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Category archive: Higher education

Thursday July 17 2008

This sounds like bad news, for Glasgow School of Art:

Glasgow School of Art students have less chance of finding a job when they graduate than those studying anywhere else in the UK, according to figures.

The Higher Education Statistics Agency suggested 18% of its students were out of work six months after graduation - the highest rate in the UK.

The school’s principal said the survey was misleading as artists’ careers were not as structured as others.

As in “misleading”, but true.  What the principal is saying is that the survey is true, on account of it being true, which is clearly very unfair.  Did they include other art schools, I wonder?  If they did, that sounds like a very black mark for Glasgow.

But then again ... this might not mean is that Glasgow School of Art is bad a teaching art.  What it might mean is that Glasgow art graduates are more determined to be artists than the graduates of other art schools, and they stick with their “unstructured” careers (i.e. stay unemployed) for longer.  Instead of going off and becoming conference platform designers and interior decorators and people who assemble fake kitchens in shops, and such like.  And maybe they are staying unempl ... unstructured for longer because they reckon their artistic prospects are better than those of other graduate artists.

On the other other hand, being unstructured in Glasgow might be easier than elsewhere, because unstructure benefits are easier to get, because seeking structured employment in Glasgow is one thing, but getting it is quite another.

On the other other other hand, maybe Glasgow School of Art just turns out unemployable lunatics.  Who can say?  Interpreting statistics is also something of an art, I think.

Overall, Scottish graduates have good employment prospects with 95% going into work or further study - 1.5% more than in England, according to the figures.

Napier University in Edinburgh had more than 97% of graduates employed or in further study, the highest number of any Scottish institution in the survey.

So, at least the problem is not Scotland.

Monday July 14 2008

Carlin Romano, who teaches philosophy and media theory at the University of Pennsylvania, writes about honorary degrees, in The Chronicle Review.  He begings his piece by arguing that honorary degrees do nothing for universities.  He quotes Jacques Barzun, who says: “the honorary degree as now commonly dealt out has lost its point”, and: “The Chairman of the Board of General Aphrodisiacs may be all that is said of him in the citation, but it is not a judgment on which the university should set its seal.” Universities should stick to rewarding measurable academic excellence.  MIT and Harvard eke out their existences without awarding any such degrees.  Others should follow their example, says Romano.

But then he gets to the matter of Robert Mugabe.


Yet for all this history and perspective, indicating that honorary degrees and their nullifications amount to tempests in teapots, the peculiar biography of Robert Mugabe makes the matter more complicated. Recent journalistic attention to Zimbabwe’s tragedies, welcome as it is, has provided little context about the man causing them. For that, we’re fortunate to have three incisive books on him published in the last decade: Our Votes, Our Guns: Robert Mugabe and the Tragedy of Zimbabwe, by Martin Meredith (Public Affairs, 2002); Degrees in Violence: Robert Mugabe and the Struggle for Power in Zimbabwe, by David Blair (Continuum, 2002); and Robert Mugabe: A Life of Power and Violence, by Stephen Chan (University of Michigan Press, 2003).

All paint a portrait of Mugabe that may surprise non-Africa hands ignorant of his prepresidential life. Born in the Jesuit mission station of Kutama on February 21, 1924, the third of six children in a family abandoned by his father (a dyspeptic carpenter who moved 300 miles away and took another wife), young Mugabe could not have been more bookish as he rose to become a teacher.

“All accounts describe him in the same words,” writes Blair, “diligent, quiet, studious, introverted.” Mugabe shunned smoking and drinking alcohol and “excelled academically” at every institution he attended, including South Africa’s University of Fort Hare, the hotbed of African nationalism from which Nelson Mandela had been expelled earlier. During Mugabe’s 11 years of imprisonment, from 1963 to 1974, under Zimbabwe’s white-ruled predecessor state of Rhodesia, the future president enrolled in University of London correspondence courses and earned four degrees — a master’s degree in economics, a bachelor’s degree in administration, and two law degrees — to go with the three bachelor’s degrees he already possessed, in economics, education, and history and literature.

Meredith writes of how Mugabe in prison “resumed his studies with fierce dedication, his books piled on both sides of his bed.” The prisoner’s late wife, Sally Hayfron, then living in London, copied out whole volumes by hand and posted them as letters to her husband. When Mugabe finally won release from prison, in November 1974, he held seven academic degrees.

So even now, after more than three decades in which the former Marxist revolutionary leader — seen as conciliatory toward opponents at Zimbabwe’s independence — has evolved into a murderous autocrat, Mugabe’s lust for academic credibility may endure. In the paranoid recesses of Mugabe’s octogenarian brain, stripping him of degrees may exact a toll few can imagine.

In which case, it’s probably time for Michigan State University, which doled out an honorary doctorate to Mugabe in 1990, to step up. And what about those seven earned degrees? Can a university revoke degrees earned in a correspondence course? How? By sending Mugabe a letter? Why not leave him only the eighth academic laurel he famously boasts of — “a degree in violence”?

