Beyond the Brian Cox effect

Extravagant claims about one person’s influence on Physics recruitment.

The Telegraph comments on the ‘Brian Cox effect’ and suggests that it has resulted in a surge in demand for physics:

A typical Physics academic

A typical Physics academic

Manchester has always been a popular choice for physics but the university admitted that a recent rise in applications had been partially driven by the attraction of Prof Cox, one of the department’s academics and presenter of television series such as Stargazing Live and Wonders of the Universe.

He currently teaches quantum mechanics and relativity to first year students.

It also reflects the increasing popularity of the subject nationally on the back of publicity surrounding the Large Hadron Collider at Cern.

Across Britain, the number of students taking degrees in physics has soared by 50 per cent in just eight years to reach more than 40,000 in 2011.

 
Of course such an impact does take time – it starts with the GCSE and then A level choices made at school before we even get to the university application stage. So whilst the latest surge in applications to Manchester and for Physics more broadly may well be attributable at least in part to Professor Cox, it is not the whole picture.

Here at the University of Nottingham we have witnessed a similar phenomenon.

Professor Martyn Poliakoff is a leading figure in the Periodic videos project and has arguably had a similar impact on Chemistry. See this recent video, which has been viewed over 2m times, for example:

 

So it’s not just about the Brian Cox effect. It’s also the Martyn Poliakoff phenomenon.

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Higher education funding letters: another bundle of joy

On government HE funding letters

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has written to HEFCE with the Department’s annual message on funding and helpful bag of instructions.

The letter

sets out Government funding and priorities for HEFCE and for higher education for the second year of the new financial arrangements for higher education in England. The Government’s vision for higher education, outlined in the higher education white paper ‘Students at the heart of the system’, remains, and HEFCE is asked to continue to support learning and teaching activity, quality assurance, widening participation and an enhanced student experience. HEFCE will also continue our support for postgraduate provision.

Super. More instructions.

Not only does it offer even more directions to HEFCE, at 36 paragraphs and eight pages it is the second longest of the four to date issued by the Secretary of State and the Minister and confirms a return to the sterling epistolary efforts made by the previous government.

Last January’s effort really set the standard though – although it contained 35 paragraphs was in fact nine pages long. The December 2010 was somewhat shorter at only 28 paragraphs and can be seen as the BIS duo just getting into their stride.

The earlier post on this topic back in August 2010 noted:

The most recent funding letter of June 24 2010 from Vince Cable and David Willetts to the Chairman of HEFCE is distinctive for three main reasons. First, and unsurprisingly if dispiritingly, it outlines the first major tranche of savings to be made in the 2010-11 financial year. Secondly, it is extremely short – indeed at 10 paragraphs and just over two pages it is the shortest funding letter to the Council in at least 14 years and undercuts all letters under the previous government by some way. Thirdly, it is the first such letter to be signed by both the Secretary of State and the relevant Minister. And thank goodness too or some of us might never have seen this fascinating signature:

Of course those with longer memories will have fond recollections of the briefest of grant letters from the University Grants Committee (UGC) which simply set out the amount of money available for disbursement. Many will long for the golden age of five year funding settlements under the UGC. Whilst it could reasonably be argued that the UGC served as an effective buffer between the state and the universities, the options for the Higher Education Funding Councils, and in particular HEFCE, are much more limited as the directives from government on spending have become ever more detailed and prescriptive. Fortunately though we are able to examine all of the details of these as HEFCE has a nice collection of funding letters going back to 1996.

This decidedly dubious summary of these letters draws on this collection but refers only to English funding allocations. I’m sure the other funding councils receive similar missives from their respective governments but it is beyond my capacity to deal with them I’m afraid.

The length of funding letters has seen two peaks in the last 14 years: January 2003’s letter was 73 paragraphs long and the December 1998 note ran to 66 paragraphs. The November 1999, November 2000 and December 2001 letters ranged from 40 to 46 paragraphs but the January 2004 letter and subsequent missives tend towards the more traditional brevity of only 15-25 paragraphs of instruction to HEFCE.

