Giving league tables a bad name

This kind of thing really shouldn’t be given any airtime

Yes, sad to say it is the ‘University Drinking League’. Fortunately it does not deserve to be taken at all seriously given that it is simply self-reported consumption by students.

Being the responsible folks that we are we would never stoop to making lazy generalisations, so you can decide whether or not you’re surprised to find Queen’s University Belfast sitting top of the pile – with each student drinking a headache-inducing 27.3 units per week.

The uni in second place – Heriot-Watt – also came second in this year’s University Sex League, suggesting that its students have found more than a couple of ways to keep out the cold during the harsh Scottish winter.

The top three is rounded off with Bath Spa (who came in 4th place in the 2011 drinking league), whilst at the other end of the table we find Wolverhampton, Glasgow and Robert Gorden Uni propping things up – with the latter having an average of just 11 units per student per week.

Average units drunk per student per week
1 Queen’s University Belfast 27.3
2 Heriot-Watt University 26.3
3 Bath Spa University 26.3
4 University of Hull 26.1
5 Sheffield Hallam University 24.5
6 University of Strathclyde 24.3
7 University of Wales Institute, Cardiff 23.9
8 Nottingham Trent University 23.8
9 University College London 23.1
10 University of Manchester 22.7
11 Swansea University 22.7
12 University of Aberdeen 22.5
13 University of Leeds 22.3
14 University of Edinburgh 22.1
15 Manchester Metropolitan University 21.6
16 Bangor University 21.5
17 University of Liverpool 20.8
18 University of Glamorgan 20.7
19 University of Plymouth 20.6
20 University of York 20.5

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, from the same source we have the ‘University Sex League 2012 where self-reporting is likely to be even less reliable than with alcohol consumption:

After the University of Glamorgan topped the list last year, the Welsh domination of the bedroom continues as Bangor University find themselves in pole position with 8.31 sexual partners per student. Llongyfarchiadau! (That’s Welsh for ‘congrats’, by the way.)

The former table-toppers have slipped to 15th, whilst their neighbours Aberystwyth Uni find themselves in the top five for the second consecutive year.

At the other end of the spectrum it would seem that The Only Way is No-Sex, with The University of Essex propping up the rest of the table with just 1.15 sexual partners per student.



Rank University Average number of sexual partners since starting uni*
1 Bangor University 8.31
2 Heriot-Watt University 5.8
3 University of Plymouth 5.75
4 Liverpool John Moores University 5.48
5 Aberystwyth University 5.34
6 Manchester Metropolitan University 5.31
7 Brunel University 5.22
8 Aston University 5.19
9 Sheffield Hallam University 4.89
10 Teesside University 4.86
11 University of Wolverhampton 4.86
12 Swansea University 4.75
13 Newcastle University 4.72
14 Edge Hill University 4.7
15 University of Glamorgan 4.67
16 University of Huddersfield 4.66
17 University of Cambridge 4.62
18 University of Exeter 4.59
19 University of Portsmouth 4.53
20 University of Wales Institute, Cardiff 4.52

No doubt the Guardian, Times, THE and QS will be reconsidering their criteria with some urgency…

Real Crime in the USA

An unhappy league table

This really is true crime on campus. Business Insider has produced a report on what it describes as the “Most Dangerous Colleges In America”. Drawing on FBI data, the piece produces a league table of the worst affected institutions in terms of crime. It makes grim reading. However, the results are contested by some of the institutions named who observe not only that some of the crimes happen in areas nearby their campuses and not on them but also that the reporting of crime is something that they encourage in order to improve detection and clear up. In other words, the development of a league table is not helpful or fair. The report notes:

The FBI’s Unified Crime Report identified 2,696 violent crime incidents and 87,160 property crime incidents on college campuses in 2011. This is a controversial report due to, among other reasons, how some colleges include data on non-campus areas. Nonetheless, the FBI considers it a valid way to “shed light on crime in schools, colleges, and universities.”

To put the data in context, we ranked the most dangerous colleges. We averaged crime data per capita from 2008 to 2011 for schools with enrollment over 10,000. Schools were ranked based on a combination of violent crime rank and property crime rank, with violent crime weighted four times higher

I won’t list the institutions here but I do think the data shows a huge difference in the nature of crime on campuses in the UK and the USA.

