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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Super-Selection Policies?

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Selection of students for universities – a topic of great interest – are we just allowing those who would always have gone to find a way in, or are we offering widening access:

There are many disturbing aspects of current policies towards higher education, but one of the most disturbing has attracted relatively little comment compared with funding reforms, student financial support or access to visas for overseas students. It is the growing obsession with the stratification of universities by the A-level grades their students attain.

The new conventional wisdom is that students with high A-level grades should all be corralled into so-called “top” universities, ie, those that are research intensive. These universities are deemed to be successful by being not just selective, but super-selective in their student recruitment. Now, every newspaper league table of universities heavily weights the input measure of students’ entry qualifications, encouraging universities to be ever more focused on candidates with three As or better. This fixation has a number of unfortunate consequences.

Of these, by far the most important is that the intake of universities becomes less and less diverse. Very high A-level scores can be and indeed are achieved by some young people from all social and ethnic groups. However, there is a large preponderance of private school-educated, upper-middle-class students with these scores, which reflects the advantages of their schooling and their family backgrounds. One indicator is the tiny number of British black and Asian students at Oxbridge and the concentration of such students in post-1992 inner-city universities. Another sign is the under-representation of mature students in some universities and their concentration in others, partly because they have taken fewer A levels than 18-year-old candidates, or in many cases none at all.

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University is not just about ‘getting a job’ …

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I’ve always said that University is about SO MUCH more than ‘getting a job’, and the students are not ‘customers’ … this article brings that out:

Academics have been “seduced” into using business-speak to defend higher education, according to leading scholars and politicians.

Speaking at a conference titled Universities under Attack, academics called for a “fightback” in which the “neoliberal” language of “employability” and “value for money” are ditched in favour of advocating higher education for its own sake.

Arguing for universities’ economic value meant “bowing down” before a flawed conception of education, argued Baroness Kennedy, principal of Mansfield College, Oxford.

“We have to reignite the language of what education is all about,” she told delegates at the event at King’s College London on 26 November, which was sponsored by the London Review of Books, the New York Review of Books and Times Higher Education.

“The whole business of learning is about something greater – it’s not just about having jobs.”

Decrying the “marketisation” of the academy, Baroness Kennedy said: “This is about turning ourselves into businesses. We have been seduced into the idea that there is no other way. It comes out of Hayek and Thatcher being enamoured with the free market. Big money from this ideology feeds into thinktanks in education, health and welfare. Alternative ways of thinking do not get resourced.”

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What have they ever done for us?

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How do local communities view their local universities, and do they recognise the value that they bring both to the local community, and to the local economy. This article looks particularly at the University of Southampton, and the University of Southampton Solent.

That sentiment may be shared by many in the communities in which universities are located. But if the institutions disappeared, how much of a loss would it be to those cities? David Matthews weighs the benefits of having a higher education establishment on the doorstep

Imagine waking up during term-time in 2014 on Portswood Road, one of the main student-housing drags in Southampton. Stepping outside, you find the road strangely deserted – not a student to be seen. Walking south along quieter streets, you find a huge expanse of grass where Southampton Solent University’s East Park Terrace building once stood. By the docks, the National Oceanography Centre – the University of Southampton’s research centre for the study of ocean and earth sciences – is now just a slab of wet concrete. Perplexed, you hop on a bus to the University of Southampton’s Highfield Campus, but the site opposite Southampton Common is just an empty space. Southampton’s two universities have mysteriously disappeared.

This is not a realistic prospect, of course: both the University of Southampton and Southampton Solent University recorded healthy financial surpluses in 2009-10. But at a time when the value of universities is being widely scrutinised and discussed, it is a novel way to consider their impact on and relationship with the local community. If the two universities were to vanish from the city, what would be lost?

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You can’t tell me anything @timeshighered

Yet the world seems to be ignoring the experts – even actively contesting them, having judged them to be among the people whose headlong mistakes caused the international economic downturn. The credibility of the intellectual classes, including academics, has come under attack in the US and elsewhere. And while scholars such as Romer may be exasperated by this new reality, some concede that they and their institutions bear a portion of the blame.

Seeking to explain this anti-intellectual turn, Norman Nie, founder and director of the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society, says: “It’s really a result of the loss of liberal arts education. There has been an explosion of what amount to trade schools and, even in (many) universities, a curriculum that is trade school-like. Social sciences and the humanities have melted away. Physicists don’t read the great works of history. The biggest problem is the loss of the background that a liberal arts education gives you in terms of context.”

Read full story, see also the editor’s leader:

The academy has to accept some responsibility for this lamentable state of affairs. Scholars seem reluctant to try to shake students out of their utilitarian, employment-driven mentality, which makes them disinclined to question and argue. Academics are often unwilling to stand up and be counted in some of the most contentious – and vital – debates on and off campus.

although mentioning that “climate-change denial and creationism emblematic of the malaise” appears to be not taking part in the debates himself, but the point about ‘Vocationalism’ is an important one.. to return to the main article:

The humanities are missing an important opportunity by not making the case that learning how to formulate arguments and move around in the world of ideas is an important idea.

Also of particular interest:

“There’s been a general debasement of the idea of evidence, the idea that looking at the facts can teach you something that you don’t know that forces you to rethink your position,” Dimitriadis says.

“In a sense, belief systems have become more important than evidence” – including in-campus cultures that encourage diversity – helped along by “that notion that everyone’s belief system is OK. We have this notion of balance, that your belief is as good as my belief. I believe that global warming is caused by X, and you believe that global warming is caused by Y.”

