Category Archive • Higher education
December 15, 2004
It's a market out there

Leeds university cuts its fees.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:34 PM
Category: Higher education
December 13, 2004
Feline higher education

I love this.

HARRISBURG, Pa. – The Pennsylvania attorney general's office Monday sued an online university for allegedly selling bogus academic degrees – including an MBA awarded to a cat.

Trinity Southern University (search) in Texas, a cellular company and the two brothers who ran them are accused of misappropriating Internet addresses of the state Senate and more than 60 Pennsylvania businesses to sell fake degrees and prescription drugs by spam e-mail, according to the lawsuit.

Investigators paid $299 for a bachelor's degree for Colby Nolan – a deputy attorney general's 6-year-old black cat – claiming he had experience including baby-sitting and retail management.

The school, which offers no classes, allegedly determined Colby Nolan's resume entitled him to a master of business administration degree; a transcript listed the cat's course work and 3.5 grade-point average.

Well I reckon there must be plenty of cats that are really quite good at baby minding and shop minding, certainly good enough to be worth some sort of qualification. But I agree, maybe not an MBA.

Strictly speaking, you are only supposed to cat blog on Fridays, but I've decided to overlook that.

More here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:28 PM
Category: Higher education
December 09, 2004
Clarke versus Reich

I'm not sure myself what I think of it, especially when governments are so heavily involved, but one of the biggest education stories that has emerged while I've been writing this blog has been educational globalisation.

The BBC presents two contrasting views of this process. Our Education Minister Mr Clarke is for it, and wants only to encourage it, although politicians encouraging something doesn't necessarily mean that it will actually be very encouraged. Here is a BBC report of his globalisation thoughts yesterday:

The UK must be a serious player in the global market for students if it is to prosper, says the Education Secretary, Charles Clarke.

He told a British Council-organised UK International Education Conference in Edinburgh that this was worth £10.4bn a year to the economy.

However, as a result of this report, I found myself following a link back to a warning given by Robert Reich to British higher education:

RobertReich.jpg

Britain has been warned of the dangers of following America in the "marketisation" of higher education.

The warning came from Robert Reich, a professor of social and economic policy at Brandeis University and a labour secretary in President Clinton's administration.

I've had a busy day and am still studying Reich's thoughts, but a cursory look-through suggests that this is a particularly important point:

There is also along with the marketisation of higher education there's a greater and greater emphasis on vocational and pre-career university courses and the advertising and marketing of vocational and pre-career - accounting, law, economics, finance, engineering, applied sciences - these are becoming very, very popular, undergraduate curricula in these areas are expanding dramatically, a faculty who are teaching in these areas are paid better and better. And so more seriously the classics – literature, history, some of the basic sciences - have become poor stepchildren. Because you see it follows that as you envision higher education as a system of private investment for private return and as that sinks into the public's mind it naturally follows that the concept of a liberal arts education or an education in humanities or the education in broad-based social sciences or in classics or whatever has less and less justification in the public's mind.

But is there not also another explanation for the decline of the humanities, which is that the potential consumers of these services are distressed by the nature of the product. "Liberal arts education" is surely the bit of US higher education that has degenerated most spectacularly in recent years. This is where bias, ignorance, and hostility to all the kinds of values of the kind that such an education used to promote has run riot most riotously. Vocational courses have a built-in mechanism to enable their quality to be assessed. How well to the products of such courses then do in their careers? This, I submit, has kept them up to the mark and created meaningful competition, in a way that relates to what those customers want from such courses. No such mechanism is built into humanities courses.

And there is also the simple fact that only a few are drawn towards the academic life. The recent trend towards marketisation has accompanied something which might have happened anyway, without such marketisation, which is simply: expansion. Do more higher education, and you are not going to churn out the exact same proportion of historians and literary critics, unless you are very foolish. Could Reich be blaming marketisation for something which is actually just plain common sense, and if he is right to blame marketisation, would it not make more sense to praise marketisation for registering the wisdom of such an alteration of educational emphasis? Would America really be a better country had the universities unleashed a million more humanists, or whatever they are called?

Just a couple of thoughts, which are of course related. I have more homework to do about this piece, but that's no reason for me not to link to it in the meantime, as I hope you agree.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:17 PM
Category: GlobalisationHigher education
December 08, 2004
"… I might get bored in the City …"

BenDurham.jpgIt's alright for some:

… Ben Durham, the 21-year-old blind-side flanker, was the beating heart of Oxford's dominant forward effort, both with ball and in the tackle. Still, despite Oxford's attempts to keep him, Durham’s brain is even more sought after, and next September he heads for the City to work for Goldman Sachs, eschewing a professional rugby career with Gloucester.

"I’ve been at Oxford four years now and I should probably think about leaving," Durham, who earned a first class degree in economics and management and is studying for an MSc in economic history, said. "I played as a professional with Gloucester until my second year (at Oxford) and I found it quite dull. I should imagine if you are Jonny Wilkinson it's fantastic, but being a professional in the Premiership does not appeal.

"With an Oxford degree behind me I think I should go and explore some wider options. Besides, they (professional clubs) won't pay me enough."

Durham, who was educated at Pate's Grammar School in Cheltenham and studies at Keble College, won his third Blue and enjoyed a first win. "I'm glad we won, or I might never have left Oxford," he said. Instead of making hay in the mud at Kingsholm come September, Durham aims to start his job in UK mergers and acquisitions at Goldman Sachs, the American investment bank. This may even have been his last game.

"If I play I want to play good rugby, not just kickabout stuff, but you never know, I might get bored in the City," he said.

Steve Hill, Oxford's director of rugby, has not given up hope of keeping Durham. "Ben is one of the brightest boys we’ve had in the team," Hill said. "He's expressed an interest in being captain and he has secured serious funding from research bodies at Oxford to stay for another three years if he wants it. Maybe his bank will defer until after next Christmas."

Decisions, decisions.

Good to remind ourselves that for some, education still manages to work out quite well.

Oxford won 18-11.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:32 PM
Category: Higher educationSport
December 07, 2004
"… the plucky young man who … has been largely responsible for revolutionising the student events scene in the UK …"

More on turning your hobby into your career, from last Saturday's Telegraph:

 

Six months into to his first year at Leeds University, Nick House ran out of money. He'd blown all his grant on partying, hanging out on the burgeoning Leeds club scene and throwing the odd party.

 

So, like any desperate but resourceful student, he went to see his bank manager to appeal for an extension on his loan. "I remember being handed a form," says House, with a wry smile. "It said something like 'reason for loan (tick box) books/education/training/computer equipment/other'."

House ticked "other" and added the explanatory couplet "nightclub promotion". Needless to say, he was refused a loan.

But the plucky young man, who during the past few years has been largely responsible for revolutionising the student events scene in the UK, wasn't to be deterred.

House looked at Leeds's lively network of 20-30 nightclubs – crammed at weekends, rattling the rest of the time – and dreamt of filling them with the hedonism-hungry student population. He hired a club and raised the cash for his own off-campus, exclusive NUS night called "In Your Dreams". Investing £1,000 of his own money, he printed flyers and hired a DJ. More than 400 Leeds students turned up and had a great time, but House lost a small fortune.

"I was too emotionally involved," he says. "I had fun, got a huge ego boost and gained lots of cred, but I lost money because I was a naive 18-year-old. I knew nothing about print costs, venue hire, distribution, DJs or profit and loss. They even charged me for the hire of the lighting rig, which is a joke."

House learnt from his mistakes. These days his student promotions outfit, Come Play, lures about 20,000 students into nightclubs across the country every week of the term.

 

And of course this story is also a reminder that as higher education gets to be a mass experience and not just an elite experience, that makes the student a major entrepreneurial target.

One thing puzzles me though. At the top of of the story it says that Nick House ran out of money. Yet later he manages to invest £1,000 of his own money. What gives? Or more exactly, who gave?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:18 PM
Category: Higher educationLearning by doing
November 09, 2004
The Great UKeU Learning Experience

The BBC reports on a fairly typical piece of public sector failure, in this case of the inelegantly named UKeU. See also these earlier BBC reports, here and here.

The basic problem seems to have been that the people running this thing thought that a good educational idea (even assuming that this is what it actually was which it probably wasn't) is enough for the whole wants-to-be-educated world to come pounding on your door. But, in business in general, and most definitely in education in particular, there is a little thing called reputation. You have to have one of these, it has to be good, and it can take a while to establish it.

And the other problem, of course, is that shovelling stuff onto the internet and exchanging emails with students is no longer rocket science, and is being done by other universities. As Americans would say: wow, never saw that coming.

The attitude of the Minister who inherited this mess reminds me of those comedy sketches about maintenance men who say "Who installed this then?" when the answer is: "You did, mate." You, as in this government. You set it up.

Current Minister Howells says that the "marketing" was poor.

However

... he would not call the failure of the project a disaster because he was interested in the lessons learned.

Ah. A learning experience.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:31 PM
Category: Computers in educationHigher educationPolitics
November 08, 2004
A list of the world's top universities

TopUniversitiesS.jpgTimes Online has a list of the top universities in the world, arranged in order of merit, first issued by the Times Higher Educational Supplement. I've copied it to my site so that it won't vanish, and you can read it by clicking on the diminished version here. I found it by clicking the graphic here.

Here is the Times Online piece about it.

Here's how the list was compiled:

Universities were placed in the table with the help of findings from a survey for the THES of 1,300 academics in 88 countries. They were asked to name the best institutions in the fields that they felt knowledgeable about.

The table also included data on the amount of cited research produced by faculty members as an indicator of intellectual vitality, the ratio of faculty to student numbers and a university's success in attracting foreign students and internationally renowned academics in the global market for education. The five factors were weighted and transformed against a scale that gave the top university 1,000 points and ranked everyone else as a proportion of that score.

My first reaction on reading the list was "How real is this?", but that sounds real enough, even if it is weighted slightly towards what people think are the best universities, and they could be out of date, as well as just plain wrong of course. It will be interesting to see how things change, say, during the next five years. That's if they do this again.

This list will feed the frenzy of parents trying to bribe/threaten/cajole/beg/prostitute-themselves etc. for places for their worthy or worthless little darlings. "But Michigan is only thirty-first best!" Blah blah blah.

Here's who won:

Harvard, whose faculty members have won 40 Nobel prizes, emerged as the world's best university by a considerable distance, with second-placed Berkeley rated 120 points behind at 880.2. …

And here's how Oxbridge did:

… Oxford scored 731.8, slightly ahead of Cambridge on 725.4.

Here are the totals in the top fifty, broken down by country: USA 20, UK 8, Australia 6, Canada 3, Switzerland 2, Japan 2, Singapore 2, France 2, Hong Kong 2, China 1, India 1, Germany 1.

What hits me is (a) how large the Anglosphere looms, and (b) how badly continental Europe does. I would have expected Germany in particular to do a lot better. I guess chucking out all your Jews is not smart, higher-education-wise.

My beloved London, with 4 of the UK's 8, did particularly well. Hurrah.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:18 PM
Category: Higher education
November 07, 2004
"Do you wanna graduate college or do you wanna be a film director?" – Spielberg makes his choice
More from this book.

Following on from the success, such as it was, of Firelight, Spielberg's next effort as a film maker was Amblin, and this, given that he had already made some movie industry insider contacts, got him the serious attention of Hollywood. So much so that Hollywood made him an offer which he did not refuse …

A couple of months later Amblin was ready for unveiling. Since the negative was held at the Technicolor lab within Universal Studios, the twenty-four-minute movie was handily situated for a providential borrowing.

Universal's president in charge of TV was thirty-two-year-old Sidney Jay Sheinberg, and after a feature screening one night. Chuck Silvers prevailed on him to watch 'this young guy's short film'. Sheinberg agreed and was suitably impressed. He liked the way Spielberg had selected the performers and developed their relationship, he admired what he saw as the maturity and warmth in the movie. Taking in the close-to-mirror image of himself that Spielberg presented in the hastily arranged follow-up meeting was something else again. Sheinberg recalls a 'nerd-like, scrawny creature' appearing: 'The surprising thing was that he looked just like me.'

'You should be a director,' he informed Spielberg.

'I think so too,' came the rapid agreement, 'but I'm still at college. I haven't graduated yet.'

'Do you wanna graduate college or do you wanna be a film director?'

A TV contract at Universal or back to college? Oh, real tough. Spielberg quit college so fast – to hell with graduation – he didn't even stop to clean out his locker. His seven-year deal was drawn up and signed a week after the offer was made.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:06 PM
Category: Famous educationsHigher education
October 19, 2004
The Privatisation of Oxford University?

I can't say that I fully understand all the ramifications of this, but it sounds very important, and very good:

A significant number of Oxford colleges are supporting calls for the university to move towards privatisation and independence from the Government.

An analysis of Oxford's 30 undergraduate colleges showed widespread anger at government interference and concern about funding.

It also produced claims that a move towards independent status – similar to that enjoyed by leading universities in the United States – could begin within 10 years.

MichaelBeloff.jpgThe time frame, predicted by colleges that support a move to privatisation, is half that suggested by Michael Beloff, the president of Trinity College, last week. Mr Beloff said that increased government pressure on colleges to admit more working class students, combined with funding shortages, could force Oxford towards independence within 15 to 20 years.

Several college heads went further, however, stating that privatisation was not only inevitable, but desirable - and would take place more rapidly than Mr Beloff suggested.

You see, me, I thought these places were pretty much "independent" already. So file under: But what does Brian know? As I occasionally have to remind everyone: this Blog is for Brian's Education, as well as being an Education Blog done by Brian for all you ignoramuses out there.

Gratuitous picture there of Michael Beloff, from here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:55 PM
Category: Free market reformsHigher education
October 17, 2004
Muzzled (not)

Alex Singleton did a Samizdata piece yesterday about an attempt to muzzle The Saint, a St Andrews University tabloid student publication which has apparently offended the muzzling classes. I commented that the muzzlers would only be making fools of themselves.

Sure enough, Joanne Jacobs, the Instapundit of Edubloggers, has already done a posting about this. Something tells me she won't be the last overseas blogger to notice this.

When you do something stupidly left-wing, there is now a whole new global readership waiting to guffaw at you.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:38 PM
Category: Higher educationPeer pressure
October 15, 2004
If Sheffield University does not kill you it will make you stronger

This man is a genius. He is also a teacher. My favourite posting of his that I have so far found on an education theme goes like this:

Where I work they have put up a load of posters promoting British education. "That which does not kill you makes you stronger," says one. This is supposed to be an advert for the University of Sheffield.

I got to him via her and her. They were both focussing on another not-to-be-missed posting entitled YOUR CHILD IS AN ILLITERATE CABBAGE. My thanks to both ladies.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:46 PM
Category: Higher education
October 13, 2004
Too many creative writers

Here is an interesting if depressing Guardian piece about the baleful effects, at any rate as DJ Taylor sees it, of creative writing courses at university.