Another New University

This time it’s Caterpillar University

Following the establishment of the University of Law in the UK there is news of another, perhaps slightly surprising, seat of learning:  Caterpillar University. Actually it seems to have been around for more than a decade but I’ve only just noticed it:

Caterpillar University leads Caterpillar’s continual learning efforts by offering classes, e-learning, and development opportunities to sharpen the skills of our employees, dealers, suppliers, and customers. Caterpillar University has been building employees, Dealers, and suppliers since 2001. Expanding full circle, has been launched to provide that same valued training to our customers.

It’s a different kind of education on offer here

Material relevant to Operator Training, Safety Training, and Service Training can be conveniently found at one safety source:

Sharing knowledge and skills with customers:

    • Develops higher levels of expertise that enable customers to recognize value of their equipment
    • Enables customers to optimize product selection & performance
    • Improves overall quality & reach of relationships with customers

Working hand in hand with customers is of the upmost importance and beneficial to all, whether you own a Cat® machine or not. Get started on learning; visit

You have to say that on the basis of the courses on offer here – which range from ‘Aerial Work Platforms’ to ‘Confined Space Awareness’ and from ‘Ladder Safety’ to ‘Valve Basics’ – they aren’t going to be making a strong case for degree awarding powers in the UK any time soon. Whilst the organisation is clearly fulfilling a need for a certain kind of course it  is not a university or anything like it but this does go to show what uncontrolled use of the university title can lead to.

(With thanks to @GordonFThomas for drawing this to my attention.)

True Crime on Campus §25: Cowabunga

More true crime on campus:

Things can get pretty tricky on campus sometimes. However, our outstanding Security staff are usually up for any kind of challenge – no matter how bizarre:

0030 Report of a person being let into Hall via Fire Escape door. Security attended and the area was searched – the person could not be located. Another male was located asleep in a corridor who was not a resident of the Hall – the male is a Student who lives off Campus. He was asked to make his way home.

1140 Report of leaflets having been strewn around the corridors of Willoughby Hall and Trent Building Quad.

14.08.12 A Security Officer who lives in a University rented house at Highfields Sports Centre arrived home on the 13.08.12 to find that a bungalow that is being built adjacent to the rented property had been damaged by the Air Ambulance helicopter hovering over it causing part of the newly built walls to collapse. Details to Estates. Contractor is following up with Notts/Lincs Ambulance.

A collapsed wall really not at all similar to the ones in question

1345 Report of two males placing bags with Penalty Charge Notice on them on vehicles parked on University Park. Inside the bags is an advertisement for a party in Watford. The bags are similar in colour to those used by Security Officers. These bags however have left marks on windscreens which is difficult to remove. Security are to follow up.

0210 Report of a Student having vomited due to excessive drinking. Security attended the Student was found to be in bed asleep.

0900 Report of a Dog in a vehicle parked in Trent East Car Park. Security Officers attended – the windows of the vehicle were down slightly and there was food and water for the dog in the vehicle. The owner was spoken to she decided to take the dog home.

0045 Report of a Student lying in Bushes adjacent to Hall Security attended.

13:33 Security received a phone call from a worried parent that two 12 year old girls had gone missing. Security Officers searched the area where they were last seen and found them outside of the DHL Building. Security notified the parent and then stayed with the girls until the parent arrived.

2030 Security took a Student to the QMC for treatment to his ankle. The Student had injured himself a week before but the pain had increased during the day. The Student is a resident of Florence Boot Hall the Hall Warden to be informed.

11:30 Security removed a publicity sign from the bottom of Portland Hill advertising the Fun Fair being held at Highfields Park. The sign was returned to the owners and they were advised that they cannot advertise on University property.

16:40 Security attended a request for a first aider on Jubilee Campus. A temporary member of staff had spilt a hot cup of coffee over her torso causing a burn. First Aid was administered and she declined any further assistance. Accident report sent to Safety Office.

0050 Security stopped a Student regarding a broken window. The Student admitted being part of a group that had broken the window. Warden to be informed – Long Eaton Glass called out.

1050 Report of a male dressed in pyjamas in Nottingham Medical School. Security attended and spoke to the male. The male stated that he was waiting for a Taxi. He then walked around the Building towards the Main Entrance. Hospital Security informed.