Just for completeness then here are some of the details about English Higher Education’s most exciting epistles:

  1. The first letter in this series is the last prepared under the previous Conservative government, way back in November 1996. This 41 paragraph note (signed by a Civil Servant) covers: linking funding to assessment of teaching quality, expanding part-time provision, the importance of closer links with employers, not wanting to see longer courses, a planned reduction in student numbers by 2,000 for the following year and keeping the participation rate at around 30%. Some interesting parallels here with the most recent letter from the current government perhaps?
  2. The December 1998 letter is the first New Labour funding letter. At 66 paragraphs it is one of the longest in recent times and the last one to carry the name of a senior Civil Servant rather than the Secretary of State. Topics covered include sector spending, lifelong learning, increasing participation, maintaining quality and standards (a recurring theme down the years), widening access, promoting employability, research investment, capital spend, tuition fee arrangements and Year 2000 issues (we were all worried then).
  3. The November 1999 letter, 43 paragraphs long, provides David Blunkett with the opportunity to wax lyrical on the importance of maintaining quality and standards, increasing participation and employability, widening access, equal opportunities for HE staff, dealing with student complaints, new capital funding, pfi/ppp opportunities, research funding and HE pay.
  4. David Blunkett, in his November 2000 letter, which runs to a sprightly 46 paragraphs, makes some big points on widening participation as a key priority, business links and the e-university.
  5. In November 2001 Estelle Morris provides a neat 40 paragraph letter which gives lots of direction on widening participation, maintaining quality and standards, strengthening research, the importance of links with industry and communities, as well as something on the value of the e-Universities project (remember that?) and, last but not least, social inclusion.
  6. January 2003 represents the high water mark of recent funding letters: in 73 action packed paragraphs Charles Clarke, in his first outing as Secretary of State, is clearly keen to lead the way. The letter covers, among other things, improvement in research, expanded student numbers, foundation degrees, widening participation, improving teaching and learning and increased knowledge transfer. As if that were not enough we also have the establishment of the AHRC, the introduction of a new quality assurance regime but with reduced burdens for institutions (yeah, right), credit systems, FE partnerships, expanded student numbers and new investments in HE workforce development. A real blockbuster of a letter.
  7. The January 2004 message from Charles Clarke comes in at 20 paragraphs in just over 4 pages with reducing bureaucracy, building research and quality and standards and the establishment of Aimhigher as its central features.
  8. December 2004 brings a Christmas treat from everyone’s favourite Santa, Charles Clarke. With just 16 paragraphs and 4 pages of direction Clarke stresses the importance of maintaining the unit of funding for teaching, controlling student numbers and making efficiency gains.
  9. The January 2006 letter, a first and last offering from Ruth Kelly, comes in at a modest 15 paragraphs and 4 pages. No huge surprises in the text with employer-led provision, more widening participation, additional research and capital funding and a strong steer on reducing bureaucracy being the primary features. Additional points to note include equal opportunities for HE staff, efficiency gains, the new conditions which accompany the new tuition fees regime and reference to access agreements. What’s not to like here?
  10. January 2007’s is a punchy 19 paragraphs and merely five pages from Alan Johnson (his one and only letter). Despite the wordiness there isn’t a huge amount in here beyond employer engagement, growing foundation degrees and a lot on widening participation.
  11. January 2008: as with its successor letter this one is 24 paragraphs and 7 pages long (and note the online version on the HEFCE website is erroneously dated 18 Jan 2009). In this funding letter Denham indicates that his priorities are increasing student numbers, developing employer part-funded provision, and widening participation. The letter also refers to encouraging HE to develop stronger links with schools and colleges, greater investment in research, the importance of STEM, a green development fund, closer measuring of performance, and the establishment of the fund-raising match-funding scheme.
  12. January 2009’s letter is 7 pages and 24 paragraphs long and in it John Denham seeks to encourage HE to support the economy through recession, wider engagement with business, promote employer-led provision, innovative ways to support business, promotion of STEM subjects and widening participation and extending fair access. Additionally, there is the confirmation of the ‘university challenge’ with 20 new HE centres to be established, emphasis on the maintenance of quality and standards, plans for continuing to reduce regulation, commitment to dual support as well as the development of REF, steps to tackle climate change and bearing down on over-recruitment by institutions.
  13. The December 2009 letter from Lord Mandelson comes in at 15 paragraphs. This short note follows up on Higher Ambitions (which, in case you had forgotten, “sets out a course for how universities can remain world class, providing the nation with the high level skills needed to remain competitive, while continuing to attract the brightest students and researchers”) and also covers the Economic Challenge Investment Fund, wider and fairer access to HE, increasing the variety of undergraduate provision, new funding incentives to deliver higher level skills, developing REF, new developments in quality assurance including the publication of a standard set of information for students, engaging with communities and penalizing institutions which over-recruit students.
  14. June 2010 sees the first funding letter from the new coalition government: Cable and Willetts give us 10 brief paragraphs covering initial savings, efficiencies and cuts but also 10,000 extra places (but with strings).