Expanding on this theme, Graff says higher education seems to have abandoned the concept of argument. “I blame the educational system for contributing to the flood of undigested information,” he says.

“What would focus that information for students would be well-focused debate. Controversy clarifies. But educational institutions fail to take advantage of presenting controversy.”

Academics, in their research and writing, practise robust debate, Graff says.

“But when we go into our classrooms, we don’t. In theory, higher education is an argument culture; it (certainly) is in our publications and conferences, but not in the curriculum. I suppose it’s rooted in a certain fear that, as we become more diverse in higher education, we don’t really know how to negotiate disagreement.”

A very thought provoking article, is belief or evidence more important?

Brammer says: “How do you refute personal experience? When arguments are based in the personal, questioning the evidence is questioning the person.”

She continues: “The simple truth is that the personal-experience argument makes argument accessible to everyone. It is compelling and easy, requires no research or work or reading, and ultimately makes it nearly impossible to engage in the meaningful deliberative discourse necessary to solve global and local problems. Unfortunately, via the media, the US has exported this to the world.”

The ‘Mickey Mouse’ that roared: media studies takes on its critics

Media studies has long been cast as the classic “Mickey Mouse” subject. Now, at a time of widespread cuts in the academy, scholars in the field have launched A Manifesto for Media Education, a web-based project designed to fight their corner.

“We hope to achieve greater clarity about our subject,” explained Jon Wardle, director of the Centre for Excellence in Media Practice at Bournemouth University.

“Should media education be about serving the jobs market, reflecting society back to itself or holding power to account? And since the media are now central to our lives, should they be studied in a separate discipline or right across the university syllabus?”

To get the ball rolling, Mr Wardle has co-authored an initial statement noting that the project comes at a time when media education appears to be flourishing.

“Applications to media courses in the UK have never been higher,” it says. “In Southeast Asia, media education is now a legislated aspect of schooling in a number of countries, and in the US various foundations are making millions of pounds available for academics to investigate the nation’s media literacy.”

Read full story, or read the Manifesto.

Shopping around for a better way to operate? Try John Lewis

I used to work for the John Lewis Partnership, and it’s a great way of working. Universities could look to worse for inspiration.

John Lewis’ shares are settled in a non-revocable trust. The beneficiaries of the trust are the employees (“partners”). The trust deed sets out the ultimate purpose of the organisation: “the happiness of all its members, through their worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business”. Via a substantial and formalised system of representative democracy, the employees are directly responsible for the success of the firm. The organisation is kept flat and equitable via a restraint on pay differentials, preventing expropriation of business wealth by managers.

Trust universities could follow suit. Universities would be placed in non-revocable trusts: as institutions of the knowledge commons, ownership should be irrelevant, but purpose all-important. The raison d’etre of trust universities would be to support the teaching, learning and research work of their staff and students, all of whom would be “partners”.

Democratic structures enshrined in the trust deed would ensure that partners were responsible for, and empowered to effect, the efficient operation of their workplace towards socially, economically and culturally beneficial outcomes. Like John Lewis, their failure to do so could lead to organisational demise.

Read full story in Times Higher Education.

Scarce cash may foil lecturer training plan

HEA demands qualifications for new teachers, but universities fear the cost. Rebecca Attwood reports

Qualifications for new university lecturers are to become compulsory at a time when institutions will struggle to find the funding to support it, universities have warned.

Following recommendations made in the Browne Review, the Higher Education Academy has published plans to make the completion of an HEA-accredited training course mandatory for all postgraduates and probationary academic staff who teach.

It also proposes publishing annual data on the number of staff who reach each level of its national training framework, the UK Professional Standards Framework.

In a speech last month, Craig Mahoney, head of the HEA, highlighted inconsistencies in training. Universities did not always ensure that probationary staff completed a postgraduate certificate in higher education, even when the institution had made this a formal requirement, he said.

Some people only understand things in monetary terms…

The decision to virtually eliminate public funding for university teaching in England appears to imply that the benefits of studying for a degree are almost entirely private.

But a campaign calling for recognition of the public value of higher study is gathering momentum, with academics from across the globe challenging the fundamental shift in university funding.

At the Universities and their Regional Impacts: Making a Difference to the Economy and Society conference in Edinburgh last week, Walter W. McMahon, a US economist who has put a monetary value on the wider social benefits of higher education (see table below), warned the UK against the “worrisome” move.

Professor McMahon, author of Higher Learning, Greater Good: The Private and Social Benefits of Higher Education (2009), has studied the “private non-market benefits” for individuals of having degrees, including better personal health and improved cognitive development in their children, alongside the “social non-market benefits”, such as lower spending on prisons and greater political stability.

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Canadian Universities – the ones to watch…

Canada entered the recent recession in a somewhat stronger position than its G7 peers, in large part because it dealt with its budget deficits in the mid-1990s. Thanks to its regulatory regime, no Canadian banks failed and no government subsidy was needed to prop up their balance sheets. As a result, the Canadian economy is emerging from the recession faster and relatively stronger than other countries’.

The Canadian economy has traditionally relied on its natural reserves and basic manufacturing. Since the mid-1990s, however, the country has been making systematic investments in building its knowledge economy. Canada today boasts a 48 per cent post-secondary attainment rate, the highest among the countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. In Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, 62 per cent of residents have attended higher education and the provincial government has aggressive plans to increase this number to 70 per cent over the next five years.

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