1205 Report of a blocked and flooded toilet in Pope Building. Security attended. On arrival Officers discovered a urinal had been blocked with paper. Officer cleared the paper and cleaned the floor returning the toilets to normal use.

Aren’t we supposed to be the good guys?

0048 Report of a person dressed in green, possibly a Ninja Turtle, in Portland Building attempting to gain entry to the Portland Cafe. Security attended. The cafe doors had been forced open but at present it is not clear if anything had been stolen. Security are to follow up.

How to take over the world

A handy guide to global domination

KPMG have produced a useful guide to universities looking to expand their international activities. Its Guiding Principles for Global Expansion offers some sensible advice for universities looking to develop their global operations and highlights a range of motivations for doing so:

Higher education institutions around the world are responding to the increasingly compelling drivers for the continued globalisation of their market, but, when planning transnational expansion, institutions do not always take the critical steps necessary to either maximize the opportunities or to manage the associated risks, according to ‘Extending the Campus,’ a new report from KPMG International.

The professional services firm asserts that transnational growth is driven by a host of factors:

  • Emerging markets with a growing middle-class aiming to enhance their economic development by attracting foreign institutions as well as investing in their own local education capabilities.
  • Institutions in mature markets, especially those impacted by austerity measures, responding to pressure on domestic enrolment and revenues by pursuing growth outside their immediate geographies.
  • A drive for global brand enhancement (and protection) to attract the highest calibre academics and researchers.
  • Increased demand by employers and students for global skills and experience. OECD data shows that growth in the number of students opting for an international higher education was at an annual rate of seven percent between 2000 and 2010.
  • Increasing global collaboration on research activities.

An essential part of the answer is, of course, to hire some capable advisors if you’re in this game.

The full report is available here. it does contain some sensible advice and any university looking to establish a significant international footprint will undoubtedly look to follow this path in some form or other as those in the case studies in the report have done. One of the key points stressed in the report is that international partnership activity is a long game and the timescales for engagement need to go way beyond the life of the next strategic plan. It’s a well-made argument.

African Universities and the Global Rankings

Should African universities be concerned with the global league tables?

Inside Higher Ed has a really good piece on African universities and the impact of the international rankings. Essentially the challenge for Africa is that the global league tables use metrics which simply don’t favour the continent’s institutions:

Any observer of higher education in Africa would immediately realize that African universities, with the exception of a handful, stand no chance of appearing under the THE Rankings; or for that matter under other global university rankings such that the Shanghai Jiao Tong Ranking or the QS World University Rankings, which equally use criteria with a heavy bias on research, publications in international refereed journals and citations. African universities have to cope with huge student enrolment with limited financial and physical resources. They are short of academic staff, a large proportion of whom do not have a PhD. Not surprisingly, their research output and performance in postgraduate education are poor. It is clear that in the rankings race, they are playing on a non-level field.

But the more pertinent question is: should African universities attempt to be globally ranked? I believe not. It would be not only a waste of resources but also inappropriate. The priority for African universities at the moment should be to provide the skilled manpower required for their country’s development; to undertake research to solve the myriad problems facing Africa and to communicate their findings to the stakeholders in the most appropriate form, not necessarily through publications in international journals; and to engage with their community to meet the Millennium Development Goals and the Education For All targets. These do not fit the criteria for global rankings. They do, however, need assistance to improve the quality of their teaching provision, their research output and their service to the community. Their aim, and that of their government, should be that they be quality assured, not globally ranked.

Notwithstanding the recent success in the THE rankings of the University of Cape Town’s Medical Faculty (as reported in Business Day Live), this advice seems to me to be eminently sensible. Rather than chasing the rankings, where they will always be at a disadvantage, African universities should focus on delivering their regional and national missions in teaching, research and knowledge transfer. Improvements will happen over time and, hopefully, with support from universities in other parts of the world which will ultimately mean that institutions in Africa will be able to compete on the global stage. But chasing the rankings is not the way to go.

International Students in the USA (and Nottingham)

Interesting data on international students in the USA (and at the University of Nottingham)

The Institute of International Education has just released its ‘Open Doors’ report on international education in the USA. The press release give the headlines:

The 2012 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, released today, finds that the number of international students at colleges and universities in the United States increased by six percent to a record high of 764,495 in the 2011/12 academic year, while U.S. students studying abroad increased by one percent. This year, international exchanges in all 50 states contributed $22.7 billion to the U.S. economy. International education creates a positive economic and social impact for communities in the United States and around the world.