So, that’s your lot folks. All you never wanted to know about 14 years of funding letters.

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:

TOP INSTITUTIONS HOSTING INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS, 2011/12 
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.

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.

Where will they go? Student Destinations – Global Agent Survey

The latest survey of international recruitment agent views

Given that I am currently at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus on a brief visit I thought I would focus on an international story. ICEF (an international market intelligence outfit) and i-graduate have just published their 2012 global survey of international student recruitment agents’ views on destination countries. The headline figures are probably what you would expectwith the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand all showing well. But there are two particularly interesting points in this table and the commentary with it:

Year-over-year, the most remarkable change among leading destination countries can be found in Canada. Since 2008, Canada has risen fully 15 percentage points in its perceived attractiveness among education agents. Compare that to the US (a gain of 5 percentage points since 2008), the UK (a loss of 7 percentage points), Australia (a loss of 1 percentage point), and New Zealand (a gain of 3 percentage points). In 2008, Canada was tied with Australia in third place; in 2012, it is tied with the UK in second. Asian agents in particular registered a great surge in how attractive they consider Canada.

The first is the rise and rise of Canada as a destination. It is really impressive and this perceived attractiveness has, I believe, been confirmed in international student recruitment data. The second is the UK’s decline over the past five years but its stability in the most recent two years when the government’s significantly anti-immigration stance has been most pronounced. The fear must be though that this will get worse in future as the impact of visa restrictions and the reputational fall-out from the London Met debacle bites.

It will be really interesting to see how this plays out in future.

Personalised campus visits

A US University has really gone for personalisation in a big way

 

Lynn University has gone to really quite extraordinary lengths to offer a personalised experience for prospective students visiting its campus. Inside Higher Ed reports on the university’s attempt to attract more students:

Lynn University is so invested in prospective students enjoying their time on campus that even before a student enrolls the university has a parking spot with their name on it.

Every prospective student who comes to visit the campus gets his or her own spot. A series of well-marked signs directs them from the parking lot to the admissions building. A screen in the admissions office welcomes students to the campus by name.

But that’s just the beginning. Around campus, it’s like the student has been there for years. Everyone knows that prospective student’s name, what he or she might be interested in studying, and where he or she is from. Current students take prospective students around to see whatever they want on campus and talk about majors and extracurricular activities, and faculty members in their potential majors dine with them to talk about courses.

It’s a bit different from the large open day experience at many UK institutions where thousands visit at any one time and personalisation can be a challenge. Nevertheless, in the competitive market place in which we are all now operating many universities continue to work hard to offer high quality open day visits. Parking is always a challenge though even at the best of times and I’m not sure dining with academic staff is going to be on offer for large numbers of students. But might this be the future for some?

Unistats and KIS – just too much information?


Unistats – now with added KIS – has launched

The all new Unistats site has launched:

Unistats is the official site that allows you to search for and compare data and information on university and college courses from across the UK. The site draws together comparable information on those areas that students have identified as important in making decisions about what and where to study. The items that students thought were most useful have been included in a Key Information Set (KIS), which can be found on the Overview tab for each course.

The site draws on the following official data on higher education courses:

  • Student satisfaction from the National Student Survey
  • Student destinations on finishing their course from the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey
  • How the course is taught and study patterns
  • How the course is assessed
  • Course accreditation
  • Course costs (such as tuition fees and accommodation)

There is a mass of information here and, as this screenshot shows, data is presented in a handy tabular form:

However, we do have a problem. As previous posts have noted there really is just too much data here and across the various university, HE sector information and league table websites. The launch recently of the new Which? University site (about which I posted here recently) added to the mess and the Unistats upgrade just serves to make the picture even more complicated for applicants.