Now, after Zimbabwe’s latest parody of democracy, the man once called “Satan’s apostle” by his also-ruthless white predecessor stands as the re-elected president of Zimbabwe. If things keep going as they’re going, however, Mugabe can forget about retiring to one of those handsomely endowed chairs at a Florida university, the sort that draw Oxford dons seeking to up their pay in a sunny place.

He simply won’t have the credentials.

A degree in education.  How about that?

The idea of stripping Mugabe of his various degrees, honorary and real, was causing much mockery on Mock The Week, when I watched the latest manifestation of it a few days ago, as did England refusing to play cricket against Zimbabwe next year.  But it would appear that even if taking his degrees away won’t now do anything to stop Mugabe, this might cause him some small degree (so to speak) of hurt.

More Mugabe honorary degree complaint here.

Sunday July 13 2008

I don’t understand this, but it sounds very silly:

The Home Office ID card yoof discussion forum has banned users “David Blunkett” and “Jacqui Smith” along with other “inappropriate” comedy logins, while laying a trail of positive comments from shadowy, spookily robotic “students”. Elsewhere in the forum the barracking has intensified since the site’s wobbly launch earlier this week, but in the Shooters Hill discussion section, a grey army of Shooters (Shooter1 onwards) chants its relentless pro-ID card mantra.

Well, almost relentless - one or two of them seem less convinced. Unsurprisingly, other forum users have challenged the bona fides of this odd crowd that never answers a question and posts without following through the debate. They’re obviously bots, right? Well, not exactly. Moderator Debbie G (who looks like somebody who knows a thing or two about ID chips) reveals that “users with the Shooters usernames are students from Shooters Hill College in Greenwich. To launch the site they were given a presentation by Jacqui Smith and then given the opportunity to log on and post.”

As the Shooters posts are timed from 9.24-9.41am on Wednesday, when Jacqui Smith (one of them anyway) launched the site, this would seem to be the case. So Smith gives presentation to a group of captive students who are then given 20 minutes to say positive things about ID cards, and the marketing geniuses at Home Office spin central then refashion them into a convincing representation of a scary robot army, right down to erasing their identities and giving them numbers instead. Epic. Smart generic username too - for her next brainwashing gig, Jacqui Smith visits Stabbers Lane Academy, Barking.

It seems to me that one of the particular sins of my generation is wanting to be in charge of things, while surrounded by the pretense that nobody is really in charge, and all are free to do what they please, i.e. as we want them to.  We don’t give orders.  They merely choose, freely, to obey.  In this case, instead of saying: we’re the government, and we’ve decided that you’ve all got to carry ID cards, they make some kids say: we want ID cards, and then they say, hey the kids want ID cards.  They’re saying it on the internet and everything.  We have to do what they say.  We did not ordain this.  We are their servants, and they have spoken.

See also: this, one of my favourite movies.  And see also, I fear, many teachers, maybe from time to time including, I also fear, me.

Friday July 11 2008

Online education is on the up, because of the price of gas:

“All across the country, community colleges and universities are getting requests for online programs specifically with students mentioning the price of gas,” says Ray Schroeder, director of the office of technology-enhanced learning at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “I just filled up the tank of my little Hyundai, and it was $50 for the first time ever—I think it really is affecting people.”

Some experts say that the rising interest in online programs could lead more colleges to expand their offerings, or experiment with “blended” courses that mix in-person and online meetings.

Via Greg Mankiw.

Tuesday July 08 2008

The Croydonian links to this, about a grovelling apology made to China by the Vice Chancellor of London Metropolitan University for confering a degree on the Dalai Lama.

Angered and offended by the move, Chinese students and Internet users at home and abroad called for a boycott the university, saying its conferment of honors on the Dalai Lama had hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.

Says the Croydonian:

Sensitive flowers, aren’t they?

My take is that this shows that they don’t really rate this particular university, which they call a London “school”.  If Oxford or Harvard gave a prize to the DL, would the Chinese government make this kind of fuss?

Thursday July 03 2008

Continuing with the first comment on this that I quoted the beginning of below, and continuing with the theme of higher education as a British export industry, the final paragraphs of what “illuminatus” says go like this:

The wider cult of the metric is of great concern to me and is also starting to creep into HE too. Stories published this week about degree inflation and pressure on academics to wave through international students whose grasp of English is so tenuous as to be pretty much non-existent are just small indicators that the era of the comprehensive university is upon us (trust me, I work in one). Ed Balls is not unique, just the latest in a long line of education ministers who has covered their ears and whistled so they can’t hear the concerns of those of us in the education system telling them some rather uncomfortable truths about education policy and its implementation.

In the words of Albert Einstein: not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

He’s talking about these stories.  Further evidence, I suggest, that Terence Kealey is wrong about the alleged continuing excellence of universities, but right that universities should retain their independence, and preferably have it strengthened.  Instead, that is to say, of becoming “comprehensives” living in a state of perpetual political derangement and deterioration.