Open Doors is intended to provide helpful information on international education in the US:

Open Doors, supported by a grant from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, is a comprehensive information resource on international students and scholars studying or teaching at higher education institutions in the United States, and U.S. students studying abroad for academic credit at their home colleges or universities.

The report lists the leading institutions in the USA in terms of international student numbers:

Rank Institution City State Int’l Total
1 University of Southern California Los Angeles CA 9,269
2 University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign Champaign IL 8,997
3 New York University New York NY 8,660
4 Purdue University – Main Campus West Lafayette IN 8,563
5 Columbia University New York NY 8,024
6 University of California – Los Angeles Los Angeles CA 6,703
7 Northeastern University Boston MA 6,486
8 University of Michigan – Ann Arbor Ann Arbor MI 6,382
9 Michigan State University East Lansing MI 6,209
10 Ohio State University – Main Campus Columbus OH 6,142

What is most interesting about this data for me is that if the University of Nottingham UK (ie not including our campuses in Malaysia and China) were to be included in this table it would be at the top with, by our reckoning, 9,662 non-UK students enrolled in 2011/12. My guess is that Manchester and UCL would have even more than this.

Similar data for the UK can be found on the UKCISA website (which reports official HESA data) but note that the latest figures are for 2010/11. The US seems to be able to publish a little faster than we can. And of course we may find the numbers of international students in the UK declining in future as the full consequences of the Government’s immigration policies come into play.

The Imperfect University: the year to date

Because universities are difficult, but worth it

With the latest post, on why administrators really do matter in universities,  we are now up to a total of 11 pieces to date in the Imperfect University series. Covering leadership, staff mobility, regulation, governance in Scotland and Virginia, not so revolutionary online provision, the cult of efficiency and more regulation I hope there is something for everyone in here. Anyway, do let me know what you think – here are all of the posts for reference:

The Imperfect University

An introduction to the series

Who should lead universities?

What kind of people do universities need as leaders – is appointing a top academic enough?

More and more regulation

Despite the rhetoric we always seem to end up with additional rather than reduced regulation in higher education.

Reviewing higher education in Scotland

Comments on a recent review of university governance in Scotland.

Do we need a level playing field?

Some discussion on this frequently used argument.

Massive Open Online Confusion?

On why Massive Open Online Courses aren’t perhaps as revolutionary as is claimed by some.

Governance Challenges at the University of Virginia

On the removal of the President at the University of Virginia. Messy.

The Cult of Efficiency

A look at a book from 1962, Education and the Cult of Efficiency, which offers a salutary warning about the hazards of imposing inappropriate models in education.

Graduation – a bit London 2012?

A comparison between graduation events and the feel good Olympics. With other observations about graduation.

Mobility Matters

Developing and moving professional services staff.

First for the chop

Why there really aren’t too many administrators in universities. Honest

More to follow in due course.

Mapping global student mobility

A new interactive map

University World News has a piece on a new UNESCO interactive map on global student mobility which shows the inflows and outflows of mobile students across the world.

East Asia and the Pacific is the largest source of international students, representing 28% of the world’s 3.6 million mobile students in 2010. Central Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa have the most mobile students, and several countries have more students abroad than at home.

These facts are highlighted in a new “Global Flow of Tertiary-level Students” interactive map published by the UNESCO institute of Statistics (UIS) in Canada last month.

“The surge in internationally mobile students reflects the rapid expansion of enrolment in higher education globally, which has grown by 78% in a decade,” says the UIS, which defines ‘internationally mobile students’ as those who have crossed a national border to study or are enrolled in a distance learning programme abroad.

Some of the data seems a bit strange though. For example, it seems that the UK sends no students at all to China (which cannot be the case) and sends the same number of students to Malaysia as to the Vatican.

It’s a really good piece of work and quite diverting. What will be even more interesting is mapping changes in these student movements over time.

The Imperfect University: First for the chop

The Imperfect University: Some people really don’t think much of administrators

Last year I wrote a piece for Times Higher Education on the problem with the term “back office” and the often casual, unthinking use of it in order to identify a large group of staff who play a key role in the effective running of universities but who are the first to be identified for removal or outsourcing in financially challenging times. But what do we mean by the back office?

