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Academic

PhD: Has the quality dropped? If so, who’s “to blame”?

mfIRNyuThis is rather concerning (but not particularly surprising, as we’ve heard all those complaints about GCSE, A-Level, degree level standards dropping, etc.) re PhD doctorates. Really, by the time you sit the viva, you should know that your work is ready to pass, and that your job in the viva is to demonstrate that you actually wrote it (although others will still see it as a test) … and as I hope to take on a PhD student before too long:

Our experience does not lead us to criticise any particular system of examination or type of thesis. However, it does raise serious issues about the quality of work submitted for the PhD degree (or its equivalent) and the standards employed to judge such work.

To cut to the chase, a significant number of the theses we have examined did not deserve to pass – at least, not in the form in which they were submitted. One of us has examined six doctoral theses in the past year and believes that not one of them was worthy of the degree. Yet he had the means at his disposal to fail only two of them. Administrative conventions and examination procedures, not to mention social pressures, simply did not allow the possibility of failure.

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Digital

The Power of the Pencil

nMB90JM

An interesting piece on the power of the pencil in the age of the machine (I’ve had several conversations about the growth of the hand-written when we so often just get bills through the door):

However, I still come back to pencil or ink line drawings as my favoured technique. Hand-drawing (from sketching to technical drawing) became an essential tool in my professional career – before I turned to academia – as a means of conveying ideas to a client or contractor. This was around 15 years BC (Before Computers) and of late, many people have reverted to a leaded pencil on lined paper to return to the skilful artistry that they sense has been lost because of the ubiquity of the PC. As such, last year’s figures revealed a 7.5 per cent growth in year-on-year pencil sales (although in 2006, The Independent noted that the 700 per cent rise in sales seen that year corresponded with the advent of sudoku, so maybe the relationship is not that straightforward).

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Digital

Too much data? @timeshighered

In the information age, there’s increasing amounts of data availabe:

Could society be placing too much reliance on the quantity of information at its disposal when it should be equally focused on its accuracy?

subject of a conference on 5th November

The Big Data event at the British Academy, due to take place on 5 November, will assemble academic researchers and statisticians to discuss how best to use the increasingly accessible sets of public data on anything from education to road safety.

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Academic

‘Sins of Omission’ (@timeshighered)

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/63044

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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Academic

Academic Independence? Possible in an age of Quality?

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1137792Working in a Learning and Teaching Development office, we look at questions of quality quite a lot, so picked up on this story:

As officialdom’s demands for meaningless Transparency and Information multiply, Thomas Docherty asks: has clandestine scholarship become the only way to carry out real research and teaching?For a number of years, the university, in common with much of public life in general, has become obsessed with the need to present itself to the world through the twin pillars of Transparency and Information. It is taken for granted that we will piously revere, and robustly comply with, the demands of these iconic towers. Ostensibly, demands for Transparency and Information are positively good: after all, who would want important decisions to be based on a lack of information; and who would want procedures to be covert, operated according to unspoken laws or whimsy, and governed by secretive cabals?

But Information and Transparency are not as innocuous as they seem, especially in the university. When unquestioning respect for them is simply taken for granted as an axiomatic good, they start to assume the power of the obsessive fetish, and the price of fealty exacted is high. Transparency and Information become the means of securing the university’s official conformity with the prevailing social or governmental orthodoxy and dogma. When they assume a primary importance, they govern the official identity of the university, and they thereby deprive the institution of the capacity to make any serious claim for a cultural function beyond the society’s or the government’s official views of the academy.

This brings serious consequential dangers for the university and its proper priorities of teaching, learning, research and scholarly study. These things are all grounded in two axioms of intellectual life: first, that truth should nowhere be taken to be transparently self-evidencing; and second, that information must be subjected to critique if it is to help us seek or form knowledge.

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