Totally recognise this (though seeking to say yes more often.. otherwise we get the same voices over and over again):
There is an epidemic among female academics. It is called “impostor syndrome” and it can affect even the most steely of professors.
It is said to take effect when a call comes through from a press office or television researcher, asking for an “expert” in the academics’ subjects.
“Their depth of knowledge may be vast but women often think: ‘There’s someone better suited than me,’” explains Donna Taberer, head of public service partnerships at the BBC Academy, a training centre with an industry-wide remit. When a man takes the call, more likely “he says yes and works it out in the taxi on the way to the studio”.
Read full story, more info on the BBC, and I’ll be keeping an eye on @TheBBCAcademy
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.
Indeed, after many years of part-time teaching – it’s somewhat easier if you already work in the institution and so have those facilities available, but it’s hard work:
Part-time teachers are not getting the support they require from university departments, despite their growing importance within the academy.
Although around 40 per cent of staff in higher education work part-time, they tend not to receive the level of academic or administrative support supplied to their full-time peers, according to a paper delivered at the Society for Research into Higher Education’s annual conference.
Amanda Gilbert, lecturer in academic development at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and Fran Beaton, senior lecturer in higher education and academic practice at the University of Kent, interviewed dozens of part-time lecturers for a book, Developing Effective Part-time Teachers in Higher Education: New Approaches to Professional Development, which was published in October.
Presenting a paper about their findings at the SRHE conference, held at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, South Wales, Dr Gilbert and Ms Beaton said that universities had to do more to ensure that part-time staff were treated equitably.
A lack of office space or administrative support was a frequent complaint among their interviewees, Ms Beaton told delegates on 13 December.
“Many people told us: ‘My car boot or bicycle basket is my office’,” she said. “Universities need to have a clear strategy for how part-time teachers are recruited and…where they will work.”
Read full story.
Some really really interesting comments already on the Times Higher website for this piece:
It might seem perverse to suggest that students should not attend and participate in class. But surveillance is an insidious trend intended largely to make them conform to behavioural expectations rather than develop them academically. This approach has been described by Leonard Holmes, reader in management at the University of Roehampton, as “learnerism”. At the heart of the discourse, which also underpins the learning and teaching certificates aimed at novice academics, is the idea that since learning needs to be a social process of knowledge construction, students must be active participants. It also chimes with employer needs for students with social skills suited for the workplace, while the justification of group assessment conveniently benefits the economics of mass higher education by reducing the assessment workload.
Ironically, learnerism largely ignores the right of students to learn in different ways and to be reticent. Research has shown that people learn through silence as well as discussion. Pedagogy should respect the autonomy of students and their cultural norms – it should not be like a game show in which they have to demonstrate some kind of personal transformation.
Read full story. It’s not a debate with any easy answers, and has ramifications for debates about presenteeism in the workplace (which some argued the summer Olympics was going to transform – with ‘working from home’ recognised) … I’ve had jobs where I’ve had to be in particular times and sit there for the first 2 hours trying to wake up … thankfully not at the moment – and consequently far more creative!
Enjoyed this piece – so important to think what higher education is about, what it’s for, and how much we can achieve when we share values (difficult in such a time of competition):
Delivering the conference’s presidential address on 12 December, Sir David said that universities needed to think harder about their “moral compass”, adding that the cardinal rule for the academy should be to “strive to tell the truth”.
“Academic freedom, in the sense of following difficult ideas wherever they may lead, is possibly the fundamental ‘academic’ value,” he said.
His second commandment was for universities to “take care in establishing the truth”, urging academics to prize the scientific method or the search for “authenticity” in the humanities.
“There’s a particular type of academic bad faith, which moves too quickly to rhetoric and persuasion in advance of the secure establishment of the grounds for conviction,” he argued.
Read full article.
Modern technology is so powerful that it is tempting to think that “nature” no longer exists. Commentators talk of the “death of nature”: the world is so affected by human action that nature in the sense of the untouched natural world has disappeared. Yet, recent events have reminded us of Horace’s oft-quoted dictum: Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret - “You may drive nature out with a pitchfork, but she will return.” You may cover the Jersey shore in houses, casinos and amusement parks, but see what wind and water together can do to them. Whether Hurricane (or “Superstorm”) Sandy was a by-product of our greenhouse gas emissions, I don’t know – but she was an impressive reminder that human beings are here only with nature’s kind permission.
Read full article
Always questioned when they got rid of all Polytechnics. Academic study is not for all, but those who choose that path should be given the best opportunity, whether it’s more theoretical, or more practical:
MP and historian Tristram Hunt tells John Morgan about reviving lost skills and improving teaching
The “polytechnic brand” should be revived in higher education to recover skills lost to the UK economy when the polytechnics became universities, according to a Labour MP and academic.
Tristram Hunt, who still teaches history at Queen Mary, University of London on Monday mornings despite being MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, envisages sixth-form and further education colleges taking a greater role in teaching vocational skills in higher education.
Speaking to Times Higher Education during Labour’s recent party conference in Manchester, he said the conversation about vocational education had “changed quite markedly” at secondary level as well as for students aged between 14 and 19 because of the drive to set up new university technical colleges.
Read full story, and read Sally Feldman’s ideas.