In a university context, it is generally taken to mean those staff who are neither engaged in teaching or research nor involved in face-to-face delivery of services to students. So they might be, for example, working in IT, human resources, finance or student records. Or they might be the people who maintain the grounds, administer research grants or edit the website.
Too often, their somewhat anonymous roles mean that they are treated as third-class citizens in the university context. Because they are out of sight and largely out of mind, most people really don’t know what they do; as a consequence, it becomes much easier for others to write them off and offer them up as the first to be sacrificed when cuts have to be made. Back-office staff do not have an obvious income line and can easily be regarded as expendable. The attitude is resonant of the Victorian view of those “below stairs”. This perception (or lack of perception) is unhelpful, and not terribly good for morale – particularly among those who are so casually dismissed as being “just back office”.

Two recent reports offer a striking example of this. The first is an Ernst & Young report on the “University of the Future” which has found that the current public university model in Australia will prove unviable “in all but a few cases”.

A story in The Australian quotes the report’s author:

“There’s not a single Australian university that can survive to 2025 with its current business model,” says report author Justin Bokor, executive director in Ernst & Young’s education division.

“We’ve seen fundamental structural changes to industries including media, retail and entertainment in recent years – higher education is next.”

The study compared ratios of support staff to academic staff across a selection of 15 institutions and found that 14 out of 15 had more support staff than academic staff. Four of the 15 universities have 50 per cent or more support staff than academic staff, and more than half have at least 20 per cent more support staff.

The report warned that this ratio “will have to change”.

The report, which can be found here, doesn’t give any details on the definition of “support staff”. However, I would guess that it is a sum of all staff who are not academics (the definition of academics can often be unclear too). I must admit though that I’m not surprised that there are more support staff than academics in most institutions simply because of the sheer scale of university operations. I suspect that the variations are largely down to how staff are counted and categorized and differences in physical and organizational structures.

Despite this definitional imprecision, the report’s author is confident in asserting that universities need to cut:

Organisations in other knowledge-based industries, such as professional services firms, typically operate with ratios of support staff to front-line staff of 0.3 to 0.5. That is, 2-3 times as many front-line staff as support staff. Universities may not reach these ratios in 10-15 years, but given the ‘hot breath’ of market forces and declining government funding, education institutions are unlikely to survive with ratios of 1.3, 1.4, 1.5 and beyond.

Leaving aside the fact that many professional staff, for example those involved in student recruitment, careers work, counseling, financial advice, academic support, security and library operations are unequivocally front-line, the idea that the other staff who help the institution function and who support academic staff in their teaching and research are merely unnecessary overheads, ripe for cutting back, is just not credible.

Then from the US we have another report, quoted in the Chronicle. This report, produced by a pair of economists, has identified the ideal ratio of academic staff to administrators needed for universities to run most effectively. It is 3:1 and therefore makes the Ernst and Young proposition look decidedly half-hearted. However, as the article acknowledges, the definitional problems are far from insignificant:

The numbers are fuzzy and inconsistent because universities report their own data. Different institutions categorize jobs differently, and the ways they choose to count positions that blend teaching and administrative duties further complicate the data. When researchers talk about “administrators,” they can never be sure exactly which employees they are including. Sometimes colleges count librarians, for example, as administrators, and sometimes they do not.

“Look! If I just cross all these people out then we can employ an extra professor!”

Even in the UK, where there is fairly robust collection of staff data by HESA, definitional problems remain. As this earlier post noted there is significant scope for misinterpreting staff data and overstating the growth of the number of managers versus the number of academics working in universities.

These matters are exacerbated in the US for the reasons above and the comments below the piece give an indication of some of the major holes in the economists’ proposition. Nevertheless, the Chronicle finds some willing to support the proposal for an ideal ratio:

Some advocates of increasing the proportion of faculty at universities say they support the researchers’ goal of setting a three-to-one ratio of faculty to administrators.
Benjamin Ginsberg, a professor of political science at the Johns Hopkins University and author of The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters (Oxford University Press, 2011), has argued that universities would be better off with fewer administrators, people he calls “deanlets.”
The three-to-one ratio “makes a lot of sense,” Mr. Ginsberg said, because it would shift the staff balance in universities. “If an administrator disappeared, no one would notice for a year or two,” he said. “They would assume they were all on retreat, whereas a missing professor is noticed right away.”
Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity and a professor of economics at Ohio University, said shifting the balance back toward faculty is key to keeping universities’ missions focused on teaching, as opposed to becoming too focused on other activities, like business development or sustainability efforts.
“We need to get back to basics,” said Mr. Vedder. The basics are “teaching and research,” he said, “and we need to incentivize leaders of the universities to get rid of anything that’s outside of that.”

