“Beyond ratings, beyond rankings, beyond opinions…”


See what professors say about their teaching style, grading, and experience. Learn what you need to know before you invest your time, your money, and your energy into an entire semester’s class.

If only all teaching and learning was like this


It’s a nice idea this. Inside Higher Ed reports on this new(ish) website intended to offer a more rounded picture of academics’ approaches to teaching and learning:

Until now, college students mostly have relied on word of mouth, professors’ reputations, previous student evaluations and the often rude and anonymous comments (complete with a “hotness” ranking) on before choosing a professor for a particular class.

A 20-year-old sophomore at Northeastern University has hopes of changing all that with a new website called, a platform where individual professors can share information with prospective students by answering a few questions in a limited number of characters.

Daniel Abram, the student who started the website, said students often have an incomplete picture of professors before they decide on a class. He called it an “imperfect information” situation, where the information available may not be very relevant or polarized and anonymous (as in the case of a site like Rate My Professors). is certainly an interesting approach and much more constructive than the RateMyProfessors concept. However, given that it depends largely on academic staff themselves providing profiles it does seem unlikely that it will become anywhere near comprehensive. Numbers of institutions and profiles are small at the moment but it may yet take off.

The Imperfect University: Reviewing Higher Education in Scotland

Report of the Review of Higher Education Governance in Scotland 

As we have seen in the previous post in this series on regulation, governments, although they will often talk the language of freedom and autonomy, cannot help but get themselves involved in the regulation of higher education. However, Scotland is different and higher education in Scotland is different. And it is unsurprising that the Scottish Government, with control over higher education policy, will wish to continue to follow an alternative path to England. But it looks like it may be unable to stop itself pursuing further regulation of universities. Hence the Report of the Review of Higher Education Governance in Scotland which has been produced by a Committee chaired by the Principal of Robert Gordon University (who has also blogged on this topic). It is a bold report which seems intended to reinforce the differences with England and to require greater accountability. But if you are looking at this from a university perspective, it seems to be a rather directive set of recommendations which, if enacted, would be a significant constraint on institutional autonomy. So we will have to wait and see if the Scottish Government can resist the invitation to get involved in more regulation of universities.

It is not entirely clear what problems these recommendations are intended to solve or how they will advance excellence in teaching and research at Scotland’s HE institutions. Moreover, the evidence base considered (as listed in the Bibliography) seems rather narrow: whilst the articles in the London Review of Books by Hotson and Collini represent interesting contributions to the higher education debate on changes in England, it is perhaps surprising that they are referenced as source material here. The other point of note is that the Committee was a small one with what appears to be very limited input from the universities.

Some of the recommendations are fairly innocuous but some of them seem quite remarkable and far reaching even in the Scottish context where there is much less conceptual and regulatory distance between government and universities. The full list of the recommendations can be found in the Report of the Review of Higher Education Governance in Scotland.

The cornerstone of the proposed reform is a new all-embracing statute:

The panel therefore recommends that the Scottish Parliament enact a statute for Scotland’s higher education sector setting out the key principles of governance and management and serving as the legal basis for the continued establishment of all recognised higher education institutions.

The new statute should be drafted as a measure that will rationalise and simplify the regulatory framework of higher education governance; it might provide for:

  • the conditions applying to the establishment of new universities;
  • the key structures of university governance and management;
  • the role and composition of governing bodies and academic boards;
  • the role and appointment of university principals;
  • the drawing up of a code of good governance for Scottish higher education;
  • the status of student associations;
  • the principles of academic freedom and institutional autonomy.

However, the statute should continue to embrace diversity of mission and of operation, and should reinforce the principles of university autonomy and of academic freedom

The details of each of these are set out in the recommendations but this is a really striking proposition – essentially it is an attempt to impose some order and coherence on Scottish HEIs but for what purpose is far from clear other than wanting things to be a bit neater and to regulate new entrants. Moreover, by setting out statutory requirements in each of these areas this would seem fundamentally to challenge the espoused principle of university autonomy and also constrain diversity of institutional mission.

Let’s look at the specifics of some of these recommendations:

2.4 Academic Freedom and Institutional Autonomy

A definition of academic freedom should be incorporated in the statute governing higher education, based on the definition contained in Ireland’s Universities Act 1997, and applying to all ‘relevant persons’ as under the existing 2005 Act.

Scottish universities and higher education institutions should adopt a similar approach and that each institution should adopt through appropriate internal processes, and present to the SFC, a statement on its implementation of the statutory protection of academic freedom.

Is there a problem with academic freedom in Scotland? It really isn’t clear why, given the statutory protections which already exist, you would want to extend this much further unless it is to include it as a requirement for all academic staff, whether or not they are in universities (although how they would be defined if not is unclear), and to ensure that any new universities were mandated to build in such guarantees. But to impose such requirements on universities, regardless of how well-intentioned, does represent a challenge to their autonomy notwithstanding the fact that the funding council already has a responsibility to have regard to academic freedom.

2.5 The Role of Governance

Governing bodies should be required to demonstrate that their deliberations and decisions appropriately observe the four objectives the panel has set out for university governance, and they should regularly review their own performance against these.

