THE World University Rankings 2014-15

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings are out

The waiting is over and the final ranking of the season is now available from THE.

All the details of the methodology and regional and subject variations are available on the THE rankings site. The claim is that they are “the most comprehensive and balanced comparisons available, which are trusted by students, academics, university leaders, industry and governments”. In addition they “employ 13 carefully calibrated performance indicators to provide the most comprehensive and balanced comparisons available”.

Must be good then. Interestingly, the main theme in the commentary seems to be stability:

Overall, this year’s rankings are characterised by their stability, especially towards the top of the table: no university in the top 20, for example, has moved by more than two places. The California Institute of Technology remains number one (the fourth year in a row it has worn the crown), with Harvard University in second place.

As was the case last year, the top 10 includes seven US universities. The other three places are occupied by UK institutions: the University of Oxford moves from joint second last year to third, while its ancient rival, the University of Cambridge, rises two places to fifth. Imperial College London moves up one place to joint ninth.

Perhaps the most striking development at the summit is the fact that Yale University makes the top 10 for the first time under the current methodology. The Ivy League stalwart pushes the University of Chicago into 11th position.

So, this means there really isn’t a lot of movement:

 The world top 20 is as follows:


1 California Institute of Technology (Caltech) United States
2 Harvard University United States
3 University of Oxford United Kingdom
4 Stanford University United States
5 University of Cambridge United Kingdom
6 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) United States
7 Princeton University United States
8 University of California, Berkeley United States
9 Imperial College London United Kingdom
9 Yale University United States
11 University of Chicago United States
12 University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) United States
13 ETH Zürich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich Switzerland
14 Columbia University United States
15 Johns Hopkins University United States
16 University of Pennsylvania United States
17 University of Michigan United States
18 Duke University United States
19 Cornell University United States
20 University of Toronto Canada


And the UK rankings:

3 University of Oxford United Kingdom
5 University of Cambridge United Kingdom
9 Imperial College London United Kingdom
22 University College London United Kingdom
34 London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) United Kingdom
36 University of Edinburgh United Kingdom
40 King’s College London United Kingdom
52 University of Manchester United Kingdom
74 University of Bristol United Kingdom
83 Durham University United Kingdom
94 University of Glasgow United Kingdom
103 University of Warwick United Kingdom
107 Queen Mary University of London United Kingdom
111 University of St Andrews United Kingdom
111 University of Sussex United Kingdom
113 University of York United Kingdom
118 Royal Holloway, University of London United Kingdom
121 University of Sheffield United Kingdom
131 Lancaster University United Kingdom
132 University of Southampton United Kingdom
146 University of Leeds United Kingdom
148 University of Birmingham United Kingdom
154 University of Exeter United Kingdom
157 University of Liverpool United Kingdom
171 University of Nottingham United Kingdom
178 University of Aberdeen United Kingdom
196 St George’s, University of London United Kingdom
198 University of East Anglia United Kingdom
199 University of Leicester

29 universities from the UK in the Top 200 doesn’t look too bad and second only to the US.

All of this is Copyright Times Higher Education. Full details can be found here:


Most serious league tables of the year?

League tables of choice

All rankings have their shortcomings. Some though are perhaps even more methodologically questionable than others. I was struck recently by two league tables which seemed to be even less credible than this very important ranking of universities based on the length of their name.

First up is the ranking of the most influential UK universities on Twitter. This appeared recently in Times Higher Education but has since sunk without trace. The methodology, if it may be called that, is simply to use a site called followerwonk which magically creates a ‘Social Authority’ score for institutions based on some combination of followers, and number of retweets etc. It doesn’t get much more authoritative than this.


influential on twitter

Meanwhile, at the slightly more salacious end of the league table spectrum we have the University Sex League 2014. Nothing dubious about the scoring method here. It’s a self-selecting survey in which there is a slim possibility that respondents might be less than entirely accurate in their recall:

unisexleagueThe bottom 10 has not been reproduced here for obvious reasons.

Anyway, there you have it, two league tables which if they achieve nothing else manage the remarkable feat of making other rankings look pretty credible and methodologically robust.


When is a campus not a campus?

The QAA has published a report which takes issue with UK international branch campus definition

The United Arab Emirates has many international Branch Campuses including some from the UK. A recent post here commented that branch campuses, including the University of Nottingham’s campuses in Malaysia and China, were a major part of international activity.

Others have branch campuses too (and aren't subject to the QAA)

Others have branch campuses too (and aren’t subject to the QAA)


The QAA overview report has fuller details on each of the UK universities inspected. The report covers 11 UK institutions but notes there are 37 campuses in total in the UAE, more than in any other country.