Administrative staff – not unnecessary overheads

This is just ridiculous rhetoric and really we should just discount it. However, such views are, unfortunately, not that uncommon and do have to be challenged.

In order for the academic staff to deliver on their core responsibilities for teaching and research it is essential that all the services they and the university need are delivered efficiently and effectively. There is not much point in hiring a world-leading scholar if she has to do her all her own photocopying, spend a day a week on the ‘phone trying to sort out tax issues or cut the grass outside the office every month because there aren’t any other staff to do this work. These services are required and staff are needed to do this work to ensure academics are not unnecessarily distracted from their primary duties.

Although provision of such services is not in itself sufficient for institutional success, it is hugely important for creating and sustaining an environment where the best-quality teaching and research can be delivered. If a university chooses to dispense with the professional staff who deliver these services in order to pursue a mythical ratio then it might find it’s rather hard to hold on to those outstanding academics for very long.

Most recently there is a piece in THE reporting on the launch of the “Council for the Defence of British Universities” which notes that

The council’s initial 65-strong membership includes 16 peers from the House of Lords plus a number of prominent figures from outside the academy, including the broadcaster Lord Bragg of Wigton and Alan Bennett. Its manifesto calls for universities to be free to pursue research “without regard to its immediate economic benefit” and stresses “the principle of institutional autonomy”. It adds that the “function of managerial and administrative staff is to facilitate teaching and research”.

Now whilst I do of course agree that this is a fundamental part of administrators’ roles and it is splendid that the great and the good do accept that administrators exist, there is something here in the tone of this comment that makes me think that some might take this to be that we should be “seen and not heard”. I do hope not.

Culture Clubs

US builds up cultural presence in China

Perhaps slightly surprising news from Inside Higher Ed on the establishment by the US State Department of “American Cultural Centres” in partnership with Chinese universities.

“Their primary purpose is to expose Chinese audiences to the depth and breadth of U.S. culture,” said Erik W. Black, an assistant cultural affairs officer at the American embassy in Beijing, which administers the grants. Colleges that have received them have used the funding to create resource centers or reading rooms, host visiting faculty lectures on American cultural topics, and sponsor arts programming.

This looks like a direct response to the significant spread in universities around the world of Confucius Institutes, supported and funded by the Chinese government. There are now well over 300 of these and, as can be seen from the Hanban website, they have a wide reach:

Over recent years, the Confucius Institutes’ development has been sharp and they have provided scope for people all over the world to learn about Chinese language and culture. In addition they have become a platform for cultural exchanges between China and the world as well as a bridge reinforcing friendship and cooperation between China and the rest of the world and are much welcomed across the globe. Through the joint efforts of China and the Confucius Institute host countries in addition to the enthusiasm and active support of people all over the world, by the end of 2010, there have been 322 Confucius Institutes and 369 Confucius Classrooms established in 96 countries. In addition, some 250 institutions from over 50 countries have expressed requirements for establishing Confucius Institutes/Classrooms, amongst them some of the world’s top universities.

Confucius Institutes/Classrooms adopt flexible teaching patterns and adapt to suit local conditions when teaching Chinese language and promoting culture in foreign primary schools, secondary schools, communities and enterprises. In 2009, Confucius Institutes/Classrooms around the world offered 9,000 Chinese courses of a multitude of styles, with a total enrollment of 260,000, a 130,000 strong enrollment increase from the previous year. More than 7,500 cultural exchange activities took place, involving the participation of over 3 million reaching double the participation figures of the corresponding period of the previous year.