This week sees the publication of Concertina, the annual anthology of work by recent graduates of the University of East Anglia's creative-writing course. The noises emanating from this literary hotbed are usually so upbeat in tone that I greeted the remarks recently attributed to Paul Magrs with faint incredulity. Dr Magrs - lately employed as a tutor on the much-celebrated creative-writing course - had been reflecting on the calibre of his students, and the verdict was horribly damning.

The bulk of the UEA habitués, Magrs suggests, "tend to be people of about 30 who've burnt out doing something else, who've read some Kundera and some Rushdie and think they're going to reinvent the European novel by writing about their gap year and Ronald Barthes. Somebody even turned up in a beret one year."

No doubt the irritations of the modern academic life can be insupportable at times. No sooner had I finished reading Dr Magrs' piteous lament (he has since moved on to Manchester Metropolitan University) than the printer began to disgorge details of this autumn's inaugural Norwich literary festival. Among other attractions, the event will be sponsoring a "lab" at which half a dozen writers in residence will be offering advice to aspiring talent.

I concur with DJ Taylor in wanting to hold the word "lab" at arms length, given that scientific experiments are not involved here. (See also: "workshop".)

Later in the piece:

Meanwhile, the proportion of novels and poems written by people who are not graduates of, or tutors on, creative-writing courses grows correspondingly smaller. One doesn't have to be a throwback to the age of the man of letters, ear finely attuned to the thump of the creditor's boot on the tenement stair, to wonder whether this is the best training for the embryo writer. Reading the chapters of Jeremy Treglown's new biography of VS Pritchett devoted to the 1950s, I shook my head in horror at the revelation that, even in his fifties, the most influential critic of his day was so cash-strapped that he was obliged to write up his annual vacation for Holiday magazine. And yet a Pritchett safely established as professor of creative writing at the University of Neasden would, you imagine, have lost something of his distinction in the transfer.

Back in the 21st century, the fatal urge to cram campus lecture halls with graduates learning how to produce novels or "life writing" continues apace. Last month, a press release winged through the door announcing that the University of Essex is introducing a creative-writing course. No offence either to the university or its very distinguished founding staff, but: why, exactly?

Why indeed? Well, of course, one answer is that people like studying this kind of thing, and who am I, who spent half of today learning to play with Photoshop simply because I felt like it, to complain? However, I certainly don't see any case for taxpayers picking up any part whatsoever of the bills for such bourgeois pleasures.

Dare I hypothesise (and please note that's all it is) that universities actually solve a problem with courses like these? I'm thinking: universities are being nagged to process lots and lots of graduates. And this would presumably be a delightfully cheap way of doing that. Real labs are much more expensive.

Now, where can I get a course in destructive writing?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:30 PM
Category: Higher education
October 05, 2004
The Domestic Goddess versus tertiary education

My old Libertarian Alliance partner Chris Tame was fond of the word "hum", to describe a gradually spreading murmur in favour of some hitherto neglected notion.

Well, I think I detect the beginnings of a hum:

But the way the education system is going, it would be more honest simply to raise the school leaving age to 22. University is just something you do when you've finished your A-levels, no matter how badly you might have done or how bored you've been doing them.

To suggest to those who are not cut out for even rudimentary academic life that university might not be the best place for them, is to consign them to non-person status.

It's not as if a degree even helps getting a job: all it means is that you've spent longer waiting to find yourself unemployed. If anything, I feel it might impede your prospects. You're just one among a pile of applicants, similarly qualified, none of whom has anything extra or interesting to offer.

I think it's the middle classes that have to start the move away from tertiary education. Concerned parents now insist, ever more anxiously, on finding a university place when they would be doing a lot more for their children by refusing to fund the whole enterprise.

"… the move away from tertiary education …" Well, well, well, fancy that.

 

NigellaLawson.jpg Remember that when people writing in the Daily Telegraph say "middle classes", they mean fairly well off people in the top 5 percent of wealth and income. Middle as in "not the Queen", so to speak.

The really interesting thing about this article is who it is by. Nigella Lawson. That's right, the Domestic Goddess herself, and not just a bit of posh totty on the telly either. This woman is the daughter of a former Chancellor of the Exchequer and now married to a Saatchi Brother. Talk about well connected.

When people like this start talking about "the move away from tertiary education", then you know that something is going on.

I noticed this when it was first published over the weekend, but it took me until now to pass this on. Sorry, but not really sorry, because this is not a notion that is going to go away.

Wonderful what a price increase does to demand, isn't it? For remember, the idea of this price increase is that it falls precisely on those middle (upper) classes. So, the middle-uppers will, in increasing numbers, turn their backs on the universities. Their kids will get started on Real Life earlier than the riff raff.

How long will it be before "university" starts to have the same social ring to it as "comprehensive"?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:29 PM
Category: Higher education
September 30, 2004
"If you ask a lot of these people why they went to university they don't really know …"

I missed this story when it was published, on the 24th.

First few paragraphs:

Philip Green, the retail billionaire, is planning to build the country's first fashion and retail academy in an attempt to "produce the next generation of entrepreneurs".

The owner of Bhs, Top Shop and Miss Selfridge has donated £5m to what would be the first specialist college to train 16- to 19-year-olds for a career in fashion retail.

The college will train 200 school-leavers a year in marketing, finance and fashion buying and Mr Green – who recently tried to buy Marks & Spencer – hopes it will open for business in September 2005.

Mr Green, who left school at 16, said he had been driven to invest in the scheme by his difficulties in recruiting good staff for his own business. "We need to do something to produce the next generation of entrepreneurs," he said. Mr Green said it was often difficult to tell the difference between graduates and those who had left school with only A-levels.

"If you ask a lot of these people why they went to university they don't really know. It's either because they think it's what you are supposed to do or because it gives them another three years before they have to go out to work.

"If you get underneath it all some of it really defies logic. We take on A-level people and graduates who are three years older but are only earning £500 more. That's quite scary given that it probably costs them £30,000 or £40,000 to get there."

A-men.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:45 PM
Category: Higher education
Instapundit photos of the University of Tennessee

Further to my reference yesterday to Professor Instapundit, he is doing some election coverage for Guardian Unlimited, and via that I came across these photos, taken by the man himself at the University of Tennessee.

It all looks idyllic.

This one, which he also uses to entice you in, but which I do not understand at all, is my favourite:

InstaDevilAngel.jpg

His religious-theme photo for the Guardian is a fun snap also.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:26 PM
Category: Higher education
September 29, 2004
Alice says universities are rubbish

Alice (as "in Texas") has some thoughts about universities:

>But that's the irony: universities probably would still have some kind of place, if they just updated their ideas and got real. The trouble is, they are too insecure to confront that. But unless they come to terms with the fact that knowledge is growing itself outside universities now, and that for all sorts of reasons, people are not going to pay huge sums of money just so an institution can rubber-stamp its learning-location as well as its examination score, they are doomed.

Which is to say, genuinely intelligent people will opt out of them, so their standards will spiral down and down. And the people at the Justin Timberlake conferences won't notice what parodies of themselves they have become, of course.

I don't think I agree. The great thing about going to university is all the other people who go, from among whom you are almost bound to find human gold. You get to drink and **** and talk all night with them, and unless and until the world invents another way for the semi-brainy and brainy-brainy to find one another at That Age, the university idea will still have plenty of life in it. People will curse and rage against these places for being so silly, but other people will still want to go. The Internet may well replace lots of the academics, but lots of other academics, instead of being rolled over by it, will learn how to make the Internet an ally rather than an enemy.

I mean, I'd love to have had someone like this as one of my professors. Reading him every day or two is good, but chatting with him every week or two would be even better.

Dare I suggest that Alice's fulminations are evidence of the geographical fallacy, as I like to think of it, which say: geography (i.e. geographical proximity) doesn't matter any more, because of Modern Communcations.

Also, universities have been through very bad times before. In the nineteenth century, it is my understanding that British universities, instead of, as now, being rotten with third-rate "humanities" bullshit artists who publish far too much, were rotten instead with third-rate theologians who didn't publish anything at all. Science, meanwhile, was being developed in spite of the universities rather than because of them. But eventually Science took over the universities and made a new golden age for them.

But that last bit is somewhat of a guess. Better-than-guess comments, anyone?

Gratuitous university picture:

OhioUniversity.jpg

… which I googled my way to via here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:39 PM
Category: Higher education
September 20, 2004
University unrest

There's trouble a't' uni':

The row over performance related pay between Nottingham University and its lecturers reached a new deadlock today as the Association of University Teachers fulfilled its promise to stage an academic boycott of the university.

Later they quote AUT assistant general secretary, Matt Waddup, and my guess would be that the key paragraph in this story is this one:

"We believe that the university is placing its international reputation in serious danger," he added.

Universities in Britain are morphing from (exaggerating only somewhat) places where locals tread water to places where foreigners race through the water and do not want to be interrupted. They are going global, and doing global business. Thus, I classify this story under "globalisation" as well as just "higher education".

Result: a world in which universities demand actual performance, as opposed to mere charming eccentricity, but also one in which unions have a whole new kind of economic success to threaten and to want in on. Guess: there'll be more of this kind of thing.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:37 PM
Category: GlobalisationHigher education
September 13, 2004
Studying leisure is hard work

Mark Holland has been out and about, biking if it's fine, windsurfing if it's wet, and on his travels he encountered some students, studying:

Also out on the water today were a flotilla of mostly learner kayakers mixed in with a few who knew their stuff.

Speaking to a couple of them afterwards I learnt that they are at the local uni studying for a BA Honours Degree in Adventure Education. I didn't laugh honest. In fact I'm rather jealous. …

I'm not. This is my idea of hell on earth. But, each to his own.

SkyDiving.jpg

Michael Brooke comments:

My degree - Business Studies with a focus on arts management - had a couple of compulsory terms of Leisure Studies, which wasn't anything like as relaxing as its title suggests.

It turned out to be surprisingly fascinating, though, drawing on history, culture, politics, sociology and technology (cheap air travel, television, the internet) to examine the changing ways in which we've made use of our leisure time and how our attitudes towards it have differed.

I've recently taken a holiday, which I have spent entirely on chucking stuff out and organising what remains, nesting in other words. Very satisfying.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:16 PM
Category: Higher education
September 12, 2004
Graduate jobsearching

I did a piece for here today, about graduates having a tough time getting jobs, and at the last moment I realised it would do just as well onto Samizdata. So there it is, and the comments are piling up interestingly.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:59 PM
Category: Higher education
September 09, 2004
US colleges - the best versus the best of the rest

Michael Jennings PhD (who has just got himself a fine new job and is therefore an example of a successful education) emails with a link to this article by Gregg Easterbrook about the relative merits of the Big Name US colleges compared to the less well known ones which are damn near – and sometimes absolutely - as good. But, he says, as the gap narrows, the obsession among parents with getting their children in to the Big Names only gets more obsessional:

As colleges below the top were improving, the old WASP insider system was losing its grip on business and other institutions. There was a time when an Ivy League diploma was vital to career advancement in many places, because an Ivy grad could be assumed to be from the correct upper-middle-class Protestant background. Today an Ivy diploma reveals nothing about a person's background, and favoritism in hiring and promotion is on the decline; most businesses would rather have a Lehigh graduate who performs at a high level than a Brown graduate who doesn't. Law firms do remain exceptionally status-conscious—some college counselors believe that law firms still hire associates based partly on where they were undergraduates. But the majority of employers aren't looking for status degrees, and some may even avoid candidates from the top schools, on the theory that such aspirants have unrealistic expectations of quick promotion.

Relationships labeled ironic are often merely coincidental. But it is genuinely ironic that as non-elite colleges have improved in educational quality and financial resources, and favoritism toward top-school degrees has faded, getting into an elite school has nonetheless become more of a national obsession.

So what is my comment supposed to be about that? No problem. Michael Jennings PhD supplied comment as well as the link:

My personal experience is that the quality of the education varies a bit between famous and less famous but solid universities, but not really all that much. (Less elite universities will also often make special arrangements and give special attention for talented and successful students when they get them, too). What does vary a lot is the talent, ambition, and general interestingness of the students. I studied at a solid but obscure Australian university, a well known Australian university, and an internationaly famous university, and the number of interesting people I found to talk to increased steadily with the reputation of the institution.

I went to Cambridge (England) and screwed it up, being slung out after two years. (I should have left after one.) Then I went to a lesser university, and made it work much better.

Gratuitous picture:

ivy.jpg

Ivy. You knew that.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:50 PM
Category: Higher education
September 05, 2004
Gary North on why college graduates get higher paid jobs

My friend David emailed with a link to a piece by Gary North, holding forth on why the job market loves college graduates. Sample quote:

… A college graduate has shown that he has been willing to suffer enormous boredom, broken only by weekend parties, for five or six years. (Very few students get through in four years, as their savings-depleted parents will tell you in private.)

Here is someone who has survived years of a system designed by bureaucrats to produce bureaucrats. He has either been subsidized by his parents (50% of college students) or else has paid his own way (that’s the one I want to hire). He has put up with years of academic nonsense spouted by left-wing bureaucrats who could not hold a regular job in industry, let alone run a business.

Here, in short, is a certified drudge. Better yet, he has been certified at someone else’s primary expense: parents, taxpayers, and collegiate donors with more money than sense.

At this point in concocting this posting I got stuck, because I really don't know whether North is right or not, or what. But an interesting link should not depend on me having something smart to add to it, so here it is anyway.

Gary North includes another interesting link later in his piece, to something called Cooperative Education. Worth checking out. The idea is to improve on the cost and inefficiency of years of higher education, followed by potential job market disappointment.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:41 PM
Category: Higher education
August 01, 2004
Degrees for sale

This is what you expect to read about only in junk spam:

Cash-strapped British universities are awarding degrees to students who should be failed, in return for lucrative fees, The Observer can reveal.

The 'degrees-for-sale' scandal stretches from the most prestigious institutions to the former polytechnics and includes undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, foreign and home students. In the most extreme case, The Observer has evidence of a professor ordering staff to mark up students at risk of failing in order to keep the money coming in.

Lecturers at institutions across the country, including Oxford, London and Swansea, told The Observer the scandal is undermining academic standards, but they cannot speak publicly for fear of losing their jobs.

Depressing.

So much for my blogging holiday, which is still happening, by the way.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:38 PM
Category: Higher education
July 21, 2004
When parental involvement goes too far

Continuous assessment has long been regarded as potentially very inaccurate assessment, since cheating in such testing regimes, by teachers as well as pupils, is so hard to prevent. This is why carefully supervised exams in closed session, with no cribs allowed, were invented.

Here is another reason for such examinations: parents who help their progeny get into university, and who then continue to help them once they are there.

This leads, says Frank Furedi, to the "infantilisation of the university student".

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:58 PM
Category: Higher educationParents and children
July 17, 2004
Plumbing studies

Interesting BBC report about people queueing up to become plumbers. They were inundated not to say flooded with applicants, ho ho I think the last paragraph is the best:

Earlier this year Birmingham University biologist Karl Gensberg left academic life to retrain as a gas fitter, saying he hoped to double his £23,000 annual salary.

