Troops to Teachers

New directions for service leavers: but should UK be doing more?

The University of Nottingham is offering extra places for for former service personnel wishing to retrain as teachers. It’s an interesting development and one which has arisen as part of a government initiative:

British servicemen and women who are leaving or have left the forces within the last two years are being offered the chance to bring their unique skills into the classroom and train as teachers at The University of Nottingham.

The University’s School of Education will provide extra places from September 2012 as part of its established and highly successful Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP). The School has developed a course which is tailor-made for graduates who have served in the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force.

The new Troops to Teachers course is part of a government scheme which pledged a package of support for ex-military personnel wanting to retrain as teachers when they leave the forces. It was prompted by a similar scheme in America which showed that ex-servicemen and women are proving to be excellent teachers, particularly in high-poverty areas and in high-demand subjects such as modern languages, mathematics and science.

When the policy was launched The Guardian questioned whether more ex-soldiers should become teachers and offered two contrasting viewpoints, the latter from someone who had followed this route:


The truth is that this is a deeply nostalgic policy, harking back to the two previous wars of the last century when demobbed soldiers entered our classrooms in their droves. But they were very different times; only a tiny fraction of the school population went to university and corporal punishment was rife. Times have moved on, but sadly Gove and his miserable policies have not.


My military background was something that gave me instant respect and the training in instruction I could draw on from the army was very useful. The students enjoyed my lessons and other teachers would ask me to be the disciplinarian. So, yes, if you ask me, I think former soldiers make excellent teachers. If these plans go ahead, it’ll be good for them, and it’ll be good for their students.

I do think that it is possible that there is an element of nostalgia underlying the policy as is suggested here. However, helping ex-military personnel to find meaningful careers is surely something we should be concerned with. The USA demonstrates a significantly greater commitment on this front having a Government Department dedicated to Veterans and specific advice and substantial financial support for those wishing to return to higher education. Should we be doing more in the UK?

True Crime on Campus §20: accidents will happen

More true crime on campus: accidents happen, sometimes intentionally

Accidents can happen on campus. Fortunately, our Security staff are more than capable of responding to all kinds of events. Even when some of them really aren’t accidental at all:

0250 Report of a broken window at Sherwood Hall. Security attended: the window had been broken by persons unknown throwing a traffic cone through the window. Long Eaton Glass called out.

0050 Patrol Security Officers observed an Ambulance parked on Cherry Tree Hill. The Ambulance crew were treating a student who was believed to have a broken arm which was sustained when he fell out of a tree on Cherry Tree Hill.

2300 Request from Swimming Pool Staff for an Ambulance as a swimmer had been hit by a canoe. Security and Ambulance attended.

0330 Patrol Security stopped three students who were carrying gas cylinders on Beeston Lane. The cylinders were taken from the students.

1337 Report that a member of Estates had observed a male carrying a pedal cycle on Science Road which was secured with a D Lock. The member of Estates stopped the male and questioned him. The cycle was taken from the male and handed over to Security Staff. The male walked off Campus without the cycle. The cycle has been returned to its owner, a student, with advice on how to secure a pedal cycle. The Police have been informed and Security Staff are reviewing the CCTV.

1100 Report from the Police that a student had been stabbed on Campus. Security met with the Police and following information provided by the Police entry to a student’s room in Hugh Stewart Hall was made. The student who had contacted the Police was in bed asleep. He was woken and spoken to by the Police and Security and the student stated that he had not been stabbed but had been drinking heavily the night before. Head of Security and the Hall Warden are to be informed. The Police left after speaking to the student.

0305 Report that a Conference Delegate had cut himself shaving and required First Aid. Security attended and provided First Aid. The Delegate did not require further medical attention.

1615 Patrol Security observed that a student’s window at Derby Hall had a picture of a penis drawn on it with an obscene caption under it. The student was not in his room but a message was left for him to clean the window. The Warden is to be informed.
0335 Report that a female student had banged her head on a tree while walking by the Lakeside. The student had suffered blurred vision and was complaining of a headache. Security Officers took the student to the QMC to be checked out.
21:30 Security were called to Cavendish Hall as a student had injured their foot. He had dropped a cup on his left foot and cut it. Wound cleaned and plaster applied by Security. Student was able to walk and he was advised to call Security if there were any other problems.
13:30 A returning student living in Ancaster Hall reported that belongings from his room had been moved, including his mattress and duvet. The student informed us that it could be a prank from other students in his Hall. Security to follow up.

