Chinese Politeness & Education

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A really interesting piece about the culture in Chinese universities:

Respect, in this instance, simply means having regard for those who know more than them. In the West, putting intellectual pressure on students can be dubbed “bullying”; here in China, they expect you to expect the best of them. In fact, most of my students are highly competitive, keen to demonstrate their aptitude for learning as well as their attitude to learning. It is a thirst for finding things out that is reflective of and responsive to the social dynamism in which they find themselves.

In the end, it is the willingness of my students to get on, to understand the world (not just their part of it) and to be critical and creative that is rewarding. As a result, there is also a refreshing pressure on me to perform. Besides, when all students are armed with mobile phone cameras – like a phalanx of Chinese tourists snapping away at my blackboard calculations – there is no way that I can blame them for copying things down incorrectly.

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Brazilian Universities on the Up!

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I have a serious soft-spot for Brazil – having lived there for around 6 months, and had a return visit since – so really interested to see this story about the rise of Brazilian Universities:

The University of São Paulo is the top-ranked Latin American institution in the 2012-13 Times Higher EducationWorld University Rankings, at 158, and it is the oldest university in Brazil. Its leafy campus in the city is so huge that staff move between buildings in cars, while its students – some of whom would not look out of place in London’s trendy Hoxton neighbourhood – are known for keeping fit by criss-crossing the site on foot. Boasting four university hospitals and four on-site museums, the institution manages to achieve cultural dominance in a city of 11 million people, and it is set to expand even further. Some 11,500 students graduate from the University of São Paulo each year and, like other public higher education institutions in Brazil, it charges no tuition fees.

The university owes much of its might to its enormous budget. Most public universities in Brazil (typically the country’s oldest and most research-focused institutions) are managed by the federal government, but the University of São Paulo receives its funding directly from the state of São Paulo, the wealthiest region in Brazil. It is not the only institution to benefit from this arrangement: in a set-up enshrined in the state’s constitution, three of its universities receive a guaranteed 10 per cent of the state’s tax revenues each year between them. Up to 90 per cent of the funding distributed by the São Paulo Research Foundation, FAPESP, also typically goes to academics and students at these institutions via grants and scholarships. The foundation itself receives another 1 per cent of state tax revenues to spend on research, innovation and education – the equivalent of about £350 million a year.

Read full story – and maybe I want to pick up on my Portugues – or is it all about science?!!

Universities: Do we trust them?

Really interesting piece by Tamson Pietsch – can universities continue to be the leaders in certifying expertise?

I recently attended a fascinating workshop on trust and authenticity in interwar Britain. In a period that witnessed the crumbling of old certainties and the appearance of new forms of mass culture, communication and politics, the question of what was real and who could be trusted became a pressing concern. In a world in which everything seemed in flux, what measures did people use to assess authenticity and whose truth-claims did they trust?

Such questions have a long history in the context of higher education. For much of the 19th century, a university degree stood as a decisive marker of class and cultural distinction. Teaching a classical and liberal (and often religious) curriculum, universities sought less to impart specialised knowledge than to cultivate the character and fashion the morals of the elite young men who would be leaders in politics and society.

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What do students want from University?

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Encouraging to see that students aren’t picking just on cost, but are looking for a wider idea of what offers “value”:

Almost a quarter of all students have changed their thinking on where to attend university owing to higher tuition fees, according to a new study of applicants.

That proportion rose to more than a third of those from poorer backgrounds with lower predicted grades, a survey of prospective students by university marketing advisers OpinionPanel found.

However, fee levels themselves are still unlikely to be the deciding factor when students choose an institution, with a bigger shift towards the perceived “return on investment” to be gained by studying on a particular course.

The survey attempts to look at how the tripling of tuition fees has affected the decisions of those still planning to go into higher education.

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‘Sins of Omission’ (@timeshighered)

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With stories that schools are ‘sending difficult students out before Ofsted inspections‘, there are suggestions that Universities are also massaging their expertise – and a call that all should be included in the REF:

“The European Union economy doesn’t look too bad – if you exclude Greece and perhaps a couple of others from the 27.” “Spurs are a decent team, if you don’t count those games in which goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes gifted points to the opposition.” “2011 was an excellent financial year for our unit trust, if you discount the poor performance of one or two of the companies in which we invest.”

Yet we don’t rate the EU by choosing which economies to include or exclude, nor does the team that wins the Barclays Premier League get to miss out its worst performances before the final ranking. And investors would be living in cloud cuckoo land if they thought they could ignore a unit trust’s poorly performing components. We do, however, allow something similar to happen when assessing research in British universities. Why?

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The NSS is coming…

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Interesting. University of Winchester have raised banners that say “We’ve listened to you”, demonstrating how. It’s important to take the student view on board, but how often do we end up responding to these results – is there not a better way to measure… and it’s worrying when these are used as the MAIN criteria – and education falls into danger of being edutainment!

Have you raised the banners yet? Ordered the free hot dogs? Set up the laptops? Yes, it’s that time again. Up and down the land, exhortations will flash across plasma screens, encouraging messages will fill noticeboards, and bright-faced student ambassadors will lie in wait at strategic points ready to grab any passing third-year. For next month, the National Student Survey begins.

Since 2005, when the Ipsos Mori poll first began, this annual judgement day has assumed more and more importance. It is increasingly viewed by the media, student applicants and their parents, and even the government as the absolute barometer of university health.

It’s not as if we’re not always trying to improve what we do. But we’re now so aware of how influential the NSS has become that we put massive efforts into making sure our students know that we have responded to their concerns.

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Oxford College achieves 84% State Sector Entry

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Following on from yesterday’s post, this one is of particular interest – as Oxford/Cambridge always have had higher numbers from the private sector:

Principal at an Oxford college might not seem a natural job for a Glaswegian from a working-class background who has spent much of her life waging war on social injustice and educational disadvantage.

But Mansfield College – known as the dissenters’ college – is not like its University of Oxford counterparts and for its new head, barrister and Labour peer Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, it was a fitting home.

Established in the 19th century as the first college for religious Nonconformists, Mansfield is now blazing a trail for fair access – it offered 84.5 per cent of its places to students from the state sector this year. More than two-thirds of these came from further education, sixth-form colleges or comprehensive schools.

“People’s jaws drop when they hear that,” Baroness Kennedy said. “If I’ve got 84 per cent, someone sitting here in Oxford has got a very bad story to tell.”

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