Gratuitous picture of my stupid doesn't-work shower:

Shower.jpg

How long before they start having university plumbing degrees (feminist perspectives on piping, U-bends – a structuralist analysis, plumbing theory, blah blah), which teach you nothing about how to actually plumb, but which you have to have before they let you start doing it and learning it? This will be announced as the solution to the British plumbing problem, but it will just make it ten times worse.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:26 PM
Category: Higher educationTraining
July 13, 2004
"This was my dissertation!"

One of my duties now (for which I am actually paid!) is to write a short weekly piece for this blog.

I've already aired the subject of intellectual property on my Culture Blog. But here is an article on an educational theme which is also about an intellectual property matter. Someone stole Kim Lanegran's PhD dissertation.

Last summer I discovered that he had defended his dissertation three years after I defended mine. I requested a copy of it through interlibrary loan. As soon as the dissertation was in my hands, I flipped first to the bibliography to see which of my works he had cited. Yes, I'm vain.

"Humph. He didn't cite my dissertation," I thought. I flipped to the table of contents. "Wow, he asked the same questions I did." I read the abstract. "Damn. Those are my words."

My heart pounded. This was my dissertation!

In the acknowledgement, he thanked his beloved for her patience during the years it took him to write it. Write it? He didn't even have to type it; I sent it to him on disk.

He copied many of my chapters word for word. Other chapters were slightly altered so as to make the arguments totally fraudulent. I did research in three African towns; Mr. X said he had studied two other towns. So where I quoted statements by an activist or scholar from town A, he changed the names and said that they were speaking about town Z.

It was equivalent to taking a quotation from Garrison Keillor about life in Minnesota and saying that Woody Allen said it about New York City.

Lanegran righted this wrong, and ended the academic career of the plagiarist, but she was deeply depressed by it all:

While gathering evidence to prove that my dissertation was actually mine, I confronted many dark thoughts about this profession. Mr. X must have thought that he would get away with his theft because nobody reads dissertations. Was he correct? Was all that work simply a hoop to jump through to get the Ph.D.? What is the value of a doctoral degree if dissertation committees take as little care with their students as Mr. X's did with him?

His adviser is a prominent scholar I've met at conferences. Although he is not an expert in the country or social movement covered in my dissertation, shouldn't he have known Mr. X's ideas and writing style well enough to recognize that the submitted dissertation did not sound like Mr. X's work? Shouldn't the committee have expected to see the process of Mr. X's arguments evolving or read drafts of chapters? At the very least, shouldn't the committee have told Mr. X to update my literature review and rework some of my convoluted logic and awkward prose?

Is cheating so pervasive that even someone who seeks a career in academe will violate the fundamental principle of giving other scholars credit for their work? If so, what hope do I have of inculcating that principle in students eager to escape quickly with their B.A. in hand?

When people talk about the "expansion of higher education", they need to understand that this is the kind of thing they are talking about, as well as the better things that they obviously also have in mind.

The intellectual property issue here is not just that Kim Lanegran's property rights (if that is what they were) were violated, but that the employers of the plagiarist had been defrauded. He presented himself to them as the writer of something which he had not written.

And since this is all about correctly attributing ideas, I need to tell you that I only found out about this article because I consult Arts & Letters Daily, pretty much daily, and definitely today.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:08 PM
Category: Higher education
June 29, 2004
Universities and media involvement

Arts & Letters Daily links to this piece about how academics are now being pushed by their own faculties towards the media.

… As schools vie to attract top students, top faculty, and top-dollar gifts, they count on their bookish professors to leave the library and enter the studio, where their insights on the day's news might help put their institutions on the map.

"It lends a certain credibility when they see you on television," says Mr. Williams, an expert in military affairs. "It may boost student enrollment in my courses."

For schools aspiring to enhance their reputations, the task of positioning faculty for a "media hit" has become big business. To get their professors into reporters' Palm Pilots, 624 colleges and universities pay between $500 and $900 each per year to be listed with ProfNet, a private database. Some go further by paying thousands to private firms whose sole mission is to get professors quoted in the press.

Spokespeople in higher education tend to agree that the time, effort, and money they invest to get professors quoted in news stories are priceless.

You can imagine all manner of moans about what a bad thing this is. "Dumbing down", "soundbites", etc. etc. But I think that the intellectual dangers associated with universities becoming media backwaters are at least as great as the dangers of media involvement.

I am, of course, biased. My background is political think tanks in general and the Libertarian Alliance in particular, and about half the point of these enterprises is to get political ideas spread around - the other half being to think of and about them. And having been involved in both processes for the LA, I can tell you that far from interrupting or hurting the thinking bit, the media bit actually stimulates further thought.

Ask yourself this. When the history of Britain during the second half of the twentieth century is written, as it is starting to be, which institutions will loom large:a think tanks, or university faculties? And surely a big reason for this is that whereas universities during this period have been wary or even hostile of media engagement, think tanks have lived for it. Has this made think tanks any less inclined to think? I strongly think not.

What think tanks have actually supplied is a kind of media front-end for academics, of the sort their own universities have been unwilling or unable to supply. The think tanks have used universities rather than straightforwardly competed with them. But if you measure intellectual impact – young brain cells stirred up, old geezers made to rethink, worthwhile soundbites crafted and launched, etc. etc. – and compare it with money spent, I reckon the think tanks have done very well, compared to the universities.

PeterTownsend.jpgOne obvious advantage of the media is that they face professors with something that they don't always get when tucked away safe in their faculties: disagreement. I still treasure the memory of a run-in I had with my old Essex Sociology Professor, Peter Townsend (partly because I wrote it up at the time for the LA), where we generally went for each other's throats on the subject of poverty – what causes it, how to end it, etc. etc. The abiding impression I got from this altercation was that Professor Townsend (gratuitous picture to the right) regarded it as something of a scandal that anyone should dare to disagree with him on his area of academic specialisation. Yet for this very reason, I am convinced that the experience can only have done him good, and maybe a lot of good. At the very least it will have acquainted him a little more forcefully with the ideas and attitudes of those whom he seeks to convert, persuade and convince.

More fundamentally, lots of people arriving at university for the first time are often shocked by how indifferent to ideas many people at universities actually are. I have many friends who have told me that they have had a better education at the hands of things like the LA than they got doing economics at university. Many universities exude the atmosphere not of intellectual hothouses bursting with fascinating ideas and arguments, but of rusty old machines idling along, shovelling a stagnating syllabus from A to B rather than causing anyone to get at all excited about it. A good old ruckus on the television between your crusty old Professor of Biology and the local Creationists, or between the Professor of Physics and some deep green anti-technologists or anti-nuclear peaceniks, might be just the thing to liven things up and get the students interested again, and generally to get people talking to each other again, in animated rather than tired voices.

As for that old "soundbite" canard, a soundbite is just a really well made point that you don't like, or just wish you were eloquent enough to have created but are actually not. The pressure from the media to answer dumb questions with short answers is often immensely stimulating to further thought. Professor Waffler, in one sentence because soon we have to go over to the newsroom: What do you do? Or: Why do you bother? Or: Why should we pay for it? Such questions are, I suggest, not so very dumb and are well worth thinking about until such time as you can answer them with a set of soundbites. And when you've got your soundbites, try sharing them with your students. They might finally get the point of you and of what you do.

As for media whore professors who are nothing but soundbites, well, they'll be found out sooner or later. Yes, there are dangers connected with media involvement. But universities can't be all light. They need a bit of heat. And in practice, I say, the two tend to go together.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:02 PM
Category: Higher education
May 30, 2004
Ross Neverway is on his way to Harvard

This will be very stale news to Americans, no doubt, but it contained a lot of up to the minute news to me. It's a piece by Ross Neverway, who has just got a place at Harvard, in today's Telegraph:

So what about the cost? The headline figure of £25,000 a year - tuition fees plus living expenses - is far beyond my family's means. However, I was advised by a Harvard graduate who teaches at my school not to let this bother me, and it was the best piece of advice I received.

Harvard admits students on merit and without any reference to their ability to pay, which is known as a "needs blind" admissions process. Details of an applicant's financial situation remain sealed until a place has been offered. The help the student's family will need is then assessed and scholarships awarded accordingly, to American and international students alike.

I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship of £20,000 a year. That Harvard, thanks to its huge endowment, can be so generous is one of its greatest strengths. Typically, about 10 per cent of each year's intake is made up of international students drawn from 60 or more countries. In my year group – the class of 2008 – there will be 30 students from the UK, chosen from the 217 who applied.

What particularly impressed me was that Harvard seemed intent on wooing me to accept its offer, though I did not need much convincing. Last month, I attended the "visiting program" weekend to sample Harvard life and get a better idea of the nature of my next four years.

I was given every opportunity to meet faculty members, fellow applicants and current undergraduates, and inspect the campus and its facilities. Founded in 1636, Harvard was America's first university and is now probably the world's foremost educational institution.

Okay, those last two paragraphs are comment rather than news, but I agree with Ross. It's very impressive, and he's a lucky guy.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:01 PM
Category: Higher education
May 24, 2004
More education adverts

Yes, more pretty pictures. Pretty pictures get people interested, and curious to find out what the text says. Plus, pictures are fun. (That, at any rate, is the thinking behind all the pretty pictures you see in children's books.)

First, a replay of an advert that has already been featured here, which I now see everywhere, this time on a bus:

lsbubus.jpg

Yeah mate. Get yourself a degree from London South Bank University and you won't have to spend the rest of your life riding about on a bike!

And the other two were both taken from the telly over the weekend, while I was watching the test match.

learndirect.jpg

"learndirect", however exactly you spell that (the capital letters or not thing I mean – personally I would greatly prefer Learn Direct), is actually not such a bad operation if my recent experience is anything to go by, even though I presume it is run by the Government. I rang them last week in connection with finding out about digital photography courses, and they were helpful.

This, for me, is the most interesting one:

computeach3.jpg

These people seem to be actually sponsoring the cricket, and this advert suggests thoughts about all manner of things that may or may not be happening in the world. But for here and now, I'll just stick with the pictures.

Yes. they are indeed sponsoring the cricket, or at any rate the broadcasting of it. Here is their logo again, this time with the Lords "Media Centre" (alias: Space Pod) in the picture.

computeach2.jpg

Not that I have any idea how good Computeach actually are at teaching … Compu.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:50 PM
Category: Higher educationThe private sectorThis and that
May 11, 2004
Now the LSE is going to China

More British educational export business in China, this time by the London School of Economics. This from the BBC:

The London School of Economics is taking its summer schools to China this summer for the first time.

The courses will be run in partnership with Peking University.

Dr John Board, head of the LSE Summer School programme, said: "We are delighted to be offering this selection of flagship courses from our London programme in Peking."

"It is a step into a new market but one we are confident will attract interest."

The bosses of British universities sound more and more like businessmen, which would be because, more and more, they are businessmen.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:52 PM
Category: Higher education
May 05, 2004
University advert on the tube

Further evidence that British universities are at least semi-trading in semi-markets:

LondonSouthBankU.jpg

It's an advert in the tube, meaning (for non-Londoners) the London Underground railway. A bit blurry I'm afraid. Taken on the move. But you can just about make out that it's London South Bank University, and that this is their website.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:11 PM
Category: Higher education
May 03, 2004
New EU students coming to Britain

More international business for Britain's universities:

A record number of university applications this year includes a threefold increase in students from some of the former communist countries joining the European Union on Saturday.

Official figures from UCAS, the universities and colleges admissions service, published today, show a surge of interest from the 10 accession countries.

But now here's the tricky bit, for the universities:

These young people will be treated as home students, paying £1,150 a year in fees instead of the overseas charges of £8,000 to £19,000.

Ah.

Nevertheless, an interesting development. Do you get the feeling that it is perhaps going to get rather harder to get into a British university from now on?

And, perchance, more expensive. After all, it sounds like the only way they are going to be able to charge more to all these Eastern Europeans is going to be to charge more to the locals also.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:30 AM
Category: Higher education
April 29, 2004
Theodore Dalrymple on the British higher education export trade

Theodore Dalrymple, writing in the Spectator about the (impeccably legal) corruption of Britain's public services, has this to say about British education:

We cannot even organise a public examination system for schoolchildren in this country so that the results mean what they appear to mean. As for our universities, they blatantly steal the money of foreigners by virtually selling degrees that will soon start to devalue like the mark after the first world war. No longer scholarship and learning, but bums on seats and grade inflation to guarantee yet more bums on seats next year, these are the aim of our institutions of higher education.

I on the other hand like to think that since our universities will be operating in a genuinely competitive international market, all those foreign students will keep them up to the mark, and will thereby be doing us an even bigger favour than parting with their money to us.

Let's hope that I'm right about that, and that Dalrymple is being too pessimistic.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:51 PM
Category: Higher education
April 28, 2004
Blooks

Arts & Letters Daily links to this article, which is about this blogger. First I'd heard of her.

If you are looking for academic angst, you have now found it.

Question: When does a blog turn into a book? Answer: When the blogger stops writing any more and just leaves it there, but when it's still worth reading. Here's another blog-book.

Blog-book. Blook. Have I just made up a new word?

No need to stop reading blooks just because the bloggers have stopped writing them. After all, books have to be finished before we are even allowed to start reading them, but we still read them.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:51 PM
Category: BloggingHigher education
April 22, 2004
British educational exports now "slightly ahead of the British car industry"

And now, here come the Indians:

Indian students will be the third largest overseas students in the United Kingdom by 2020, outnumbering those from USA, Germany and France, a study indicated on Wednesday.

As many as 29,800 Indians are expected to study in the UK by 2020 as against 8,600 in 2005, the study by the British Council and Universities said.

China, however, will have the largest number of overseas students in the UK – 130,900 – in 2020 as against 32,000 in 2005, the study said. It will be followed by Greece which will have 34,800 in 2020 as against 28,000 in 2005.

Britain could earn £13 billion a year from international students in higher education by 2020 in addition to the £3 billion they currently contributed to the economy, the study stated.

A separate government-funded study calculated that education has become one of Britain's most important export industries.

The report by Geraint Johnes, Professor of Economics at Lancaster University, said the economy earned £11 billion annually from 'exports' of tuition for foreign students, training, examinations, publishing and educational programming.

That places education in the same league as exports of oil and financial services, which earned Britain £14.3 billion and £13.6 billion in 2002, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.

It is also slightly ahead of the British car industry, food beverages and tobacco, which earned £10 billion in exports. Education also dwarfs exports of ships and aircraft, at £6.5 billion, while computer services earned the country only £2.6 billion.

Britain at present has a quarter of the market in foreign students, with 270,000 enrolled in its universities and contributing an average of £16,000 a year each in fees and living expenses to the economy.

The British Council study, entitled 'Vision 2020: Forecasting International Student Mobility', concluded that the total could rise to 511,000 by 2020 if Britain maintained its present track record for recruitment.

However, student numbers would rise to 400,000 by 2010 and 870,000 in 2020 if both the country and its universities were promoted more aggressively in fast-growing new markets.

Demand was rising quickest in Asia, with annual growth in student numbers forecast at 15 per cent in China, 13 per cent in India, and 12.6 per cent in Pakistan.