A piece by one of the most inspiring tutors I had at the then King Alfred’s College, Nigel Tubbs – who always challenged our thinking. I remember our first lecture with him (Education Studies), when he asked us to stand up (we did) “you’re a product of the educational system”. When he said it again, none of us stood up. Nigel repeats observation. The third time none of us knew quite what to do… read some of his challenges as to the purpose of education here:
Aristotle noted that the same ideas return in men’s minds, not once or twice but again and again. By the same token, does the recent introduction of named liberal arts degrees at the universities of Winchester, Exeter, Birmingham, Kent and King’s College London (and in the nascent independent Catholic Benedictus College) signal the return, again, of the ancient ideal of education as an end in itself? Put differently, and not pejoratively, does it mean the return of “useless” education?
In antiquity, a useless education was the highest and most noble form of education because it represented the genuinely free education of the genuinely free man. But such individuals were free from instrumental ends only because they owned slaves, leaving these leisured scholars uninterrupted freedom for their intellectual enquiries into the first principles of the natural universe and social life within it. This is not the definition of freedom, or of useless education, that is appropriate for a modern liberal arts education.
Read full story.
Interesting article. Find the idea of students as consumers difficult to take on board, but it’s definitely a feeling that’s getting stronger & stronger:
Dr Williams – who will be discussing her views at the Barbican in London later this month at the Institute of Ideas’ Battle of Ideas Festival – said that during her own English degree, it was immersion in the subject that had made her “employable, and a different person”.
“That transformed me and gave me confidence, the intellectual struggle of having to confront challenging new concepts and coming out the other end having mastered that body of knowledge,” she said.
But today, she said, the stress on satisfaction and employability meant that academics were not pushing students hard enough intellectually.
“Students are likely to be unhappy if you ask them to read two books before next week, and happier if it’s one journal article you’ve already photocopied for them. Whether they will learn as much is another matter,” she said.
Although she applauded optional workshops in employability skills, Dr Williams said that she had no time for “specialised academics such as philosophers trying to teach employability skills”.
Read full story.
I’m wondering how many small changes – by academics, and by institutions, could change this? And how much of it is self-driven?
Academics are suffering from growing stress levels as a result of heavy workloads, management issues and a long-hours culture, a survey has found.
Unachievable deadlines, acute time pressures and the need to work quickly were also common complaints identified by an occupational stress survey completed by more than 14,000 university employees.
Staff were asked by the University and College Union about areas that could potentially cause them stress, such as conflicting management demands, workloads and pressures on their time.
Academics experience far higher levels of stress in these areas than employees in other professions, the survey found.
On a scale of one to five, the stress level of university staff is 2.51 (when well-being is assessed on a scale of one to five, with one being the highest stress level).
This has worsened in the four years since the Health and Safety Executive’s report Psychosocial Working Conditions in Britain in 2008 found that, when it came to demands on their time, academics had a stress level of 2.61 compared with 3.52 in the overall economy.
Read full story.
The public intellectual? Always existed? Part of the impact agenda?
No stranger to broadcasting himself, Christopher Bigsby considers the rise of the public intellectual – halfway up a mountain, on a motorbike, quoting Aeschylus, coming to a telly near you
There is a plaque in Norwich Cathedral I have always liked. It praises a clergyman for delivering sermons “entirely without enthusiasm”. I have sat through many a lecture dedicated to the same principle. Once, at the University of Cambridge, I passed through the back of a room in which a man wearing a gown was lecturing, I have to say entirely without enthusiasm, to a single student. Now there’s a staff-student ratio to be envied.
On another occasion, I attended a lecture by an art historian (not at my institution) who made the mistake of lowering the lights in order to show slides, only to be confronted by an empty lecture theatre when the lights went on again. Today though, slides, all too often engagingly projected back to front, upside down and out of order, smack of the spinning jenny: not without their utility in their day but a touch out of date. Now showbiz has entered academe. Human communication, it seems, has to involve electronic mediation. Blackboards are now virtual, while chalk, pens and paper are doubtless in containers ready to be shipped to needy countries alongside stolen cars and Henry Moores melted down for scrap.
Read full story.
Interesting article re: whether women (or anyone) can have it all in a culture which is “always on”:
Last month, a predictable storm erupted in response to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s confessional in Atlanticmagazine. “Women Still Can’t Have It All,” she declared, explaining why she had given up her dream job in the State Department to spend more time with her family. The gruelling demands of the Washington work culture – known, apparently, as “Obama time” – had taken their toll. “Juggling high-level government work with the needs of two teenage boys”, she’d realised, “was not possible.”
Many feminists were outraged, regarding her decision as a betrayal. A similar reaction greeted the announcement a few years ago by journalist Allison Pearson that she was giving up her Daily Mail column because conflicting responsibilities had triggered her depression. “We always suspected there would be a price for Having It All, and we were happy to pay it; but we didn’t know the cost would be our mental health,” she wrote.
Really interesting post in Times Higher Education – the right conferences can leave you on a real high, but I’ve also been to the type described here – which sees only selfish & impolite behaviour…
Participating in conferences, symposia and other scholarly forums is a recognised element in the job description of any academic. In the era of regular and intrusive research evaluation exercises, being the recipient of an invitation to give a keynote address is a valuable addition to the curriculum vitae as an indication of esteem; there is also a chance that it could be leveraged into an aspirational form of “impact”. In the absence of the ego massage of such an invitation, an academic may nonetheless feel the heavy hand of research management pointing to the professional networking potential of conference participation and the banal necessity of professional visibility. Personal commitment to their subject, and their career, will also impel most academics to seek the opportunity to present a paper to an appropriate scholarly audience. It is therefore readily apparent that there are significant pressures that lead academics to commit to presenting an academic paper.