Distribution of the 37 branch campuses in UAE

Distribution of the 37 branch campuses in UAE

It seems that everyone with a branch campus also claims to be a global operation:

All the institutions considered in the TNE review of UAE had global aspirations. In many cases, the word global appears in their mission statements or the strap-lines on their websites. On the other hand, there was some evidence that institutions had not fully considered the organisational consequences of the global offering. In some cases heads of the UAE centres were physically located at the UK campus, even where the UAE operation was developing beyond the scale of an administrative campus. One of the branch campuses, otherwise highly successful in organisational terms, had only an indirect line into the governance and management of the university at large.

So perhaps some way to go there.

The student numbers set out in the report show that there is actually some variety in the UK university provision in UAE:

Student numbers UAE

Student numbers UAE

However, probably the most interesting aspect of the report is picked up in a report in the Times Higher Education which covers the warning in the QAA report over the definition of UK international branch campuses there:

UK universities must be careful not to mislead students about their “international branch campuses”, which are often little more than an office and teaching rooms, the standards watchdog has warned.In its first report on transnational education offered by UK universities in the United Arab Emirates, the Quality Assurance Agency says that only two of the 11 institutions listed as UK branch campuses would meet the definition of a “campus”.“Only two providers, Heriot-Watt and Middlesex, are readily recognisable as branch campuses [offering] the range of facilities a student would expect of a campus in the UK,” according to the Review of UK Transnational Education in United Arab Emirates, published on 4 June.For instance, the University of Exeter’s campus in Dubai comprises an office and a small self-service library, with teaching rooms hired when required, the QAA says.The University of Strathclyde’s Business School, which runs MBAs in Dubai, had no rooms of its own, using spaces within another higher education institution.

So, there really are some definitional problems here. A couple of offices or some rented teaching rooms in another institution do not a campus make. It will be interesting to see if the universities concerned change their descriptions of their activities following this report.

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.

Global Employability University Ranking

Global Employability University Ranking 2013

A new Global Employability University Ranking has just been published by Times Higher Education.

The list is compiled by French human resources consulting group Emerging Associates along with Trendence, a German polling and research institute:

It is based on responses from 2,700 recruiters in 20 countries, who were asked which of their local universities produced the best graduates.

According to Emerging Associates, the performance of smaller northern European countries such as the Netherlands, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries had surprised this year.

“In a general way, those universities that specialise in business tend do well, which is understandable, but what is evident in a number of countries is that the universities that do best are those that have managed to adapt themselves to recruiters’ expectations – irrespective of their specializations,” said Sandrine Belloc, director of Emerging Associates.

The top 20 is headed by Oxford with Cambridge 3rd with heavy representation from  US institutions in the upper reaches although there is some variety in here too:

1 University of Oxford, Great Britain

2 Harvard University, USA

3 University of Cambridge, Great Britain

4 Stanford University, USA

5 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

6 Princeton University, USA

7 Columbia University, USA

8 Yale University, USA

9 California Institute of Technology, USA

10 The University of Tokyo, Japan

11 Technische Universität München, Germany

12 University of California, Berkeley, USA

13 University College London, Great Britain

14 University of Toronto, Canada

15 University of Edinburgh, Great Britain

16 École Polytechnique, France

17 HEC Paris, France

18 Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong

19 École Normale Supérieure, France

20 Australian National University, Australia

There are 14 UK universities in the top 150 but universities in the US dominate the table, securing 45 places in the ranking overall, including seven of the top 10.

1 Oxford University

3 Cambridge University

13 UCL

15 Edinburgh University

21 Imperial College London

27 Manchester University

37 King’s College London

41 LSE

45 University of Nottingham

Good to see Nottingham in there too.

THE World University Rankings 2013-14

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings are out

The final ranking of the season is now available from THE.

More details of the methodology and regional and subject variations are available on the THE rankings site. Are they “the most comprehensive and balanced comparisons available, which are trusted by students, academics, university leaders, industry and governments”? Perhaps. But there certainly seems to be more of a fuss about the launch than ever before.