Chinese students alone would outnumber those from the whole of the enlarged European Union of 25 states by 2020.

Some 145,000 students could be studying in Britain by then, compared with 43,000 now, making China by far the biggest and most lucrative single market for British education.

India would become the third-largest market with 30,000 students, as many as France and Germany combined. Asia would overtake Europe as Britain's main source of foreign students, accounting for more than half of student places.

Fascinating. I kept trying to find a place to stop copying, but kept wanting the next paragraph, and the next, and the next.

I speculated yesterday (see the immediately previous posting) about what impact all those Chinese students will make, upon China and upon the world. What the above report makes me ask now is: what effect will all this have on Britain, and on British education?

I'm interested that education is only "slightly" ahead of the car industry here. I thought the car industry here to be very tiny, but apparently not. I guess it's merely that our car industry isn't owned by us any more. There's still plenty of it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:29 AM
Category: Higher educationIndia
April 21, 2004
China gets an Australian education

The Chinese continue to develop their connections with the educational Anglosphere. Says People's Daily:

The Chinese Ministry of Education has signed an agreement with the IDP Education Australia to collaborate on a number of programs.

The programs include holding university preparatory courses in China approved by 38 Australian universities, and establishing joint courses between the two countries. The plan will help Chinese college students transfer to Australian universities for further study.

Meanwhile, both sides are cooperating to develop training courses and projects for Chinese government employees and company managers.

I know, I know, it's all very clumsy and government-to-government. And the link to Australia is somewhat comical. But I think this stuff is interesting. What the enormous numbers of Chinese students now studying abroad or being educated in China by foreigners get up to in their lives is going to be one of the world's great stories, however it plays out, of the next fifty years.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:03 PM
Category: ChinaHigher education
April 08, 2004
Student deaths in Nigeria

Anyone grumbling about education in Britain would do well to read the stories that emerge these days from the world of African education.

Consider this:

What appeared to be a peaceful protest by students of Ekiti State College of Education, Ikere-Ekiti, in support of the acting provost whom they preferred to continue in office, turned bloody with several students killed when armed policemen shot at them unprovoked.

Two students of University of Ilorin were killed during a recent protest over water scarcity on the campus.

At the University of Lagos, a bus driven by officials of National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) killed a final year student.

Lagos state University (LASU) records an average of a student killed quarterly by cultists.

Not quite long, Ambrose Alli University (AAU), Ekpoma, Edo state, was in the news when five students were killed on a single day by a cult gang simply because the deceased spearheaded anti-cult campaign on campus.

Student killings were reported at the polytechnic Ibadan, University of Benin, Delta State University, Abraka, University of Calabar, University of Port Harcourt, Enugu State University of Technology (ESUT), Federal University of Technology, Minna, University of Uyo, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, just to mention a few.

During this current academic session soon to end, no institution of higher learning in the country was spared the spectre of violent, tragic death of students killed either by police or cultists. To be exact, more of the student killings were caused by cultism – a deadly menace which has remained intractable.

Students killed when protesting over water scarcity. Deadly cults. It puts arguments about top-up fees into perspective, doesn't it?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:11 PM
Category: AfricaHigher education
April 05, 2004
The Guardian on Conservative education policy

Here is a useful, as opposed to snide and Guardian-readerish, summary of Conservative Party education policy. Their opposition to university fees …

On universities, meanwhile, the traditional Tory line of slimming down state involvement is reversed: the party is committed to abolishing fees, which inevitably means the state being more involved.

… is highlighted, quite reasonably, and it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:22 PM
Category: Higher educationPolitics
April 04, 2004
(Big) university business

The BBC reports how Britain's Universities already operate a market, when it comes to students from abroad, which for these purposes now means outside the EU.

Although it gets little attention, there are already high-cost, variable fees in British universities. They are the focus of a fast-growing and competitive marketing sector.

Large numbers of part-time students face variable fees, of course.

But the boom area – big business for many universities – is international students.

For these purposes that means any students recruited from outside the European Union. The latest estimate is that there are about 175,000 overseas, fee-paying students in Britain.

There are no limits imposed on fees for non-EU students. Undergraduate fees of £7,000 - £9,000 a year are typical and they can be much higher for postgraduates, especially on MBA courses.

Universities of all types are now investing heavily in this growth market. Overseas recruitment has grown by about 6% a year for the past five years.

It is estimated that overseas students are worth about £1bn in fee income to universities and contribute about £8bn to the UK economy.

The expansion of overseas recruitment – Tony Blair's initial target was an extra 50,000 students - is one government education target which has been met with room to spare.

Yes, I've already reported on a slice of this particular action.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:00 PM
Category: Higher education
March 31, 2004
Germany woos British non-paying university customers puzzle

I caught a snatch of a London TV news report this evening about how German universities are trying to persuade British students to do their degrees in Germany, for free. No need to worry about loans and top-ups if you go there.

What they didn't explain was what was in it for Germany. Is it that they can't stand their own students and figure that they'll get slightly better ones this way? Are they trying to make sure they learn and teach English idiomatically, complete with up-to-date swearing?

Touting for business I could understand, but where is the business here?

Google google – this is the same story. Yes, the mentioned a woman called Lemmens on the TV.

Quote:

LONDON - Free higher education in the home of Western civilization's most provocative thinkers, a chance to learn a second language - and a legal drinking age of 16? It's a formula that might appeal to both stressed parents and students alike!

Germany is willing to accommodate what could be a dream for many American families, worried about the skyrocketing cost of higher education.

“Our idea is to get the best people to the universities,” said Nina Lemmens, the London-based director of the German Academic Exchange Service, the DAAD.

This week, Lemmens has been promoting the free international degree program in English to British students, who also are worried about higher college fees. But she explained the German universities also are keen on recruiting American and other international students for their tuition-free programs.

Maybe the snag is you have to be extremely well schooled to qualify. But, does anyone have any further light to shed on this apparently rather odd little sales trip?

Is it perhaps some insane unintended consequence of German quota-fulfilment arrangements, where they are desperate for educational bums on seats because that's how they are paid, even though the bum-owners pay nothing?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:11 PM
Category: Higher education
March 24, 2004
Go east, professor!

A British University is going to set up shop in China:

The University of Nottingham is to open a campus in China.

This £40m project, agreed with the Chinese education authorities, will be the first time a UK university has opened a purpose-built campus in China.

The first Chinese students are expected to start courses in September - with the start-up academic staff being deployed from the UK.

The university says "internationalisation" is an important part of higher education's future.

And so do I. After all, what with cheap international phone calls, and email, the internet, etc., it has suddenly become a whole lot easier to organise this kind of operation.

Any, er, problems?

Addressing human rights concerns, the university says: "We shall extend to our China campus our approach of working with Chinese institutions, presenting students with a balanced viewpoint, and teaching in different ways (with more independent thinking).

"We think this will go well with reform and modernisation in China itself."

Fingers crossed, in other words.

The boss of the China operation is a revealing choice.

The vice-president of the Ningbo campus will be Professor Ian Gow, formerly director of Nottingham University Business School.

It figures. These days, the business of China is business.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:26 PM
Category: Higher education
March 03, 2004
Is the London School of Journalism any good?
A friend of mine is trying to decide whether or not to take a post-graduate course offered by the London School of Journalism. Key question: will she be more likely to get a job in either print journalism or broadcasting after doing such a course than she would be right now, as a mere law graduate? Anyone able to comment?
Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:56 PM
Category: Higher education
February 23, 2004
Britain faces a week of university lecture chaos

My thanks to Andy Duncan of Samizdata for noticing that Britain's academics are, apparently, about to go on strike. Unless of course their employers back down in terror at their threat.

Now if I was a betting man, and had to guess the contingent of British society which still possessed the highest percentage of Marxoid buffoons, after the disastrous collapse of Marxism in Eastern Europe, I'm sure you wouldn't give me tremendous odds against it being University lecturers.

But what's really amusing is that they still think anyone at all, outside the ivory tower, cares enough about them to quake in their boots, at their threat of a three hour strike. Well, I've got some news for you dear Marxoid professors. The nation ain't going to be paralysed. Indeed, it's barely going to register at 0.001 on the Richter Scale. Worse than that, it's barely going to register at 0.001 on the Newcastle Brown Ale Scale, on your own campuses. Mine's a large one, and a deep-fried Pizza, please, stout yeoman of the bar.

Yeah. Ha ha. And indeed, if it's "humanities" lecturers and the like, then forget it. The nation will be able to endure being thus held to ransom indefinitely. But surely some university lecturers are actually doing valuable work, which their students appreciate and might actually miss. I can imagine some students and hence some universities actually wanting some lecturers to go back to work at once.

If this strike stimulates a national debate about which lecturers will actually be missed, and how much they will be missed, it will have done British higher education a great favour.

But as for those post-modernist literary wafflers, who have been telling themselves how essential they are for so long that some of them may even believe it, they are perhaps about to get a rude shock. Most people despise them, and would be happy for them to remain on strike for ever. Certainly I do and I would. I seriously doubt if they are so severely stupid as to expose themselves to this kind of public derision, but you never know your luck. Maybe some of them are that daft, and will make prize asses of themselves on Newsnight in the days to come. If I witness any such foolishnesses, I'll let you know.

More seriously, I think this is very good news. It signals that British universities are a-changing, and in a good way. Some lecturers are going to get paid more, and others less, and the lumpen mass of them is frightened.

As I say, good.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:01 PM
Category: Higher education
February 16, 2004
More on India's educational free market

When, as I regularly go, I type "education" into google, most of the stuff I get occupies a sort of parallel universe of political posturing, a world in which press releases are one thing, and what is actually happening is something utterly different and can only be vaguely guessed at. This article, about education in India, is rather different. It gives you a real feeling for what is going on out there. In case it entirely disappears soon, here it is in full. It's today's special story (whatever that means) from News Today (which describes itself as "South India's leading English evening newspaper"):

Coming out in favour grant of full autonomy to educational institutions, Governor P S Ramamohan Rao today said government intervention would affect the quality of education in the country.

Speaking after inaugurating a nine-storeyed staff quarters of the Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) here, built at a cost of Rs 8.5 crore, Rao said, 'full autonomy should be given to educational institutions which will help improve the quality of education. Even the Judiciary should not intervene in the field of education, leave alone the government', he said.

To realise the dream of President Dr A P J Abdul Kalam of India becoming a superpower, students should enrich their knowledge through various sources and not depend on classroom-teaching alone. Students (mainly those in the engineering and management streams) should be innovative and strive for self-employment rather than depend on government jobs.

'Maintaining law and order, providing healthcare, basic amenities and education are the main focus areas of the government and not providing jobs in the government. It (job) should come from one's own effort', he said.

Referring to a recent study done by a group of economists, he said it had been projected that in the next 30-35 years, India would become the third largest economy in the world after China and the US. However, this growth would be mainly due to its large population rather than in terms of per capita income.

This would not be real growth and only if the country's per capita income was raised, it could see real growth. For this to happen, students should work hard in their respective fields.

Earlier, G Viswanathan, Chancellor, VIT, said there should be no barrier in students from a particular State appearing for entrance exams of neighbouring States as was the case now, according to certain University Grants Commission (UGC) norms.

This barrier, he said, should be removed by bringing in changes appropriate changes in the existing UGC norms.

Viswanathan said governments seemed to be more keen on giving licenses to educational institutions to start colleges or universities rather than verifying if there was need for their being set up. This had led to a decline in the quality of the education as a large number of colleges and universities had cropped up. At present, there were 15,000 universities in the country. In Tamilnadu alone, there were more than 250 engineering colleges, he said.

G V Selvam, Pro-Chancellor, VIT and P Radhakrishnan, Vice-Chancellor, VIT, also spoke.

Maybe it's my Anglo-Saxon prejudice that the way to understand something is to witness an argument about it, rather than just be bludgeoned by unanimous experts. But personally, I that that the way to understand something is to witness an argument about it, rather than just be bludgeoned by unanimous experts.

I also, of course, agree with Governor P S Ramamohan Ra. I think it's great that the government of India is just dishing out "licenses" (whatever that means) regardless, rather then second guessing the people of India about whether there is a "need" for new colleges to be set up. Sounds like the free market in education out there is really motoring, and this really will turn India into a superpower.

I have a busy Monday, so that is probably all for today. Thank you News Today, for doing all the work.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:32 AM
Category: Higher educationIndia
February 10, 2004
Chinese higher education on the internet

I'm guessing, but I should imagine that this will have a huge effect, because the hunger of Chinese people to get educated far outstrips the traditional means available for them to contrive that. (Commenters, you are welcome to tell me I'm wrong.)

BEIJING, Feb. 10 (Xinhuanet) -- China has selected 151 academic courses as high-quality ones and put them online through the official website of the Ministry of Education (MOE), with a view to giving excellent education resources free to the public, a high-ranking official said here Tuesday.

Wu Qidi, vice-minister of education, said at a press conference that the 151 courses, selected out of nearly 500 courses, was the first step of a national project on improving higher education quality.

The MOE plans to promote 1,500 academic courses in five years and realize the sharing of education resources with the help of modern technologies.

She said the selected academic courses, all given by Chinese professors, were recommended by schools and local education administrations, and gradually approved online by specific jury committees organized by MOE.

According to Wu, China's national academic courses not only emphasize the subject itself, but also include construction of teaching material and teaching staff.

An MOE investigation showed that since 2001, the degree of Chinese students' satisfaction with teaching material and their teachers has increased by 22 percentage points.

Wow. Twenty two percentage points more satisfaction. Imagine that.

Seriously, do you get the feeling of hundreds of cats, solemnly and with due deliberation, being let out of hundreds of bags? I do. The Internet is, I believe, one of those revolutionary technologies which changes everything it touches, no matter how carefully it is supervised. This news report reminds me of things I've read about committees of Elizabethan bishops equivocating for months, and then finally allowing some book to be published.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:40 PM
Category: Higher educationThe internet
January 23, 2004
"Two models for running universities …"

Here are two interesting articles from economist.com about university finance, a short one, and a longer one.

Key paragraphs, from the short one (with that link again to the longer one):

There are, broadly, two models for running universities. They can be autonomous institutions, mainly dependent on private income, such as fees, donations and investments, or they can be state-financed and (as a result) state-run. America's flourishing universities exemplify the former, Europe's the latter (see article). Britain's government wants to move towards the American model. The subject of next week's rebellion is a bill that would allow English universities (Scotland and Wales are different) to charge up to £3,000 ($5,460) in tuition fees, instead of the current flat-rate £1,125. Students will borrow the money through a state-run loan scheme and pay it back once they are earning enough.

It is a very limited start, laced with sweeteners for students from poor backgrounds. The best universities worry that the maximum fee should be many times higher. But it reflects an important shift in thinking. First, that the new money universities need should come from graduates, rather than the general taxpayer. Second and most crucially, it abandons the egalitarian assumption that all universities are equally deserving.

The government is right to be trying to move towards the American model. The European model is a shambles. Pit they're going so slowly. That's the gist of it all.