1730 Report that a male had thrown a child into Highfield Lake – Security attended. On arrival a child was found with a cut to his leg and was also covered in nettle stings from being grabbed and thrown into the lake. The person responsible had left the area when Security arrived. The Police were informed. Further information is that the child had a large water gun and had sprayed it into a boat full of people. One of the people in the boat got off and threw the child into the Lake. The child was left with his parent.

Commencement v Graduation

Some similarities but quite a few differences too


It’s that time of year again. Well, almost. It’s commencement season in the USA and will be graduation season in the UK in about six weeks or so. A couple of years ago I blogged on the issue of US v UK graduation experiences (and used the same picture too), noting that whereas in the UK it was common for multiple ceremonies to take place over a week (or two) and feature individual handshaking, in the US commencement tends to be a big bang event, often held in a stadium with everyone present being deemed to have graduated by the person officiating. An even older post on a report of a Harvard graduation offers a contrasting view of the nature of the collective experience.

I was reminded of both of these pieces by an enlightening story in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the level of organisation required for commencement. And the additional effort required when the commencement speaker is particularly prominent (and Presidential). However, I especially liked these details about the grouping of commencement professionals, the novel ideas for improving attendance (not usually a problem in the UK) and the really rather strange rituals at Rutgers:

In early February, 300 commencement professionals and vendors gathered at the University of Texas at Austin for the 12th annual meeting of Naaco (say NAKE-oh), as the group is usually called.

In a session on commencement participation, Brian Anderson, a sales manager for the graduation-products vendor Jostens Inc., said graduates who most often skip their commencements say they do so because the ceremonies are too long or and their families aren’t attending. He asked his listeners to describe what their campuses had done to make their ceremonies more attractive. Among the solutions: low-cost overnight campus housing for family members, events like lobster bakes and riverboat cruises, and graduation scholarships for distance-ed students to offset their travel costs.

Christopher R. Retzko, manager of special events and programs at Rutgers University at New Brunswick, said his institution had revamped its universitywide ceremony “to give everyone the permission to have fun.” Rutgers, he said, has what may be the world’s loudest commencement.

Not shaped like a pill. Sadly

The faculty and students of each separate school are equipped with noisemakers that symbolize their group: Last year graduates of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences rattled green cowbells. The School of Communication carried megaphones. This year the School of Pharmacy will blow pill-shaped whistles. At the end of the ceremony, each school takes turns rising en masse and cutting loose with its noisemakers.

I’m not sure we’ll be following this lead.

New markets for fake qualifications

Exciting new opportunities for purveyors of fake qualificationss

Earlier posts have reported on particular examples of fake university degrees including a scandal in Pakistan and the entertaining story about a dog which was awarded an MBA. Now University World News reports on the new growth area for fake qualifications:

Degrees from Western universities have become so prized in China in recent years that degree mills and fake certificate producers have mushroomed, making the country one of the world’s major producers of bogus degrees – not just for customers in China, but across Asia and beyond.

With an ongoing crackdown by Chinese authorities and the ubiquity of genuine degrees from the US, UK and Australia among Chinese graduates, the shadowy industry appears to be moving into lucrative new areas – professional qualifications designed to smooth the way into coveted jobs.

“A foreign degree used to be seen as ‘gold plated’ in China. It’s no longer the same because now lot of Chinese students come back from universities in the US and UK,” said Ning Guan, strategic development manager at UK Naric, the National Recognition Information Centre, which specialises in identifying and tracking bogus degrees on behalf of UK universities and large companies recruiting internationally.

“China’s labour market has become more demanding. Before, you could go back [to China] and get a good job. Now you need a professional qualification to go with your foreign degree to get a decent job. So there is definitely a market opening up for this kind of qualification,” she told University World News.

It’s an interesting development with the growth in fake professional certificates, eg in accountancy and vocational subjects, alongside more traditional forged degree certification particularly noteworthy. It goes to show that perhaps a fake degree alone isn’t enough to get on in the job market these days.

