dismissed, raises questions about how universities should deal with a site whose ratings have been factored into Forbes magazine’s college rankings and apparently even into some universities’ personnel evaluations.

“There is the possibility that people may feel legitimized to use the information in potentially dangerous ways,” says April Bleske-Rechek, an associate professor of psychology at Eau Claire, who is a co-author of the new study. They might, for example, give too much weight to comments on the site in deciding whether to hire someone or grant the person tenure.

RateMyProfessors, which debuted in 1999 and boasts over 10 million student-produced comments and ratings, calculates an instructor’s quality by averaging how the site’s users score the professor in two categories, “helpfulness” and “clarity.”

Ms. Bleske-Rechek and her co-author, Amber Fritsch, a student at Eau Claire, described their study in “Student Consensus on,” a paper published this month in the journal Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation.

In their study, they probed the reliability of the site’s ratings by focusing on the level of consensus among students for 366 instructors at their state university, each of whom had at least 10 evaluations.

The idea is that, if students rate professors based on idiosyncratic personal reactions—to a rude comment made in class, say—then it should take a lot of posts to reach a consensus. By contrast, if students are consistent in their ratings, then a consensus should emerge with a small number of evaluations.

Earlier studies of traditional paper-and-pencil evaluations have documented significant consensus with as few as 25 raters, Ms. Bleske-Rechek says. That’s one rationale for using online evaluations; people argue that you will get the same distribution of responses even if everyone doesn’t fill out the form.

Will academics come to love it? Unlikely. Will it replace more formal evaluation of teaching quality? I think not. Perhaps there is some way to go with this yet.