The fundamental principle of a collaborative approach wherever appropriate should be enshrined in the Scottish university system through making the fostering of collaboration between universities a task for the Scottish Funding Council.

Three of the four objectives set out here seem entirely reasonable being concerned with stewardship for the long term, ensuring mission delivery and making proper use of public funds but the fourth – “ensuring stakeholder participation and accounting to the wider society for institutional performance” – seems, although worthy, somewhat at odds with institutional autonomy. Similarly, enshrining collaboration through funding arrangements may limit universities’ freedom to act independently and, although it will often be entirely reasonable for them to collaborate, surely this should be through choice or incentivisation rather than compulsion.

2.9 The Relationship with Further Education

All Scottish universities should not only include responsibilities to their region, alongside their national and international objectives, in their mission statements, but also seek ways to engage proactively, for the benefit of students and the Scottish education system as a whole, with further education institutions and any new governance structures that may be put in place.

Of course all universities will wish to address their regional responsibilities but to regulate this and insist on some form of activity with FE seems, once again, somewhat challenging to institutional freedom to pursue their agreed mission.

3.1 Appointment and Role of Principals

The heads of Scottish higher education institutions should be described as the ‘chief officer’, and that the job title should continue to be ‘Principal’.

There should be widened participation in the process for appointing Principals, and core to this approach should be the reform of the way in which of appointment panels are set up and operate.

The appraisal of Principals should involve external governing body members, staff and students.

3.2 Remuneration of Principals and Senior Management

Further percentage increases beyond those awarded to staff in general should not take place until existing processes have been reviewed and, if appropriate, amended.

Universities should ensure that any payments that may be perceived as bonuses are either abolished or at least transparently awarded and brought into line with the scale of ‘contribution payments’ available to on-scale staff.

Remuneration committees should include staff and student members. The work of the committee should be transparent, and in particular, the basis upon which pay is calculated should be published. While the Framework Agreement, determining pay scales for university staff up to the grade of professor, is a UK matter, the Scottish Government should investigate whether it might be extended north of the border to include all staff including Principals. There should be a standard format for reporting senior officer pay, and the SFC should publish these figures annually.

The SFC should investigate how the principles of the Hutton Report are being or should be applied to universities in Scotland.

Whilst it is not, arguably, terribly important what the Principal is described as it is not at all clear why the Irish approach has been proposed here nor why it is any of the government’s business what universities call their chief executives. More importantly though why should the appointment of Principals and their appraisal and remuneration be the subject of additional legislation? And doesn’t this again reduce institutional autonomy given the safeguards already in place in university charters, statutes and other statutory instruments?

Presumably this is all a response to a perception that Principals are overpaid and the wider societal concern about senior staff pay and bonuses. And there is a view here that all of this is necessary to secure staff engagement and to deliver institutional success. But once again should it not be a matter for the university and its governing body to determine?

4. Role, Composition and Appointment of Governing Bodies

Meetings of governing bodies should normally be held in public unless the matters under consideration are deemed to be of a confidential or commercially sensitive nature; these exceptional matters should be established through clear guidelines.

4.1 Chairing of Governing Bodies

The chair of the governing body should be elected, thus reflecting the democratic ideal of Scottish higher education (recommended by a majority, one member dissenting).

The chair should receive some form of reasonable remuneration (recommended by a majority, one member dissenting).

Again, the issue of autonomy and the constraint on the ability of the governing body to determine its own operation. The proposals around the election of the chair of the governing body are among the most surprising in the report (which is not short of surprises). The argument is that “the democratic ideal” of Scottish HE, which seems to be exemplified by the election of Rectors at the ancient universities, is to take precedence in the arrangements for appointing a chair of governors. Whilst some institutions may welcome this, it is questionable whether this is really the best way to deliver the leadership of the governing body which universities require. And the transaction costs and uncertainties would be significant. Remuneration decisions should, again, be matters for institutions themselves.

4.2 Membership of Governing Bodies

Positions on governing bodies for lay or external members should be advertised externally and all appointments should be handled by the nominations committee of the governing body. Each governing body should be so constituted that the lay or external members have a majority of the total membership.

There should be a minimum of two students on the governing body, nominated by the students’ association/union, one of whom should be the President of the Students’ Association and at least one of whom should be a woman. There should be at least two directly elected staff members. In addition, there should be one member nominated by academic and related unions and one by administrative, technical or support staff unions. The existing system of academic board representatives (called ‘Senate assessors’ in some universities) should also be continued. Governing bodies should also have up to two alumni representatives.

The existing practice in some universities of having ‘Chancellor’s assessors’ should be discontinued.

Each governing body should be required to ensure (over a specified transition period) that at least 40 per cent of the membership is female. Each governing body should also ensure that the membership reflects the principles of equality and diversity more generally, reflecting the diversity of the wider society.

Governing bodies should be required to draw up and make public a skills and values matrix for the membership of the governing body, which would inform the recruitment of independent members of the governing body. The membership of the governing body should be regularly evaluated against this matrix.

Expenses available to those who sit on the governing body should include any wages lost as a result of attending meetings.

Senior managers other than the Principal should not be governing body members and should not be in attendance at governing body meetings, except for specific agenda items at which their individual participation is considered necessary, and for those agenda items only.