There is no information deficit in HE. We do not need more and better course comparison websites. What we do need is fewer new websites and more and better guidance for prospective students.

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:

Against:

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.

For:

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?

Nottingham Potential – a launch and an opening

Helping young people to reach their true potential

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too much data?

Will more data help prospective students?

Richard Partington, writing in THE, expresses concern about the ‘data overload’ which the Key Information Set (KIS) will deliver. He notes that the provision of information to applicants via the KIS is intended to work in a similar way to price comparison websites such as those offering car insurance. And that this, despite what Ministers might think, is not necessarily a good thing:

But what really worries me, is how the data will be “innovatively presented” by the third-party providers whom the government envisages will advise applicants. Comparing universities and courses is already really difficult. Unless students are lucky enough to be supported by excellent careers advisers, they struggle to make sense of substantially incomparable information regarding course content, teaching, learning, costs and support. The problem has arguably been exacerbated by newspaper league tables that seek to distinguish themselves by weighting data differently, or including additional delineators – sometimes of comical spuriousness. The impossibility of comparing like with like will only get worse under the new arrangements. Try, for example, comparing the fee-waiver, bursary and scholarship packages of Oxford and Cambridge. Both are, I believe, strong and broadly similar. But they look very different.

An earlier post noted similar issues around the provision of advice to students in the new system. It seems to me to be quite likely therefore that the excessive provision of detailed but not necessarily meaningfully comparable data will, as Partington suggests, baffle rather than enlighten students.

A currently pretty much empty site shows an example of what the KIS data will look like and it’s easy to see how seductive this might be for those looking for a cheap solution to the provision of advice to prospective students

Enlightening or baffling? We’ll have to wait and see.

LSE and Libya: The Woolf Inquiry

Woolf reports on LSE’s Libyan Links

And it’s a compelling read:

The Woolf Inquiry was set up on 3 March 2011 following criticism of LSE’s links to Libya and the resignation of the Director, Sir Howard Davies. The terms of the Inquiry were as follows:

An independent inquiry to establish the full facts of the School’s links with Libya, whether there have been errors made, and to establish clear guidelines for international donations to and links with the School. Lord Woolf is to make recommendations to the LSE Council as soon as possible. He is to have total discretion as to how he conducts the inquiry, and as to the matters on which he is to report.

At the same time, the academic integrity of Saif Gaddafi’s PhD was referred to the University of London under the Procedure for Consideration of Allegations of Irregularity in Relation to University of London Awards. The Gaddafi PhD was awarded by the UoL before degree awarding powers were transferred to LSE, and had to be assessed carefully in accordance with UoL procedures. In order to ensure that a comprehensive picture was reached, the Council of LSE decided that Lord Woolf’s report and the University of London Panel decision should be released at the same time.

As a result the Council of LSE is now making the full Woolf report public and the full report of the Inquiry can be found here. The University of London’s report on Saif Gaddafi’s PhD has been passed to the LSE but this does not seem to have been made public. There is no suggestion though of any actions being taken in this regard.

Lord Woolf’s chunky 188 page report covers four main areas:

  • Saif Gaddafi as a student at LSE
  • The donation to the LSE
  • Range of links between LSE and Libya
  • The activities of LSE Enterprise

The central conclusion is reported to be shortcomings in institutional governance:

The School established, in an incremental and piecemeal fashion, a relationship with Libya. Before a global company embarks upon a relationship with a foreign partner, a due diligence assessment should be conducted. No similar exercise took place in this case. The links were allowed to grow, unchecked and to a degree unnoticed, until their effect was overwhelming. In October 2009, the LSE’s council resolved that the links should be monitored carefully in future. That monitoring came too late. By October 2009 the relationship with Libya had been well established.

In addition, the history of the developing connection between the LSE and Libya has exposed a disconcerting number of failures in communication and governance within the School. The errors which I detail in the remaining chapters of this report exceed those that should have occurred in an institution of the LSE’s distinction. The pattern is such that I am driven to the central conclusion that there were shortcomings in the governance structure and management at the LSE.