Some exciting stats from the press release:

• There are 26 countries in the world top 200 list – two more than last year thanks to Turkey, Spain and Norway rejoining the group (Brazil drops out)
• The highest-ranked institution outside the US and the UK is Switzerland’s ETH Zürich ­- Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich, which slips two places to 14th
• Asia’s number one is the University of Tokyo, rising four places to 23rd
• After the US and the UK, the Netherlands is the next best represented nation (12 institutions), but its number one, Leiden University, makes it only to 67th

So, without further ado, here is the Top 20…

 The world top 20 is as follows:


2013-14 rank 2012-13 rank Institution Country
1 1 California Institute of Technology US
2 4 Harvard University US
2 2 University of Oxford UK
4 2 Stanford University US
5 5 Massachusetts Institute of Technology US
6 6 Princeton University US
7 7 University of Cambridge UK
8 9 University of California, Berkeley US
9 10 University of Chicago US
10 8 Imperial College London UK
11 11 Yale University US
12 13 University of California, Los Angeles US
13 14 Columbia University US
14 12 ETH Zürich ­- Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich Switzerland
15 16 Johns Hopkins University US
16 15 University of Pennsylvania US
17 23 Duke University US
18 20 University of Michigan US
19 18 Cornell University US
20 21 University of Toronto Canada


And the UK rankings:

2 2 University of Oxford
7 7 University of Cambridge
10 8 Imperial College London
21 17 University College London
32 39 London School of Economics and Political Science
38 57 King’s College London
39 32 University of Edinburgh
58 49 University of Manchester
79 74 University of Bristol
80 80 Durham University
100 103 University of York
102 119 Royal Holloway, University of London
112 110 University of Sheffield
114 145 Queen Mary, University of London
117 139 University of Glasgow
117 108 University of St Andrews
121 110 University of Sussex
137 145 Lancaster University
139 142 University of Leeds
141 124 University of Warwick
146 130 University of Southampton
148 153 University of Exeter
153 158 University of Birmingham
157 120 University of Nottingham
161 196 University of Leicester
169 171 University of Liverpool
174 176 University of East Anglia
188 176 University of Aberdeen
194 176 University of Reading
196 201-225 University of Dundee
198 180 Newcastle University


All of this is Copyright Times Higher Education. Full details can be found here:

Top new university ranking: 50 under 50 degrees north

An exciting new league table!

Both QS and THE have, rather unimaginatively, produced rankings of universities under 50 years old. More exciting alternative rankings here have offered the highly creative 20 over 500 and 30 under six but this new not at all arbitrary league table draws not on age but on the inescapable facts of geography to sort the best from the rest. It’s 50 under 50 degrees north!

The new latitude-led league table has been slammed as outrageous by northern Europeans in particular and described by UK universities as a stitch up by the US and central and southern Europeans. Those south of the equator have been similarly appalled.

“We’re all used to US dominance but this is ridiculous” said an Australian Vice-Chancellor who, remarkably, did not wish to be named.

There are some extraordinary results and ETH is the only non North American university in Top 20. There is also a reasonable showing from Eastern institutions which are not too far north. In a desperate attempt to appear in the table several UK universities claimed to have campuses on Jersey but these turned out on investigation by our researchers to be the offices of tax advisors.

Details of the scoring methodology are restricted to prevent manipulation so there are no grounds to complain of unfairness:

1 Harvard University
2 California Institute of Technology
3 Stanford University
4 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
5 Princeton University
6 Yale University
7 University of California, Berkeley
8 University of Chicago
9 ETH Zürich
10 Columbia University
11 University of Pennsylvania
12 University of California, Los Angeles
13 Johns Hopkins University
14 Cornell University
15 University of Michigan
16 Northwestern University
17 University of Toronto
18 Carnegie Mellon University
19 Duke University
20 Georgia Institute of Technology

21 University of Tokyo
22 University of Washington
23 University of British Columbia
24 University of Wisconsin-Madison
25 University of Texas at Austin
26 University of Hong Kong
27 National University of Singapore
28 University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
29 McGill University
30 University of California, Santa Barbara
31 University of Minnesota
32 École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
33 University of California, San Diego
34 New York University
35 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
36 University of California, Davis
37 Peking University
38 Washington University in St Louis
39 Tsinghua University
40 Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
41 Brown University
42 Ohio State University
43 Kyoto University
44 Boston University
45 Seoul National University
46 École Normale Supérieure
47 Pennsylvania State University
48 École Polytechnique
49 Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
50 University of Geneva

All pretty clear then.

[picture: Wikimedia Commons ]

The Imperfect University: rational admissions – it’s time for PQA

A brighter future for university admissions?

It will be some time before all of the results are in but it does look at this stage as if this year’s admissions round has been a little less turbulent than last year’s. The mood across many universities seems to be one of some relief after a period of significant uncertainty. More students have been admitted than at this point last year and for most institutions (and those students) this is going to be good news

The 2012 admissions round – which coincided with the move to £9k headline fees for most instutitions – heralded major changes to the system: after years of relative stability and constrained Home/EU undergraduate recruitment targets the cap was removed for students with AAB or better at A level. This caused some significant waves across the sector with everyone seeking to find their way through this uncharted territory.