4.4 Training

All universities should be required to ensure that governors – including external governors, staff governors and student governors – are fully briefed and trained, and their knowledge should be refreshed regularly in appropriate programmes. Each governing body should be required to report annually on the details of training made available to and availed of by governors.

5.1 Composition of the Academic Board and Appointment of Members

In line with existing legislation applying to the ancient universities, the academic board should be the final arbiter on academic matters.

Apart from the Principal and the heads of School (or equivalent) who should attend ex officio, all other members should be elected by the constituency that they represent, and elected members should form a majority of the total membership. In establishing the membership of the academic board, due regard should be given to the principles of equality, and the need for the body to be representative. This includes a requirement to ensure that there is significant (rather than token) student representation. Overall, academic boards should not normally have more than 120 members.

All terribly prescriptive. Whilst it is hard to argue with any individual item, these really should all be matters for institutions themselves to determine.

(And 120 members is probably not the ideal number for effective decision making at Academic Board level.)

7.3 Avoiding Bureaucratisation

The Scottish Funding Council should undertake a review of the bureaucratic and administrative demands currently made of higher education institutions from all government and public agency sources, with a view to rationalising these and thereby promoting more transparent and efficient regulation and governance.

7.4 Code of Good Governance

The Scottish Funding Council should commission the drafting of a Code of Good Governance for higher education institutions.

Given the prescriptive and far-reaching nature of most of the recommendations, a Code of Good Governance would seem to be an unwelcome addition – and it will look a bit more like a rule book than a guide. However, step one in the review of bureaucratic and administrative demands recommended here would usefully be to consider most of the proposals preceding this one in the document!

So, a pretty extraordinary document. The responses from the Scottish universities so far seems to have been rather muted. The Times has recently reported on some more vocal opposition and concern about “meddling” in university affairs:

Last night, Liz Smith, the Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman said it appeared there was “widespread and growing” concern about key proposals in the Von Prondzynski review.

She said: “There are two main fears, firstly, that universities are being pushed into radical reform when there is no evidence to suggest that there is a serious problem with the existing structures of university governance and, secondly, that some of the proposed reforms are more about the Scottish government’s desire to diminish the autonomy of universities in favour of increasing the power of ministers.

“On both counts, I think the universities are absolutely right to be concerned.”

Kim Catcheside has published a column on the report in the Guardian Professional, in which she notes that:

Behind the scenes, universities may be concerned about the possibility of political interference but are cautious about speaking out. Mary Senior from the University and College Union told The Scotsman: “It is fair the Scottish government expects certain standards to follow this generous settlement, but it must be very careful not to be overly prescriptive or directive about the learning, research and teaching that goes on in universities.”

Quite an indication there in the comments from UCU of how far reaching these proposals are. Will this report enhance the quality of Scottish higher education? We will see. It will certainly exacerbate the already marked differences between English and Scottish university operations, funding and governance. It is undoubtedly a stimulating document and reflective of many of the challenges facing universities but it is difficult to disagree with the concluding comment made by Liz Smith in the Times piece above:

“The Scottish government is going down a dangerous road of reform which is both interventionist and bureaucratic and which threatens the independence of our most successful academic institutions.”

Landmark Post – The Very Best of True Crime on Campus

For the 500th Registrarism Post: The Very Best of True Crime on Campus

Following the utterly objective poll to determine the topic for the landmark 500th Registrarism blog post I’ve used my own skill and judgement to select a range of the very best items from several years of True Crime on Campus. Just a reminder to latecomers though, these are real extracts from University of Nottingham Security reports. Whilst these are the amusing ones (to me at least) our excellent and extremely hard-working Security Team has to deal with a large number of difficult and challenging situations which really aren’t funny for anyone involved. It’s vital work, often unrecognised, and key to the effective functioning of the University and good campus life.

So, here it is, the Ultimate Collection or Now That’s What I Call True Crime on Campus:

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.

12.05 Report of a person trapped in a lift in the Medical School. It appears that the lift was being worked on by engineers when a person entered the lift car without the engineers being aware. The Fire Service were called to release the person as he was keen to use the toilet.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

0343 A student contacted the Security Control room for advice on how to treat a black eye. Security attended Ancaster Hall. The student stated that they had been struck in the eye by a flying chicken nugget while in McDonald’s in the City. Security checked the eye and gave advice.

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.

1450 Security were requested to Highfields Sports Ground where a football team were abusing the referee. Security attended and spoke to a team from Nottingham Trent University – they were told to calm down.

1255 Report of a person trapped in mud in the Lake adjacent to University Park. Security attended and after a search, a female was found stuck in the mud up to her waist. The Fire Service were called out they were able to extract the female from the mud. No explanation was given as to why she was in the mud.

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.

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.

1945 Officer observed a male acting suspiciously on Melton Lane adjacent to the new greenhouse development. Officer challenged the male who became abusive and aggressive. Security Officers were asked to attend. The male explained that he was a plane spotter and was using the dark on Melton Lane to get clear footage of the incoming planes.

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.

2220 Security were called to Newark Hall to a Student who was unwell. On arrival, Security Officers found a male Student collapsed in the JCR toilets covered in vomit with a head injury and a broken wrist. It would appear that the student was in the act of vomiting when he fell forwards into the toilet bowl. An Ambulance was called and attended and the student was taken to the QMC. The Warden is to be informed.