I'm finally starting to be comfortable with what I'm supposed to think about all this. I still find it hard to stay awake but I do now know what my opinions are, and why I hold them.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:49 PM
Category: Higher education
January 19, 2004
Educationally Europe must be doing something right

Further to the Europe/America University thing, see below, there has been another highly pertinent and Brian's Education Blog Relevant comment at Samizdata from "Scott" (who just might, judging by the email he used, be this guy. Anyway, F. Scott Kieff or not F Scott not Kieff, Scott has this to say:

What's too bad, for Europe at least, is that it actually does a good job in the initial training of scientists and engineers. I have a friend whose engineer father (himself a Belgium emigré) who'll only hire Europeans because he finds them more diligent and better trained. I've also been told that less Americans go for the PhD, rather, they get the BS (bachelor of science degree) and then go for paying jobs right away. So, European students take up the slack.

When another friend of mine was earning his mech e phd at a Berkely, there were several Euro students, especially German. I got an earful from them about the problems they faced in Germany. They were proudly patriotic (for Germany), but readily admitted that their future was here. Before the same friend gained tenure, there was concern about giving an American tenure instead of trying to lure in another Euro scientists. So, there is high demand.

I say the more the merrier, and merry they do seem to be working here.

Scott's comment was only a comment and evidently typed in hastily, so I've cleaned up some of the spelling and grammar, which I trust he doesn't mind. Not sure about "Berkely".

Otherwise, good point, n'est-ce pas? Or should that be: nicht wahr? (Sp? UPDATE thankyou Tim H) Europe must be doing something right, educationally speaking.

Although, maybe what they are doing right, educationally speaking, is not having such a vibrant economy, tempting those being educated out into it to earn immediate money, instead of pressing on with education. After all, Eastern Europe has long been crammed with highly intelligent, super-educated people. And they got so highly educated precisely because unless they did this, they'd not be able to earn any decent money at all. In America, anyone half decently educated is quids in – dollars in, I should say – by comparison.

Still, the point stands. If Europe wasn't cranking out any educated brains, there couldn't be any brain drain to America in the first place, could there?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:15 PM
Category: Higher education
January 18, 2004
Michael Jennings on the decline of Britain's universities and the continuing excellence of America's

A comment from Michael Jennings on this which I reproduce (and see also this posting here where similar points to Michael's are made) here, in full:

I did a (scientific) Ph.D. at Cambridge. I know lots of really bright Germans who have come to Britain to do PhDs (because German graduate education is a shambles and British isn't, at least for the moment), have got British PhDs, and have then gone to American universities for research careers, never to be seen again. It is partly the salaries, but it isn't the salaries as much as that America is where the good people to work with are, and British academics spend a huge portion of the time coping with the bureaucracies imposed upon them either directly or indirectly by the British government, at the same time as they have swallowed lots of appalling management speak in how they administer themselves. Allowing Oxford and Cambridge, whose colleges are traditionally endowment based organisations similar to US private universities, to essentially be nationalised is a great catastrophe. This is a process that has been going on for decades, but the urge of this labour government to control and manage them (by, for instance, reducing their independence to control who they admit) is just appalling.

On the other hand, the academics are generally fairly squishy leftists who have generally accepted and indeed encouraged government controls and voted for Tony Blair. They complain about the bureaucracy and the low pay without yet really putting it together in their heads what caused it.

And the great thing about the US university system is the diversity of the institutions. You have private universities, state universities, federal research institutions, the odd city university, Jesuit universities, and various other things. This constitutes something like competition. And if you are American and poor but bright, the cheapest option to you is probably to go to the best state university in your home state. This probably doesn't have the cachet or going to Harvard but the quality of the education will not be much worse (and if you are good enough, you can then go to Harvard as a grad student anyway). And if you are lucky enough to live in California or Michigan or somewhere else with a really good state university, it really isn't much worse than going to Harvard.

Michael Jennnings

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:12 PM
Category: Higher education
January 13, 2004
The University funding crisis – zzzzzzzzzz not!

The University funding crisis should interest me, but it doesn't. As Mark Holland (and I seem to be back in the land of Blogger archiving misery now, so let me tell you now that what follows is the entire posting I'm referring to) puts it:

At least in the part of the blogoshere I visit I haven't seen much comment about University top up fees. I think I know the reason. It's so bloody boring. The same goes for foundation hospitals.

He forces himself to philosophise a bit:

In an ideal, for me anyway, world the state wouldn't be involved in education or healthcare. Any steps any government, but especially a Labour one, could or would make in reform would only be a small step as far as I was concerned. But as Mao Tse Tung said, "A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step". Blimey, if Mao had the parlimentary Labour party as his followers he'd have never have left base.

Well quite, which would be because it's a journey most of them are determined not to make. That's all Mark can manage on the subject.

However, in the Telegraph today, there is some strong stuff from Tony King, my old Professor of Government at Essex (and he he reveals in this piece that he is still there and still that). I remember him as a plain speaking lecturer, and ever since I have always read or listened to whatever he has had to say whenever I encountered it. In that respect he hasn't changed either.

"Universities are underfunded." That phrase falls trippingly off the tongue of every university vice-chancellor, but what does it mean in practical terms? The truth is that most people outside universities have no idea how far the whole of British higher education has been degraded in recent years, and the reason they have no idea is that every teacher at every British university – from the vice-chancellor down – is engaged in a conspiracy of silence. They have no desire to engage in such a conspiracy but they have no choice, because to say publicly what is wrong at their own university is to run the risk of damaging that university, even though conditions may be worse elsewhere.So we cover up. We moan, but we refrain from revealing a fraction of what we know. British higher education has become highly competitive. Most of us are loyal to our own university. We do not wish to harm it, let alone give a competitive advantage to other institutions. We therefore remain silent – and the public are thereby deceived. Britain's universities still have areas of tremendous strength but they increasingly resemble those elegant mansions in the American South that one sees in films, with imposing facades in front but decay and ruin concealed behind.

I am one of the lucky few. I am a refugee from Oxford, having decided in the mid-1960s that Oxford was too inward-looking, insufficiently "hungry". I moved to the new University of Essex and have been there ever since. I am happy there, surrounded by first-rate colleagues, and have no intention of moving. Essex is proving more successful in maintaining standards than many universities, including more famous ones. But across the system all is not well, and it is time somebody said so. The statistics are gloomy but convey little. It is what is happening on the ground that is really disturbing.

That certainly made me want to finish the piece. I did, and as usual with King, was not disappointed. This paragraph is particularly depressing:

But there is also a third pressure, just as insidious as the pressure to teach more and more students. It is the growing pressure of what we euphemistically call "administration" but which Americans, more graphically, call "crud" – the junk-work equivalent of junk mail: assessments, audits, feedback, the full apparatus of "accountability", data protection, students' rights, fear of lawsuits – the familiar litany that affects every institution in Britain, universities not least. People used to suggest that teaching and research were opposed. Now the enemy of both teaching and research is bureaucratic regulation and harassment. I used to spend about five per cent of my time on administration. I reckon I now spend 30-40 per cent. Again, it is the students who are short-changed.

Which, by the way, together with all the other pressures on King and his colleagues, means that the success that Essex has had in "maintaining standards" has only been relative.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:40 PM
Category: Higher education
December 22, 2003
"… approach to quality management is underpinned by a strong commitment to continuous improvement and a whole-of-organisation framework …"

There is now a whole book devoted to the way that managerial gobbledegook now permeates the world in general, and academia in particular. Read, for example, this report:

People were rocking with laughter; some were in tears. Deadpan, Don Watson waited. One audience member said later it was the funniest dinner of academic deans he had ever attended. But Watson was not joking. He was reading from a university mission statement and other material on its website.

"To provide outcome-related research and consultancy services that address real-world issues" - shrieks of laughter. The university's "approach to quality management is underpinned by a strong commitment to continuous improvement and a whole-of-organisation framework" - uproar in the room.

The university in question was RMIT but it could have been any of them. Go to your website and read the language, Watson urged guests at a recent Deans of Education dinner. That made people laugh even more. They worked at universities; they knew what he was talking about. Some of them probably even wrote this stuff. It was a surreal moment.

Thanks, as so often, to Arts & Letters Daily.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:28 AM
Category: Higher education
December 14, 2003
Liberal education versus Islamo-fascism

Looking for more reactions to the capture of Saddam Hussein, I came across this, from way back in October:

Calculating terrorists long ago determined education is a major battleground in their global struggle. The war for brainpower matters, since creative minds seed the future.

Al Qaeda has its own school system. Al Qaeda-backed madrassahs serve as Islamo-fascist recruitment and training centers, with the Koran as interpreted by Osama bin Laden their core text. Graduates hijack jets and commit mass murder.

"Alternative" education, of course, challenges the terror cadres' noxious curriculum. Thus, the terrorists wage war on "Western" education. The war on liberal education rarely makes the news because sources are so effectively silenced. Islamist terrorists use a mafioso method, personally threatening Muslim intellectuals and scholars. Here's the offer the scholar can't refuse: Shut up, or we kill you. In lands without the rule of law, radical guns hush rational voices.

This war, however, was a footnote to a recent headline. The U.S. convoy ambushed by Hamas killers in Gaza Oct. 15 carried diplomats preparing to interview Palestinians for Fulbright scholarships. Getting an American education is an attractive proposition, particularly for students in the world's more bitter and chaotic corners.

And we are also, after decades of ignoring it and hoping it will go away (not an unreasonable attitude I'd say), educating ourselves about Islamo-fascism. Fulbright scholarships to get Palestinians to come to the West is all part of that.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:52 PM
Category: Higher education
December 09, 2003
Students who behaved more like school children

As Jackie D says, Clive Soley MP has stirred up some interesting comments about tuition fees.

Such as this from David T:

I used to be a university lecturer. I taught at a number of institutions: Southampton, a couple of London University colleges, a couple of Oxford colleges, and City University. At City, my students were almost entirely self-funding.

It was notable that at City, the students had a very different attitude to their course. They wanted, desperately, to learn and be taught. They insisted on being taught well, and complained if they were not. They asked for me to set them essays and examinations.

By contrast, at certain of the other universities, the attitude of many students was more akin to school children. Some students complained about being set "homework", for example.

There is a real value in students – who lets face it, are adults – having a stake in their own education. The financial stake this government is proposing is modest and should be supported.

As a footnote, when I was an undergraduate, I was involved in the campaign against student loans. As a good labour party member, I also knocked on doors during elections all the way through the late 1980s. After seeing the reaction of ordinary people to the suggestion that the student grant should be restored, I soon stopped talking about it on the doorstep!

And it's pretty depressing also when children are treated in such a way that they too spend all their time behaving "like school children".

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:25 PM
Category: Higher education
December 03, 2003
Janet Daley on top-up fees: "… education is where we make our profit …"

Janet Daley helps me make sense of one of my biggest Education Policy Blind Spots, namely top-up student fees. I favour a total free market in everything and hence in particular in Higher Education, but will topping-up make that much difference? ZZZZZZ. Brian's head hits table. A total free market gets my interest, but re-mixing the mixed economy ... Like I say: ZZZ

This in particular is helpful:

What is at stake is not so much the principle of university education being free to all. In practice, that disappeared long ago. The question is: can higher education continue to be a government monopoly? Is it economically, or politically, viable for the universities to have their financing, employment and admissions arrangements determined by politicians?

The trouble with top-up fees does not lie in the second part of their name – tuition fees already exist and are paid by any student (or parent) who earns more than a statutory amount – but in the first part. What the new charges would do is "top up" the existing government subsidy which, like almost all blanket subsidy to a monopoly service, is given indiscriminately and spent unaccountably.

Daley provides an example of the latter:

I lost count, during my teaching years, of the ludicrous overspending on materials purchased from suppliers who saw the state-subsidised sector as a cash-cow. (One private art school I knew arranged to hire a photocopier. Having done the deal, the principal was rung by the sales rep the following day to be told that he had mistakenly been quoted the "commercial price" which was lower than the education price. You have to understand, the rep said, that education is where we make our profit.)

And the trouble with top-up fees is that they won't change this:

What is wrong with top-up fees is that they are just that: they will come on top of a subsidy that does not permit universities any serious freedom to rethink their economic or administrative practices. It allows government to interfere in decisions about what proportion of students should be admitted from which backgrounds, the balance between teaching and research, and which courses are fit subjects for study.

I still don't get how top-up fees will make so very little difference, but no doubt I'll grasp it in due course. But surely, if universities get paid, somewhat, according to how many students they attract, that will be something, won't it? What follows, on the other hand, is completely clear:

None of this is the proper business of politicians.

Indeed.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:42 PM
Category: Higher education
December 02, 2003
Clark Kerr obit

Yes, there's an obituary of Clark Kerr here:

"Clark Kerr did for higher education what Henry Ford did for the automobile,'' said Arthur Levine, president of Teachers College, Columbia University. "He mass produced low-cost quality education and research potential for a nation that hungered deeply for both.''

The chancellor of Berkeley, Robert M. Berdahl, said yesterday, "Clark Kerr is, without question, a legend in higher education.''

As president of the University of California, Mr. Kerr created a multicampus public institution that became the model for the state universities across the nation.

Under Mr. Kerr's plan, California created a three-tier system that became the largest and most admired in the nation; other states sought to emulate its structure and objectives. At the highest academic layer were campuses like Berkeley whose students came from the top 12.5 percent of the state's high school students. A second tier was state colleges function as teaching institutions focusing primarily on undergraduate education with some graduate courses; they enrolled a third of California students. Community colleges completed the system, offering two-year transfer and vocational programs open to every California high school graduate.

Whatever you think of this man – and I smell a lot of taxpayers parting with a lot of money to make this man a "legend" – he certainly made a difference.

I remember him as a major protagonist in the campus ruckuses (rucki?) of the sixties, an episode which this piece also touches on. He got caught in the middle, which is a bad place to stand when you are dealing with uncompromising adolescent fanatics who were spoiling for a fight, and would have carried on attacking and caterwauling until they got it. (If it hadn't been Vietnam, they'd have invented another grievance. I was at a British University at around that time. British students weren't being conscripted to fight in Vietnam, but that made no difference to the protesters. They simply wanted a fight. Vietnam, perfect for their ideological cousins in Ameria, sufficed for them, and something else would have suffice for both if Vietnam hadn't been happening.)

But that shouldn't totally distract us from considering the more enduring legacy of men like Clark Kerr, which was the semi-publicly financed modern mass university. We are now trying to introduce a bit more of that semi- stuff here. And guess what, the people who protested against the likes of Clark Kerr are protesting again.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:25 PM
Category: Higher education
November 21, 2003
The Chinese invasion

I've just done a Samizdata posting linking to this, which is a story about Chinese people coming to British universities, in large numbers.

As usual, watch out for the comments. I've already learned things I didn't know.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:01 PM
Category: Higher education
November 12, 2003
Higher intelligence

This from today's Guardian:

Master spy Sir Richard Dearlove will become the master of Cambridge University's Pembroke College following his retirement next summer as chief of MI6, or the Secret Intelligence Service.

No no no. They never retire. He's just shifted to the recruiting department.