Intellectually, such opportunities hold out the possibility of testing one’s data and analysis before a critical audience of peers. Through such dialogues, academics may belatedly and serendipitously discover what they are really trying to say. Or, they may find themselves crushed as long hours of preparatory work result in the revelation of a foundational flaw in their method or argument. More typically, however, they are likely to feel that they have extended the visibility of their work, and themselves, and gleaned valuable insights into their paper’s strengths, weaknesses and potential for elaboration.
Read full story.
Loving to engage with students who are prepared to debate … great to see this story encouraging students not to see their tutors as golden gods:
Master and pupil should be bosom friends and intellectual enemies. We need students to feel loved so that they learn, and outraged so that they can reach beyond their teaching and devise something new for themselves.
We need them to disagree with their teachers. When they submit, debate is impoverished and progress slowed or arrested. Where would Western tradition be if Aristotle had not reacted against Plato, or Epicurus against Pyrrho? How much weaker Chinese thought would look if Chuang Tzu had slavishly followed Hui Shih, on whose mind, he said when the master died, he sharpened his own in friction. What would the modern world have lost if Ferdinand de Saussure had stuck to the programme of the Leipzig Neogrammarians or if Ludwig Wittgenstein had not quibbled in Bertrand Russell’s classes, insisting, for example, that there might be an undetected hippopotamus under the table?
Read full story.
Interesting article on impact – something that’s touted around a lot in HE. How is it measurable? Try this article:
It is believed by the helots of the Department for Business, Industry and Skills that, like everything else in the world, impact is measurable by number. So if you are four-star REFable in, say, medical studies, then to appear in The Lancet is the measure of fame, and the journal is so canonised because everybody cites it; contributors, moreover, cite themselves, and the consequent citation index gives The Lancet a score of 33.63, whereas Medical Teacher, an honoured journal much favoured by GPs, struggles along, starved of citation, at 1.494. It is relevant to add that The Lancet score rocketed upwards in terms of its citations when, in a picturesque example, it published in good faith research claiming to discover a causal link between autism and MMR injections in babyhood. Numberless citations in repudiation of certainly unmethodical and probably dishonest work contributed largely to the journal’s lordly score.
That, as Thomas Kuhn showed us so conclusively 50 years ago, is how science revolves, sticking grimly to old beliefs and methods until at last the weight of new evidence finally upsets the applecart and everyone pretends they knew what was coming all along.
Read full story.
It’s always fascinating when the topic of the National Student Survey (NSS) comes up at any academic meet up. Most don’t have too many positive things to say – the student voice is valuable, but is this the best way to catch this kind of information? It seems that there’s rarely more than a 10% return rate, which means that it’s most likely to be students either very disappointed, or supported to a high grade. There’s also tales of universities ‘tutoring’ students to fill them in appropriately, and telling students that ‘it’s only your own degree you’ll damage with negative feedback’ (similar to advice I tend to give re social media to be fair!):
Universities are using the National Student Survey as a “bully’s charter” to intimidate staff, cut courses and force out maverick thinkers, academics have claimed.
Speaking in Manchester at the University and College Union’s annual congress, lecturers launched several scathing attacks on the annual student-satisfaction poll, saying it was deeply flawed and undermined teaching standards and staff morale.
Delegates backed a motion to replace the NSS with a better feedback system, while a second motion, approved unanimously, said the survey was unfair as it allowed students to “name and defame” staff anonymously.
Steve Issitt, UCU branch president at the University of Birmingham, told the conference on 8 June that some academics at his institution had been told that their contracts would not be renewed unless they received scores of at least 3.5 out of 5 in the survey.
Read full story.
Encouraging to see recognition of good teaching & learning (rather than just research):
Colleagues laud devotion to duty in our #loveHE competition to find sector stars. John Elmes writes
A tutor technician with an “outstanding” work ethic who has successfully bridged the gap between two key university roles has been named the winner of the Times Higher Education #loveHE Unsung Hero Twitter competition.
Jonathan Hunt, who works on the University for the Creative Arts’ BA in animation, was described as a “can-do guy” whose “strength lies in his empathy for students and their learning. Nothing is too much trouble for [him].”
Read full story.
A great piece on the dangers of teaching in the arts, when our culture no longer really seems to value it:
And as I grow older, so I am mocked by technology. Today, every device insists on telling me the time. I watch the red figures on a microwave count down the remaining seconds of my life. “Cook for three minutes,” it says. So I cook it for two and save a minute of my life. I take a similar approach to the National Lottery. I don’t play. That saves me £50 a year. This year, what with the recession, I decided not to buy two tickets, so I am saving £100. If they continue to freeze salaries, I may not buy three.
So what used to be a secure life is so no longer. Our teaching is inspected for its effectiveness, our research explored for its “quality”, awarded stars like children in primary schools rewarded for not wetting themselves. Our students are asked if they love us. We are required to explain our relevance, recruit students with higher qualifications, students with lower qualifications, produce more first-class degrees, explain why we give so many first-class degrees, recruit overseas students while the government turns them away at immigration.