Part of the reason for this change was, of course, ideological. The Government’s desire to create a ‘market’ in admissions at the top end of the qualifications ladder with universities competing for the ‘best’ students resulted, perhaps surprisingly, in some significant recruitment shortfalls in a number of Russell Group universities. There were fewer AAB+ students than expected and it seems likely that some universities were taken by surprise by the challenge of operating in the cut and thrust of the market place. This, combined with a dip overall in student numbers, caused problems for many.

Into the Wild West?

In this context I wrote earlier this year of concerns about this year’s admissions and my fear that the response to these challenges would lead to an ‘admissions Wild West’ with a complete free for all in terms of recruitment and an anything goes approach to securing the best qualified students:

Last year was difficult but I’m worried things are going to be a lot worse in 2013. Those universities making lower offers are sending a signal that perhaps A–level results aren’t that important, but ultimately they are at greater risk of undermining their own competitive position by reducing entry standards in what may turn out into a ‘race to the bottom’.

So where do we go from here? In the short term we all have to play by the UCAS rules (which should be made more explicit), restate our commitment to the SPA principles and aim to be fair and transparent to applicants. This is important not just so we do the right things by students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, but also to prevent a fundamental undermining of the UCAS system.

We are keen to ensure that students who want to come to the University of Nottingham and have the grades are able to come here. This is what the UCAS system is all about: students making informed choices and a system supporting the holistic assessment of applicants in a fair and transparent way. The huge risk now is that more shenanigans this year will undermine this system.

The ultimate consequence if everyone decides to ignore the rules and the SPA principles is a return to the admissions Wild West. This would be costly, unhelpful and hugely inefficient as well as being massively unfair to and stressful for students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. This surely cannot be in the interest of students or universities. Or indeed what Willetts wants. We need a bit more honesty and some genuine transparency in order to ensure fairness for all.


It looked at first that there were going to be some significant issues what with the University of Birmingham’s decision to make 1,000 unconditional offers to students in some subject areas and much talk in the press of fee waivers, bursaries, subsidised accommodation and free ipads as incentives to potential students. Fortunately though my concerns seem to have been largely unfounded and the number of ABB+ students (the cap having been shifted to exclude a larger cohort) was roughly as expected. However, this has nevertheless been a period of significant uncertainty and anxiety, for both applicants and admissions officers.

This significant turbulence in the past two admissions rounds is of questionable benefit for applicants although the Minister is presumably content that the creation of this market is ultimately in their interest as providers compete to offer better products and better deals to these consumers. I suspect therefore this is not going to go away, at least for the foreseeable future, and universities will be obliged to operate in this exciting market environment.

Fit for purpose

Given this I would argue that now is the time to ensure the core elements of the system are fit for purpose – to make certain that we have a stable admissions model which works in the interest of applicants and institutions whilst acknowledging that ministers will inevitably want to play at the margins. We do though need to limit the scope for unhelpful interference, address the core principles for fair admissions as set out by SPA (Supporting Professionalism in Admissions), ensure universities can’t subvert or game the system, seek to secure proper information advice and guidance for applicants and address widening participation needs. The route to achieving this would mean change for all parties but I would suggest such change will be in the long term interests of everyone.


Fundamental to this is moving away from admissions based on predicted grades to a system of admission on the basis of grades achieved, ie post-qualification admissions (PQA). This has been proposed previously and historically there have been many objections – especially around exam board marking arrangements and universities’ teaching timetables. Whilst solutions to these have become feasible they have been replaced by new concerns particularly around fairness to applicants, information, advice and guidance provision and ensuring wider participation.

Back in 2011 UCAS undertook a review of admissions processes which recommended a number of modest changes to procedures but backed away from endorsing the most significant change, a move to PQA:

There was a widely held view that, in principle, a post-results system would be desirable. Aspects of the proposal for application post-results were attractive to some, but it is clear there are too many systemic problems with the post-results proposals to support implementation.

Respondents felt that applying with results would not necessarily support applicants aspiring to the most competitive courses and concerns were raised about potential negative impacts on widening participation and less well-supported applicants. Loss of teaching time, the impact on standards of achievement, the potential for a more mechanistic approach to the assessment of applicants and the lack of time and resources to provide IAG at critical points were also major concerns.
In the review many detailed objections were raised to PQA but each of these can be overcome in practice if the will is there.

Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of UCAS, commented on the latest position in the Times Higher:

…Ms Curnock Cook had a “word of warning” for universities cheered by the better figures.