Guardian League Table 2013: Ups and downs

New Guardian League Table for 2013

Top 20 of the full list (available here) is as follows (last year’s position in brackets):

1 (1) Cambridge
2 (2) Oxford
3 (4) LSE
4 (3) St Andrews
5 (6) Warwick
6 (5) UCL
7 (8) Durham
7 (7) Lancaster
9 (14) Bath
10 (11) Exeter
11 (9) Loughborough
12 (19) Surrey
13 (10) Imperial
14 (21) Glasgow
15 (16) Edinburgh
16 (na) Buckingham
17 (15) York
18 (25) Bristol
19 (17) Leicester
20 (27) Heriot Watt

The full story on the (not terribly surprising) news that Cambridge has held on to top slot for the second year running can be found here. A couple of comments in the piece are worth noting:

Most of the shifts in this year’s league table are due to changing levels of student satisfaction. Sussex dropped to 27th place from 11th after students in English and geography became significantly less happy with their departments. Stirling dropped from 44th to 67th after value-added scores in business and law declined.

Aberystwyth fell in six subjects, with declines in all performance measures. It drops from 50th place to 81st.

Among the climbers is Brunel, up from 82nd to 44th, taking the top spot for social work. Chester went from 80th to 52nd, with student satisfaction results driving improved ratings in biosciences, history, law and psychology. The career prospects of its biosciences graduates also improved. Coventry rose from 63rd to 46th, with student survey results a major factor.

Overall, there is plenty of swapping of places inside the top 10 and some more dramatic movements inside and beyond the top 20. Given the emphasis placed on NSS scores this is perhaps not much of a shock. But the high level of volatility in the table does keep things fresh every year. Irritating that University of Nottingham slips out of the top 20 though.

International students: not an immigration issue

Students really aren’t immigrants

Excellent piece in a recent edition of Times Higher Education by Edward Acton. The essence of his argument is that international students make a massive contribution to the UK economy and most of them leave the UK after graduating. In other words, they really should not be considered as part of the immigration debate. Unfortunately, for entirely political reasons, they are:

Students, in so far as they are regarded as immigrants at all, cause least concern. The vast majority leave after completing their studies. A Home Office study of the cohort entering in 2004 found that after five years, only 3 per cent had settled. Concern only rises if there is doubt that students are visa-compliant and duly exit when their visas expire. But it is acknowledged by all sides and underlined by the Home Office’s own detailed analysis that those with visas sponsored by universities have excellent standards of compliance.

No queuing here

…one clear solution is to lift university-sponsored students out of the net migration calculation. The case for doing so is overwhelming. These “migrants” are distinct. They are, as public policy in other countries recognises, temporary. They are known to have excellent standards of visa compliance. And, in spite of the Home Office, the government as a whole commits considerable resources to encouraging them to come to the UK.

The data needed to separate them is readily available. The Higher Education Statistics Agency collects from its members meticulous detail on each non-EU student joining and completing a higher education course. Every university records student visa start- and end-dates, as well as passport numbers. From this it is possible to derive and publish annual estimates of both the inflow and the outflow of non-EU students who come to the UK for university study.

While influential figures in both governing parties are supportive of the proposal, the Home Office is nervous. A spokeswoman has talked of the need to avoid “fiddling the statistics”. No doubt this reflects ministerial fear that any change to the net migration calculation might arouse public distrust. The fear is misplaced. It underrates the scope for raising the level of public debate. The pressure group MigrationWatch UK, often taken to be the fiercest immigration guard dog, repeatedly emphasises that legitimate international students are not an immigration problem.

As Acton concludes, students have to taken out of the migration stats. We should be focusing on other migrant categories and not students and then, it is to be hoped, it will be possible to undo the damage done internationally to the UK’s reputation.

The PIE news reports on a wave of media attention for UK student visa cap following an IPPR report which suggests that the government has included international students in the net migration count as a way of “gaming” the figures:

IPPR points out that the UK’s main competitors in the overseas student market – the USA, Canada and Australia – do not include temporary or “non-immigrant” admissions in immigration figures, and says only the 15% of overseas students who stay on to work permanently in Britain should be counted within the net migration figures.

More worryingly, it says the government’s plans – which include issuing 250,000 fewer student visas by 2015 – threaten to wipe £4bn to £6bn a year off the UK economy.