Read full story.
The experiences in Australia, I wonder how far they echo the British experience of Associate Lecturing, but this I can definitely concur with:
There are good arguments on both sides. But no one, it seems, is looking at the bigger picture in relation to higher education: the concept that casualisation of the academic workforce is bad for Australia as a whole, and contributes to the “lucky country” being in danger of becoming the “dumb country”.
Through casualisation we are losing the power of some of our best educated, smartest people. These are the people who make your children into lawyers, doctors, journalists, teachers, accountants, nurses, scientists, architects and myriad other professionals; they are the ones from whom brilliant ideas can come in the form of medical breakthroughs, communication innovations and creative energy. Sadly, 60 per cent of them, many of whom have spent 10 years at university becoming experts in their fields, are far less productive than they ought to be.
Instead of doing research when they are not teaching, they are running around looking for their next job, or working in other jobs just to pay the bills. Thus, the universities miss out on many academic articles and books that could improve their standing and increase their funding.
Read full story. I have similar thoughts about funding of projects – innovation always seems to be more likely to be funded (because it attracts news), rather than developing a pre-existing project which has already demonstrated it’s value (but not necessarily a monetary income!) – and those working on the projects spend their entire time chasing more funding rather than being able to focus on research (my definition of research includes research into what makes for better teaching).
This is so true:
“Mature students are not studying as a leisure activity,” he said. “We found that they are actually more ambitious and career-focused than younger students.”
Most mature students are a delight to teach, as they know why they are there, know how to apply the skills of the workplace or managing a home, etc to the demands of study. However, support for lifelong learning doesn’t entirely seem to be there:
The OECD report that accompanied the strategy launch stresses the need for people to keep learning throughout their lives. Skills can otherwise “depreciate” as labour markets change and individuals forget those they do not use, it says.
As university itself costs more and more, what impact is that going to have upon postgraduate studies?
Chris Hearn, head of education at Barclays Corporate, told THE that the bank had been speaking to BIS and universities about how to help the first cohort of graduates to leave university under the higher undergraduate fee regime in 2015.
“What is their appetite going to be to then go into postgraduate study, especially taught postgraduate study?” he said.
A couple of stories in Times Higher Education demonstrate worrying changes in funding that could affect that:
Interesting – the over-riding power of the student voice, and students suing as they are forced to pay more, worries a lot of academics, but an interesting twist:
A judge has quashed a decision by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for the first time in a development that could pave the way for legal challenges against the student complaints watchdog.
The OIA has been ordered to revisit a case in which it awarded compensation to a student who argued that the London Business School had failed to deal properly with his claim that prejudice had caused him to lose PhD grants. It is the first time an OIA decision has been overturned since the body was established in 2004.
Delivering his opinion at the Administrative Court at Manchester on 16 February, Judge Andrew Gilbart QC criticised the business school for failing to apply its own appeals procedures properly. He also ruled that the OIA had neither dealt with the issue nor given proper reasons for its decisions.
Read full story, or visit OIHA. We definitely need accountability, but has it swung too far in the other direction?
Got a real interest in body image stuff, etc. and remembered seeing some stuff about this in the press, but here’s it’s academic credentials in Times Higher Education:
While some younger Chinese women responded favourably to “idealised Western models”, North American women felt frustrated or insulted by magazines using models whose appearance was “not realistic and not attainable”.
They were more likely to want to buy the clothes worn by a model who “mirrors their size, their age and their race”, the research found.
Dr Barry said it was now up to the industry to take note of “the case for diversity in fashion”.
Read full story, and find out about Ben Barry on Wikipedia, or visit his website.
Great story caught my eye in Times Higher Education this week:
But the University of Dundee has come up with a novel way to reward benefactors: murder them. Fictionally, that is.
As part of Dundee’s attempt to raise £1 million to build a new state-of-the-art teaching mortuary, four best-selling crime and mystery writers will allow the highest bidder to appear as a corpse or character in a forthcoming novel.
Participating authors include Stuart MacBride, whose Logan McRae series uses Aberdeen as a backdrop for “horrific crimes” as well as “much eating of chips and drinking of beer”, according to his website.
Read full story.
Foucault, who I used as the theorist for my PhD, said that ‘Knowledge is Power’ (those who ‘know’ things’ can gain power by telling others what they ‘should’ know)… so this story caught my eye:
On the other hand, knowledge seems to command little public esteem and our anxiety about the state of it is, perhaps, evidence of decline. The educational system values skills more highly than knowledge. Technology crowds knowledge out of space reallocated to data. Academic specialisation, for the individual who practises it, usually deepens knowledge but often broadens ignorance – sticking heads in furrows instead of raising them to survey whole fields. Postmodern epistemology doubts the validity of the very concept of knowledge. The economy gives higher rewards to chutzpah, celebrity, greed and fraud than to learning.
Read full story.
With an interest in the impact agenda, an interesting story in Times Higher Education identifying some of the positives of it:
“Impact” has had a bad press from many working in higher education. To some, the intention to assess the impact of research is a crude infringement of researchers’ freedom to pursue truth, beauty and uncertainty, and as such is likely to corrupt and diminish the value of research. To others, it is yet another example of the sinister marketisation of higher education, where the “public” good is being sidelined in the headlong pursuit of “private” benefit.