Recognising the imbalance in public engagement levels in China’s favour the US has been looking for ways to make a greater impact in the East. One major operation was formally launched back in 2010 with the “100,000 Strong Initiative” which aims to encourage many more Americans to study in and learn about China:

The 100,000 Strong Initiative is transitioning into an independent, non-profit organization external to the State Department. Updates on the Initiative’s programs will be provided by the new non-profit organization soon. Citing the strategic importance of the U.S.-China relationship, in November 2009, President Barack Obama announced the “100,000 Strong” initiative, a national effort designed to increase dramatically the number and diversify the composition of American students studying in China. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton officially launched the initiative in May 2010 in Beijing. The Chinese government strongly supports the initiative and has already committed 10,000 “Bridge Scholarships” for American students to study in China.

This initiative seeks to prepare the next generation of American experts on China who will be charged with managing the growing political, economic and cultural ties between the United States and China. The initiative also seeks to develop specific opportunities and funding sources for underrepresented students to study in China.

The American Cultural Centres look like the next stage in this development:

The State Department’s request for proposals implicitly poses the Confucius Institutes as a model for the kind of university-to-university collaborations it is hoping to promote: “The PRC’s creation in the United States of multiple university-based ‘Confucius Institutes’ has increased the level and quality of the study of Chinese language and culture in the U.S,” the document states. “Though China as a national policy requires the study of the English language broadly among its students, there is no equivalent mechanism for increasing understanding and appreciation for the strength and diversity of American culture and society. While hundreds of affiliation agreements between U.S. and Chinese universities have promoted academic cooperation, the sharing of technical expertise, and U.S. study of China, they have done little to help address the overall level of misunderstanding of U.S. society and culture.”

The funding available is limited and is essentially pump-priming to support new and existing partnerships between US and Chinese universities. According to Inside Higher Ed there around 20 of these so far and they come in different forms:

Ohio State University used its $100,000 to create a resource center at Wuhan University, with which it has had a 30-year relationship. The center, housed in Wuhan’s foreign languages building, includes a lounge, kitchen, and resource library, complete with a large selection of American cookbooks. “We see it as a place where not only Wuhan faculty, but people from Hubei province and the city of Wuhan, can come and interact with people from Ohio State on a regular basis,” said William Brustein, Ohio State’s vice provost for global strategies and international affairs.

It’s a fascinating development and one which may help to redress the balance in time. Assuming that is that they are doing a little more than just sharing recipes.

Widening participation in the USA

Preparing for study: a new approach to WP in the US

The Chronicle carries a story on a new report about student readiness for higher education in the US.

The proposition contained in a new report from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities is that institutions have to be more involved in earlier stages of education if they want to improve students’ preparedness for higher education.

The report, written by a dozen college presidents and released here at the association’s annual meeting, calls on its member campuses to begin preparing students as early as preschool, helping children to acquire the building blocks of a successful academic career. And to have the greatest impact, the report says, colleges should focus on areas with high concentrations of poverty, where children have the greatest disadvantages in academic preparation.
Specifically, the report recommends four approaches that every member campus should be involved in: improving teacher-preparation programs, increasing the availability of dual-credit classes, aligning elementary and secondary curricula with college expectations, and giving high schools reports on how their graduates are performing in college.

This approach shares a number of features with the programmes for widening participation undertaken by all UK universities but goes some way further and indeed bears a strong resemblance to the recent introduction of Nottingham Potential at the University of Nottingham.

Working with education charity IntoUniversity, Nottingham Potential is expanding the University’s work with children from as young as Year 2 (age 7) and supporting the transition to secondary school and beyond, by providing a pathway that helps to raise attainment and aspirations.

Two of three new IntoUniversity Centres have now opened in local communities and are providing vital after-school Academic Support sessions for years 2 – 13, as well as theme-based study days for partner schools. In addition, local secondary and post-16 teachers are being offered access to funds and support to lead projects designed to improve life in their communities.

The University is also supporting pupils’ attainment through programmes in primary schools for literacy, numeracy and English as an additional language. Beyond this the programme is extending secondary and post-16 outreach work by delivering more school and college activities, as well as additional on-campus masterclasses and summer schools.

The commonalities are interesting but the AASC report does go further. Aligning school and university curricula is, of course, a live issue in England at the moment with the Secretary of State’s strong desire for HE to become more involved in A Level syllabi. Moreover, I’m not sure how good universities are at providing updates for secondary schools on the progress of their students.