Universities gripped by puppy mania

 Puppies for relaxation

It’s exam time and I’ve written before here about the advent of the puppy room as a means of addressing exam stress. All parts of the media seem to have got rather excited about this and other stress-busting approaches as this  BBC News story demonstrates:

 

Can be used for other purposes too

Can be used for other purposes too

University students have ordered hundreds of metres of bubble wrap to burst as a way of relieving exam stress.

The University of Leicester students’ union is planning “bubble wrap stations” where students can relax by popping the packaging material.

Puppies will also be brought in to soothe stressed-out students.

Michael Rubin, president elect of the students’ union, said “mental well-being is a top priority” during exams.

The students claim that the instant gratification of popping bubble wrap is a better relaxant than meditation or yoga.

Petting zoos

There will also be a more traditional form of emergency support, with free tea on offer.

“We know how stressful exams can be,” says Mr Rubin.

Nia Phillips, a media and sociology student, says many students “may feel too ashamed to speak out about exam stress”.

And she says that public events aimed at reducing stress can help students “without having to announce to anyone how they’re feeling”.

Petting zoos have become a feature of stress-busting during university exams.

 

puppies

Whilst there is perhaps an element of faddishness about this there is certainly a lot to be said for the approach and it does seem popular with students. Be prepared for the backlash though. It’s likely that for every student looking to relax with a puppy there will be another one outside demonstrating against animal cruelty.

Still, it’s something for the media to focus on before it’s time for the traditional A level fuss.

For straightforward (animal free) exam advice there is plenty about such as this University of Nottingham page.

 

 

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Capital spend spend spend

Changing patterns of capital spending in universities

 

HESA recently released details of HEIs’ capital spend in 2012-13 showing the total spend on buildings and equipment and the sources of the funds used:

HE capital

 

Times Higher Education has a brief piece on this and notes that, unsurprisingly, as external funding for capital expenditure has declined, universities have replaced this from their own funds:

The proportion of capital investment that universities financed using internal funds has leaped 20 per cent over the past four years, according to data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency

UK universities spent nearly £2 billion from internal sources for capital projects in 2012-13, up from £1.5 billion in 2008-09.

The Finances of Higher Education Institutions 2012-13 report states that during the past academic year, universities’ capital expenditure was nearly £3.1 billion, 64 per cent of which was provided by internal sources. This compares with a total of almost £3.5 billion four years ago, of which 43 per cent was funded by internal sources.

Expenditure funded by loans remained relatively stable, at £408 million in 2008-09 and £326 million in 2012-13, according to the data published earlier this month. Meanwhile, capital projects financed by funding body grants fell by about half over the four years, from £765 million to £359 million.

So, despite the decline in funding agency contributions the total spend on buildings and equipment has increased significantly. Will capital spend continue to grow despite reduced public funding? We can expect so given the greater competition between institutions, the “arms race” of student facilities development and the need to invest ever more to support leading edge research.

Timetabling can be fun

A Real Higher Ed Challenge

A really fascinating article by @Graham_Kendall on the maths behind an exam timetable. It’s one of those things that affects everyone at university – staff and students. And it’s hugely important both in terms of teaching and learning and resourcing. But timetabling exams is far from straightforward as this piece demonstrates:

There are hard constraints in timetable design: for example, students cannot sit two examinations at the same time, the size of the exam room must be big enough for the number of students, and some exams need certain facilities, such as computers.

Other constraints are a bit more flexible – so called “soft constraints”. These include spreading the exams out as much as possible to give each student more revision time, or scheduling larger examinations at the start of the exam period so that lecturers have more time to mark them.

 

Not as easy as it looks

Not as easy as it looks

So, the challenge is to create an examination timetable that is as fair to as many students as possible but, in the knowledge that you can’t please all the people all of the time.

An obvious question is why not simply generate every possible timetable, compare them against each other and choose the one that would satisfy most students?

Unfortunately, this is not possible. Assume that we can generate 1,000 examination timetables every second. For an institution the size of the University of Nottingham (which has about 33,000 students in the UK), it would take millions of years to generate every possible timetable, such is the number of possible options.