However, now that the final panel guidance on the research excellence framework has been published, resistance seems to have melted away. An impact army has been mobilised in universities across the UK as people get to grips with the impact framework and begin to identify and draft their case studies ready for the submission deadline in 2013. In the process, do we risk moving seamlessly from a period of spirited resistance to one of slavish compliance with the new assessment regime?
Read full story.
It’s certainly possible. As someone who has worked across the disciplines, and was told in no uncertain terms that my ‘history’ studies of Second World War propaganda were in fact ‘media studies’ – maybe they were right, I now teach Media Studies!
Anyway, drew my attention to this page:
What kind of person writes a book about Arctic wildlife, 18th-century surgery or the byways of Elizabethan poetry? Most of the readers, one might assume, will be within universities, so who will the authors be if not academics? And in general, no doubt, that assumption will be correct. Yet, just as many 19th-century country clerics produced important work on natural history, one can still find examples of “independent scholars” – people unattached to universities who venture more or less knowingly into academic territory.
Take the case of Richard Sale. He studied physics, stayed on to do a PhD and then worked in the nuclear industry until 1996, when he began to focus his efforts on writing and photography. He has now written more than 60 books, the bulk of them travel and walking guides covering fairly familiar territory such as Dorset and the Italian Lake District.
Read full story.
As a definite extrovert, found sight of this book interesting:
Michael Mack, reader in the department of English studies, Durham University, is reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking (Viking, 2012). “A fascinating book that counters our society’s obsession with groups. Cain does not take issue with extroverts as such, but with how being extrovert and gregarious has become a normative standard. An oppressive research climate now dictates that academic work must be done collaboratively, but Cain shows how lone researchers are more innovative and beneficial to society.”
Take from Times Higher Education.
Great thoughts re conferences which make me laugh because I see the truth behind it:
As birds fly south in the winter, so academics feel an irrational urge to go to conferences where they can exchange knowledge, along with the latest virus to have leapt from chickens to man. Global warming scientists fly around the world to warn others against doing so. Literature professors cross frontiers to talk about trans-nationalism and visit former colonies to discourse on post-colonialism as their rooms are cleaned by low-paid women working for distant corporations.
Young American PhDs talk of hegemonic patriarchalism and go to sleep muttering the names of French theoreticians. Germans lie awake waiting for the verb. Others spring into consciousness, paradoxically remembering that they had forgotten their memory sticks – and this in a country where computer keyboards know nothing of QWERTY, so that urgent messages home arrive as though fresh from an Enigma machine.
An interesting article here. I definitely think that students are not all fully appreciative of the opportunities they get, and many could do more, but is there too much of a glut of universal education?
o one expects anything comparable to happen now. Most schoolchildren in the UK and the US show – if we admit the facts frankly and interpret the exam results objectively – little appreciation of their opportunities. Typically, they emerge from school with lamentably low standards of literacy and numeracy, and no taste for prolonging intellectually strenuous forms of leisure. If they go on to further educational experiences, they are more likely to choose vocational training than lectures unrewarded, except for the sheer thrill of learning, on the Salian and Hohenstaufen emperors. How did this collapse of educational ambition happen? Why did ordinary people’s appetite for learning ebb? Why did excellent autodidacts disappear?
I’m sure readers will tell me that these changes are the effects of easier, cheaper access to competitive forms of pabulum, drivel, belly-laughs and mundane amusements; or that the fault lies with bad schools; or with a system that denies teachers resources and freedom; or with prevailing consumerism and materialism, which condemn children to share their parents’ and rulers’ dreary values and narrow aspirations. I suspect, however, that the real problem is deeper and more secret – so shocking that we barely dare think it, let alone mention it out loud: maybe the entire project of creating universal, compulsory, free education was misguided. And maybe the destruction of real, heartfelt demand for learning has been one of its consequences.
Read full story.
You know me, I love my travel, and really think it has contributed much to the person that I am (becoming). ThirdYearAbroad.com is bringing case studies together of the value that studying abroad can have. I think it doesn’t matter what course you’re on, or if you’re past formal study… it’s good to get a different persecutive!
They may have gone on to work as everything from a brand manager at Boots to a human rights activist in Sumatra, a broker for a yacht company in Monaco, a researcher at the Dachau concentration camp memorial site and even an interpreter for the Miss World competition.
Yet all these graduates agree that the skills and confidence they acquired during a year abroad as part of their degree played a crucial role in their subsequent careers.
Read full story.
In an article largely focused on the difficulties of couples involved in academic work, and the need to live miles (sometimes continents) apart … which indicates that to truly be an ‘exceptional academic’ there may be a need to be without dependents:
In 2010, Kathleen Lynch, professor of equality studies at University College Dublin, wrote a powerful article in the Arts and Humanities in Higher Education journal, titled “Carelessness: a hidden doxa of higher education”. Although there are now global opportunities for some academics, she argued, performance expectations are likely to be so demanding that “only a care-less worker can fully satisfy [them]“.
“Given the gendered order of caring, senior managerial appointments and senior academic posts are most available to those who are ‘care-less’, those who have no primary care responsibilities, and these are likely to be very particular types of men (disproportionately) and women,” she wrote.