The college said that Sir Richard will take up his new role in October next year. Pembroke is the third oldest college in Cambridge, founded in 1347 by the Countess of Pembroke, Marie de St Pol, who gave the nucleus of its present site and an endowment.

Countess of Pembroke, eh? Before she married the Count, she was Miss Moneypenny.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:39 PM
Category: Higher education
November 03, 2003
Why so few British university movies?

Interesting article in today's Telegraph about something I keep meaning to blog about here but have never got around to, which is the presentation of the world of education in the movies. In this piece, Simon Brooke contrasts the portrayal of college life in American and in British movies. American college movies abound. British movies set in universities do not.

The cultural appeal of the US worldwide is not the only reason for the success of American college films, says Alby James, the head of screenwriting at Leeds Metropolitan University's film school. "When you're making a film, you must always think about the audience," he says, "and in Britain relatively few people go to college.

"In the US, though, many more people do and there is a much greater social mix, so it gives films about students and college a wider appeal."

Richard Teague, one of Alby James's students, was originally planning to set his thriller, The Gospel According to Me, at a university before he realised that a film with this setting would have a limited appeal. "Not many British films manage to recreate student life successfully, so I moved most of the action outside," he says. "Syd Field, the screenwriting guru, warns against only writing about what you know." Teague, 28, points out that including a college strand to the story line, rather than basing the whole story there, can work in television series such as Hollyoaks.

Perhaps the only British film that did try to tackle head on the manic energy and seedy detail of college life was Inbetweeners, released almost unnoticed by critics and audiences alike in 2000.

Unnoticed by me too.

But I wonder. I suspect that the reason why many British movies fail at the box office, and many more attempted British movies don't ever get made, is not that they are about the wrong kind of people, but that the people have the wrong attitude, and that it is this attitude that people can't or don't want to identify with. It's not just a matter of "recreating student life successfully", but of having characters who themselves try to make a success of student life. But if the message is going to be: university is a hell of boredom and mediocrity and there's nothing we can do about it, then that might explain British people not wanting to watch.

After all, American action movies contain all kinds of characters with totally different lives to those lived in Britain, but they're popular enough in Britain. Most people aren't either cops or criminals, yet movies have lots of both.

Simon Brooke mentions Educating Rita as the exception that proves his rule, in that she isn't really proper university material, but an "ordinary" outsider to university life. But Rita also proves my rule. Rita was trying to get ahead and make something of herself. She wasn't living a drab life. She was trying – successfully as it turned out – to escape a drab life. (Interestingly, she finds lots of students to be, after impressive first impressions, somewhat less than truly impressive.) If British movies set in a universities were about ordinary people, but people who were trying to be less ordinary, then I reckon they might do fine at the box office.

Brooke also mentions Chariots of Fire, which features the Jewish and upwardly mobile Harold Abrahams, who is scorned by the disdainful rulers of his swank Oxbridge college, but who battles on anyway to his Olympic triumph, to the delight of his more generous and open-hearted contemporaries.

None of this need do violence to the truth of university life. I mean, isn't making a success of yourself what going to university is supposed to be about?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:58 PM
Category: Higher educationThis and that
October 24, 2003
How Oxbridge built during the downwave

Here's an interesting little educational aside on the financial and managerial strength of two of Britain's most distinguished educational establishments, Oxford and Cambridge Universities. It's from a Telegraph article of 1999 in which Giles Worsley looks back over the architecture of the previous decade. He refers to the way their long-term attitude enabled Oxbridge to build when others weren't.

Few professions felt the impact of the early Nineties recession more keenly than architecture. The Lawson boom of the late Eighties had seemed a moment of infinite promise as the property market soared and there was plenty of money for architecture. Bright young architects left the security of the big practices, only to see the market collapse and with it their prospects. Older firms that had expanded exponentially were ruthlessly cut back to size. Even leading architects began to wonder where the next commission would come from.

There were beneficiaries, particularly Oxford and Cambridge Universities, whose perspective stretched beyond immediate building cycles and who were able to take advantage of falling building prices and architects' keenness to build. The wave of new building included John Outram's Judge Institute, Jeremy Dixon Edward Jones's Darwin Study Centre, Norman Foster's Law Library and Michael Hopkins's Emmanuel College Common Room in Cambridge; Richard McCormac's St John's College building and Demetri Porphyrios's new quadrangle for Magdalen College in Oxford. The results revealed the diversity and strength of British architecture when working within tight physical constraints but to a relatively generous budget.

Despite all the attacks on them by governments like the one we have now, Britain's two top universities have evidently retained quite a lot of their financial independence, or they wouldn't have been able to buck the trend like this.

Too bad there aren't more British educational establishments able to think in this way.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:09 PM
Category: Higher education
October 21, 2003
More on gender differences in higher education

Yesterday's speculations here about higher education maybe being a male preoccupation were doubted by a commenter, and that same commenter would find further confirmation of his doubts in this story, from the Independent:

Women work harder than men at university and get better degrees as a result, according to a study carried out at Brunel University.

The research, which tracked 200 students over four-years, found that women consistently outperformed men in further education even though they had started their courses with almost identical A-level results.

The study was launched after academics in Brunel's geography and earth science department became concerned that male students were under-performing.

Its findings could have far-reaching consequences as Brunel's vice-chancellor, Steven Schwartz, heads a government task force into university admissions, which is investigating how more disadvantaged students can be encouraged to go into higher education.

Apparently attitudes more commonly found in ghettos seem to be creeping into universities:

The study, based on 180 questionnaires and interviews with more than 70 students, concluded that males underachieved because they felt working hard was not "macho".

Here's how the story ends:

Professor Schwartz said the research, though inconclusive, raised interesting questions. "The government has a focus on widening participation to reach its target of 50 per cent of school leavers moving into higher education," he said. "However, it may be that the vast majority of graduates will be women, while men risk losing out in the qualifications stakes.

"This survey shows how vital it is that we engage all young people and teach them the value of higher education."

Clearly my remarks yesterday about differing attitudes of men and women to higher education were at best out of date, as that commenter said. But what if the trend described here reflects something almost the opposite of what I was referring to yesterday, namely that higher education, at any rate at a place like Brunel, is now ceasing to be a way to stand out from the crowd, and more a way of sticking with the crowd? Are the men, now that they feel unable to stick out at the top end of the class, saying to hell with it?

What are now the poshest of the posh "finishing schools"? Might even the poshest universities perhaps now be being replaced as the incubators of society's Crown Princes by such places as the top management consultancies? I'm guessing that men still predominate there, but am, today as yesterday, very ready to be corrected about such things.

I realise that I'm flailing about here, but these are not notions I am ready to abandon, merely because the first few darts I threw at them missed. The idea that education is an arena which displays the contrasts between the male and female psyches, strikes me as worthwhile. Why should twenty first century higher education not reveal these differences, every bit as much as the coming of age rituals of South Sea Islanders or African cattle-herders?

And since higher education in our societies has changed a lot in the last fifty years, most notably in the sheer numbers of people involved in it, but in lots of other ways too, many of them triggered by that numerical change, you would expect male and female concerns to express themselves differently in this radically changed setting.

To put the thing bluntly and gender stereotypically, women do as they are told, while men want to excel, but if they can't … then fuck it. (It was interesting that one of the things that "diverted" men from doing the academic work that they were "supposed" to be doing at Brunel university was sport.) What I'm saying is: university course work of the usual sort nowadays no longer appeals to the male lust for glory. And there may also be an inherently masculine desire to go off and male bond with the other males, and to avoid anything which stinks of "women's work", as I'm guessing university work now seriously does.

A hundred or two hundred years ago, higher education was something you either had bought for you, or you had to fight for. So to be non-rich and at a university at all was an inherently glorious thing. (That's what I think I was trying to say yesterday.) Now university is pretty close to being a universal right.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:59 PM
Category: Higher education
October 15, 2003
The Classical Nobel winner

The Philosophical Cowboy reproduces in full this letter to The Times, concerning former Balliol classicist Anthony Leggett who has just been awarded a Nobel Prize. They don't give you one of those just for doing Latin or Greek.

The key line from the letter is the Oxford dictum that: "the Greats man can turn his mind to anything". In Leggett's case this proved to be so, with stunning success.

Says the PhC:

I find this a wonderful parable about the benefits of a broad education, particularly of the type furnished by Oxford, and by subjects (such as Classics) that serve as mental training.

But was it Classics that made Leggett clever, or Leggett's cleverness that made him good, first at Classics, and then at science? Certainly the Classics doesn't seem to have done any permanent harm in his case, but in general, Classics is an unnecessary and insufficient educational basis for winning a Nobel Prize. Science, on the other hand, is necessary but insufficient.

You can tell I did Latin and Greek at school can't you? How else could I possibly have learned to think?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:58 AM
Category: Higher education
August 31, 2003
Higher education is not always a very good idea (revised version)

Commenting on this, Charles Copeland links to this webpage (with no apparent connection to anything else I could find anywhere) about Media Studies, which offers an alternative view of the benefits of higher education.

For some reason the original posting saying the above is misbehaving, so I've done it again and will delete the first one, if I can.

The comments at the Samizdata posting are piling up.

Yes, the old posting is now gone. I wanted to add the bit about comments piling up, and couldn't get into it, but I seem to be able to revise this posting. I don't know what caused this, but it seems now to have stopped.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:42 PM
Category: Higher educationThis blog
August 30, 2003
From here to there

I just did a long piece for here, and then realised it would also do for Samizdata. And since Samizdata is Clapham Junction to this place's Piddlebury Halt, I stuck it there, and then found myself adding a rant about how the government should get right out of higher education, the way you do. The top two thirds is about a rather interesting out-of-the-usual-boxes article by Mo Mowlam in yesterday's Independent.

Something similar happened with that stuff about that poor schoolboy who committed suicide. Only that time, I'd done the piece here before realising that Samizdata should be told about the story too.

The specialist blog feeds the generalist blog.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:08 PM
Category: BloggingHigher education
August 29, 2003
The teachers were teaching to the test but they guessed wrong

This story from the New York Daily News illustrates the dilemmas of the worldwide debate about exam standards very nicely:

An independent panel appointed to look into why an alarming number of high school kids bombed out on the June Math A Regents Exam has found the statewide test was too hard.

So the scores will be bumped up so that many of those who failed will get passing grades.

"In short, students in June 2003 were held to a higher standard than their counterparts a year earlier," the commission of math experts said in its report.

But the panel, appointed by state Education Commissioner Richard Mills, also found that teachers messed up by trying to anticipate subject matter.

"The teachers were teaching to the test," said Assemblyman Steve Sanders (D-Manhattan), chairman of the Education Committee. "The problem was, they guessed wrong."

The panel found that teachers, believing the test would be heavy on trigonometry, drilled students on their sines and cosines. But the test didn't have a single trig problem, the report said.

I'm starting to have heretical thoughts about exams, which can be summarised by me saying that I think this "panel" may well have done the right thing.

After all, the purpose of exams is to arrange people in order of merit. It must make distinctions. If they all get A*, which is apparently what is happening with children in England doing their A levels just now, the result is that the Universities don't know who's the best, so they interview them all, and go by how eloquently they talk or how politely they suck up to the interviewers. (I read that point made better by someone else recently, but I've lost the link. Sorry.) And if they all get F– you get the same kind of effect. So the logical thing might very well be to do what these people have in effect done, which is: first mark all the papers, and then decide which numbers get you into which grade.

The obvious objection to this procedure is that it fails to make any distinction between this year and last year and next year, or this decade and last decade and next decade. If the standards lurch around from year to year, who is to say whether this fifteen year old is any brighter than that seventeen year old?

Okay, cards on the table, I don't know the answer any more (I suggest) than you do. I don't see how you can have an exam system which separates the smartness of the examinees from the skill with which they were prepared for their exams by the teachers. After all, presumably, some teachers guessed right about what was going to be in these particular exams, and as a result, their pupils will presumably get a higher grade than they "deserve". Or, more simply, some pupils were relatively lucky in having teachers who did not "teach to the test" (to quote Assemblyman Sanders' words). They too presumably did rather better than rivals who actually "deserved" to do as well as they did.

On the other hand, pupils who have been better taught, are pupils you'd rather have at your university, regardless of how much worse they might have done with worse teaching, or how much better other pupils might have done with better teaching.

Okay I give up. I've failed. Micklethwait: F–.

UPDATE: According to the bit at the end of this I think it must have been GCSEs rather than A Levels where they got all those A*s. F––.

FURTHER UPDATE: ... and what is being said about A levels is that too many people are getting A, so could they please introduce A*s for those also. See this.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:35 PM
Category: Higher education
August 28, 2003
"... utterly and conveniently useless ..."

Catherine Maskell writes in the latest Spectator about cleaning up after Warwick University students. It is not nice. Concluding paragraph:

Having two brothers, and an ex-boyfriend whose sick I was more familiar with than he was himself, I must admit that it wasn’t a complete surprise to see how utterly and conveniently useless the average British male under 25 is. The posh and privately educated ones are just exaggerated, more offensive versions of their lower-class counterparts. What they want, more than anything else, is a mother-servant. Someone they can whinge to even as they clear up after them. And nobody, not even his mother, knows this better than the average British cleaner.

I'm sure I was exactly this terrible. Although I don't remember combining being a Marxist with maltreating any cleaners, the way some of Ms. Maskell's tormentors do, apparently.

The Labour government is right. The least they could do is pay for some of this coddling. And the Conservatives are wrong. That's because it's their children and the children of their voters who ought to be doing the paying.

The foreigners, who do pay, behave far better, she says.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:25 PM
Category: Higher education
August 25, 2003
The lowdown on Britain's universities

Rootling around at the education section of the Telegraph, I came across this, which is a database of facts, experiences, opinions, and I dare say, also fictions about Britain's universities.

I went to Aberdeen, because it is top of the list, then went to comments, because that sounded like it might actually tell us something, and then chose this comment, because it sounded juicy, submitted by that prolific fellow "anonymous":

my brother did psychology at aberdeen (starting in 2001) and hated it so much he left after a year. tho ppl were great and he made some great friends the course was v bad. he's quite a good student but no nerd at all and loves going out but he was really complaining about lack of work and assignments and lack of quality. his girlfriend started psychology at marburg uni (in Germany) at the same time, and what she did was way ahead of his course. i guess if u like the town, can cope with weather and the weird accent and dont happen to have applied for psychology u should go there. apart from that ...

I wonder if anonymous's brother learned about capital letters during his year at Aberdeen? Maybe he also had a (psychological?) problem with them?

Anyway, my point is, if you're choosing a university, or helping someone else to choose one, and if you are the sort who likes biased gossip to get the feel of a place (I definitely am), as well as broader and more statistical and respectable stuff, this looks like a very useful resource.

I wish I'd been able to wander around something like this when I was at school.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:51 PM
Category: Higher education
August 21, 2003
Karl Popper and the defeat of boredom

Keeping up with Alice, who is now back from her camping trip, took me here, and to this article by Sarah Fitz-Claridge, entitled The Education of Karl Popper.