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

These guys seem familiar...

0845 Request for Security to attend an office in Trent Building. A member of staff had a pigeon in his office, which would not leave. Security attended and the pigeon was escorted from the building.

1015 Report of a male talking to a wall at the rear of the Biology Building. Security attended and spoke to the male. The male identified himself as a member of Staff – he stated that he was working through a Mathematical problem and would be returning to his office after his lunch.

0210 Report of a Tarantula Spider in a room in Southwell Hall. Security attended and were told the Spider had gone under the bed. After a careful search by Security Officers, a small house spider was captured and removed from Campus. The occupant of the room confirmed that the spider was the one they had seen.

1840 Report of a suspicious package in Nottingham Medical School – Security attended and after checking the package removed it from the building. On examination, the package was found to contain a tin of gravy granules.

23.50 Report of a suspicious vehicle parked at the rear of Cripps Hall with its engine running. Security attended and on approaching the vehicle a male and female emerged from the back seat in a state of undress. They apologized and after getting dressed left campus.

21.15 Report of a group of students with a pig’s head being offensive in a hall of residence. Security stopped the group and removed the head from them. The Warden is to be informed.

2325 Report that a picture had been taken off the wall at Hugh Stewart Hall by a Pirate. The Pirate had gone in the direction of the Mooch Bar. Security attended the Mooch where they found over 40 Pirates none of whom had the picture.

07:20 Whilst patrolling the campus Security Officers observed a man slashing at foliage with a golf club. Security spoke to the gentleman and asked him not to continue.

2358 A Student requested the room fridge be removed from his room, as it smelt. Security attended and the fridge was removed. The Student stated the reason it smelt was that he had spilled milk in it. The Student is to contact the Hall Staff.

0128 Patrol Security Officers observed a vehicle being driven dangerously in Newark Hall car park. Officers stopped the vehicle and spoke to the driver who is a Student. Officers also spoke to the owner of the vehicle who is also a Student. The reason given for the dangerous driving was “letting off exam stress” – both Students will be reported to the Head of Security.

1830 Report of a Robin in the Kitchens in Portland Building. Staff requested Pest Control – the Robin was encouraged to leave without the use of Pest Control Staff.

1450 Report of two naked males with an inflatable sex doll outside the Portland Building. Security attended, the area was checked but no one of that description was found.

Hope you enjoyed and I didn’t miss out any of your favourites. Here’s to the next 500 posts.

On Meaningful University Collaboration

Collaboration Theory and Practice

There’s an exciting new HEFCE report out on the lessons learned from collaborations, alliances and mergers. It has also resulted in an exciting new acronym, CAM. In these austere times it’s good to know that we are still able to produce good acronyms. The report, available here, is also a consultation document which invites further comment and evidence from the sector:

Collaborations, alliances and mergers among universities and colleges have been an important feature of the higher education sector throughout its history, but relatively little information has been published on this activity. We have therefore published this study to help the sector learn from the experiences of others and improve the likelihood of success considering or implementing change. The information has been drawn from case studies in England and overseas, interviews, existing literature and other published information.

Sir Alan Langlands, HEFCE’s Chief Executive, said:

‘CAM activity might well continue to be part of the higher education sector’s response to change, and has the potential to provide opportunities for educational development, new research directions and greater effectiveness. However, any decision about change is a matter for institutions – there is no question of a top-down approach. HEFCE’s primary role is to safeguard the collective interests of current and prospective students and the wider public. In seeking to encourage the development of a more diverse and dynamic sector and supporting student choice, we will respect the autonomy of institutions and support them in any way we can.’

The CAM report coincides with the first anniversary of the University of Birmingham/University of Nottingham collaborative partnership, the marking of which was reported in the Times Higher Education:

Publication of the report came as David Eastwood, University of Birmingham vice-chancellor and former Hefce chief executive, gave his view on the sector’s future as the collaboration between his institution and the University of Nottingham marked its first anniversary.

Professor Eastwood told Times Higher Education that while Nottingham and Birmingham each had annual turnovers of around £500 million and were “financially strong”, there were universities with £30 million to £50 million turnovers “having to carry a lot of the same infrastructure costs that we do”.

“If we can see some issues from a combined operation of almost £1 billion, you would expect others to be in search – rather urgently – of those kinds of efficiencies.”

In their year of collaboration, Nottingham and Birmingham have jointly appointed an international officer to boost student recruitment in Brazil and established a £480,000 joint investment fund for research partnerships with institutions in Sao Paulo state. At home, they shared research equipment and won a share of £5 million to set up one of two national centres for ageing and pain research funded by the Medical Research Council and Arthritis Research UK.

Professor Eastwood said the collaboration had stimulated “a lot of interest both in the sector and in government. What we are doing will remain relatively rare, because it is relatively rare to have two big universities, financially strong, which over a period have built good relations. There will be other issues that move other institutions to alignments and mergers.”

Nottingham and Birmingham “have their own identities…and are not going to do anything that undermines that”, he added.

Nottingham vice-chancellor David Greenaway put the collaboration in the context of “diversifying research income streams – which is important to do in the current climate”, arguing that “there are resources out there, especially in the big emerging economies”.