Lynch believes that “the carelessness of education” (and a consequent distortion of research agendas) has its origins in a “classical Cartesian” determination to keep emotion out of scholarly work, and in “positivist norms” based on “the separation between fact and value”, but thinks the trend is being greatly intensified by the “new managerialism”. Today’s “idealized worker”, as a result, is “one that is available 24/7 without ties or responsibilities that will hinder her or his productive capacities. She or he is unencumbered and on-call, even if not ‘at work’.”
Read full story, and the editorial.
Another great piece from Times Higher Education, questioning whether forcing universities to seek funding, demonstrate impact, etc. has actually done the sector any favours?
All universities over the past 40 years have been forced to find money to supplement their public-funding shortfall; but it was not always thus. In 1919, the state expressed its financial interest in our having a national system of higher education, funded from general taxation. The University Grants Committee would distribute the funds to ensure our autonomy, explicitly precluding our acting as an arm of government; and our responsibilities were primarily to the demands of knowledge, engaged for the general public good. The recent Browne Review almost completely reverses this, with the explicit disavowal of state interest in our activity, and service for public good ceding place to our serving a political agenda.
By insistently asking the “value-for-money” question, governments since 1980 have in essence restricted university autonomy. They have explicitly required that we become an arm of government, while simultaneously cutting our funding from taxation. Always remember: the research assessment exercise/research excellence framework is a mechanism for legitimising the reduction of funding for research; “peer review” is a way of getting the sector to inflict the pain of cuts upon ourselves, government hereby absolving itself of responsibility. Who is at fault here?
Read full story.
We have become a very risk-averse society, so this is a very timely piece for Times Higher Education:
In the academy all must have prizes, but nothing breeds success likefailure. Steven Schwartz argues that students gain more from blind alleys than from victory processions, as failure engenders the ‘true grit’ essential to achievement in the real world
“All political lives…end in failure,” said British politician Enoch Powell, a proposition amply corroborated by his own career. Scholars are vulnerable to a similar fate. To paraphrase the anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, academics can be certain of two things: someday we’ll all be dead and eventually we’ll all be proven wrong. (Sahlins’ tip for a successful career: make sure the first precedes the second.)
Even superstars fail. In a famous Nike advertisement, basketball legend Michael Jordan confesses to missing more than 9,000 shots and losing almost 300 basketball games in his career. “Twenty-six times,” he says. “I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot – and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.” Then, after a pause, he delivers the line that has attracted more than 4 million people to view the ad on YouTube: “And that is why I succeed.”
Read full story, and see the associated editorial.
Found this story interesting in Times Higher Education:
Allowing universities to be run by bean counters and bureaucrats is detrimental to academics’ ingenuity and productivity, argues Amanda Goodall
I am intrigued by the difference in the administrative burden that I deal with in my privately funded research organisation the IZA Institute for the Study of Labor, in Bonn, compared with what I was used to in a university. OK, it is a small institute, with 40 in-house researchers and 20 administrators (and 1,000 research fellows). But nevertheless, the systems and processes are concise and unbureaucratic.
Its director, Klaus Zimmermann, who is a labour economist, offered me three reasons why the institute is efficiently run: first, he tries to employ the best he can find from the private or public sectors; second, he never allows the number of administrators to exceed or come close to the number of researchers; and finally, “the most important thing”, he says, “is that both sides understand each other and share the same spirit”.
You think this is obvious, right? Yet complaints in the UK and the US (see, for example, Benjamin Ginsberg’s recent book, The Fall of the Faculty, the Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why it Matters) point to the increasing struggle between managers on the one hand and faculty on the other. At its simplest, the disagreements are about processes. Management, which in the US and UK is very influenced by accounting practices, would like to run organisations in a way that is seen as counter-productive and counter-cultural by faculty.
Read full story.
Now this is a great quote, taken from a section on Times Higher Education re ‘the importance of the humanities/sciences’:
Are the arts and the sciences as distinct as many assume? Stephen Mumford, professor of metaphysics and dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Nottingham, poses the question in a post on his Arts Matters blog.
“If they are, what is the distinction? Do we have a clear definition of each that allows us to see their separation?” he writes. “Most universities will have distinct faculties for arts and sciences, for instance. But the division clearly has some artificiality. Suppose one assumed, for example, that the arts were about creativity while the sciences were about a rigorous application of technique and methods. This would be an oversimplification because all disciplines need both.
“The best science requires creative thinking. Someone has to see a problem, form a hypothesis about a solution, and then figure out how to test that hypothesis and implement its findings.”
Read full story. A related post of interest may be the story of Nicola Clayton who combines dance/science.
The idea of social enterprise (not just about the private sector) highlighted in Times Higher Education:
The idea of community-sourced projects replacing top-down public-service provision is in tune with the government’s intention of building a Big(ger) Society. Student Hubs, an independent charity, has been working in higher education for the past five years to transform student volunteering and social action. In seven universities across the South of England, our “hubs” carry out many community-facing functions, from managing volunteers and hosting conferences on social and environmental issues to supporting student-led ethical campaigns and projects. We also provide a programme that helps graduates find social-change careers.
Although this work is supported in part by universities, our main sources of funding are corporate sponsors, trusts, foundations and, crucially, the social enterprise model of self-generated income. In Oxford, we have opened a £1 million centre for student social change that generates income by renting out office and events space and by running a cafe/bar/restaurant that serves locally sourced food to students and locals alike. In this way, it promotes community interaction while providing sustainable funding for our work.
Read full story.