If it is true that higher education is now and remains potentially a big export earner for Britain, and it is true, then stories like this won’t help one little bit:

Two French students have been found dead with multiple stab wounds in an East London flat, it was confirmed last night.

A double murder inquiry has been launched after the bodies of the two men, believed to be in their twenties, were discovered on Sunday, when firefighters were called to deal with a fire at the address in Sterling Gardens, New Cross.

A police source said the pair had been “horrifically murdered” adding that it was believed they may have been tortured before being killed and their flat set alight.

This was all over the early evening news today, complete with pictures.  It seems to have been a robbery that went wrong, by which I mean even more wrong.

It’s somewhat off topic for this blog, but I say: allow non-crims to be armed!

It may yet happen.  London, full of disarmed non-crims and armed crims, is rapidly becoming like New York used to be but is now so conspicuously not, a “crime capital”.  Any decade now, something might just give.  Or, to use the language of this blog, the lesson might be learned.

Friday June 27 2008

Terence Kealey thinks there’s no problem with University exams, no grade inflation.  But here are a couple of recent pieces ...

I’ve been told that if I didn’t give out more firsts to my students then it would reflect badly on me and my teaching, with the unspoken threat of my visiting lecturer contract not being renewed, even though all my observations and assessments by peers and managers have been excellent.

image… that say otherwise.

Prof Geoffrey Alderman, who used to be in charge of safeguarding standards at Britain’s largest university, the University of London, blamed grade inflation on “a league table culture”.

He told The Independent newspaper that lecturers were under pressure to “mark positively” to secure a good position in the tables.

“The more firsts and upper seconds a university awards, the higher a ranking is likely to be,” he said.

“So each university looks closely at the grading criteria used by its league table rivals and - if they are found to be using more lenient grading schemes - the argument is put about that ‘peer’ institutions must do the same.”

This later bit strikes a particularly ominous note:

He said universities were particularly “generous” when they marked non-European Union students, who pay far more in fees.

Both are in the Guardian, with the second quoting something said to the Independent.  It seems that in this argument the free marketeers are defending the status quo, and the lefties are attacking it.  Kealey was responding to all this stuff.

Go here, and you learn about a podcast interview with Professor Alderman, and find a link to Alderman’s own website.

And look what it says there:

In June 2007 Geoffrey joined the University of Buckingham as Michael Gross Professor of Politics & Contemporary History.

So he’s at the very same university that Terence Kealey is the Vice Chancellor of.  Hah!  Alderman doesn’t sound like any kind of lefty.  He favours complete autonomy of universities of the sort they have in the USA, just as Kealey does.  But, he also favours good and honest external examiners.  At present, he says, we have neither.

A complicated argument, pulsating with ironies of all kinds.  But it’s clear who the politicians are inclined to believe.

I can’t find the Independent front page article about what Alderman said which he refers to in that podcast.  It happened while I was abroad, I think.  Link to that, anyone?

Kealey contradicted by Professor Geoffrey Alderman and others
Terence Kealey says Universities are doing better!
At Goddaughter 1’s Photography Show
Ben Goldacre on the mathematical errors in Reform’s maths report
“Someone may get hurt …”
Why does Oxford now take a higher proportion than it used to of its intake from the private sector?
“Give it a five or your degree with be shit!”
Tougher guidelines
No one wants to read literary criticism
“If you exclude the car mechanics and repairmen …”
Their funeral?
Oxford Entrepreneurs
Varsity science ed with a difference
Neil Turok on teaching the best maths students in Africa
Professor Thomas does not tolerate texting
Greg Mankiw on how to choose between Harvard and MIT
University of Phoenix pays for engadget
Simon Hewitt-Jones on Professor Scarcity and Professor Abundance
What should classical music schools do to prepare students for the contemporary world?
Bishop Hill on the beneficial impact of charging students to go to university
Eastern Europeans flooding into British universities
Internet Command Central
Homophobia was not a problem at Leeds University – student housing was
Earn as you learn
A Julia Roberts moment with Jan Carnogursky
British higher education is definitely now a nationalised industry
Even higher education
Thinking again about the cost of going to university
More about bias in US universities
Why the bias to the left in academia?
Asking Alex about internships in the City
Another ugly university building
Ugly universities
What to do about the supply of and demand for hot college classes
Nehru returns to Cambridge
A little dinner party gossip
The UK Government cuts back on mature study
Home-schooling at Samizdata
Maths on a Russian pavement
Martin Amis makes a good deal
Clive Woodward makes the most of Jim Greenwood and of Loughborough University
“Raffles Education will continue to buy educational institutes across Asia especially in China …”
Why Jacob Grier is not a lawyer
Facebook profiling the applicants
Going through the motions of good manners
Smart pills
“Where do you want to go next?”
Free physics
New immigration law threatens the British higher education industry
Jon Morrow regrets getting straight A’s
Mature students
Australian universities cash in
The business of Indian higher education
The economists can tell you how heretics are treated because they are heretics