The major media response to the report will be welcomed by the education sector, and put pressure on the government as it prepares to announce the latest immigration statistics on May 24.

Higher education is one of the UK’s biggest and most successful export earners and one sector in which we enjoy a real competitive advantage. Now more than ever we need to support it.

The Imperfect University: Massive Open Online Confusion?

The Future of HE? Or Massive Open Online Confusion?

For the latest Imperfect University piece a few thoughts on a topic which is attracting considerable comment at the moment: the growth of the Massive Open Online Course or MOOC. There has been a huge amount of hype around the new models of online provision or MOOCs, much of it significantly overstating the likely impact of such offerings. The numbers involved are impressive though with hundreds of thousands enrolled on some courses (hence the “massive” descriptor). Will MOOCs transform higher education as we know it? Or are they in fact closer to more traditional models of education than their proponents admit?

Disruptive innovation, a theory originally developed by Clayton Christensen to explain how new entrants to markets could take the lead through innovation and supplant traditional businesses, has been frequently applied of late to higher education. There has been much talk and many exciting conference presentations and magazine articles about how these new online providers will disrupt traditional models of learning and bring about the end of the physical university.

A paradigm shift?

Among the most extreme views on the likely impact of MOOCs we have Sebastian Thrun who has set up Udacity, a major new online provider, which has emerged from Stanford University with much fanfare. Quoted in a recent edition of Wired he predicted some change in the higher education market:

Fifty years from now, according to Thrun, there will be only 10 institutions in the whole world that deliver higher education.

Others have compared existing universities to companies which failed to adapt to new technology, such as Kodak. as for example, this story in the Washington Times notes:

The recent bankruptcy declaration by Kodak, one of the nation’s most trusted brands for consumers, which once held a market share in excess of 90 percent, is stunning. Kodak mistook America’s century-long love affair with its products as a sign of market permanency, missing the fact that camera phones, flip cameras and online sharing would erode its brand and render it irrelevant.

So it’s clear that even though the reservoir of public trust for higher education is deep, it certainly isn’t bottomless. That means colleges and universities must do all they can to keep and sustain the public’s confidence in higher education.

Colleges and universities also must focus on increasing higher education productivity – but not the kind that is about budget cutting to serve fewer students or about making individual institutions more selective. Instead, the true definition of productivity is one that offers a substantial increase in high-quality degree and certificate production at lower costs per degree awarded, while improving access and equity for underserved populations.

Ultimately, though, higher education must take control of its own future. The world is indeed changing, rapidly, and colleges and universities must seize the moment to meet the rising demand for high-quality skills that are vital to our collective well-being as a nation. If they don’t, they, like Kodak, risk the chance of being gone in a flash.

So, is this a once in a generation paradigm shift which will sweep away the some of the longest established organisations in the Western world? Or is it an over-hyped bubble?


Looking first at Udacity, established by the aforementioned Professor Thrun, it claims an impressive 160,000 students from around the world enrolled on on its first course in artificial intelligence. It summarises its mission thus:

We believe university-level education can be both high quality and low cost. Using the economics of the Internet, we’ve connected some of the greatest teachers to hundreds of thousands of students all over the world.

A glance at the curriculum for one of the Udacity classes gives a sense of what is on offer:

CS262: Programming Languages

Description: This class will give you an introduction to fundamentals of programming languages. In seven weeks, you will build your own simple web browser complete with the ability to parse and understand HTML and JavaScript. You will learn key concepts such as how to specify and process valid strings, sentences and program structures. Then, you will design and build an interpreter – a program that simulates other programs.

String Patterns
Finding and specifying classes of strings using regular expressions

Lexical Analysis
Breaking strings down into important words

Specifying and deconstructing valid sentences

Turning sentences into trees

Simulating programs

Building a Web Browser
Interpreting HTML and JavaScript

Exam testing your knowledge

It all looks rather good. However, it’s difficult to escape the impression that there is a significant element of ego in here on the part of those leading this. Who wouldn’t want to be loved by hundreds of thousands of students instead of just one or two classes a year?


Similar to Udacity is Coursera, which includes courses from Princeton, Stanford, Michigan and Pennsylvania Universities. The Coursera mission is nothing if not ambitious:

Education for Everyone.