 

So, much as everyone wants to please all students it seems that this isn’t on. At least not for several million years.

A really interesting insight into an obscure but vital area of university management.

An Ethics App?

Difficult ethical decision? There’s an app for that

I was taken by this interesting development in applying academic research to real world issues. The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on a new mobile app intended to help with decision support on those difficult ethical issues:

The disclaimer on Santa Clara University’s new mobile app strikes an ominous tone:

“In no event will we be liable for any loss or damage arising out of, or in connection with, the use of this website/app.”

Then again the Ethical Decision Making app, developed by the university’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, aims for more-consequential uses than, say, Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds. The Santa Clara ethicists hope that people who make decisions that will change lives—business leaders, hospital administrators, and school officials, for instance—will use the app as a guide.

Alternative ethical decision making aids are available

Alternative ethical decision making aids are available

The Ethical Decision Making app is an attempt to bring applied ethics into 21st century. It is not so much a Magic 8-Ball as a pocket Socrates, which is to say the app asks more questions than it answers. The idea is that someone facing a decision can use it to evaluate each possible option.

Once the user gets past the disclaimer, the app asks him or her to list all the stakeholders in the decision. The app then asks the user to consider the implications of the option at hand according to five categories of “good”: utility (“Does this action produce the most good and do the least harm for all who are affected?”), rights (“Does my action best respect the rights of all who have a stake?”), justice (“Does this action treat people equally or proportionally?”), virtue (“Does this option lead me to act as the sort of person I want to be?”), and the common good (“Does this action best serve the community as a whole, not just some members?”).

For each of the five categories, the user rates where the option would fall on a scale of “more good” to “more harm,” and so on. The app also asks the user to assign a weight to each of the five categories that reflects how important it is.

Then the app spits out a number. The number supposedly represents how ethical the option would be on a scale of 1 to 100, according to the values supplied by the user.

Convinced of the value of this? I’m not sure. If you need an app to help you with your ethical positioning you are possibly not ideally placed to reach any kind of decision on an issue.

I was almost tempted to download the app and test it out on some ethical dilemmas. Then I thought I could pretend I had done so (which would be a lot quicker) and make up some absurd results. But then I tossed a coin and it told me to ditch the whole project. Ethics eh?

Ranking systemically

The new U21 systems ranking

Following on from last year’s second league table, U21 has now published its 2014 Rankings report, which is intended to give an overview and ranking of higher education systems across the world. The full report gives much more information about the rankings but in summary:

The widened definition of Connectivity has seen an improvement in the rankings for several Asian countries, and a decline for several Eastern European countries. Overall, though, the leaders in Connectivity are Switzerland, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Environment is topped by New Zealand and the Netherlands.

Resource levels are highest in Denmark, followed by Canada, Sweden and the United Sates. The biggest change since the 2013 rankings has been a fall of five places by Bulgaria, Hungary and the Russian Federation occasioned by relative declines in government expenditure. On Output measures, the top five countries are the same as in 2013: the United States is again clearly first followed by the United Kingdom, Canada, Sweden and Finland. Among the top eight countries for Output, all but two (the United Kingdom and Australia) are in the top eight for Resources.

Our main ranking compares a country’s performance against the best in the world on each measure. In our auxiliary ranking, countries are scored on how they perform on each of the 24 measures relative to countries at similar stages of economic development as measured by GDP per capita. This produces marked changes in ranking. China (becomes ninth), India (becomes 23rd) and South Africa (becomes 17th) all improve their overall ranking by at least 25 places, although the three top-ranked countries are Sweden, Finland and Denmark. A noticeable feature is that several lower income countries show very marked improvements in the Connectivity ranking (the top two are now South Africa and Thailand, and Indonesia becomes seventh), an activity that is likely to be most beneficial to economic growth.

