Universities ‘must be vigilant’ on campus extremism

Promoting academic freedom and tackling extremism

A new report from UUK is concerned with issues around freedom of speech, academic freedom and extreme views on campus. It’s a good report (but I was on the working group so perhaps biased) and received some straightforward coverage from the BBC News:

The updated guidance from Universities UK sets out the legal duties universities have to protect freedom of speech and also to promote equality and security.

Professor Malcolm Grant, chairman of the review panel, said: “The survey findings confirm how seriously universities take their responsibilities in relation to the safety and security of their staff and students, alongside their obligations to protect and promote free speech and academic freedom.

“Universities are open institutions where academic freedom and freedom of speech are fundamental to their functioning.

“Views expressed within universities, whether by staff, students or visitors, may sometimes appear to be extreme or even offensive. However, unless views can be expressed they cannot also be challenged.

“But all freedoms have limits imposed by law and these considerations are vital to ensure the safety and well being of students, staff and the wider community.

“Universities must continue to ensure that potentially aberrant behaviour is challenged and communicated to the police where appropriate.”

But he added that it was not the job of universities to impede the freedom of speech “through additional censorship, surveillance or invasion of privacy”.

The coverage of the report, which can be downloaded as a PDF, is broad:

The report starts by examining the meaning of academic freedom and freedom of speech: concepts which are often invoked but rarely defined. It then explores the contemporary context in which universities are operating, both in terms of the diversity of current student populations, and the wider national environment. It summarises the relevant law, and describes the Government’s security strategy and other security initiatives and structures. It then reviews the various ways in which universities from across the UK have addressed these challenges and sought to reconcile differing priorities, drawing on an on-line survey conducted by Universities UK of all its members in 2010.

But the Guardian carries a somewhat critical view from Lord Carlile:

The government’s counterterrorism watchdog believes Britain’s universities are reluctant to deal with radicalisation on campus and says a report by vice-chancellors that rejects demands to ban controversial speakers is “weak”.

Lord Carlile, who is in charge of overseeing the government’s counterterrorism strategy, Prevent, urges ministers to develop a “new narrative” for combating extremism, supporting moderate Muslim theologians against al-Qaida. “You have to meet like with like,” he says.

He is scathing about the conclusion reached by Universities UK, representing 133 universities – and says their report contains a “glaring omission”. He told the Guardian: “[There] is a total failure to deal with how to identify and handle individuals who might be suspected of radicalising or being radicalised whilst within the university.”

But this is not a “weak” report and universities are far from complacent on this issue – institutions take their responsibilities in relation to the safety and security of their staff and students extremely seriously, alongside their obligations to protect and promote free speech and academic freedom. We can do with a bit less of the “new narrative” and a bit more support of the good work that is undertaken.

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More visa uncertainty

Position on visas still not clear

The Guardian has a story on the latest government position on changes to the visa regime.

Whilst on the face of it there does seem to be some movement in response to the concerns expressed by universities, there are still significant uncertainties:

But young scientists applying for visas may face serious difficulties because their incomes are often so low. Previously an MBA or a £150,000 salary guaranteed enough points to secure a visa, but a PhD scientist on a typical academic salary fell short. Scientists are concerned that the government will fail to address this disparity under the new scheme. A further problem is that scientists are awarded three-year visas for posts that can last much longer, forcing institutes to use two consecutive visas for each researcher.

“The average postdoc here lasts four or five years, so each consumes two slots and that is crazy. There are people here who are very nervous about whether they will be allowed to stay and finish their work,” Rigby said. “It is bound to be a disincentive for bright young things to come to this country.”
visa
Catherine Marston, policy adviser at the Universities and Colleges Union, echoed Rigby’s concerns. “It causes difficulties for people who are already here in the UK. If their visa runs out, they will use up one of your allocation if you decide to support them. If you don’t decide to support them they will have to leave the country.”