We offer courses from the top universities, for free.

Learn from world-class professors, watch high quality lectures, achieve mastery via interactive exercises, and collaborate with a global community of students.

You can see the introductory video here:

Again, all jolly exciting.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy, which for a few years has been offering huge amounts of content leading to a range of “badges”, is another major player in this area. A recent piece about how “Bill Gates’ Favorite Teacher Wants to Disrupt Education” gives a flavour of the approach taken by its leader:

How would he change education? By turning it upside down. First, he says, we should “decouple credentialing from learning.” Instead of handing out degrees, standardized assessments would be the measure of employee competence. Anyone could learn at their own pace in their own way: in an internship, as an entrepreneur, or at home on the Internet. Then, everyone, no matter how they were educated, would be equal before the evaluation. Additionally, he thinks the assessment could be more meaningful than whatever abilities a college degree actually signals to employers.

The Khan Academy site explains more about how they recognise learning through badges:

As soon as you login, you’ll start earning badges and points for learning. The more you challenge yourself, the more bragging rights you’ll get.

We’ve heard of students spending hour after hour watching physics videos and 5th graders relentlessly tackling college-level math to earn Khan Academy badges. Some of the smaller badges are very easy, but the most legendary badges might require years of work.

Will these badges become more meaningful than degrees? Will higher education be turned upside down?


MITx, the online offshoot of MIT, started its ball rolling in late 2011, then more recently joined up with Harvardx to form edX, described thus:

An organization established by MIT and Harvard that will develop an open-source technology platform to deliver online courses. EdX will support Harvard and MIT faculty in conducting research on teaching and learning on campus through tools that enrich classroom and laboratory experiences. At the same time, edX also will reach learners around the world through online course materials. The edX website will begin by hosting MITx and Harvardx content, with the goal of adding content from other universities interested in joining the platform. edX will also support the Harvard and MIT faculty in conducting research on teaching and learning.

Interestingly, the very laudable aim of edX to support research about learning rather sets it apart from the other developments mentioned here. The edX – FAQs offer some more insights into the approach:

How is this different from what other universities are doing online?

EdX will be entirely our universities’ shared educational missions. Also, a primary goal of edX is to improve teaching and learning on campus by supporting faculty from both universities in conducting significant research on how students learn.

Who will lead edX?

EdX is a priority for the leadership of both Harvard and MIT, and it will be governed by a board made up of key leaders from both institutions, appointed by each university’s president. MIT Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Anant Agarwal will be the initial President of edX and will report to the board.

Does the effort have a staff?

EdX is a significant undertaking that will require significant resources. The full scope of the staff has not been determined, but there will be a dedicated staff to the initiative.

Who can take edX courses? Will there be an admissions process?

EdX will be available to anyone in the world with an internet connection, and in general, there will not be an admissions process. For a modest fee, and as determined by the edX board, MIT and Harvard, credentials will be granted only to students who earn them by demonstrating mastery of the material of a subject.

Will the certificates be awarded by Harvard and/or MIT?

As determined by the edX board, MIT and Harvard, online learners who demonstrate mastery of subjects could earn a certificate of completion, but such certificates would not be issued under the name Harvard or MIT.

Some of the problems with these MOOCs

There are a number of problems associated with these developments:

  • There is no proper academic quality assurance: by and large anyone can offer any course they want without any need for approval or monitoring by an academic body. It might be good, it might not but you’ll have to try it to find out. However,  edX argues that the standards are the same as for regular MIT and Harvard courses:

Will MIT and Harvard standards apply here?

The reach changes exponentially, but the rigor remains the same.

This may be true in terms of the content but they are not assessed in the same way and, as noted in the edX FAQs above, certificates will not be issued in the names of the universities.

  • Self-selection: courses are offered by self-selecting academics and followed by self-selecting students. Again there is no quality assurance in relation to either.
  • Drop out rates are very high: most people simply won’t stay the course. It’s easy to enrol but even easier to drop out.
  • It’s something of a popularity contest: what’s new and exciting is what’s popular. Robotics and artificial intelligence are the hot topics to study along with lots of related IT stuff. However, Sociology and Greek Mythology can also be found.
  • Non-assessment: there isn’t any meaningful assessment. This is one of the biggest problems with this kind of large scale offering – the assessment methods seem to be basic at best. There is a need for something beyond multiple choice – undoubtedly we will get more sophisticated assessment tools in future but scaling up will be difficult.
  • Non-accreditation: completion of all of the work will mean you get the equivalent of an attendance certificate or a virtual badge. These may have currency in certain businesses in some sectors (mainly IT) but it is not clear that they will achieve wider recognition. (See an earlier, rather critical, post on this topic.)