Professor Greenaway said of the joint MRC funding: “I don’t think that would have happened without the collaboration. We probably would have ended up putting in competing bids – neither bid would have been big enough, strong enough, in its own right.”

He also highlighted the potential for the two universities to work together in pre-university education on “changing life opportunities in [the] two cities”.

(See also the University of Nottingham statement on the milestone.)

Another dimension of the collaboration, a research partnership in Brazil, was also reported recently on the Guardian Higher Education Network:

The ability to operate at scale has allowed us to develop 20 full-fee PhD scholarships annually for Brazilian students; a visiting fellows programme and a £480k joint research investment fund with the São Paulo Research Foundation. We have also planned a series of joint workshops in-country focused around energy (oil and gas, bioenergy), with further themes under discussion.

Alongside the benefits of scale are the traditional benefits of complementarity. Our collaboration enables each partner to bring its individual strengths to the table. We have found this could be research expertise or in areas such as student exchange and teaching links. An example of this is in the area of ultra-cold atoms and energy – Birmingham has expertise in optical lattices and nuclear energy and Nottingham in atom chips and bioenergy; both areas being of particular relevance in our links with Brazil.

Although it is still early, there is a real sense of purpose around what we are doing in Brazil. We hope what will follow will be additional academic collaborations, increased research income, and greater visibility. Overall, we need to be prepared to invest considerable time and energy working together and acknowledge that the effort may take a while to bear fruit.

These are just a couple of case studies of how the Birmingham/Nottingham collaboration is playing out. It still feels like early days but there are some striking examples of how working together is proving to be mutually beneficial. This is very much at the softer end of HEFCE’s CAM spectrum but it is extremely fruitful for both universities.

Other universities have sought to emulate the success of the Nottingham/Birmingham partnership in the last year including Liverpool and Lancaster (although that does seem to have gone a little quiet of late). Most recently though Warwick and Queen Mary have announced a partnership. According to the Times Higher though they seem to be slightly at odds about some elements of the collaboration:

The University of Warwick and Queen Mary, University of London, could share lecturers as part of a new programme of research and outreach collaboration.

In a joint statement, the two institutions said “cross contributions to undergraduate teaching” by their scholars would “ensure that the universities’ students benefit from the partnership by having access to an even broader range of leading academics”.

Overall, the collaboration in teaching, research and widening participation “aims to ensure that both universities continue to thrive amidst the increasing uncertainty and pressures facing higher education institutions in England”.

A spokeswoman for Queen Mary added that the universities would share lecturers in third-year undergraduate history, English and computer science seminars, and look to expand to other subjects in the future.

However, a spokesman for Warwick stressed that no decisions had been taken, claiming that there were no specific plans to share lecturers.

This comes on the back of the international partnership recently announced between Warwick and Monash University in Australia which will be secured by, among other things, the appointment of a shared Pro-Vice-Chancellor.

So, everyone is at it and that HEFCE report is looking rather timely.

The Shape of Things to Come – Going Global 2012

The shape of things to come: global trends and emerging opportunities to 2022

I was privileged to chair this session at the British Council’s Going Global event on 15 March:

Over the next five to ten years, which will be the countries with fastest growing higher education systems? Which countries will have environments rich in opportunities for student mobility; for cross-border education provision; and for collaborative research? The new research from the British Council begins to provide answers to these questions. It reveals the new big emerging markets for international students, along with those countries that will be most open for international collaboration in teaching and research. Earlier British Council studies found that the number of students seeking to study overseas depends heavily on family income and the number of students enrolled in domestic higher education. It now depends more on trade links, cost of living and tuition, and exchange rates between the respective countries. The Global Education Opportunities Index maps the economic growth projections and demographic indicators across countries, along with global trade links, to highlight the areas where most opportunities will emerge for international collaboration and student mobility. Dr Janet Ilieva provides an overview of the approach taken and the research methodology, and presents the main findings. The expert panel from UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the OECD then debate the relevance of the opportunities and the implications of this research.

Janet Ilieva delivered an excellent presentation setting out the details of the combination of demographic and economic drivers which will re-shape the global higher education landscape – the data, evidence and forecasts which will be needed by institutions to enable them to address opportunities for student mobility, TNE and collaborative research.

The presentation covered

  • Globally mobile students
  • The internationalisation of research
  • Business collaboration
  • Opportunities for global engagement

Chiao-Ling Chien of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and Richard Yelland from the OECD responded with some important additional comments too with the latter noting that we also need to pay proper attention to the other 98% of non-mobile students.

Whilst the content delivered represented significant progress and valuable information, the concerns from the audience largely related to the quality, consistency and timeliness of data.

The video of Janet’s presentation and her slides can be found here. Do have a look. Overall, it was fascinating stuff and a real honour to participate.

The report from which the data was drawn will be published soon. In the meantime University World News carried some of the information contained in it and in Janet’s presentation with the headlines being the slowdown in the growth of higher education enrolments and the impact of economic changes on the HE landscape. First the demographics:

The largest higher education systems are likely to be China with some 37 million students, India with 28 million, the US with 20 million and Brazil with nine million.