Professor Rigby said the government must revise its “one size fits all” approach to immigration. He said the rules should be changed to accommodate scientists by giving PhDs more points and awarding visas for the full duration of an academic post.

The uncertainty doesn’t help. It sends out the signal that UK HE is not open for business. The proposed changes to student visas are likely to exacerbate this. Hard times indeed.

NB, Catherine Marston is the most excellent policy advisor at Universities UK, not UCU as stated in the report.

Bristol University launches volunteering award

Volunteering award at Bristol University

According to the Guardian, Bristol has launched a volunteering award:

Organised volunteering and work experience has long been a vital companion to university degree courses. Usually it is left to employers to deduce the potential from a list of extracurricular adventures on a graduate’s CV, but now the University of Bristol has launched an award to formalise the achievements of students who devote time to activities outside their courses. Bristol PLuS aims to boost students in an increasingly competitive jobs market by helping them acquire work and life skills alongside academic qualifications.


This is, of course, a good thing. However, lots of other universities have been doing this kind of thing for some time. The University of Nottingham, for example, established the Nottingham Advantage Award in 2008 and the York Award at the University of York has been running for many years. Nevertheless, this kind of programme is a valuable offering for undergraduates and is just the kind of thing universities should be offering to undergraduates.

Changes in university email?

From the Chronicle: Are College E-Mail Addresses on the Way Out?

A report from Educause on IT issues in higher education suggests that provision of university email addresses for students may be a thing of the past.

It found, among other things, that in 2008 nearly 10 percent of associate, baccalaureate, and master’s institutions as well as 25 percent of doctoral institutions were considering putting an end to student e-mail addresses because so many students were already using personal e-mail accounts. That is a large shift from
typethe 1 to 2 percent of institutions that were considering this in 2004. The survey also highlighted findings from IT categories like networking and security, information systems, faculty and student computing, financing and management, and organizational structure and leadership.

Whilst there may be short term savings here, there are significant challenges in maintaining accurate lists for communication purposes but, as importantly, the ability to retain connections with alumni, through life-long email addresses, is greatly compromised.

Facebook for Scientists?

Researchers need networks too

A report in the Chronicle notes:

A $12.2-million federal stimulus grant from the National Institutes of Health will finance a network some are calling a Facebook for scientists. Several universities, including Cornell University and the University of Florida, will develop the network over the next two years in the hopes of helping scientists find other academics to work with.

If a researcher is looking for someone else in a very specialized field, he or she would usually think of all the people he has met or simply scan recent scientific journals for names, said Michael Conlon, interim director of biomedical informatics at the College of Medicine at the University of Florida and the principal investigator on the grant. Mr. Conlon calls those methods “haphazard.”

facebook

People using the network will be able to enter targeted inquiries into a search box. The results will show scholars in very specialized fields. The site will also reveal relationships between academics, such as whether someone has published an article with someone else, or whether someone was an adviser to someone else.

But why create a new network to achieve this? Aren’t existing networks like Facebook or LinkedIn able to do this kind of thing better and more efficiently?

Shanghai Jaio Tong league table: Field Rankings

World league table: Field rankings

Following the publication of the World League Table, the ARWU Field rankings have been released. These are the companion tables to the overall world rankings produced by the team at SJTU and highlight relative standings in five broad discipline areas:

As in 2008 the University of Nottingham does rather well in three of these tables: top 30 in Clinical Medicine and Phamacy, Top 75 in Agricultural and Life Sciences, and the world’s Top 100 universities in the Social Sciences.

Higher ambitions…

New HE Framework

Follow up to earlier post on HE as food-labelling:

Lord Mandelson has launched Higher Ambitions. There’s a lot in here and much of it yet to be fully fleshed out. And the much trailed element on improved consumer information still requires some work:

Higher ambitions

All universities should publish a standard set of information setting out what students can expect in terms of the nature and quality of their programme.