“This year you’ve managed to get more [students] in at 18,” she said, but added that “you might pay for it” in 2014-15 because there would therefore be fewer 19-year-olds to recruit in that cycle.

Ms Curnock Cook also remarked that the clearing process was no longer used to recruit “the dregs” any more, and speculated that it could even remove the need for an admissions system based on students’ actual, rather than predicted, grades.

“Every year I get asked: isn’t it now time to go for a post-qualifications applications [system]? My answer is that we already have PQA: it’s called clearing,” she said.


I disagree with this view. If we were designing a system from scratch we really would not start with the idea that students should apply to university with predicted rather than actual grades. The current set up, whilst historically understandable, is logically indefensible. Academic qualifications are the primary indicator of capability to pursue a course of study. It is logical, fair and sensible to put them at the centre of the admissions process and this should be the basis for our national application system, run by UCAS.

Time for change

The time has now come for change. The starting point should be to decide that we are going to introduce PQA from, say, 2019 entry, and the challenge then is to create the conditions within which this will happen.

Whilst I fear it is inevitable that ministers will introduce more changes – if we establish clearly now how admissions will operate in future this will bring lasting benefits and reduced the potential impact of future ministerial tinkering. Stability in the admissions system will be helpful to HEIs but will also work in the interests of applicants, ensure proper attention is paid to widening participation and be fairer.

So, let’s go for post-qualification admissions. Now is the time to decide to make the change to PQA.

Another international prize

A good night at the THELMAs


Terrific result for the University of Nottingham’s Asia Business Centre at last night’s THE Leadership and Management Awards (the THELMAs). Although we were less fortunate in two other categories this was a great achievement for the ABC team. In the citation it was noted that Nottingham’s entry was outstanding and

had built on its trusted international reputation and established presence in Asia to create a knowledge exchange strategy that is…creating vital links between the university and business in the UK and Asia.

A really good night then. And congratulations to the other winners too.

20 over 500

Youth isn’t everything

Last year it was Times Higher Education but this year it is the turn of QS to produce a ranking of newer universities, presumably on the basis that somehow they suffer in the rankings for not having done enough stuff over their limited histories. Unfortunately, this rather discriminates against older institutions which are also often disadvantaged in the rankings for being, well, old.

So, it’s time to right this wrong by producing the all new top 20 of universities over 500 years old. Let’s hear it for the ancients!

And the good news is that European universities once again dominate and Italy in particular does extremely well. It is also another good year for the University of Bologna, the grandaddy of them all, which is top of the heap for a record-breaking 925th year. Let’s look at the full top 20:

  1. University of Bologna
  2. University of Oxford
  3. University of Cambridge
  4. University of Salamanca
  5. University of Padua
  6. University of Naples
  7. University of Valladolid
  8. University of Murcia
  9. University of Montpelier
  10. University of Macerata
  11. University of Coimbra
  12. University of Alacala
  13. La Sapienza, University of Rome
  14. University of Perugia
  15. University of Florence
  16. University of Camerino
  17. University of Pisa
  18. Charles University of Prague
  19. University of Pavia
  20. Jagiellonian University

Not a huge amount to report here with the top 20 remaining entirely static (as it has done indeed since Poland’s Jagiellonian University opened back in 1364).

Sadly there’s still no place in the top 20 for the august institutions of Heidelberg, Vienna and Turin. And Scotland’s ancients, St Andrews, Glasgow and Aberdeen, also miss out yet again.

The Imperfect University: Free Information?

Freedom of Information costs. But does anyone really benefit?


“You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it.”

These are the words Tony Blair addresses to himself in his memoirs while reflecting on his government’s introduction of the Freedom of Information Act as noted in this BBC report.

Last year Times Higher Education ran a story suggesting that the average cost of FoI compliance equals £121 per request:

A study into the costs of answering Freedom of Information enquiries suggests that less than £10 million was spent across the sector last year.

When the House of Commons Justice Committee called for evidence on the effectiveness of the FoI Act, 23 universities submitted evidence, of which 18 complained about the cost burden, among other concerns.

But Jisc, the UK’s expert body on information and digital technology in higher education, tracked 36 requests in seven institutions and found that the average cost, including staff time, of answering an FoI request was £121.

According to Universities UK, higher education institutions received on average 10.1 requests a month in 2011. This equates to an average annual cost of £14,665, which across the sector’s 155 institutions adds up to £2.3 million a year.