However higher education, currently one of the fastest growing sectors globally, is predicted to experience a significant slowdown in the rate of growth in enrolments in the coming decades.

This is according to the report The Shape of Things to Come: Higher education global trends and emerging opportunities to 2020, drawn up for the British Council by Oxford Economics. It is to be published officially next month, but a preview was released ahead of the British Council’s “Going Global” conference being held in London from 13-15 March.

The study forecasts enrolments to grow by 21 million students by 2020 – a huge rise in overall numbers and an average growth rate of 1.4% per year across 50 selected countries that account for almost 90% of higher education enrolments globally.

But this represents a considerable slowdown compared to the 5% a year global enrolment growth typical of the previous two decades, and record enrolment growth of almost 6% between 2002 and 2009.

Tertiary enrolments have grown by 160% globally since 1990, or by some 170 million new students.

This slowing in growth “should be expected with the sector maturing or slowing in some markets, and demographic trends no longer as favourable as a result of declining birth rates over the last 20 to 30 years,” says the report.

rowth in enrolments in China are predicted to fall from a 17 million increase to five million, according to the report’s projections. India’s tertiary enrolment growth overall is forecast to outpace China’s during the period.

“This does not take into account the political ambitions and aspirations of these countries,” said Janet Illieva, the British Council’s head of research, who will be presenting some of the research findings at the “Going Global” conference this week.

“If India manages to double participation rates in the next five years, this will be a phenomenal increase,” she said, referring to Indian government plans to increase gross enrolments from 17% of the cohort now to around 30% in the next decade.

Economic growth fuels enrolments

Over the last 20 years, growth in global higher education enrolments and internationally mobile students has closely followed world trade growth and has far outpaced world economic growth.

“What is changing is GDP (economic wealth), and economic growth which has a very significant impact on tertiary enrolment,” Illieva told University World News.

A country’s average wealth is seen as a clear driver of future tertiary education demand. “Not only is the relationship positive and statistically significant, but perhaps more importantly, at low GDP per capita levels, gross tertiary enrolment ratios tend to increase quickly for relatively small increases in GDP per capita,” the report says.

Around half the 50 countries studied currently have GDP per capita levels below US$10,000 a year. “Provided these economies grow strongly over the next decade, as many are forecast to, there is significant scope for their tertiary enrolment ratios to increase.”

But despite strong economic growth, many of the shortlisted economies are forecast to still have GDP per capita (adjusted for purchasing power parity) below US$10,000 in 2020 – including Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Morocco, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

This is likely to constrain how quickly these countries close the gap in enrolment rates compared to advanced economies. But it also means continued rises in enrolment ratios and strong growth in tertiary education demand beyond 2020.

“Where income is below US$10,000 a year, a proportional increase in income results in a much higher rise in the rate of enrolments than you would expect,” said Illieva.

Things really are changing. Look forward to seeing the full report when it is published.

Why Students’ Unions Matter

Students’ unions are important for many reasons

I’ve got a piece in the Times Higher Education about some of the reasons I think students’ unions are important:

Students’ unions have a long and distinctive history in UK higher education, but their character has changed significantly in the past decade.

While they have always been concerned with student representation and support, and with the extracurricular aspects of student life, they are now much more directly interested in – and increasingly involved in – the core issue of teaching and learning.

Following the lead of the National Union of Students, which has displayed a new willingness to work with the government, students unions’ have shifted from a position of general opposition to change (particularly on student finance) and campaigning on international policy matters (often combined with leftist posturing), to arguing for better libraries, improved IT, more class contact and improved feedback on assessed work.

When I was a student many years ago, student unionism was primarily concerned with fighting apartheid, denouncing Margaret Thatcher and supporting the miners. Debate was passionate and it all felt massively important, but unions rarely concerned themselves with day-to-day university life. How times have changed.

And the change is for the better. The full piece is available via Times Higher Education. (Thank you THE for asking me to do the piece.)


Save 74% on your Doctorate!

Yes! Discounts galore – Groupon now does cheap PhDs

In these austere times, it is reassuring to note that internet innovation is coming to the rescue of hard pressed students who can’t afford the time or the high fees associated with serious doctoral studies. Groupon in Germany is offering a wide range of doctorates at very reasonable prices.

There really is a fantastic range of titles on offer including these:

… of Angel Therapy
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… of Metaphysical Sciences
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… of Ufology

All it takes is a small donation…

Die Miami Life Development Church verleiht gegen eine milde Spende den kirchlichen Ehrendoktor-, den Ehren-Professortitel oder beide – Er darf dank Zusatz h.c. (honoris causa) weltweit offiziell geführt werden

„Is’ was, Doc?“ So cool kann man sich künftig von den neidischen Freunden ansprechen lassen, ohne sich mit fremden Federn schmücken zu müssen. Denn mit einem kirchlichen Ehrendoktortitel für zum Beispiel Metaphysik oder Aromatherapie von Doktortitel steht der Zusatz h.c. völlig zu Recht vor dem Vor- und Nachnamen

Yet another example of disruptive innovation in higher education? Or a bit of a con? You decide. “What’s up Doc?” indeed.
(With thanks to David Simpson, @dvdsmpsn, for the spot.)