Terms and conditions

To be clear about what is not offered, let’s look at some of the terms and conditions from Udacity:

you acknowledge that any letter of completion awarded will not be affiliated with any college or university and will not stand in the place of a course taken at an accredited institution;

you acknowledge that instructors of any Online Course will not be involved in any attempts to get the course recognized by any educational or accredited institution; and

you will abide by the Student Conduct Policy listed below.




OK it’s a free offer, and students are able to learn for nothing and do get an attendance certificate or a badge but there are no guarantees that anyone will recognize either (in fact there are seemingly very few guarantees at all). Will employers start favouring these? I doubt it even if some companies eventually employ the brightest of the hundreds of thousands taking some courses who manage to stand out and then receive a recommendation from a tutor.

Perhaps not that revolutionary after all

It’s all very exciting and has prompted breathless commentary about the imminent demise of traditional universities. Yes, these developments will have an impact but MOOCs will not replace universities – rather they will offer a different avenue to self-improvement. MOOCs are an interesting new delivery method and offer education at scale in a way that traditional universities find hard but really this is more of a contemporary variation on the Adult Learning/Continuing Education model. The expansion and democratization of learning which MOOCs represent is thoroughly laudable but they are in reality an extension of education offerings rather than a replacement for established universities.

The new Mechanics’?

Despite all the hype, this new provision may offer real value for many. MOOCs can be seen as the internet equivalent of the Mechanics’ Institute, which started in the 19th Century as vehicles for self-improvement for working men unable to gain access to conventional education.

Leeds Mechanics’ Institute (now a museum)

Some of these institutes formed the foundation of universities (including UMIST, Heriot Watt and Birkbeck for example) and provided routes into higher education for those usually excluded. But for many people such institutes, which often included libraries, provided a means of improving technical knowledge to enable advancement at work or more general self-education. This philosophy still underpins the largely part-time provision at Birkbeck.

Such institutes often depended on philanthropy for their resources as do some of the online startups we’re seeing now. Will these new providers last as long as some of the Mechanics’? Perhaps. They do offer something new and interesting for which there is clearly demand.

So, we should embrace MOOCs as a welcome additional contribution to education in the great adult education tradition. But will they sweep aside traditional universities? (Or all but 10 of them?) I don’t think so. Things are likely to be a bit confusing for a while therefore.

A higher level of ranking?

A new higher education ranking – this time of countries

U21 has published some new work on national education systems that gives the first ranking of countries which are the ‘best’ at providing higher education:

The Universitas 21 ranking of national higher education systems has been developed to highlight the importance of creating a strong environment for higher education institutions to contribute to economic and cultural development, provide a high-quality experience for students and help institutions compete for overseas applicants.

Research authors at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, University of Melbourne, looked at the most recent data from 48 countries and territories across 20 different measures. The measures are grouped under four headings: resources (investment by government and private sector), output (research and its impact, as well as the production of an educated workforce which meets labour market needs), connectivity (international networks and collaboration which protects a system against insularity) and environment (government policy and regulation, diversity and participation opportunities). It also takes population size into account and produces some interesting results.

The top 20 nations according to this ranking are as follows. No surprises about which country is in first place but some of the other nations at the top of the table are perhaps a little surprising.

1 United States
2 Sweden
3 Canada
4 Finland
5 Denmark
6 Switzerland
7 Norway
8 Australia
9 Netherlands
10 United Kingdom
11 Singapore
12 Austria
13 Belgium
14 New Zealand
15 France
16 Ireland
17 Germany
18 Hong Kong
19 Israel
20 Japan

Looking a little more closely at the detail of the measures used:

The measures are grouped under four main headings: Resources, Environment, Connectivity and Output.