 

962013 thumbnail

The 2014 Rankings report retains the core methodology of the previous rankings with a minor amendment to the connectivity indicator:

24 desirable attributes are grouped under four broad headings: Resources, Environment, Connectivity and Output. The Resources component covers government expenditure, total expenditure, and R&D expenditure in tertiary institutions. The Environment module comprises a quantitative index of the policy and regulatory environment, the gender balance of students and academic staff, and a data quality variable. The Connectivity component has been extended by including measures of interaction with business and industry, in addition to numbers of international students, research articles written with international collaborators and web-based connectivity. Nine Output variables are included that 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 overall country ranking is a weighted average of each module. The improvement in the scope of the Connectivity module has led us to increase the weight on this component from 15 to 20 per cent and to lower the weight on the Resources component by five percentage points. The weights used in the 2014 rankings are: Resources (20%), Environment (20%), Connectivity (20%) and Output (40%). The widened definition of Connectivity has seen an improvement in the rankings for several Asian countries, and a decline for several Eastern European countries. Overall, though, the leaders in Connectivity are Switzerland, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Environment is topped by New Zealand and the Netherlands.

The top 20 is as follows. As might be expected it is fairly stable with little change since last year:

1 United States (1)
2 Sweden (2)
3 Canada (4)
3 Denmark (5)152_140410 - 2014 Rankings Publication - Draft 2_Page_01
5 Finland (6)
6 Switzerland (3)
7 Netherlands (7)
8 United Kingdom (10)
9 Australia (8)
10 Singapore (9)
11 Norway (11)
12 Austria (11)
13 Belgium (13)
14 Germany (15)
15 Hong Kong SAR (16)
16 New Zealand (14)
17 Ireland (18)
18 France (16)
19 Israel (19)
20 Japan (-)

The top 10 countries are the same as in the 2012 and 2013 Rankings but with some minor swaps and the UK charging up the table from 10th to 8th and Switzerland sliding dramatically from 3rd to 6th.

It remains a distinctive and perhaps less controversial method of ranking.

 

 

Needed: More Money, Money, Money

Higher Education needs more and better fundraising. And fundraisers

A new publication from HEFCE.on developing the HE fundraising workforce:

This report was commissioned by HEFCE to address one of the recommendations in ‘Review of Philanthropy in UK Higher Education: 2012 status report and challenges for the next decade’ (the Pearce report), specifically the future development and training needs of the higher education philanthropy workforce.

More please

More please

The 2012 report showed that investment in fundraising brings results whatever the size or type of university or college. If the success described in that report was to continue, it would be necessary to have a strong and growing group of educational fundraisers who are skilled in leading development teams and working with academics and institutional leaders.

This new review on the philanthropy workforce indicates the pool of professional fundraisers working in UK higher education is too small if the ambitious targets for the next decade are to be met.

In order to attract more people to become and remain educational fundraisers, there needs to be an attractive career structure and a shared understanding of the skills and knowledge-base required to be effective at different stages of that career. This issue has guided this report: what should a career path in educational fundraising look like and how can we retain the best people?

The evidence in this review of the fundraising workforce is intended to address those questions. The arguments in favour of developing a long term view which will provide the staffing required are undeniable but nevertheless it will be challenging to deliver.

I also thought the point made about developing the next generation of fundraisers was particularly important:

Internship schemes (notably the HEFCE-supported CASE graduate traineeships) are working well as entry points and could be extended to a wider range of institutions. Top student callers, who learn their craft on university “phonathons”, are an excellent source of fundraising talent, as are others who carry out student work in development offices.

 
The numbers involved in the CASE graduate traineeship scheme remain small though and there is also a role for the Ambitious Futures programme, the wider graduate training scheme for higher education in the UK, for contributing to the development of this future pipeline of fundraising staff.

It’s an important report.

A New Student Services Role?

Does every University need a Course Concierge?

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently had a piece about the development of the idea of the ‘Course Concierge’. The label seems to have been assigned to Paul Neill title who is director of the core curriculum at the University of Nevada at Reno, by the students there. He’s the one they contact when they can’t get into a class they need and sorts it out for them:

A few years ago, officials at the university decided that they had to do more to reduce the hassles of registering for courses. They imagined a kind of registration czar, someone who could communicate well with faculty members but who had the authority of an administrator. Mr. Neill, a faculty member who works in the provost’s office, fit the bill.