Sporting wins lead to poorer grades

Does winning at football make male students less intelligent?

Not as clever as we look

Inside Higher Ed has a report on a piece of research which suggests that as football teams win, male students’ grades lose. This is American college football we’re talking about here which has a rather different set up to university sport in the UK:

Supporters cite the revenue many programs generate, the binding effect the teams can have for alumni, students and others, and the increased attention the teams can bring to their institutions (which, scandals aside, is often publicity that money can’t buy). The list of “cons” to counter those “pros” includes compromises in admissions (to enroll the best players) and academic rigor (to keep them eligible to play), misalignment of resources (like putting players up at hotels before home games when library hours are being cut), and the same publicity when scandal (inevitably?) erupts.

A new study released Monday by the National Bureau for Economic Research suggests adding one item to the latter list: Winning football teams make male students stupider.

Okay, that’s not quite accurate. Male students don’t actually get stupider if their football teams win more; their grades just drop.

It’s a fascinating piece – it looks like winning ways means more celebration, drinking and partying and hence less quality studying time. But there is a marked difference between male and female players with the latter seeming to be far more restrained than their male counterparts. Although UK university sports teams undoubtedly do like to celebrate, the fact that there is nothing like the huge levels of spend on US college sports, especially football, and that the stakes are really not as high, makes this a less likely scenario. I hope.

Nottingham Potential – a launch and an opening

Helping young people to reach their true potential

I was delighted to be at an excellent event to mark the launch of Nottingham Potential and the formal opening of the IntoUniversity Nottingham West centre. It’s a major programme and a central component of the University’s widening participation strategy which has the aim of helping young people to reach their true potential. A full statement on the launch is here but in summary:

An ambitious new programme will help some of the most deprived young people in the East Midlands to reach university.

Nottingham Potential represents a major investment in the future of the primary and secondary-age school pupils — a multimillion pound commitment to help break down the barriers to higher education.

Delivered by The University of Nottingham in partnership with education charity IntoUniversity, Nottingham Potential will provide new learning centres in the community to support pupils from the ages of 7-18, including one-to-one support with homework, literacy and numeracy, coursework, exams, GCSE options and A-levels, careers advice and applications to university.

Nottingham Potential, as reported by the Nottingham Post, is supported by a major donation from Nottingham alumnus, David Ross, seen here at the launch:

The Post notes that Nottingham Potential aims to break down the barriers to higher education in some of the most deprived parts of the City.

Mr Ross, who is the co-founder of phone firm Carphone Warehouse, has his own charity, the David Ross Foundation, which works with children in schools in deprived areas.

He said: “The David Ross Foundation’s partnerships with schools in deprived areas has shown us that in order to raise young people’s aspirations then the earlier we start, the better.

“Our focus is on working with children at an early age to show them that a university education is a door very much open to them.

“Talent and ability is abundant in these schools, and in many different fields – academic, artistic, sporting and many more.

“However, without the right kind of encouragement and support young people may not appreciate the opportunities that they can seize.”

In addition to Mr Ross’ donation, the university is spending £16 million a year on the project by 2015-16.

It’s a really exciting programme and the collaboration with IntoUniversity, the charity’s first outside London, will make a real difference to educational opportunities in Nottingham.

The initial base opened in the Hope Centre, Broxtowe Estate, yesterday.

International branch campuses- some surprising developments

Some new and rather surprising branch campus developments

The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education’s new report on international branch campuses (IBCs), entitled ‘International Branch Campuses: Data and Developments’, was released on 12 January and is covered in a previous post. The report included a list of 37 planned branch campuses, most of which are due to open this year or in 2013.

In the intervening six weeks the Observatory reports that it has come across more planned branch campuses in a range of countries, including Cyprus, Egypt, Italy, Malaysia, Thailand and UAE. More than a dozen are identified including this perhaps rather surprising one in Italy:

Ningbo University
, China, will set up a campus in Florence, to open in September 2012. This is the second Chinese branch campus abroad, the first being Soochow University in Laos, and the first South-to-North operation coming from China. As noted in the Observatory’s report, South-to-North is here to stay and more are expected to launch over the next few years.

The project was negotiated at the local rather than the national level. According to University World News, Florentine officials said that there was no need for authorisation from the Italian government and the campus would not be regulated under Italian higher education law. This highlights two aspects of the Italian higher education system – a high level of devolution, with local authorities playing an active role in higher education policy, and a lack of flexibility at the national level. The mayor of Turin revealed in a recent interview with La Stampa that he wants to attract foreign universities and is in touch with American universities.

Ningbo’s campus in Florence will mainly target Chinese students, and the first courses will be in art and culture. Chinese students started coming to Italy only recently and now constitute the second-largest national group of students in the country. Italian commentators have also noted the forging of ties between Italy and China across many sectors, which can be interpreted in various ways in the light of the crisis in Europe and growing anti-European sentiment in Italy. Others point towards a closer relationship between China and the EU.

Fascinating stuff and challenges the expected view of western universities opening branch campuses in the east.

Risk of managers swamping universities?

Some seem to think that management numbers are growing too fast

HESA, the Higher Education Statistics Agency has recently published its annual summary of staff numbers in higher education. The headline data follows:

Academic staff

Of the 181,185 academic staff employed at UK HEIs, 44.2% were female, 12.4% were from an ethnic minority and nearly a quarter (24.8%) were of non-UK nationality.