The National Student Survey is under pressure. Universities spend a lot of time circulating statistics, but I wonder who submits these – it probably tends to be the students who are most impressed or least impressed with their courses – and do these students always appreciate what they’ve been given. I certainly didn’t realise some of what I learnt until after I finished my degree, and really started to value some of what I hadn’t understood at the time:
The National Student Survey puts pressure on lecturers to provide ‘enhanced’ experiences. But, argues Frank Furedi, the results do not measure educational quality and the process infantilises students and corrodes academic integrity
One of the striking features of a highly centralised system of higher education, such as that of the UK, is that the introduction of new targets and modifications to the quality assurance framework can have a dramatic impact in a very short space of time. When the National Student Survey was introduced in 2005, few colleagues imagined that, just several years down the road, finessing and managing its implementation would require the employment of an entirely new group of quality-assurance operatives. At the time, the NSS was seen by many as a relatively pointless public-relations exercise that would have only a minimal effect on academics’ lives. It is unlikely that even its advocates would have expected the NSS to acquire a life of its own and become one of the most powerful influences on the form and nature of the work done in universities.
Read full story, and also the editorial comment.
Having shocked myself by saying that much scientific theory is just that – theory – and that so many people like to say that science/religion can’t be compatible (both run on a certain amount of faith), I was interested to see this book reviewed in Times Higher Education:
After Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion comes the reply. Wham bam! Rupert Sheldrake takes on the “truth-finding religion” of science in general and “ten dogmas” of the 21st-century worldview in particular. These include arguments that consciousness is “a by-product” of the biochemistry of the brain; that evolution is purposeless; that God is only an idea. Each is dealt with swiftly and efficiently in its own chapter, at the conclusion of which are some sceptical questions that challenge the reader to think again, and a clear summary of the main arguments.
Sheldrake recalls, disapprovingly, the philosopher of science George Sarton saying: “Truth can be determined only by the judgment of experts … The people have nothing to say but accept the decisions handed out to them.” Verily, says Sheldrake, here is an attitude worthy of the Roman Catholic Church at its most zealous. And he hints that religion lies behind many philosophical certainties, starting with Descartes splitting asunder mind and matter, that have shaped the modern, supposedly “objective” worldview.
Read the full review. Buy the book. Another book of interest is Wired for Culture: The Natural History of Human Co-Operation which takes a biological perspective on cooperation.
As someone who’s never particularly wanted children, the review of this book is really interesting, indicating that it’s not just a personal choice, but an ethical and moral one…
Philosopher Christine Overall is right to establish at the start of this book – part of a series called Basic Questions in Bioethics – that whether or not to have a child is, or should be, a matter of choice. That, as she says, has been true since the advent of the Pill – and indeed since the days of Marie Stopes, who pioneered accessible contraception. Childbirth is no longer something that just happens. And it is a serious choice. To have a child is a life-changing commitment that is irreversible. Yet in even the quite recent past, although some couples deliberately decided that they ought not to have any children, either because of their chances of passing on genetic illness or because of their chosen nomadic life, for the most part the question of whether or not to have children did not usually seem to be a matter of moral choice. But these days, when we are all ecologists, there are hardly any choices that are without moral implications: there are virtuous and vicious paths in choosing what we eat, what we wear and how we get about. Society has become deadly earnest, and little can be thought of as private, or merely a question of taste.
Read full review.
Thinking about why I undertook a PhD? The biggest driver I think was intellectual curiosity, although I’ve always wanted to “teach”, so that was also a factor…
The proportion of doctoral students who find academic jobs is greater than the proportion with a definite aspiration to do so – except in the arts and humanities.
This is the surprising finding of a major survey of PhD students’ career aspirations carried out by Vitae, the research careers organisation.
The online survey, carried out in 2010, attracted more than 4,500 responses from doctoral researchers across 130 UK universities and research institutes.
An overwhelming majority of respondents had entered doctoral study for reasons of intellectual curiosity, and only about a third had formed definite career plans, even by the latter years of their doctorates.
Read full story, where Vitae indicate that a surprising number of students aren’t studying in order to enter academia!
Interesting. Networking has always been part of academic life, but there’s clearly been a shift from finding those ‘of similar mind’ to those who can help fund your work…
A significant number of academics feel it is not part of their job to help businesses bring their research to market, according to an investigation into attitudes to knowledge transfer.
Such activity is high on the political agenda, with David Willetts, the universities and science minister, challenging institutions to increase their income from knowledge transfer by 10 per cent over the next three years.
However, scholars often think they do not have the skills to network with the business leaders who could turn their research into a new product or service, according to a PhD thesis written by Kristel Miller, a teaching fellow in management at the University of Abertay Dundee.
About 40 per cent of the researchers questioned who were working with the university to commercialise their work said they felt they had been “forced” to do so, Ms Miller told Times Higher Education.
Read the full story.
We still don’t have anonymous marking, and I certainly find it wrong in a world where we are increasingly giving feed-forward (and therefore would know whose piece of work it is), and are looking for students to provide personalised assignments using online tools such as blogs – which means we HAVE to know who they are:
In recent years, the practice of “blind marking” students’ written work has become almost universal in UK universities. Why? This is because research indicates that some examiners give higher or lower marks to students they know, or whose sex or race they know, than they would if they did not know whose work they were marking. This is obviously unfair and damaging to the career prospects of students who are marked down. So university administrations have taken action by depriving examiners of the information leading to the bias, and insisting that scripts are anonymised before being assessed. But this strategy is misguided: it does not address the real source of the problem and it seriously damages the educational culture.