The resource measures we use relate to government expenditure, total expenditure, and R&D expenditure in tertiary institutions. The environment variable comprises the gender balance in students and academic staff, a data quality variable and a quantitative index of the policy and regulatory environment based on survey results. We surveyed the following attributes of national systems of higher education: degree of monitoring (and its transparency), freedom of employment conditions and in the choice of the CEO, and diversity of funding. Our survey results are combined with those from the World Economic Forum. Data limitations restrict the connectivity variables to numbers of international students and articles written jointly with international collaborators.

Nine output measures are included and cover research output and its impact, the presence of world- class universities, participation rates and the qualifications of the workforce. The appropriateness of training is measured by relative unemployment rates. The measures are constructed for 48 countries at various stages of development.

And the US is not top in every category. It’s an interesting and different approach deliverng a ranking which presumably will not change very much over time. I wonder though if national governments will react to it.

The full report, U21 Rankings of National Higher Education Systems 2012, is available here.

Best apps for university administrators?

Which are the best apps for administrators?

This does presuppose that every university administrator is equipped with an iPad. Which is not necessarily the case. Anyway, if you are fortunate enough to be issued with an iPad in support of your administrative duties there are a number of key apps you will want to get hold of. Most of these are general productivity apps rather than higher education specific but nevertheless very useful in my view. So, these are my favourites:



One of my most used and most useful apps. I use it for note taking in most meetings and for recording all sorts of notes and clippings from web pages. It synchronises across iPad, desktop and iPhone and I really find it thoroughly indispensible.

And it’s free.

The simplest way to share files. Just very straightforward.



An essential, obviously, for the tweeting administrator (although not to be used in meetings).



A straightforward but also rather feature-rich word processing app which does cope with and enable export of Word documents. Transferring files does require a little effort but worth it.



iAnnotate PDF

A really useful app which I use for most meeting papers – enables you to scribble, highlight and add typed notes to pdfs. Very handy.




Simple, straightforward to do list with no frills.




Er, for reading books. Occasionally even higher education related ones.



Plus a couple of others:

UKHE stats

A very handy summary of some HESA data – total student numbers in the sector, by country and by institution broken down by student type.




A really lovely app which is effectively a personalised, custom-built on-line magazine.




Heaps of podcasts and videos from lots of different institutions and covering many disciplines.



Are there other apps you use which are useful for the university administrator with an iPad?

Student Olympians

A different kind of league table

Universities Week this year had a distinct Olympics focus:

30 April 2012: To mark the start of Universities Week 2012 (30 April – 7 May), a new report launched today reveals the statistics behind Team GB for the last twenty years. Detailed analysis of UK Olympic athletes shows that Team GB Olympic medallists are nearly twice as likely to have gone to university as the UK population as a whole, with 61 per cent of medallists having been university-educated, compared to 31 per cent of the population as a whole.

The report, Olympic and Paralympic Games: The impact of universities, highlights that university-goers from the combined Team GB competitors since Barcelona 1992 to Beijing 2008 have won 65 per cent of the nation’s gold medals, 66 per cent silver medals and 49 per cent of the bronze medals. At the last Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008, 64 per cent of Team GB’s medallists had been to university, compared to 66 per cent at the previous Games in Athens.

Excellent linkage between university attendance and Olympic success. Which also gives us a new league table: a ranking of universities by number of Olympic medals won. No surprises about who is in first place:

Place University and medals
1-2 Joint:   University of Cambridge and University of Oxford with 15 medals each
3                 Loughborough University with 11 medals
4-5              Joint: Oxford Brookes University and University of Edinburgh both with nine medals each
6                 University of Bath with 7 medals
7                 University of Nottingham with 6 medals
8-9             Joint: University of Reading and University of Southampton with 5 medals
10              University of Exeter with 4 medals

Let’s hope for more this summer.

Is this the university of the future?

A new model. Designed by consultants

Worried about the future of higher education? Concerned about the impact the new fees regime is going to have on your university? Bit nervous that everyone is talking about ‘disruptive innovation’ in HE without really knowing what it means? Then fret no more. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on a proposed ‘reinvention’ of the university at UNT-Dallas. Developed by external consultants this will draw on all the very latest up to the minute thinking about higher education. Look and learn:

Now UNT-Dallas administrators are considering a new model, based on the work of Bain, that would use those disruptive, efficiency-minded ideas as tools to reshape this fledgling university, which has a full-time-equivalent enrollment of only about 1,000 and a 264-acre campus with exactly two buildings. The prospect excites local civic leaders but has left faculty members here scared—and feeling like pawns in the emerging national debate on how to make colleges more affordable and accessible.

