Large Class Sizes Affecting NSS/Assessment Grades?

Lecture Theatre

Professor Graham Gibbs, who I worked with whilst working on the FASTECH project at Winchester – writing a series of pieces for Times Higher Education – this one on class sizes – worth reading:

Average school class sizes are used in international league tables as indicators of national commitment to education. And school classes of a similar size to those in UK higher education are rarely found outside developing countries.

The effects of class size are greatest for younger pupils and are least, but still substantial, for those aged 18 or over. Studies of what goes on in higher education discussion classes as they get bigger still reveal a predictable pattern of fewer students saying anything, and the little they do say being at a lower cognitive level (checking facts, for example, rather than discussing ideas).

Students in larger classes have been found to take a surface approach (attempting to memorise) to a greater extent and a deep approach (attempting to make sense) to a lesser extent. Higher education students judge teaching to be less good in large classes – even those led by teachers who gain good ratings when they teach smaller classes. So if managers hope to improve National Student Survey scores by rationalising course provision, they have their work cut out.

Read full article. Makes me think about the increased personalisation expected in education – and technology – often touted as enabling larger numbers, but actually allowing greater personalisation! I’m looking forward to reading more, as the situation is clearly not hopeless.

An academic and proud of it?

A real challenge to think back to why we are in the academic space, the values that we need to hold onto!

There was never a golden age in which academic values such as universalism and disinterestedness were not at risk, argues Bruce Macfarlane. But in an age of sponsorism and insecurity, all scholars must hold fast to the precepts that make our intellectual endeavours worthwhile

Which values define what it means to be an academic today? We live in an age in which universities take full advantage of their intellectual property. The divide between public and private institutions has blurred. Students have become customers and lecturers are treated as service providers and knowledge entrepreneurs. This brave new world threatens the values that are core to academic identity.

In an article published in the Journal of Legal and Political Sociology in 1942, the US sociologist Robert Merton identified what he regarded as the four norms of science: communism, universalism, disinterestedness and organised scepticism – or Cudos for short. Merton’s use of the word “science” included the social as well as hard sciences. The norms he identified might be thought of as academic values more broadly. The aphorism Cudos has since become widely used. It represents one of the most important and enduring expressions of academic values.

Read full story.

Research collaboration?

As someone who’s keen on collaboration, working in unity, etc, this is a story of concern:

The concentration of research funding in a few elite universities has been described as a “policy trap” that fails to reflect the modern trend towards wider academic collaboration.

Sir David Watson, professor of higher education and principal of Green Templeton College, Oxford, said policymakers were ignoring the fact that researchers were increasingly working across institutions and national borders.

In a speech due to be delivered at the annual conference of the Society for Research into Higher Education, of which he is honorary president, on 7 December, he said that there was already a “stark conclusion” that funding had been concentrated in the UK “to the point where it has become dysfunctional”.

But the issue was also reinforcing an obsession – among vice-chancellors, politicians and funding bodies – with institutional competition, rather than with the real world of partnerships.

Read full story.

The Canary in the Coal Mine (#highered)

With recent Manipulating Media assignments focusing upon the value of a University education – and the conversation occurring in many spaces – physical, print, online… very interesting article:

Never before has the idea of the university been so feverishly debated in England, and for good reason. The restructuring of the country’s higher education sector around a student-debt-financed, fee-driven model is a fundamental recasting of the university’s place and purpose in society. But this process did not begin with the government’s higher education White Paper or even with the Browne Report that laid the ground for it. And neither is it confined to the UK.

The neoliberal transformation of higher education is a global phenomenon. In the Americas, Europe, Russia and its former colonies, the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and Australasia, higher education is being rebranded as a private investment and the university repurposed to generate profit and economic growth. As a consequence, academics and students are confronting very similar conditions across the world: the escalation of fees and student debt, the expansion of management and administrative systems for measuring the efficiency of services, the quest for a plethora of new types of fee-paying consumers, and the casualisation of academic labour.

Nonetheless, England’s university system – which Howard Hotson has shown to be the best publicly funded system in the world – has been privatised further and faster than anywhere else. Despite the many exposés of the flawed rationales, contradictory mechanisms and indecent haste of this process, no one has yet asked why it has happened in England. Remarkably, the story of how English universities became the canaries in the coal mine has gone largely untold.

Read full story.

Aaron Porter: The Value of Higher Education in a New Era (@_UOW)

Joy Carter introducing Aaron Porter

Variance of numbers progressing into higher education – NE least likely, SE/London far more likely to (ties into economic value).

Parliamentary Constituencies send everything from 10%-60% to university.

Gender – much more women, but women still earning around 12% less. Also month of birth – September 5% more than August.

More ££, parents read Daily Telegraph – more likely to go.

Tip of a demographic downturn. 10 years of drops in numbers to 2020/21 (4-5%).

