Tag Archives: universities

What are rankings for?

hear, hear:

“The panic about ratings causes university management teams to spend money on PR in order to affect the opinions of those who rank universities. They may formally request all staff to lobby colleagues in foreign universities for a higher rating on questionnaires. They may insist on an increase in the quantity of postgraduates without respect to quality. They may demand that faculty publish only in journals the university ranking systems tabulate.

When the only aspects of quality considered are those that are digitally measured, a great divide can open up between appearance and reality. Time is spent on the manipulation of measures rather than on the search for truth or the betterment of life.

Ratings may go up (in the short term) and the actual quality of the university sink.

These management-driven efforts to perform for the rating system can have a bad effect on scholarship as well as teaching.”

Letter to the editor of the Irish times by Adrian Frazier, 5 Oct 2015 http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/letters/university-rankings-what-are-they-for-1.2376841

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Why aren’t graduates called Spinsters of Arts/Sciences?

Reading a book* about higher education. Found an interesting quote in the historical background section. So this is why university graduates today are called BA/BSc (Bachelors of Arts/Sciences). Duh!

“…Next came the bachelors, who were advanced students and were allowed to lecture and dispute under supervision. They corresponded to and derived their names from the journeymen or bachelors, who worked for a daily wage and had not sufficient maturity to establish themselves in the trade. (Hence they were still unmarried). At the top of the profession was the master, a rank common to both universities and guilds. He was a man who had demonstrated both his skill and maturity to the satisfaction of his fellow masters. Entrance to this stage was gained after elaborate examinations, exercises in the techniques of teaching, and ceremonial investiture. Admission fell exclusively under the jurisdiction of the other full members of the university…. The three titles, master, doctor, professor, were in the Middle Ages absolutely synonymous.”

I am not the kind of feminist who would nitpick about terminology. I’m quite happy to keep words along with their historical baggage even if it’s a history of unequality (what history ISN’T a history of inequality?), as long as we are aware of what the baggage means. Much better than opening future gates to new inequalities by erasing all trace of nasty legacies today … So, I feel even better informed about the patriarchal basis of my education (and that of my ‘research subjects’. the mathematicians) now!

Burton R. Clark 1983, The Higher Education System: Academic Organization in Cross-national Perspective, P.47 citing Baldwin and Goldwaite, eds, Universities in Politics, pp.8, 19

 

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Universities in ruins

France has plans to build a new star university in Paris South in the hope of getting that one university into global rankings. It would have 70,000 students and 10,000 researchers, it would be super modern and have direct connections to the airport, etc. Cost unspecified. In the meantime, the budget for higher education was slashed by 70 million meaning some universities won’t be able to pay their staff – well, the hourly-paid staff that is, those who are paid (at best) 2 months after the end of term. Also this tumbler shows what the non-star universities look like and will probably continue to look like:

(reblogged from https://www.facebook.com/ThirdLevelWorkplaceWatch?fref=ts)

Universities in ruins

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Irish universities’ gender gap: even worse than in the whole UK

“New data from the Higher Education Authority reveals that women are massively under-represented in senior academic positions across virtually all of the country’s third-level institutions.

The figures, gathered late last year, show that in the country’s top universities between just 14% and 20% of professorships are held by women.

It is the first time the HEA has published a detailed breakdown of the gender gap at senior levels in the sector.”

Read more here http://www.rte.ie/news/2014/1203/664255-academic-posts/

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An important article by Paul Mason at The Guardian today:

Private schools know how to game elite universities – state-educated kids don’t have this privilege

The argument Mason makes is that school graduates in the UK make uninformed choices about university courses. The problem isn’t necessarily scarce information, quite the contrary:

“Other opinions are available of course – and that’s the problem. This year, a quarter of a million 16-year-olds will make their A-level choices relying on hearsay, myth and information that is outdated or uncheckable. Those choices will shape their options when it comes to university – and the courses they apply for will then shape their chances of getting in.”<\blockquote>

“Why should this matter to the majority of young people, who do not aspire to go to an elite university? And to the rest of society? First, because it is creating needless inequality of opportunity and is just the most obvious example of how poor access to informal knowledge penalises state school kids. Second, because in an economy set to be dominated by information and technology, those 15,000 people who can attempt further maths each year are the equivalent of Aztec gold for the conquistadores. Their intelligence will be the raw material of the third industrial revolution.

There is no reason – other than maintaining privilege – to avoid presenting subject and course choices clearly, logically and transparently. When the system fails bright kids from non-privileged backgrounds, we all lose.”<\blockquote>

Some possible solutions perhaps:

– Better (not necessarily more) online information accessible to all students; a publicly available depository of previous student experiences and statistics on post-A-level trajectories;

– The communication between universities and schools needs to be improved: on the one hand, both universities and schools complain that the other side does not understand their difficulties and poses unreasonable demands; yet on the other hand, both sides complain that the other side is not willing to engage more fully in communication. Where is the truth? Universities have outreach programmes, plenty of information on their websites – but perhaps not the right kind?
The STEM ambassadors initiative is great, but (a) there is a need for ambassadors not only from “STEM” jobs, and also, howeevr successful they are, it’s a charity and they aren’t reaching all the schoolchildren.

– Why is it that universities aren’t more involved in designing, redesigning, updating, A-level syllabuses and monitoring their teaching at 6th form? Is it because university staff are too busy, don’t care, because they have no clue about earlier pedagogy? Or because schools don’t want universities messing into school territory and for example shifting curricula too much towards high-achievers? All viable concerns, but surely a better balance can be found, with more productive involvement and less disruptive meddling of universities into schools! I have heard colleagues involved in admissions sigh that schools just don’t always teach the kids what they really need to know – not just for the entrance exam, but more importantly, for being able to thrive in university. Thinking skills, thinking outside the box, creative and disciplined and active learning… if this really is true, then it’s horrible for both schools and universities in the UK and something has to be done.

– It seems to me that University outreach initiatives such as “Widening Participation” need to be far better developed and embedded into university work. At present, university staff mostly don’t participate – and understandably so, since it is an additional task on top of their already high workloads, and there are already penalties for spending too much time on supervising students and preparing lecture materials if you neglect research and especially publishing. At the same time, there are increasing amounts of administration to be done (as all long-serving academics will confirm, the advent of computers has NOT decreased the amount of paperwork). There is a fundamental imbalance in the way staff are assessed and appraised for job purposes. For example teaching and other “good academic citizenship” behaviour such as administrative work or pastoral care are insufficiently rewarded, whilst research is rewarded – but only through publications in “4 or 5-star journals” (yes, that’s the actual term, I’m not making it up). In this context, when academics are already stretched to do more research, and cope with teaching and admin as much as they can, and most of them routinely work overtime to accomplish their research projects and/or plan lecturers, and/or finish marking – how can we even expect anyone but the young and idealistic academics (the ones most in need of a career boost) to even consider being involved in communication with schools?

– Would it make sense to bring back grammar schools? From the few grammar schools that still exist, it seems that it is a good model… here I must let experts talk, because I know precious little about the UK secondary education system and my impression is largely anecdotal.

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