The tools to succeed

Bain’s model calls for a narrow set of career-focused majors in fields like business, information technology, and criminal justice, as well as for a year-round trimester calendar. It would de-emphasize research by faculty members so they could teach as many as 12 courses per year, and it would rely on heavy use of so-called hybrid courses, which would replace some face-to-face teaching with online instruction.

It would focus not only on the adult students the institution serves now but also on motivated 18-to-22-year-olds, and it would pay students to take on some advising and administrative tasks normally handled by staff members. It would also reimburse students for their final two trimesters if they’re on track to graduate within four years.

Genius. Year round teaching. Very few courses. Stop research. Less class contact. Use students to replace administrators.

This really is the university of the future.

The Tony Rich Lecture

The Impact of Universities on their Regions

I was fortunate to attend this event last week.


Richard Muir of IPPR was first to speak and drew heavily on the recent IPPR report (with a rather dodgy title): “Beyond bricks and mortar boards”. Focusing largely on the local economic impact of universities he suggested that the centralisation of economic development policy and the shutdown of the RDAs would have a real impact on regional growth. He also noted:

  • The multiplier of HE spend locally is singificant – £1m university output generates £1.38m in the wider economy
  • There is no direct relationship between economic strength and graduate retention in a region
  • Universities have a key role in facilitating the ‘innovation ecosystem’
  • The number of university start ups does appear dispiritingly small.

Muir concluded by stressing that the IPPR had lots of suggestions for ways in which universities can contribute to local economic development.

David Allen supported much of what Richard Muir had said and quoted a recent comment from Alan Langlands on the contribution of universities to growth and their place in communities. Allen noted that a recent research study had confirmed that international students at Exeter University support over 3,000 jobs in the South West. Moreover the economic impact of the university overall was more than 40 times that of the anticipated benefit of the new John Lewis store in Exeter. Unfortuantely, all the headlines go to the shop.

John Hogan described how his University was ‘hand in glove’ with the city of Newcastle. As an example he cited the huge contribution the University had made to the redevelopment of what is now a hugely popular museum in Newcastle. According to Hogan cities want everything that universities provide. Except possibly the students. In describing the links between a university and city Hogan also referred to Temple Chevallier, the improbably named first Registrar of the University of Durham. He was an extraordinary man as the Wikipedia entry shows:

Educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge, he was ordained a priest in 1818. He became a Fellow of Pembroke College a year later. He was a Fellow and Tutor of Catharine Hall (St Catharine’s College, Cambridge) in 1820 and Hulsean lecturer in Divinity from 1826 to 1827.[1]

His lectures were published as Of the proofs of the divine power and wisdom derived from the study of astronomy in 1835.

That same year, Chevallier was invited to become Professor of Astronomy at the newly-founded University of Durham. A chair of Mathematics and Astronomy existed at the University of Durham between 1841–1871; Chevallier was the one to hold this post. He also served as Reader in Hebrew 1835-1871, Registrar 1835-1865, and from 1834-1835 also assisted with lectures in Divinity.

He was instrumental in establishing the Durham University Observatory (in 1839), serving as its Director for thirty years, and from which he made important observations of Jupiter’s moons and regular meteorological observations. From 1835 until his death, he also served as perpetual Parish Priest at Esh, just outside Durham, where he founded the village school and restored the church.

He also has a crater on the moon named after him. A great set of contributions.

Tony Rich is in this league. But without the beard, obviously. The speakers were followed by some warm tributes, led by Chris Cobb, to Tony’s huge contributions to higher education and to his work for AUA  and AHUA.

Tributes too to Jonathan Nicholls who ran the London Marathon to raise money in Tony’s name for cancer research at the University of Bristol. All in all a terrific event and a great deal of warmth, affection and respect for Tony’s work in the sector.

(Footnote: there were five of us tweeting at the event (you know who you are) and, bizarrely, we were all clustered together. This newly observed phenomenon has been named after Chris Hallas and #hallaslaw will be tested further at future events.)