I have to say this looks to be something of an underestimate. I asked my colleague in the University’s Governance team which deals with FoI for data for the past couple of years. The data and some examples of requests is set out below. Before we get there though you might wish to refresh your memory with a glance at the ICO guidance – it is 10 page (yes, 10 pages) definition document of what is expected to be published by universities and colleges and covers everything from staff expenses to tender procedures to CCTV locations.

logoDuring the period from 1st January 2011 to December 2012, the University of Nottingham responded to 370 Freedom of Information requests. In 24% of cases, requests resulted in non-disclosure either because the University applied an exemption successfully, defended a position of ‘over the appropriate time limit’ or the information was not held. 27% of requests received a partial disclosure of information. 49% of requests resulted in the requester being entitled to all of the information requested. Whilst we remain ‘purpose blind’ it is self-evident that the majority of requesters continue to be looking for material for journalistic purposes.

Of the 182 (49%) of requests with full responses requests were themed as follows:

Statistics  88
Supplier and contract details  35
Financial figures  25
Policies 21
Communication 2; a total of 7 emails and 1
letter were disclosed
University structure 6
Role profiles 2
Recruitment timeline 1
Research grants 1
Vice-Chancellor’s external roles 1

Supplier and contract details
We receive a large number of requests asking for details of contract agreements in place. In the main these are from competitors. Whilst these requests are an inconvenience there is no applicable exemption to this information as the ICO have made it clear that they do not consider such information commercially sensitive. The data is readily to
hand therefore significant management time is not accrued.
Financial figures
The majority of requests under this category concern library fines, IT costs, legal fees and expenses. We have received individual requests on a small number of issues including costs of artwork, car parking fees, accommodation fees and funding. This information was not considered commercially sensitive and was therefore released to the requestors.
Applied Exemptions
The most common exemption applied, particularly under partially disclosed requests, is personal data. In the main these requests concerned statistics which were so detailed and/or sensitive that disclosing the information would risk unreasonable identification of individuals.

The following exemptions have been applied, either to whole requests or partially:

Commercial interests 10
Personal Data 62
Information already published 18
Information not held 13
Legal professional privilege 1
National security 4
Intended for future publication 2
Vexatious 4

Some of those specific requests over this two year period:

  • Statistics for disciplinary actions taken against students 2010 – present
  • Statistics for Welsh domicile students
  • Student parking fines
  • University investments
  • Server Hardware Maintenance and Software Licensing Contracts
  • the number of UG Taught and PG programmes 12/13 and 11/12 that did not enrol any students
  • Number of students employed in University catering and library departments
  • Amount paid out in hardship funds over last 3 years
  • University Employee Statistics
  • FOI

  • Statistics for research staff recruitment
  • Information and statistics on student bursaries
  • Information on Microscopes Tender
  • Internet traffic
  • Statistics on parking fines issued
  • Statistics for Physics applicants
  • Information and figures relating to Common Purpose
  • Payments from the Pharmaceutical Industry
  • Statistics on changing employment patterns in the public sector
  • Information on admissions cycle for A100 Medicine Course
  • Information on English classes, student figures and fee income
  • Information on research sabbaticals
  • Information on PhD qualifications of staff
  • Information relating to the University’s parking contract
  • Statistics for students failing first year exams
  • Statistics on student housing
  • Information and statistics on student bursaries
  • Information relating to clinical trials
  • Information on Mobile Phone Contracts

Is it worth it? I am dubious. Essentially we spend a great deal of time and effort and public money responding to this stuff and I struggle to see the benefit for anyone, including the requestors. This list also doesn’t include my personal favourite of all dumb FOI requests received (it was before 2011): a request for data on reported hauntings in university buildings. Not quite as bad as the Leicester City Council zombie attack readiness request but still pretty daft. And no matter how silly or pointless such requests may be we have to treat them all equally seriously.

Back to Blair. He claims that FoI is not used, for the most part, by “the people”, but by journalists. His view is that “For political leaders, it’s like saying to someone who is hitting you over the head with a stick, ‘Hey, try this instead’, and handing them a mallet.” It sometimes feels a bit like that in universities too.

(With thanks to Sam Potter for providing the University of Nottingham material included here.)

Everything’s gone green

Some positive work on sustainable futures at the University of Nottingham.

In 2012 the University of Nottingham won the Times Higher Education Award for Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Development. In the citation for the award the judges noted Nottingham was a “trailblazer” for environmental best practice.

David Walliams applies to join the Estates Office team

David Walliams applies to join the Estates Office team

Now I must admit that I used to be rather skeptical of the idea of ‘greening’ different aspects of university activity. Partly this was down to concern about the additional cost, substantial in many cases, but also doubt that it would have any meaningful impact on sustainability or that prospective students would really be interested in a university’s green credentials.