Someone else's student services centre

Some other institution’s student services centre

Soon Nevada was promoting Mr. Neill as the course concierge, the man advisers and students could turn to when stuck. Each semester, he helps 50 to 60 students solve their scheduling problems, working one on one with those who need a particular course to graduate, or who have trouble getting into classes they must take in a sequence. Often he creates a spot in a class that’s full, or steers students to suitable alternatives.

“In the past, it was often left up to the student and the professor to see who could get in where,” Mr. Neill says. “It was very informal.”

Even in times of plenty, students often learn a tough lesson when they register for courses: You can’t always get what you want. In this era of budget cuts, however, students on some campuses have scrambled to get not only the courses they would like but also those they need for their majors and to satisfy core requirements.

 

Whilst in many ways it seems like a solution to a problem more likely to be encountered on US campuses, the idea of providing additional assistance to students in this way is an interesting one. A contact of last resort on course matters might be a really valuable addition to student services offerings.

Really not sure about the title though.

2015 Complete University Guide League Table

It’s spring and it’s time for the first league table of the season.

Once again it’s the Complete University Guide which is first to publish this year. The top 25 is as follows:

1 (1) Cambridge
2 (2) Oxford
3 (3) London School of Economics
4 (6) St Andrews
5 (5) Durham
6 (4) Imperial College London
7 (8) Warwick
8 (9) Bathcug logo
9 (7) University College London
10 (10) Exeter
11 (11) Lancaster
12 (13) Surrey
13 (14) Loughborough
14 (12) York
15 (20) East Anglia
16 (21) Southampton
17 (17) Birmingham
18 (15) Bristol
19 (16) Leicester
20 (22) Newcastle
21 (18) Edinburgh
22 (28) Kent
23 (24) Nottingham
23 (36) Cardiff
23 (32)Leeds

The new Complete University Guide for 2015 has, unsurprisingly perhaps, Cambridge at the top of the heap. The top 10 is unchanged and there are a few moves in and out of the top 20 with Southampton and Newcastle replacing Edinburgh and King’s.

The Top Ten is unchanged compared with last year. The Universities of Southampton and Newcastle enter the Top 20, while Edinburgh (21th) and King’s (28th) drop out.

There is plenty of other analysis (including by subject, region and mission group)  and information on careers, fees etc. on the website.

The main table uses nine indicators: Student Satisfaction, Research Assessment, Entry Standards, Student:Staff Ratio; Spending on Academic Services; Spending on Student Facilities; Good Honours degrees achieved; Graduate Prospects and Completion. The Subject tables are based on four: Student Satisfaction, Research Assessment; Entry Standards and Graduate Prospects. The results tend to be fairly consistent year on year and there is not huge volatility in this table.

But, overall, there is not a whole lot to get excited about this year.

Mobilising the humanities

Humanities – helping to meet global development challenges

I was pleased to be present at the launch of this study which was conducted by Ipsos on behalf of the British Council. It was launched on 1st May at Going Global 2014, the British Council’s annual conference for leaders in higher education which took place in Miami. You can find the Report, Mobilising the humanities, here.

map-global-connections

 

This study explores, through the eyes of international development organisations, the role of the Humanities in seeking solutions to global development challenges. The study found that all development programmes, even the most technical, need ‘humanising’. An education in the humanities helps develop a base of knowledge and key skills in four main areas of development:

  • Critical/analytical thinking
  • Flexibility and tolerance for ambiguity
  • Communication and negotiation
  • Local knowledge

MobilOther findings included that a Humanities education develops the needed knowledge and skills but experience is important too for those playing these important development roles. In addition, the report concluded that organisations face challenges in finding the right people with the right skills and also faced private sector competition too.

Whilst it is pretty difficult to argue with much of this and it is all very laudable and indeed credible, I would have a concern that there is an element of preaching to the converted here. Moreover, although there are detailed findings to be published, a small number of interviews with a selection of leaders in development agencies is perhaps not the most robust evidence base in support of the argument. However, all good stuff nevertheless.

 

More from Going Global in Miami soon.

Students behaving badly

Crimes and misdemeanours at university

I was greatly taken by this list of fineable offences for 18th-century students at Harvard:

Offense #19, “Cutting off the lead,” seems to refer to the lead on the college building’s roof. Lead was once used for roofing material (especially for more expensively-constructed buildings), and such buildings suffered from the depradations of thieves who would steal the lead and sell it. It’s unclear, in this case, whether the students were cutting off lead for profit or for simple mischief.