In about 1917, Popper came to a clear realisation about school: "... we were wasting our time shockingly, even though our teachers were well-educated and tried hard to make the schools the best in the world. That much of their teaching was boring in the extreme – hours and hours of hopeless torture – was not new to me. (They immunised me: never since have I suffered from boredom. In school one was liable to be found out if one thought of something unconnected with the lesson: one was compelled to attend. Later on, when a lecturer was boring, one could entertain oneself with one's own thoughts.)" On returning to school after an illness of over two months Popper was shocked to find that his class had hardly made any progress, so, at the age of sixteen, he decided to leave school. He enrolled at the University of Vienna, where the cost of enrolling was nominal and every student could attend any lecture course. "Few of us thought seriously of careers – there were none ... We studied not for a career but for the sake of studying. We studied; and we discussed politics."

At university Popper initially attended lectures in many different subjects, but he soon dropped all subjects other than maths and theoretical physics. He thought that in mathematics he would learn something about standards of truth. He had no ambition to become a mathematician, and says: "If I thought of a future, I dreamt of one day founding a school in which young people could learn without boredom, and would be stimulated to pose problems and discuss them; a school in which no unwanted answers to unasked questions would have to be listened to; in which one did not study for the sake of passing examinations."

I think that one of the best ways to write about education is to write about the educational experiences and opinions of people who are deservedly famous, or for that matter deservedly infamous.

I've had a pre-occupying day, so I've let Sarah Fitz-Claridge do most of my thinking and writing along these lines today. It's a formula I expect to use again many times in the future, and not necessarily with writings already available on the internet in their entirety. Linking to aready internetted stuff is useful, but it is also faintly parasitical. All I've really said here is: have a read of this. But that is something.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:35 PM
Category: Education theoryHigher educationMaths
August 13, 2003
Alison Wolf on the Sovietisation of education

I've already mentioned here Alison Wolf's book Does Education Matter?, and have also quoted from it in a Samizdata posting. Here's another chunk, from the concluding chapter. And for this I already have a category classification nice and ready.

The last twenty-five years have been the heyday of education policy directed purposefully towards economic ends. One result has been a fixation on quantitative targets which allow governments to monitor progress and pronounce success. These necessarily emphasize what can be easily counted and easily measured; so we have policies intended, above all, to increase numbers, whether these be of qualifications gained or of students enrolled. The most extreme manifestations of this trend – such as outcome-related funding which paid people for NVQs delivered, or franchising schemes which offered backpackers free scuba-diving courses – have foundered because they so visibly undermined quality and invited abuse. But the basic principle of targets has not vanished. How could it? For this is the quintessential approach of any centrally run and directed system which measures success by quantity. If you believe that more education equals more growth, and that government can and should deliver one through the other, then, like a compass needle to the pole, you will be drawn towards quantitative targets, whether they are the NVQs of the early 1990s or the 50 per cent enrolment in higher education that currently enthuses our political classes.

This approach is precisely analogous to the way in which Soviet planners ran their economy, and it has precisely the same drawbacks. Numerical targets have to be concerned with things that can be counted easily (like tractors or examination grades), not with more complex attributes which require judgement and are open to debate (such as whether those tractors work at all well, or the quality of different curricula). In a centrally funded, target-driven, top-down organization, the main and inevitable concern of lower-level functionaries is the satisfaction of their paymasters. If the things they are being asked to produce are genuinely simple to define and inspect, then the system may indeed produce them – albeit not very efficiently. But if they are complex and difficult to measure, like the quality of a university degree, then the effects of such systems tend to be pernicious.

This is especially true when one marries centralized, target-driven controls with financial pressures. That, of course, is exactly the situation that modern education systems find themselves in. As we saw in Chapters 6 and 7, the huge expansion of university education has been accompanied by a constant downward pressure on costs and on real levels of spending. These pressures are not specific to any particular political party or any particular country: they are inherent in any large-scale expansion of state-funded post-compulsory education. They are most obvious in higher education, because that is where change has been so recent and rapid. But the repercussions are not confined to this level.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:50 PM
Category: Higher educationSovietisation
July 31, 2003
Denationalise Holloway College

Well, as promised, something before my bed-time, but strictly a copy-and-paste-and-a-comment-if-you're-lucky job.

From today's Telegraph:

Only a market-based funding system which encourages competition can save our ailing higher education institutions, writes Steven Schwartz.

Hurrah, my libertarian prejudices are about to be confirmed.

Just go out and visit our universities. Buildings are shabby, toilets don't work, and roofs leak. Equipment is getting old, staff are underpaid and classes are overcrowded. How did we get to this state and what we can do about it?

Once, universities were private organisations. They made ends meet by a combination of fees, donations, and endowments. After the First World War, they began to ask for and receive public funds. Today, they are financially dependent on the state and display all the characteristics of state-run enterprises, including lack of investment and demoralised staff.

He's right, I think. I visited Commenius University in Bratislava, at just the time when Communism was finally being buried, and the surprise for me was how little it differed in appearance from the average British University.

It reminded me of Royal Holloway College, which is one of the most extraordinary university buildings in Britain, being a brick by brick copy of a French chateau, but in red brick rather than the original white, and completed in the way that original chateau was only intended to be. I know this not because I ever studied at Holloway, but because it was just down the road from where I was raised. I could see its magic pinnacles from my bedroom window. True. Follow the link above, and take the "virtual tour", and see if I'm not right.

And last time I saw the inside of the place, it sported the same faded glorious, barbarians-camped-in-the-ruins style that I had also seen at Commenius, together with the same ugly blockhouses next door, or in the case of Holloway, scattered about in the old grounds. Or in other words, as the RHC website puts it:

Welcome to Royal Holloway - a unique blend of tradition and innovation.

I should imagine that the parallels between the physical appearance of the place and what goes on there intellectually are fairly exact. Although the big change is that Holloway used to be all for ladies, and is now … not bisexual, but you know what I mean. Plus, it's been "merged" with another college. Bedford, I think.

So, denationalise it. Good night everybody.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:44 AM
Category: Higher education
June 15, 2003
Universities and the English language

Classicist Dr Peter Jones prefers short and clear words, even if rather badly spelt, to the pseudo-business-speak of the modern British University. Jones mentions the verbal fog that is modern literary criticism, but says that this doesn't matter, because … well, because it doesn't matter, it's only lit. crit. But this business-newspeak is everywhere, he says.

… Take any of the following nouns: aspect, role, development, challenge, context, stakeholder, opportunity, provision, resource, direction, investment, portfolio, policy, programme, skill, track-record, liaison, quality, function, end-user, process, commitment, profile, range, environment, skills, outcome, collaboration. Throw in any of the following adjectives: key, crucial, proven, wide, broad, emerging, expanding, international, ongoing, developing, innovative, pro-active, strong, strategic, organisational, or any of the above nouns used as adjectives (‘policy relevance’, ‘information resource’). String together with verbs such as facilitate, deliver, develop, broaden, enhance, support, encourage, co-ordinate, champion, implement. That’s it. You too can soon be talking about ‘pro-active development opportunities facilitating and delivering an ongoing end-user collaboration process’.

Jones rightly identifies the Thatcher era as the time when this crap crept in. The idea that you should try to run a university like a good business came to mean in practice that the people running universities started talking like bad business managers.

Brian's Education Blog will implement a key, crucial, proven, wide, broad, emerging, expanding, international, ongoing, developing, innovative, pro-active, strong, strategic, but not all that organisational information resource and end-user collaboration process. That means that it will try to be good but may not always succeed, and that you can comment if you like.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:38 PM
Category: Higher education
[0]
May 23, 2003
The decline of design teaching

There's a sad essay about the decline of Britain's art colleges in the latest electric Spectator, which contains, in among the obvious regrets about conceptual art (i.e. crappy videos), some facts about these places in their better days which I sort of knew but didn't fully appreciate.

The artist Ian Welsh (born 1944) is ideally situated to comment on the situation. Besides making his own work (Welsh is a distinguished painter specialising in the depiction of water and reflections), he taught for 25 years in the public and private sectors because he believes that art schools can offer a unique education. He himself studied painting at Chelsea School of Art (1963-66), when it was in its heyday under the enlightened direction of the painter and art historian Lawrence Gowing. He then studied sculpture as a postgrad with George Fullard (1966-67), after which he began to teach himself. He returned to Chelsea to do an MA in printmaking in 1976-67, and was finally appointed head of printmaking there in 1992. He gave up teaching in 1993, utterly disillusioned with the way art schools were now administered and structured.

Welsh recalls a very different situation 35 years ago. ‘When I first started teaching there were about 20 kids on the Foundation course at Harlowe, and there was a very good chance that three of those would be fine artists and the rest designers of one sort or another. At that time there were something like 28 disciplines in design you could do a degree in — there was Foundation Design, for instance, which was for undergarments, corsetry and so on. Later, when I was at Norwich Art School running the Foundation course, the then shadow minister for the arts came to talk to the senior staff of the Art School and the University Art History Department. He looked around at us and said, “The trouble with you lot is that you all live in ivory towers.” Where do you go after that?

‘The sad thing is that he missed the point. In the mid-Seventies, when the British car industry was disappearing fast down the plughole, there were something like 200 senior design posts in the car industry throughout Europe. Of those 200 key people, 180 had been through the Royal College of Art — which has a very fine course in automotive design — but they were working in Europe and not the UK. The government was looking at art schools and thinking they were full of painters — people who sit around smoking dope waiting for inspiration — whereas 75 per cent were design students, like the graduates in furniture who went to Milan. The quality of British art schools has been completely missed by those in positions of real authority.

This all sounds very similar to what my friend John Washington told me, about the decline of crafts teaching in schools. The difference being that whereas it is now reasonable for most people to leave school knowing more about assembling kit furniture than they do about actually making furniture for themselves from nothing but timber, glue and nails, someone still has to design all that kit furniture.

But all may not be lost. I keep reading that about half of the British rock and roll aristocracy attended British art schools. Those guys didn't learn how to design cars or corsetry, or it they did it didn't do them much good, nor did they get any lessons in guitar playing or rock electronics. What they surely got was (a) intelligent on-the-make mates to do things with, and (b) bags of attitude. All these highly trained conceptual artists can't all just become conceptual artists, and the smarter ones must know it.

As art, I believe "conceptual art" to be pointless and meaningless junk, but this does not mean that those who make a successful living out of such "art" lack skills of any kind. On the contrary, as self-publicists, as zeitgeist surfers, as deluders of those with more money than sense, as manipulators of the media including and especially (in a sort of public relations version of kung fu) the media that most hate them, Britain's conceptual artists display great virtuosity. And if it is true that "training" for conceptual artists is not now costing the nation very much, then who is to say that what little money is still being spent on "art education" will not turn out to be money well spent?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:42 PM
Category: Higher education
[0]
May 14, 2003
Kealey on university funding

While I've been away in France, the Conservative Party has been busy opposing university tuition fees. Natalie Solent is scornful, as is Terence Kealey in today's paper Times, at somewhat greater length.

At the heart of Kealey's argument is that if universities can charge their students then they can achieve financial self-sufficiency, and that with that will come intellectual independence from the government that would otherwise control the purse strings.

Kealey is an important man, whom all those who favour free market solutions to … you know … everything, should be aware of and on the side of and making much of. This is because he has put more eloquently than anyone else I know of the case against government funding for science. My brother recently got hold of The Economic Laws of Scientific Research for me, and I intend to write more on this subject.

Oddly enough though, although Kealey is surely right about the importance of universities being allowed to charge for their services, his own arguments about science funding somewhat undermine the significance – although not the truth – of what he says about university funding.

What Kealey says about science is that universities are not as crucial to the wider economy and society as a lot of the people in them now believe. The conventional model of scientific funding, the one that justifies government spending on science, goes: government funding pays for science, science results in technology, and technology makes lots of money. The Kealey model goes: technology makes more technology which makes money, and science, although it does lead to technology, is also caused by technology. So those temples of intellectual purity, the universities, are not the fountainheads of science, and of technology, and of money for everybody, but more like a sideshow.

But of course you could also argue, as I now will and as Kealey also touches on in his Times piece, that if it is true that universities aren't those great Public Goods that make us all rich, but merely finishing schools for the bright and posh which benefit them but not the rest, that reinforces the case for making students pay their own costs.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:02 PM
Category: Free market reformsHigher education
[0]
April 01, 2003
The 800-year-old university model

One of the creepiest meetings I have ever attended was a university management meeting concerning I can't for the life of me remember what, and nor for the life of me can I remember what I was doing there. What shook me was the appalling extent to which the ghastly prose of management-speak had taken over from the plainer and clearer English sort, such as I had always imagined Universities to favour. In the corner of politics that I inhabit, it is widely assumed that structuralism and post-modernism are now all the rage, and that it is that sort of decline that Universities are now suffering from. I suspect that managerialese may be a bigger problem.

In today's education.guardian.co.uk there's an article about the Open University, and about the changes unleashed upon it recently when they called in the management consultants.

The consultants were summoned because Geoff Peters, the pro-vice-chancellor in charge of strategy and planning, wanted to be sure that the OU's advertising and promotions were giving value for money. He chose a firm called Cognosis, run by former marketing executives from the drinks giant Diageo, partly because it had no experience of universities and could apply the perspective of the commercial world.

… Michael Laird, who led the Cognosis team, says Peters and his colleagues were "standing on a burning deck" and weren't really aware of the flames. …

The diagnosis from Cognosis was, essentially, that the OU was still behaving in the same old way while all around it was raging the higher education revolution of the 1990s. The OU was still taking a fortnight to respond to brochure inquiries and telling applicants for more popular courses to come back next year. In the outside world, burgeoning new universities were becoming more seductive and flexible and the government was pushing for half the population to go into higher education.

"The OU brand was still very much about lonely and dull distance learning," says Laird. "It was about hard work and worthiness and watching TV programmes at two in the morning which involved a bearded man in a kipper tie talking in a dull way about physics. And meanwhile there were new competitors - other universities doing distance learning and local part-time study.

I don't feel so uncomfortable about this article as you might suppose, given the first paragraph of this posting. I think that's because real management consultants aren't trying to destroy university education with barbarous verbiage; they are at least trying to help it along, with smart thinking. And anyway, the Open University is not anything like a regular university, and improving its "managerial logic" is no fundamental threat to its nature.

Even so, I was a bit startled by this:

The response to the Cognosis report has been a series of changes which Peters says has dramatically changed the culture of the OU. The supplier-driven, take-it-or-leave-it model which most universities have followed for 800 years is being replaced – to use the language of consultancy – by a focus on the customer in a competitive market.

To me the interesting thing is what all this says about traditional universities. They are dumping their 800 year old model, it would seem. I can hear the likes of Kenneth Minogue and Roger Scruton grinding their teeth.