17,465 academic staff had contracts conferring the title of ‘Professor’. Of these 19.8% were female, 7.3% were from an ethnic minority and 16.7% were of non-UK nationality.

Non-academic staff

As well as academic staff, there were a further 200,605 non-academic staff employed at HEIs in 2010/11. The majority (62.4%) of these staff were female. 10.0% of non-academic staff were from an ethnic minority and 9.3% were of non-UK nationality.

16,395 non-academic staff were coded as ‘Managers’. Of these 52.4% were female, 6.0% were from an ethnic minority and 5.9% were of non-UK nationality.

This is the definition of ‘Managers’ used by HESA:

Non-academic Managers are defined as those individuals who are responsible for the planning, direction and co-ordination of the policies and activities of enterprises or organisations, or their internal departments or sections. Senior academics who act as vice chancellors or directors/heads of schools, colleges, academic departments or research centres are coded as academic staff.

To summarise this HESA offers a handy infographic:

On the face of it this all looks pretty innocuous but it seems that, despite the relatively small number of managers in the sector, around 4% of the staff total and smaller than the professoriate, the rate of growth of managers has been faster than academics. For some, according to the Times Higher Education, (which seems to use different data in places) this is a bit of a problem:

The percentage increase in the number of managers in higher education in recent years is more than twice that for academics, an analysis of new figures has suggested.

Data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency reveal there were 15,795 managers in higher education in December 2010 – up by almost 40 per cent on the 11,305 employed in the 2003-04 academic year.

That was compared to the 19.2 per cent increase in academics since 2003-04. It means there is now a manager for every 9.2 academics compared with a ratio of one to 10.8 seven years earlier.

Sally Hunt, University and College Union general secretary, said: “Despite the fact that there has been a large increase in the number of students in recent years, there has been a larger increase in the number of managers than academics.

“We have raised fears about the changing nature of universities as the market in higher education continues to grow. However, institutions and government must never lose sight of universities’ key roles in teaching and challenging students.”

Meanwhile, statistics released by Hesa on 1 March showed staffing levels at universities fell by 1.5 per cent last year.

The figures showed there were 381,790 people working at UK higher education institutions in 2010-11, down by 5,640 from 2009-10.

These numbers though really are not large and manager numbers have grown by just under 4,500 at a time when academic numbers have grown by over 16,000 (which makes the point from Sally Hunt factually incorrect).

The UCU comment suggests it is taking its lead from David Willetts.  He made a similar point in a speech made to a UUK conference back on 9 September 2010:

There are other ways of cutting overhead costs. In 2009 the number of senior university managers rose by 6% to 14,250, while the number of university professors fell by 4% to 15,530. On that trend the number of senior managers could have overtaken the number of professors this year. I recognise that universities now are big, complex institutions with revenues from many sources which need to be professionally managed. But we owe it to the taxpayer and the student to hold down these costs – we are now in a different and much more austere world. Again, we are not going to shirk our share of responsibility for tackling this. We will to do away with unnecessary burdens upon you that require the recruitment of more administrators. Do tell me – and HEFCE, of course – of any information requirement or regulation which you believe comes at a disproportionate cost. They have to go: we cannot afford them.

So this is the moment to be thinking even more creatively about cost cutting. I congratulate you on your initiative in inviting Ian Diamond to chair a UUK group on efficiency savings. You are right to get to grips with this. We can work with you on this agenda without getting sucked in to micromanaging our universities. No returning to a time – a century ago, actually – when one vice chancellor reacted to a Board of Education demand for figures on staff teaching hours by complaining that “Nothing so ungentlemanly has been done by the Government since they actually insisted on knowing what time Foreign Office clerks arrive at Whitehall.”

As noted in a recent post, these claims about reducing regulation ring rather hollow and, given that government demands on universities have increased rather than declined, this does perhaps provide one explanation for the growth.

How signifiicant is all this though? While the staff group ‘managers’ has grown faster than academic professionals at all universities and at Russell Group universities (but not at Nottingham as it happens), this is a small category of staff representing only 7-8% of all non-academic staff. The definitions of the various staff groups provided by HESA do allow some judgement in the allocation of staff to the various groups and there is some evidence of differing practice at different institutions. However, the definition of academic professional is straightforward and unambiguous and it is clear that at Nottingham such staff have grown considerably more than non-academic staff since 2003-04.

Universities need managers to function effectively. They are key to enabling academic staff focus on delivering excellent research and first class teaching and for protecting academics from the worst regulatory excesses of government. So this modest growth is really nothing to get excited about.

The votes are in

Few surprises here

The polls have closed and the votes have been counted, overseen by our utterly impartial scrutineers. In a result which will surprise absolutely no-one, it is now possible to confirm the topic of the 500th Registrarism post. The ballot paper looked like this (but please don’t try and vote again on it):

Another picture of a ballot box. Just to remind you

And the winner is….

True Crime on Campus!

So, no surprise whatsoever and a worthy winner with over half of the popular vote. Our highly trained editors have already started work on what we hope will be a bumper edition of this as yet not award-winning series.