This should set out how and what students will learn, what that knowledge will qualify them to do, whether they will have access to external expertise or experience, how much direct contact there will be with academic staff, what their own study responsibilities will be, what facilities they will have access to, and any opportunities for international experience. It should also offer information about what students on individual courses have done after graduation. The Unistats website will continue to bring together information in a comparable way so that students can make well-informed informed [sic] choices, based on an understanding of the nature of the teaching programme they can expect, and the long-term employment prospects it offers. We will invite HEFCE, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) and UKCES to work with the sector and advise on how these goals should be achieved.

Hmmm. Should be an interesting consultation.

Higher education as food labelling

Food labelling for university courses

From the BBC website:

School leavers applying to English universities will get more data about courses under government plans to treat them more like consumers. A food labelling-style system will flag up teaching hours, career prospects and seminar frequency, says the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

On Tuesday, it will announce a new framework for higher education. The plan aims to set out priorities for universities ahead of a review of the way students fund their education. Tuition fees were introduced in 1998 and Business Secretary Lord Mandelson believes this entitles students to act more like consumers.

He has said government and industry must scrutinise and monitor courses on behalf of students, encouraging “a greater degree of competition between institutions” to drive improvement in courses. His department already publishes statistics on employability after six months and three-and-a-half years, but the latest plans would put information in one place. This could include graduates’ typical future earnings, contact hours with tutors, assessment methods and frequency of tests.

So instead of detailed descriptions of each course in prospectuses, via ucas, on university websites and the detail of league table subject comparisons, we are going to have something like this:

fsafoodlabels

It really isn’t at all clear how this is going to be in any way an improvement or of real value to prospective students. Consolidating small pieces of information into one place in this way suggests that a much more superficial assessment of quality is the aim here. And how is it going to be decided what is red and what is green?

Let’s hope that the real proposals are a bit better than this implies.

“Old-fashioned universities letting students down”

Moaners not Maoists

According to the Guardian, David Willetts has said that old-fashioned universities are letting students down:

Universities are badly failing students with unfit teaching and old-fashioned methods and will have to radically modernise lectures and facilities if they want to raise fees, according to the Conservatives’ spokesman on higher education. David Willetts told the Guardian that vice-chancellors are not prepared for the pressure their students will put them under if fees go up and that many have failed to prove students are getting value for money.

blackboard_1
It is really not at all clear from the article what “old-fashioned” methods large numbers of universities are employing…

“There are still too many horror stories I hear when I’m talking to students ‑ issues like academic work not coming back, not being able to contact tutors,” he said.

And such anecdotes, however horrific late return of work might seem, are really not a solid base for policy development.

“It’s amazing the change in this generation of students. The issue is not fomenting Maoist revolutionaries somewhere. They are much more likely to complain about how crowded seminars are or how slow the response to their dissertation was. Those are the kind of things that young people register.” Students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland currently pay up to £3,225 a year in tuition fees but many universities want a rise in the cap or even its removal. Willetts signalled the Tories were prepared to look at increasing fees, but with strings attached.

It will be interesting to see what these conditions for a fee rise turn out to be.

Latest 2009 world university league table rankings from THE

Latest 2009 world rankings from THE and QS

QSlogo

The University world rankings have been published in THE. The top 25 is as follows:

2009
1 Harvard University (1 in 2008)
2 University of Cambridge (3)
3 Yale University (2)
4 University College London (7)
5= Imperial College London (6)
5= University of Oxford (4)
7 University of Chicago (8)
8 Princeton University (12)
9 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (9)
10 California Institute of Technology (5)
11 Columbia University (10)
12 University of Pennsylvania (11)
13 Johns Hopkins University (13=)
14 Duke University (13=)
15 Cornell University (15)
16 Stanford University (17)
17 Australian National University (16)
18 McGill University (20)
19 University of Michigan (18)
20= Eth Zurich (24)
20= University of Edinburgh (23)
22 University of Tokyo (19)
23 King’s College London (22)
24 University of Hong Kong (26)
25 Kyoto University (25)

The full tables, including subject rankings, should be available here.