I got it wrong. This is all for real and it does matter. At the University of Nottingham our sustainability policy has the following aims:

  • Improve the environmental performance of our buildings and the University’s physical infrastructure
  • Ensure all operations and procurements are sustainable
  • Harness the University’s research and teaching strength to improve its environmental performance and advance the environmental agenda
  • Contribute broadly to efforts to protect the environment and ensure those efforts get the recognition they deserve.
Lincoln Hall solar panels

Lincoln Hall solar panels

OK, grand ambitions, but how do these translate into practice? The University has done rather a lot. In terms of travel there has been significant pedestrianisation and cycle lane installation, Ucycle Nottingham and ride-to-work schemes and more public transport and inter-site buses. Moreover, one of the new city tram lines under construction will pass through University park and a parking charging scheme (not universally popular, it has to be said) has been introduced, resulting in a drop in car use.

The grounds management  plan has sustainability and increasing biodiversity of campuses as key requirements. The University has won 10 consecutive Green Flag awards and a Green Gown award for sustainability and, in partnership with the Woodland Trust, planted a ‘Diamond Wood’ in Sutton Bonington in 2012. On waste and re-cycling there have been significant improvements in recycling rates, from 4% in 04/05 to 29% in 08/09, and 87% in 10/11.

In terms of carbon management, the University’s Carbon Management Plan (CMP) was approved in 2010 and includes targets for reductions in emissions of CO2 from energy usage. It identifies the principal areas of energy use and investment programmes required to improve energy efficiency, reduce usage and generate energy from renewable energy sources. In its second year the CMP developed 55 projects requiring a total investment of £1.48 million. The overall benefits identified equate to 2,028 tonnes of CO2 and £350k per annum. In 2010/11 there was a 1.7 % decrease in CO2 and this trend continued in 2011/12 with a 2.3% reduction from 67,454 to 65,901 tonnes CO2 a saving of 1,553 tonnes.

Less positively, planning applications for a three turbine wind farm alongside the Grove Farm sports ground appear to have been stymied for the present by some disappointing decisions by Broxtowe Borough and Nottingham City Councils whose green rhetoric has, unfortunately, not been matched by their actions.

The University currently has 14 BREEAM schemes within the system, the highest within the HE sector: seven ‘BREEAM Excellent’ completed buildings, six buildings where BREEAM Excellent is being targeted during the development process and one ‘BREEAM Outstanding’ for the first carbon neutral laboratory to be built in the UK. The building will achieve BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ and LEED ‘Platinum’ and carbon neutral status after 25 years.

On teaching, there is an expectation that sustainability will be built into all curricula and some good progress has been made here, including through the Nottingham Advantage Award.

 Sutton Bonington

Sutton Bonington

The University has a strong research portfolio looking at the fields of environment and sustainability, both in the UK and at our campuses in Asia including for example, the Creative Energy Dwellings, Energy Technologies Research Institute, Green Chemistry, Food Security and Bioenergy. Most recently the announcement of the new GSK laboratory has confirmed Nottingham’s continued commitment to cutting edge research in this area.

The establishment of an Environmental Champions Network, which aims to bring together people from a broad spectrum of Schools and Central Professional Services to share ideas and act as champions to reduce environmental impacts, has been particularly successful in communicating and raising awareness of environmental matters.

There is, of course, a league table which offers ratings of universities’ sustainability efforts. The UI GreenMetric World Universities Ranking has sought to provide a system which allows universities in both the developed and developing world to compare their efforts towards campus sustainability and environmentally friendly university management. Nottingham was ranked second in this table in 2010 and again in 2012, coming first in this world league table in 2011. Note that I am deliberately ignoring the ‘People and Planet’ ranking here because of their extremely dubious and constantly changing methodology and because Nottingham rarely scores well in their table. Sadly, the much loved University Duck Density League , which ranks institutions by the number of waterfowl on campus must be ignored too given the absence of updated data.

So, overall it is a really positive picture here. There is still a long way to go but the public praise is welcome. Going back then to that THE award citation:

in both the innovative approach to estate development and the determination to embed best sustainability practice across the university, Nottingham has again shown the way.

The Imperfect University: How not to defend higher education

Simple: ignore administrators (or worse)
The recent launch of the “Council for the Defence of British Universities” (or CDBU) offered some fascinating insights into a particular corner of British society. Like a strongly worded round robin letter to the Times made flesh it attracted some big names  from Sir David Attenborough to Baroness Deech. A rather wry report of the event was published over at WonkHE:

At the root of many contributions appears to be a reaction against the suggestion that academics ought to justify their own existence or the funding they receive. If Plato’s philosopher kings were not expected to appear before the Audit and Accountability Scrutiny Committee of Ancient Greece, why on earth should The Great and the Good of the British Universities?