 

Students have always behaved badly. Not all of them and not all of the time but universities have often felt the need to seek to constrain the worst excesses and this list from Harvard is typical although clearly very much of its time. (See also True Crime on Campus…)

A previous post here looked at regulations in Oxford and Uzbekistan, in the 16th Century and more recently.

In 1584 at Oxford University, statutes were approved to prevent disorder among the student body. These regulations also contain references to specific degree requirements including attendance at lectures on Aristotle and an instruction not to play football. (Sylvester, D (1970), Educational Documents, 800-1816, London: Methuen pp151-153.)

These days universities around the world tend to have more comprehensive requirements (but perhaps more supportive of sporting activity). See for example the University of Nottingham Code of Discipline for Students.

An interesting development of this has been reported by the Chronicle which noted that Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Higher and Secondary Education issued a ‘code of conduct’ for students, covering such matters as how they should shake hands with professors and the proper time to visit the toilet during classes.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (quoted by the Chronicle) described the code, “Ethical Rules for Higher Education Institutions,” as an attempt by an authoritarian government to keep its youth population in line:

The ministry is requiring that its pedantic “Ethical Rules for Higher Education Institutions” be signed by every university student and professor in the country.

“These rules are being introduced to form and retain, as well as defend, the ethical integrity of members of higher educational institutions,” the document says. It promises to “prevent the decay of students…and defend them from alcoholism and drug addiction, as well as the threats of religious extremism and mass culture.”

(It’s good to see that someone is still fighting that last battle, particularly after Rutgers University paid Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” $32,000 to lecture its students in March 2011. Snooki got $2,000 more than Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize-winning author who for $30,000 delivered the keynote address at Rutgers’ commencement ceremony in May 2011.)

 

This is the kind of thing which Harvard used to have to put up with

This is the kind of thing which Harvard used to have to put up with

Notwithstanding the lofty language of the prologue, many of the new guidelines read like a rather poor joke, the work of ministry officials with an acutely sardonic sense of humor. Article 3.8 stipulates that “members of a higher education institution, when moving, should take the right side. It is recommended to greet each other in the following way: students first greet professors; men first greet women; younger students first greet older students. Shaking hands is excluded from this rule, since elders should reach out to shake first.”

And as if that weren’t enough:

“It is prohibited to post on the Internet materials that are not in line with national values or related to the internal problems of higher educational institutions,” the rules say, before going on to note that they “categorically ban publishing, saving, or distribution via computers of different materials not related to a higher education institution.”

And just when you thought things could not get any worse: “Don’t walk around a university campus with no reason,” the rulebook advises.

So, it really does feel like a bit of a homage to Harvard. Unfortunately it is the Harvard of over 200 years ago rather than today.

Skills not swimming

Alternatives to physical education tests


A previous post reported on the reduction in the number of swimming tests
or other physical education assessments which formed part of graduation requirements at US universities.

Now Inside Higher Ed has a report on another university, Notre Dame, “a sports juggernaut”, which is making the shift too:

The university announced last week that freshmen will soon have to take two graded, one-credit courses on topics like wellness, academic strategies and spirituality instead of having to complete a year of physical education courses – for which there are a range of options – and pass a swim test.

An end to all this?

An end to all this?

The new first-year program, in place by fall 2015, will try to fill gaps in “student socialization,” “cultural competency” and independent learning with 250-student lecture courses and smaller breakout sessions in residence halls, according a report from the committee that recommended the change this month.

As a result of the shift, the department of physical education and wellness instruction – which includes about 13 non-tenure-track faculty – will close. The provost’s office will “work closely with those impacted to explore other opportunities for on-campus employment and to develop appropriate transitional strategies,” according to the report.

The report also refers to a recent study on the decline in required physical education at US universities from almost all having it as a graduation requirement down to just 39%. To those of us in the UK, where to the best of my knowledge no university has such a requirement, this still seems like remarkably large proportion. I have to say though I do think the alternative being introduced by Notre Dame sounds very interesting indeed.