The key points noted about the top 100:

* A dramatic fall in the number of North American universities in the top 100, from 42 in 2008 to 36 in 2009, reflects the growing presence and impact of Asian and European institutions on the world higher education stage. Of these, McGill was the highest ranked Canadian University, up two places at 18th.
* There are 39 European universities in the top 100, up from 36 in 2008. ETH Zurich is the top ranked continental European university at 20th place.
* The number of Asian universities in the top 100 also increased – from 14 to 16 institutions. The University of Tokyo, at 22nd, is the highest ranked Asian university, ahead of the University of Hong Kong at 24th

A “cheerless science”?

Not quite the dismal science that is economics but not far off it seems.

From the obituary of Sir Neil MacCormick, Regius professor of law at Edinburgh:

Not content with teaching, writing and research, he enjoyed and excelled in the cheerless science of academic administration, serving over many years as dean of faculty, provost of law and social sciences and vice-principal.

Cheerless? Really? Or has the fun associated with the activity been seriously underestimated?

New Indy University League Table

New league table from the Independent

(It appears that the authors of the Good University Guide (previously with the Times) have found a new home.)

Some quite large movers in (and out) of the top 20:

Significant risers include SOAS, up 15 places to 9th this year; Lancaster, up 9 places to 10th; Glasgow up 14 places to joint 16th; Leicester, up 8 places to 12th. Bristol drops 9 places to joint 16th; Aston drops 11 places to 23rd; Royal Holloway drops 9 places to 22nd.

Full top 20 (with last year’s rank in brackets) as follows:
1 (2) – Oxford
2 (1) – Cambridge
3= (4) – LSE
3= (3) – Imperial
5 (8th) – Warwick
6 (10) – Durham
7 (5) – St Andrews
8 (6) – UCL
9 (24) – SOAS
10 (19) – Lancaster
11 (14)- York
12 (20) – Leicester
13 (11) – Loughborough
14 (9) – Bath
15 (17) – King’s College London
16= (14) – Nottingham
16= (7) – Bristol
16= (30) – Glasgow
19 (17) – Exeter
20 (20) – Southampton

(with acknowledgments to Tim Utton, Communications, for doing the sums)

Aussies draw back…

…from international programmes. Following the withdrawal by UNSW from its Singapore expedition, others are reining in too according to the Chronicle

The University of Southern Queensland last week confirmed that nearly one-third of its 37 offshore programs had recently been culled, with more cuts likely in the near future.

“I’m not going to tell you that there’s not a general shakeout going on of international operations within the sector at the moment,” Southern Queensland’s international pro vice chancellor, Tim Fowler, said on Thursday, blaming a “very flat” demand expected for admissions and increased scrutiny by the Australian government’s quality-assurance controllers.

“And frankly,” added Mr. Fowler, “that’s not a bad bloody thing — we want to professionalize the international sector of higher education, and part of that is going to mean bringing in more-rigorous systems and processes and models in order to enhance the way we work.”

Helpful plain speaking there.

I want my very own prospectus

A novel approach to overcoming rising postage costs…

The initiative, developed by Anglia Ruskin University, cuts down on production and postage but has yet to prove whether it also brings an increase in the number of applications.

A traditional paper copy of a full prospectus from the university, which has campuses in Cambridge and Chelmsford, runs to around 200 pages and costs £1.60 to produce.

A personalised prospectus – which includes all university core information such as student services and accommodation, as well as information on up to four courses – has a maximum of 60 pages and costs just 80p to produce. Prospective students can, if they prefer, create their own tailor-made publication online using the university’s website, and then run it off as a PDF for free instead.

It’s quite a nice idea actually but printing it off yourself is certainly not “free”!

See the Guardian for the full story

See the University’s website for the offer – not actually quite as exciting as the newspaper article made it sound