It doesn’t end here. We hear praise for the University Grants Commission Lloyd George created in 1919 and “lasted us well” for 70 years before its untimely abolition, and later, Francis Bacon’s 17th century “partition of the sciences”. The message is clear – time to go back to the future and the further the better.

Back to the future, Doc

Universities really do need to go back to the future it seems

In addition  a piece in THE on the launch of the CDBU noted 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”.

This is exactly what university administrations are like

This is exactly what university administrations are like

This rather dismissive comment from the launch manifesto about administrators has been reinforced by the comments by Professor Thomas Docherty (someone for whom I have high regard) who has penned a provocative piece for The Chronicle of Higher Education about the new body. In this article he observes that there are, apparently, two remarkable things about this council. First, it has a membership of very distinguished academics (always a good start for a campaigning organisation that). But there is more:

The second notable thing is the council’s unique mission: It is the only group that exists to put university education back into the hands of universities, and to do so with the determination to reinstate the primacy of academic values. The council has issued a Statement of Aims that should form the basis for how the nation approaches the management of universities, their financing, and their social, cultural, and economic importance. Central to the aims is university autonomy and respect for the independent demands and exigencies of scholarly work.

Corporate management might conceivably be good for some businesses, but it has no place in the university sector. Our administrators need to serve the primary academic functions, but increasingly—and in this they simply replicate a more general social malaise—administrations exist to perpetuate themselves, like some kind of carcinogenic cell that threatens the academic body.

The council hopes to exert influence in Britain, but the common good it wishes to serve goes beyond our borders. I hope American scholars also find that the moment is ripe for the reassertion of academic values and join us in our work. We’ve already received suggestions about the formation of sister councils outside Britain, and we’d certainly welcome an American counterpart. As is clear, the threats to academic values are not just local to Britain: They are global.

Now as has been noted here before, there are rather a lot of administrators in universities. No doubt some in the CDBU would say too many. Are all of these people actively organizing against the fundamental interests of higher education? Are they essentially concerned with protecting themselves and bureaucracies at the expense of academics? Are they unable to support or even understand academic values? Are they simply stooges of the Department of Business Innovation and Skills? Are all administrators merely unwitting dupes in thrall to a neo-liberal marketisation agenda? I don’t think so.

In most institutions, the primary concern of the professional administrator is to support and encourage the best academics to do what they do best, to minimise the distractions and to reduce the unwelcome and bureaucratic incursions of the state into academic life. Administrators are concerned more than anything with protecting academic staff (often with some difficulty) from the worst excesses of the increasingly challenging and turbulent world in which universities operate.

In order for academic staff to deliver as best they can on their core responsibilities for teaching and research it is vital that all the services they and the university need are delivered efficiently and effectively. Universities do not seek to hire and retain world-leading scholars in order to get them to maintain IT systems, organise data returns to statutory agencies or look for good deals on electron microscopes. These services are required and professional administrative staff are needed to do this work to ensure academics are not unnecessarily distracted from their primary duties.

So, in some ways I agree with the CDBU proposition that the “function of managerial and administrative staff is to facilitate teaching and research”. However, it is the tone and place of this within the opening statements which originally troubled me and now causes even more alarm following Professor Docherty’s rather unfortunate comments.

Protect and survive

Protect and survive

Put simply, it looks to me as if, for the very great and extremely good of the CDBU, administrators are, at best, an afterthought. That would be the most benign interpretation one could put on the statements from the initial meeting and more recently from Professor Docherty. Because really it does seem that administrators are to be neither seen nor heard (check out that initial list of members again) and have no place in doing anything as important as defending higher education. Despite the critical role we play in the operation of HE, it seems we are really to be seen as humble functionaries with no part to play in the grand drama of university defence.

If a university prefers to see administrators merely as a servant class or indeed decides that many can be dispensed with through radical surgery to ensure that academics retain the whip hand then it might find it will struggle before too long. Whilst the nostalgia-infused senior common room debates and the delightfully sweet taste of golden age governance will undoubtedly sustain many of the leading participants of the CDBU it won’t be too long in their universities before the infrastructure and professional staffing required to maintain a 21st century institution atrophies and dies. So, the cancer-causing administrators may be excised but it will turn out that this is rather dangerous medicine that the Council has decided to prescribe. Indeed it looks a bit like retreating to 19th Century quackery when modern health care is available. All in all I fear it is a recipe for decay and decline and, you have to say, really isn’t a very good way to go about seeking to build a coalition in defence of universities.

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…

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.