I think what's happening here is that whereas our culture used to be one of a relatively small minority of educated people supervising a majority of toilers with the 3 Rs and little else by way of education, now we live in a world where, in a country like Britain, an actual majority has to learn how to think logically, and how to present and communicate logically coherent notions to others, and to the new workforce, which is computers and robots as well as the remaining few human robots. It is this reality that both the old universities and the new Open University are all responding to, as best they can. As with all big social changes there's grief and dirt as well as happiness and enlightenment, and much of grief is in the form of the pain to persons like Scruton and Minogue that comes from apparent grotesqueries like drink marketers telling university departments what is what.

And what's what is that if these New Workers are expected to do nothing but arse about in old-fashioned universities until they are nearly thirty, in addition to spending the best part of forty years being "retired" (that won't happen either, kids) we can kiss the British economy goodbye. I say, chuck most of the kids out of school as soon as the hormones kick in and they can't be doing with teachers and want to earn some money. And then, when the serious partying is calming down and they want to settle down again and make some career progress, entice them with TV ads for working smart as well as hard and doing something like an Open University degree or a distance learning programme run by some ex-normal university (which has now become mostly just another "open university").

While the universities slowly morph towards being internet-based factories for churning out New Workers able to give Powerpoint presentations, or to learn how to analyse a medical sample without disaster, where does that "supplier-driven take-it-or-leave-it" attitude go? What happens to institutions concerned more about the truth of the truth than about the number of student-customers they can sign up to study whatever the student-customer wants to study and damn the knowledge? What happens to that 800-year-old model?

The truth is that Truth was always, and will always remain, a minority enthusiasm. It won't expand vastly, but nor will it ever die. One of the sillier ideas behind "university" expansion has been that with it there should be a vast expansion in "scholarship", and in "research". This can't happen, and if you mean by research good research, it is not happening, not very much. Instead the uncompromising quest for truth and intellectual righteousness has for some decades now been quietly migrating towards industrial R&D departments and Think Tanks and to various other Post Grad Temples of Excellence, like the famed Centre for Advanced Studies at Princeton. The traditional universities are still deeply involved in all this, but they're now doing a lot else besides. And good luck to them.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:28 PM
Category: Higher education
[0]
March 13, 2003
Feedback from Sean Gabb – this blog is starting to change the world!

Here's a first. Brian's Education Blog has had its first detectable influence on Education in Real Life. It wasn't a very big bit of influence, but it was influence. Here's the story.

You may recall that I did a piece about my friend Sean Gabb teaching economics to a group of mostly Asian, mostly female students.

One of things I mentioned in that piece was a culture clash that I thought I detected between the Anglo-Saxon argue-your-corner tradition and the Asian defer-to-your-teacher tradition. Sean, being the Anglo that he is, wanted his students to argue with each other, and with him. I surmised that a teacher telling his Asian pupils to disagree creates a classic dilemma in their minds. He is ordering something, and because he is the teacher he must be obeyed, but what he is ordering is disagreement. Ouch!

Sean rang me to day to tell me that he had just instructed a class, containing several of the pupils I had watched him teaching, to debate some issue amongst themselves and come to a collective point of view, which they would then present to him. The pupils said they felt uncomfortable arguing in Sean's presence. The idea was that they should feel free to dispute some of the things Sean himself had said, but they didn't feel able to do this in a relaxed manner. So, they asked Sean to kindly leave while they had their discussion. And get this. They quoted my report. That's right, they used what I had written to explain the legitimacy of what they felt about this problem.

Sean had no problem with this, so he left, and while he was outside, relaxing, cooling his heels, having a fag, etc., he rang me on his mobile to tell me this. For which I am very grateful to him.

Okay, this is not the abolition of compulsory education, but it is a start. I have helped a group of pupils and their teacher to understand just that tiny little bit better than otherwise what they were doing together, and have helped them communicate with one another when solving one of the resulting problems. This pleases me.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:45 PM
Category: Higher education
[0]
March 12, 2003
Higher education is already nationalised

A different slant on the Bristol University ruckus from regular guest contributor Julius Blumfeld:

Following on from the Bristol University admissions debacle, Brian has written in favour of British Universities being free to decide who to admit. I’m not so sure.

Of course in the private sector, educational institutions ought to be free to teach what they want and to whom. If one University chooses to admit only poor bright students while another chooses to admit only rich thick ones, that’s fine by me.

But almost all British Universities are largely publicly funded and have been since even before the 1963 Robbins Report. For all practical purposes, they are State industries.

And like all State industries, decisions as to what they should produce and how they should produce it are necessarily political. It makes no more sense to say that British Universities should have the freedom to decide their own admissions policies than to say that the Army should have the freedom to decide who to fight or that the Health Service should have the freedom to decide which diseases to treat. Of course the bureaucrats in those industries will have a say in those sorts of decisions. So will the technicians. There may be room for a bit more autonomy here and there. But ultimately as long as the State is in charge, it will and must make the ultimate decisions. It’s one of the things that States do.

Indeed higher education is just an example of a wider problem with State-owned property. It is impossible to reach agreement on how State-owned property is best used because there is no agreed measure as to what counts as best use. I may think that Universities should be used for social engineering. You may think they should be used to churn out engineers. Brian may think they should be used to teach art and culture to the masses. Who is right? I don’t know and indeed there is no means of knowing. So we end up with such decisions being made by politicians (and, increasingly, I anticipate, by judges).

The fact is that as long as Universities remain in the State sector, it is inevitable that the State will make the decisions about what is taught and to whom. And it is equally inevitable that there will be hand wringing from those who don’t like the decisions that are being made. It could not be otherwise. It is only when the Universities finally wean themselves off their decades-long addiction to public funding and become private again (a process which this latest debacle will hopefully hasten), that they will become free to decide what to teach and to whom, and the whole debate will go away.

Julius Blumfeld

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:05 PM
Category: Examinations and qualificationsHigher education
[0]
February 19, 2003
Great Schools: The Bauhaus

I've recently bought one of these digital box things, that you attach to your television. They cost £100 or so, and beyond that, nothing more. You get your regular free TV channels, plus a few more. (I also get much better TV reception.) Blah blah, go to my culture blog and wait, if you want to know all that I think about this. As far as BEdBlog is concerned, tonight I'm watching a programme being presented by Robert Hughes, that jowly old Australian who wrote The Shock of the New, and who also did that as a TV show. The show tonight is about the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and mention was inevitably made of the Bauhaus, the German design and architecture school which flourished briefly between the end of the First World War and the rise of Hitler, where Mies taught for a time.

I hereby nominate the Bauhaus as the most influential educational institution of the twentieth century. Can anyone else better that? Stanford University maybe? That ghastly place in Russia where they trained Third World despots?

Not everything that the Bauhaus unleashed worked well. The Modern Movement in Architecture was a very mixed picture indeed. But if the Bauhaus' outdoor impact took many decades to work its way through catastrophe to something like mass popularity (which is the status of the best high-tech architectural modernism of today), its impact indoors has been much more definitely benign. Simply, the Bauhaus people invented the modern interior.

"Education" is a word that notoriously mutates into propaganda, and god am I sick of hearing some mediocrity on the TV tell the camera that "the public must be educated" into behaving the way the mediocrity wants them to behave, and buy what the mediocrity wants them to buy, instead of behaving in the way that and buy what it is inclined to. Nevertheless, the relationship between education and what is now called "indoctrination" is extremely intimate. I mean, the second of those two words gives it away.

Education can mean that which prepares you for the world as it is, or is going to be. That's mostly the sense in which I have been writing about it here. In the Bauhaus we observe education as a self-conscious and in this case also a stunningly successful attempt to change the world, by unleashing upon it a generation of art and design practitioners, and, in the absence of commissions, art and design propagandists.

And before all you right wing buffers deluge me with anti-modernistic abuse-comments (well, go ahead and indulge yourselves if you want to) be aware that I regard the Bauhaus as, on balance, a huge success. By which I mean not just that it did what it was trying to do, but that I'm glad about it. Again, see my Culture Blog in the years to come for the detailed reasons, but it comes down to this: the Bauhaus resulted in, above all, a lot of designs. And in the age of mass production, good designs can be kept and multiplied, and the bad designs can be dumped. True, it is proving very wearisome to shake ourselves free of badly designed big buildings. These are seldom mass produced over a longish period and cannot be quietly "discontinued" when they fail – they have to be blown up. Plus the politics was pretty ghastly, I do agree. But domestic furniture, kettles, anglepoise lamps, modern electrical toys (such as digital TV attachments), regular toy-type toys, tupperware, etc. etc etc. – just look around your kitchen and your living room, it's all Bauhaus Bauhaus Bauhaus. These guys invented – or maybe I mean discovered – all of that. This was a massive success and it will last.

And the social process that took it out of the individual heads where it was first imagined and turned it into a mass experience for us all was: education.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:27 PM
Category: Higher educationHistory
[0]
February 11, 2003
Sean Gabb teaches the young ladies of Asia

Last Friday morning I visited what was once called the City Polytechnic, and then the London Guildhall University, and is now part of something bigger called London Metropolitan University. My friend Sean Gabb teaches there, and I was attending one of his classes, as part of my ongoing project of snooping on and talking to different sorts of teachers and reporting back to you people on what I find.

Sean's students were mostly youngish Asian ladies, a dozen of them, and there were also two young men. One of the men and a few of the ladies were European, but most of those present were Japanese or Thai. Sean stood up and lectured at one end of the room, and his students all sat around in a large rectangle of joined up small tables like the delegates at an international conference, or the managers of a company, taking notes, and listening carefully to what Sean was telling them. I'd guess the age of everyone to be about 20. They were doing a preliminary course after which they were all hoping to move on to a full university course.

Sean was telling them about free trade. I was intrigued by the way he handled his own bias, which is strongly in favour of free trade. I am strongly in favour of free trade, he said, but many others are not. He supplied many websites to the students on various handouts he had prepared, the majority to pro free traders, but some to opponents of it. One of the pro free trade websites was the Libertarian Alliance, and two of my own pieces were even cited. I do not believe that this was merely done because I was due to visit the class.

Afterwards I talked with Sean about the matter of bias, and he told me of his disgust at having been taught himself by Marxists, but by Marxists who were not prepared to say upfront that they were Marxists. He vowed then that if he ever became teacher, he would behave differently, and tell the truth about his own opinions, and try to distinguish, much more clearly than those who taught him, between fact and opinion. However, it occurred to me that the real "bias" in this lesson was not the way Sean taught it, but the fact that it was being given at all. I mean, if you lecture about "free trade" the chances are you'll be for it, right? If you are against free trade, your lecture will be called something different like "globalisation", "neo-imperialism", or some such. Nevertheless, I like this all-out-in-the-open approach of Sean's.

In general I was impressed by Sean's use of computers to aid the educational process. He used his own computer to prepared good written materials, and he told his students to use their computers to access further material. But he did not complicate matters in the class by making use of laborate slide shows or by turning his computer screen around and making all present look at that. He just spoke sensibly and clearly, very occasionally writing simple things on the board behind him with a felt tip pen.

The other interesting thing was that a mild but definite culture clash was to be observed. At various times during the lesson Sean said that he was being paid to get them to express their own opinions, rather than merely to write down and regurgitate his, Sean Gabb's, opinions. He told them that what mattered was how well they argued their opinions, not the mere matter of what they were. I dare say that to some of the dutiful and obedient young Asian lady students, it must have sounded as if Sean was telling them: "I order you to disagree with me." But I got the feeling that most of those present fully agreed with the stuff Sean was telling them, and that even if they didn't, they were determined to take their place in the kind of world that Sean was describing so approvingly, whatever their own opinions about it might be.

Here, then, was not a clash exactly, or a collision, or anything so dramatic as that. Here were two approaches to getting educated. There is education as the acquisition of pre-packaged and teacher presented knowledge. And there is education as the ability to package, and maybe to re-package, and then to present the digested result right back at the teacher again, and to fellow students. These young people were used to one tradition, of obedience. But they were having to get used to another. And if Teacher Gabb told them that such was their duty, well then they would do it. Their own tradition kind of obliged them to accept ours, you might say.

Apparently my presence in the class somewhat interrupted what Sean was trying to do along these lines, and caused all present to behave even "better" than usual, that is to say, even more quietly than usual. So in a small way, I got in the way of what Sean was trying to achieve. But this kind of teacher-knows-best deference was always a bit of a problem, said Sean, and they took a bit of coaxing to get used to speaking up and expressing their own views. I suggested to Sean later that he might try selling the Anglo-Saxon habit of argumentation as a preparation for the job of making managerial decisions when working for a big organisation or business. Decisions are not likely to be well made if only one alternative is explored. People who are able comfortably to disagree are helpful in such circumstances, even if their views are later over-ruled. But maybe that's just the Anglo-Saxon way of decision making. Maybe these students would end up participating in less raucous and argumentative decision making processes than we are used to here in Anglo-Saxonia. Even so, they were learning about more than just free trade. They were learning about another culture, in a way that was bound to be of value to them in their future lives.

I feel sure that the predominantly female atmosphere also made a difference on the docility front. Women are, in my experience – and this is fact rather than criticism – far less comfortable speaking out with their own perhaps unsure opinions in public and formal settings. (But switch to informal conversation and they start chattering away very happily.)

Sean spoke with great clarity, and although he had clearly prepared his lecture well he did not simply read out a prepared text. He extemporised around prepared texts. All present seemed determined to learn. There was no sense of anyone just being there because they had to be. In the very act of coming to this country in the first place (no English people were present, nor any people who's first language was English), all these young people had clearly taken charge of their lives and it showed in their attitude.

The class lasted well over an hour, and at the end of it, I felt that further questioning from me would not have been welcomed by these young students, although I also felt sure that they would have endured it with great politeness if I had imposed it upon any of them. These people were there to learn from Sean, not to sit about gossiping with the likes of strangers such as me. I might have learned more about Sean's methods and what they thought about Sean's methods, if I had hung around and bothered them with further talk, but it wouldn't have felt right. They had other business, I sensed, to be getting on with. As did Sean, and as did I.

That, now I think about it, was my overall impression. These people were here to do business. London was offering them a product, and they were buying it. No fuss. No big drama. They were just getting on with business.

These students are, in their own way, a highly significant part of the very process of international free trade that Sean was telling them about.

For more about Sean Gabb as a speaker and as a thinker, I also recently did a piece about him for my culture blog.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:56 PM
Category: BiasHigher education
[0]
November 18, 2002
The Glory of Modern Education

Frederick Crews, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of California at Berkeley: "The essays that the graduating BAs would submit with their applications were often brilliant. After five or six years of Ph.D. work, the same people would write incomprehensible crap. Where did they learn it? They learned it from us."

Link via Newmark's Door

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:48 PM
Category: Higher education
[0]
November 01, 2002
Univerzzzzzzity Finanzzzzzzz

I just cannot get myself into a stew about university financing. I know I probably should, and maybe someone will say something that eventually wakes me up. Meanwhile, if you are already excited about this, go to Liberty Log, where there's a link to a speech by the University of St Andrews Master and Deputy Principal Professor Colin Vincent, containing the suggestion that the government should go on paying for everything, but that the posh universities, like St Andrews, should get a bigger slice of the pie.

Alex Singleton says: "I can't see the rest of the country supporting it."

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:26 PM
Category: Higher education