Woolf’s main recommendations, which are not huge in number, cover the following topics:

  • the establishment of a Code of Ethics and a committee to oversee it
  • procedures around PhD admissions and progression
  • rules on donations
  • incidental links with Libya

As Times Higher reported it some weeks ago:

The Woolf report is not wholly critical of the LSE, and it partially exonerates the institution in some areas.

It finds that despite the failings, LSE staff acted in what they believed to be the best interests of the school.

A £2.2 million contract to train Libya’s elite civil servants was “clearly of merit” and went through stricter due diligence than the £1.5 million donation, the report finds.

However, it was brokered by Dr Gaddafi while he was still a doctoral student. To prevent such a situation recurring, Lord Woolf recommends that the LSE expand its policy of not accepting donations from current students to cover transactions such as commercial contracts.

A notorious video-link lecture by Colonel Gaddafi in December 2010 in which a message from Sir Howard told him that he was “most welcome”, and the dictator proceeded to denounce claims that Libya masterminded the 1988 Lockerbie bombing as a “fabrication”, was deemed to be legitimate, as students were free to question him.

There was also no criticism of the decision to allow Dr Gaddafi to give a Ralph Miliband Programme lecture at the LSE in May 2010.

The LSE has accepted all 15 of Lord Woolf’s recommendations and a subcommittee of its council will now look into how it will implement a code of ethics.

It does seem therefore that all of the recommendations will be followed up properly by the LSE. Some of the details around Saif Gaddafi’s PhD are quite striking (not least his ability to function as a full-time student whilst playing the part of an international envoy for Libya). But I think the thing that I find most surprising in the report is that given the very detailed critique of the shortcomings in the various decision making processes leading up to the acceptance of the large donation from Libya, Woolf’s specific recommendations on governance don’t seem to go very far, essentially amounting to the establishment of a new code of ethics and a committee. Having said that, there has already been significant change at the LSE, including the departure of the former Director, so perhaps there is much in train.

Overall  though it really is an extrordinary report and well worth reading.

Undergraduate exodus: more overblown predictions


UK students “switch to US universities”

According to BBC News, it seems that UK students are all switching to US universities.

Within four years, a quarter of sixth formers at a leading UK independent school will be heading for universities in the United States.

That’s the prediction of Anthony Seldon, head of Wellington College in Berkshire.

Dr Seldon, one of the UK’s leading head teachers, says that ambitious teenagers are looking further afield than ever before in their university choices.

The lure of well-funded US universities, with more broad-based course options, is proving increasingly attractive to youngsters in the UK, he says.

At a recent talk with pupils, he said that about 40% claimed to want to go to US universities, with the expectation that many of these will actually go on to enrol.

This surge in academic wanderlust reflects the experience of the Fulbright Commission, which promotes educational links between the US and UK.

The level of interest is “rising sharply” this year, says commission director Lauren Welch.

An earlier post noted the hype around potential departures for attractive European destinations (it’s usually Maastricht) versus the actual inflow. This piece looks like another version of the same thing. Yes, it’s undoubtedly true that some students will look for international opportunities and there will be more than ever before. This is good news for them and for the UK. But it’s also still the case that the numbers involved are tiny. Numbers may be up at Fulbright events but they are also way up at most university open days.

So, Wellington’s 6th Form is about 190 pupils which means that the prediction is that just under 50 will be leaving for the US. That’s really not going to make much of a dent in things.

Advice for prospective students – quantity and quality

High quality advice and guidance is key for delivering access

An interesting piece by Tessa Stone in the Times Higher Education on the importance of clear, impartial and high quality advice for potential university students. I’d agree with a lot of what Tessa says:

So, the schools that already do this well will continue to give their students the advantage that sound advice and guidance makes. For those without access to such advice, the gulf will widen further. Universities provide masses of advice already, yet coverage is not universal and the market imperative risks seeing focused recruitment trump broader outreach work. This is a risk we must guard against.

You would expect someone like me, running a charity that seeks to connect, inform and inspire more people to achieve their potential through education, to argue strongly in favour of maintaining the broadest possible approach. But in my experience, most of the staff who have tirelessly delivered outreach over the past decade, much of it altruistic, also share my concern.