When I got my first job as an academic in the late 1960s, assessment was a largely intuitive process, in which academics were hardly more articulate about the criteria they were applying than chicken-sexers, and students were entirely in the dark as to what they needed to do to get good marks. I well remember examiners’ meetings in which colleagues would say things like: “I just sensed from the first paragraph that this candidate has a 2:1-ish sort of mind.” We have come a long way since then, with explicit course specifications and the compulsory training of new teaching staff. Nevertheless, we are still a long way from an ideal world in which students fully understand what is expected of them, and staff assess their work solely on the basis of published criteria rather than on the extraneous characteristics of the individual student. In general, academics have not been good at specifying clear criteria by which written work is to be assessed, or at ensuring that their students internalise these criteria, or at applying them impartially.
In my view, the solution to the problem is not anonymous marking; it is to build on the progress that has already been made towards creating an academic culture in which every teacher takes pride in their professionalism and impartiality, and is respected for it by students and administrators alike. In that culture, students will be treated equally on the basis of their actual performance, and will no more need to be anonymised than patients consulting their doctors, or clients consulting their lawyers.
Read full story… which echoes what I’ve written at the top!
Does gender unintentionally affect reference writing, and how much affect does that have upon careers?
The 2009 work to which I am referring (by J. Madera, M. Hebl and R. Martin in the Journal of Applied Psychology) considered letters of reference written for academics, looking at common adjectives used to describe men and women, and explored how these letters – and the words used – affected the actual hiring decisions. In general, women were more likely to be described by rather passive and emotive words (described in the original paper as “communal” adjectives) such as affectionate, tactful, sensitive and helpful. These are words that may indeed correctly describe any individual, they are not negative words, but they may not be seen as central to the job an academic does. In contrast, men were more likely to be described by so-called “agentic” words – words that stress the active sense of doing, rather than merely being, and words that might be correlated with strength. Adjectives that fit into this category include assertive, dominant, ambitious and intellectual. These words convey a sense of mastery over a field, not a predilection to nurture someone else. The reported analysis demonstrated that the use of these agentic words did not appear to have a significant effect on hiring decisions, but the presence of communal words did. In other words, describing women with stereotypical female words disadvantaged the women. Interestingly, female referees were more likely to use these unhelpful, stereotypical words about women than male writers. One can speculate why this might be, but the concern is that – almost certainly unconsciously and unintentionally – many letters of reference contain words that are damaging to a woman’s case, and hence to her future career.
Read full story.
One that made me think… what these students are fighting for to get an education, when in the UK students often want it on a plate…
Once, during Ramadan in the mid-1990s, Erfan Sabeti was on his way to an all-day genetics class at the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education in Tehran.
He had taken to wearing a tie to show he was not a hard-liner, though the Ayatollah Khomeini had just issued a fatwa saying that ties were a symbol of westernisation. As he was about to get into a taxi, he was stopped by revolutionary guards.
Young and fearless at the time, Sabeti immediately told them he was a Baha’i going to a meeting, where the accepted costume was suit and tie. So they took him to their headquarters and one of them said: “You Baha’is are very cheeky, because we’ve got you ‘on our tongue’. We could swallow you up whenever we wanted, if it wasn’t for pressure from the international community.”
“They interrogated me for three or four hours,” Sabeti recalls now, “cut my tie and fined me about £5. By lunchtime they let me go. My professor was very worried and almost fainted when I told the story, because of the risk that I’d been followed.”
“Mona” (not her real name) also remembers that she and fellow students of the BIHE had to keep the location of classes and labs secret in order to avoid raids by the government.
“We were particularly cautious about the labs, because we didn’t want our textbooks, equipment, photocopiers, computers and teaching materials to be confiscated.”
So what exactly is the BIHE? Why has it long been a target of official hostility in Iran, subject to a notable crackdown in 1998 and now under even more severe threat?
Read full story.
Having participated on the fringes of #occupy, this story attracted my interest (and the poster above uses a number of iconic memes!):
The Occupy movement is a disparate yet articulate protest movement directed against economic and social inequality. Although it has not rushed to make demands, it has galvanised support with the slogan “The 99 per cent”, referring to the concentration of wealth among the top 1 per cent of income earners. As a meme, “Occupy” has propagated far and wide, but it does not appear to have gained as much traction as one might have thought among those at university. This is not 1968. Like structuralism then, the mass of students today are not taking to the streets.
Occupy Wall Street came to an unglamorous end in mid-November, and the clock is officially ticking for the camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London. One protester I met in the “Information Tent” at St Paul’s was pragmatic. All the tents, he explained, would be removed as soon as the court ruling decreed. But I was also told that the idea of Occupy will remain steadfast.
During a lecture, I wrote on the board “#ows”, the Twitter hashtag then circulating in relation to Occupy Wall Street. I asked if anyone recognised it. Out of some 60 media undergraduates – many of them Twitter users – not one knew. And even when told, a less-than-excited murmur rippled through the room. Despite a number of high-profile scholars lending support to the Occupy movement, little interest has registered across the other 99 per cent of the university population.
Read full story.