Student Numbers: Change over time

Student fees didn’t put numbers off, but there is a tipping point and feels has pretty much reached that point.

Where the money comes from in HE

Oxford/Cambridge could keep going for a couple of years if money stopped coming in today, average looks to hold 3.9% in reserve, but around 12 are in danger (not Winchester).

Some institutions heavily dependent on government funds… Makes them more vulnerable.

Money from research – from 0% to small number get £250k – most because of historical advantage they have. 1 modern university in London has more ethnic minority students than all the Russell Group universities.. Who have most money, etc & therefore could rectify the situation. But these Students – good at getting in to other institutions. Particular problem with white working class boys.

Starting Points: Finish Points

Selection at 11 more likely to ‘succeed’ at 18. Lots of measures of universities on their outcome, but few on the UCAS entry points .. Who is applauding the universities who are getting 200 points to 2:1, whereas 500 points should be a given at first…

Lower socio-economic groups – more likely to stay at home (pre tuition fees), not just cost but not recognising the attainment possibilities.

Most students still attend to get qualifications, get a job, etc a although good number for experience.

Students who want to get into Russell Group not so concerned about subject.. Just want to get in the door. More modern university – more concerned by being at home.

The more likely to vote: the more likely to be in HE

The more participation in elections, more likely to attend uni – not sure what happens first. Government successively cut fees since 1980s…

Choices made much younger e.g. 13 GCSE choices a rules out options at university & therefore late choices.

Graduate Premium by Subject

Graduate premium… Average ££ value after course. Varies by subject etc. figures vary wildly by institution also. Graduate destination data doesn’t vary that much.

Starting salary tends to vary by institution. Interrogate the statistics.. Geography and subject choice makes a big difference (eg arts never pays well).

Consumer Models of Education?

Success in HE – is you making use of the facilities to their best. Gym analogy works – if don’t use equipment won’t get fit (doesn’t matter how much pay) – if don’t take staff advice, use the facilities available – won’t have a good degree experience. Should not be equated with buying a car or a kettle. Lots of debate re cost – but so much more complicated than a simple tuition fee – previous life experience has a much bigger impact.

Important – aspiration & ability – universities CAN take people from all sorts of backgrounds – is still biggest springboard into new world and new opportunities. Bright enough/interested enough – can do what you want…


About 5000 courses being cut because ‘soft’. Definitely thinks universities should consider their portfolio. What is soft/hard is perceptual. Media studies – long derided, but has a great employability record. Media twice as big as pharmaceutical industries in UK.

Statistics = negative. What would say to those re apprenticeships, etc. Stats re happiness, health etc outstrips always. Politicians preach value of apprenticeships but always send own kids to university. Social circles = different world – wider – that apprenticeship can’t offer.

When paying £9k – will employers recognise value of this? In 1960s were saying literacy skills not good. Employers are mostly 80%+ happy with students. If employers want specific skills, should pay on the job. Unis need to be open to what unis can offer re employability… Though not driven by it. Youth un employment Stands at 20%. Graduates at 10% and earnings go up faster, with promotions, etc.

Passion for widening access/opportunities for all – only those universities that are keen to do so. Often written off at an earlier age… So important to continue working with primary/secondary schools to widen access. Important for parents to talk about university (even if not been) & how many books in house – makes a difference. Encouragement at choices at 11 makes a huge difference. Hopefully at 18 student drives the choices. ensure those in state schools get meaningful careers advice (when challenge is getting 5 GCSEs)… Give evidence of data of what university can do for you…

Hard/soft decided at school. Should be encouraged to take those they enjoy, but also good at… Not just those that can get a good grade/economics… Inconsistency in policy – calling for more practical subjects but not giving eg a D&T degree the same power as eg history.

Biggest issue not fees, but the removal of the infrastructure for access – eg Aim Higher = the biggest issue.

What about additional courses for trips, etc. ‘hidden fees’ especially when tuition fee goes up. Becomes less and less acceptable although universities have only same/less money. Need greater transparency around those costs – with a view of removing them. Is cross subsidy goes on – as e.g. Medics costs £17k+, whereas low end subjects £4k – how transparent are unis going to be?

5 years ago not a single care student at Winchester, this year are 18. Don’t sit on hands and say ‘we can’t do anything’.

ALFRED: Launch of Edition 3

You can download Vol 3 of ALFRED here.

Alfred Volume 3

This (just published) volume show cases 17 student papers, including coursework, FYPs and reflection pieces. Topics covered in this edition include a critique of a creative writing degree, paper examining Hindu pilgrimage, a report on the complexity of ADHD, a discussion on the Human Rights Bill, an analysis of Nokia Corporation, a look at Bosnian Theatre in a war zone. The contributors have demonstrated the excellent work produced by Winchester’s undergraduates.