Silver bullets there are none, but one smart approach that some of Brightside’s university partners are taking is to provide initiatives that are relevant to a number of priorities. We provide an e-mentoring service that universities (and others) can embed into their outreach activities – making ongoing mentoring support available beyond the summer school or shadowing scheme, and generally being the thread that binds intermittent, face-to-face activities. Our university partners also see this as a way to aid retention and success and promote employability (recent graduates and local employers mentor second and third years).

This is just one example, but whatever form such collaboration takes – and however much universities may rail against yet again having to make up for problems for which they are not responsible – it is crucial that it happens. We must respond to the serious and growing need for clear, impartial information and advice about the system. If we do not, it is not clear who will.

Unfortunately, the Government’s approach seems to be largely pinned on simply providing additional information for potential students, primarily via the Key Information Set or KIS:

The problem with KIS is that is just provides more information in what is already a very crowded bazaar- it will not necessarily help applicants make sensible informed decisions (and it inevitably adds to the regulatory burden on universities, but that’s another story). The latest addition to this very busy picture was recently reported in the Observer, which noted that Which? Magazine intended to enter the market for provision of information to students. In order for applicants to make properly informed decisions there really is a need for human intervention.

Nottingham Potential, part of the University of Nottingham’s Impact Campaign, will, working in partnership with Into University, address just the issue identified by Tessa:

The University has a long tradition of working with young people, teachers, schools and colleges across Nottingham and the East Midlands to raise aspirations and support achievements.

Despite changes in funding and fee structures for the higher education sector, the University is clear about the direction and commitment needed to improve access for those who aspire, and have the ability, to pursue higher education.

Excellence in education and equality of access and opportunity are guiding principles in our strategic plan. These principles are also central to Nottingham Potential. Through it, we will create a distinct and high-profile pathway to higher education for the most deprived young people of our region.

Nottingham Potential will expand the University’s work with children of primary age, from as young as Year 2 (age 7), through the transition to secondary school and beyond, by providing a pathway that will support achievement and raise aspirations.

Nottingham Potential is unique in providing long-term support tailored to young people with educational ambitions. This can only be achieved in partnership with families, schools, teachers, community groups, and by drawing upon the extraordinary commitment and expertise shown by the University’s students and staff.

The University will deliver Nottingham Potential on our campuses and in satellite centres within three of the region’s most deprived communities. With 24 new staff strengthening teams, the number of opportunities for contact will almost double in five years, from 28,000 in 2011 to almost 50,000. This will make the University a positive and accessible presence in the lives of the region’s most deprived young people.

Nottingham Potential will make a real and lasting difference in our region. But the fundamental problem in advancing this agenda further is one of scale – there are around 3.25m secondary students in 4,500 secondary schools (non-private) in England – our universities, no matter how hard we try, are not going to reach all of them – it requires something more joined up and government-led to do that. There are no silver bullets and just providing more information is not the answer. It’s about quality AND quantity.

More student visa problems

A foreign university closes its UK campus

The New York Times reports that as a result of the new restrictions on student visas, at least one institution has been forced to close a UK campus.

Schiller International University, which is based in Florida and has four other international campuses, is closing its London campus and will not start its autumn semester, which was to begin on Tuesday, officials said last week.

The university would not provide enrollment figures but said 80 to 85 percent of its students were from non-European Union countries, which means that they required visas to study in Britain. A person who answered the main office phone at Schiller’s London campus said about 35 students enrolled there last year.

“The decision to close our London campus was directly related to the new U.K. immigration rules,” William Moore, executive vice president of the university, said in an e-mail.

There doesn’t seem to be any more information on the institution’s website about this but the Education Investor site carries a similar piece to the NYT one. Although the numbers here are small it is nevertheless significant that at the same time as some for-profits are looking to enter the UK market (see previous post), others are pulling out. And it’s another indictment of the government’s quite misguided student visa policy.

THOSE A level pictures

There is only one place to go for the A level pictures everyone expects, namely It’s Sexy A-Levels!:

A blog exploring the hypothesis that UK newspapers believe that only attractive girls in low cut tops do A-Levels.

It is truly entertaining. But there is one pic of a boy, reproduced here for a reminder of what the A level experience is like for a few:

 It is very much the silly season.