I'd largely avoided the "all people over 60..." thread, as it was depressing, but as some discussion of Universities came into I thought it might be timely looking at those points and other topical issues of where we are heading in Higher Education as we hopefully exit the pandemic in a post brexit world; on a dedicated HE thread.
I'll start with my worry about how so many people here still feel the 50% Blair HE commitment was so wrong... how do people seriously think we can compete in a increasingly highly skilled world? We must be way beyond the point of misunderstanding that the 50% didn't just meant Universities by now (it included HE colleges, in house company HE and HE in FE)? Yet given we must be at around two thirds HE participation for the 'goose' of richer social classes... what's not 'good for the gander'?
The fee problem just won't go away, they are regressive, the increase from £3k to £9k has been estimated to have saved little to zero of tax payer money and now it is an official government debt it looks unsustainable. Are there any ways out of this mess?
In the bigger picture HE faces a very tough time, especially Universities. Some say almost a perfect strom. Goodness knows how some institutions are still running with so many in terrible financial trouble in 2019 and now with the additional covid debts. Is there any financial light at the end of the tunnel?
Almost everyone here seems to have at least some serious quality concerns (from an academics perspective, especially with TEF). How do we dig ourselves out of the quality hole?
With REF 2021 due what are the views on this and the state of research in HE in general, especially given big changes in EU funding after brexit?
A question on my mind a lot recently; Jr is more than a decade away from university age, but it's not too soon to start expectation management so they're not only exposed views that they will go to university aged 18, and that that's the only career route everyone is assuming for them. (Space Marines has been robustly written off sadly despite my suggestions)
> how do people seriously think we can compete in a increasingly highly skilled world?
More professional apprenticeship schemes with medium and large engineering, technology and science firms that get people in to skilled training and work at age 18/19 and support them through part-time distance learning degrees further down the line where desired/required. Small business can also do this but in a less cookie cutter fashion, and perhaps with less financial support for the part time study - although there's no reason the government couldn't provide tax breaks or other incentives for this.
We need to foster an environment where innovative research is still an integral part of industry, and where people who are genuinely passionate about a subject and capable have no barriers to studying it in detail at university (the debt has become a major barrier to some). Increasingly universities seem to be burdened by so many different requirements and drivers they're forced in to a jack of all trades role, and master of none.
> The fee problem
It's not just a fee problem - accommodation costs are typically more than fees and have risen well above inflation over the last 20 years. There're many different forms of profit extraction by private businesses working under university branding when it comes to the provision of accommodation, and there's a lot of long time staff across institutions profiting from having brought up local housing stock and renting it as student houses / HMOs. Conflicts of interest and business involvement abound.
> How do we dig ourselves out of the quality hole?
In my case, by walking out of the door with deep sadness over leaving the teaching activities I leave behind.
One of my last jobs was intimal scoping work on a graduate apprentice scheme. It's an attractive idea and engineering partners were keen. However, the overall UK numbers are comparatively very low and funding support levels makes it hard for Unis to break even.. Its also part of what Blair meant in the 50% ( and I know you know that).. My question is aimed more at those who think we can compete in a modern world at below 50% at HE level.
> We must be way beyond the point of misunderstanding that the 50% didn't just meant Universities by now (it included HE colleges, in house company HE and HE in FE)?
As that's the first time that I've ever heard that view, definitely not. I don't know anyone who doesn't think that Blair just meant university.
There are plenty of jobs which don't require a degree - mine could certainly be done by someone who doesn't have a degree, even though we've only ever hired people with a degree. Two of my brothers went from school to work for large consultancies; one began professional qualifcations almost immediately, the other was paid to do a degree whilst he worked. They've progressed far more quickly (and are far better off financially) than their peers who went to university and subsequently joined the same companies.
As an outsider to the sector who went to university just before the fees went up from £1,000/year it seems that the universities have mainly spent the higher fees on new shiny buildings and providing evermore expensive accomodation rather than on teaching. You might disagree - but the universities I'm familiar with appear to have done that. Certainly, the aim of encouraging some institutions to charge less than the maximum seems to have utterly failed. And as someone who experienced online learning (albeit when it was in its infancy), I certainly wouldn't want to pay full whack for a degree that was even half taught online.
I wonder whether the best solution is to encourage employers to expand the professional apprenticeships schemes so that fewer people "needlessly" go to university from a professional perspective until they need it - certainly fifteen years ago more people went to law school to study the LPC than were hired as graduates by solicitors' firms. Now far more law firms provide work-based training instead and encourage late applicants who have industry experience, which seems like a much better solution.
> However, the overall UK numbers are comparatively very low and funding support levels makes it hard for Unis to break even..
The university landscape can change; the OU is able to operate on per-module fees well below in-person universities, and there's much less ambiguity over their funding than an institution with large streams of income from their hotel business (u/g accommodation) and research side. I'd expect a growth in specific, lower overhead distance learning providers. Certainly no shortage of staff who'd make then jump to them I suspect...
> Its also part of what Blair meant in the 50% ( and I know you know that)..
Indeed, but a lot of people I think take it to mean 50% in bricks-and-mortar institutions for 3 years; the reality could be very different to that.
It took a while for the DFHE to spell out the actual detail from Blair's speech but it always was in HE (not just Universities). That most people still think it's all in Universities is telling; in particular about how tory mud sticks given our wonderful press:
"Student targets will be based on 18 to 30 year olds: Courses of one year or more; Awarded by higher education institutions; Awarded by recognised national bodies; Possibly professional qualifications of less than one year."
I sat on my University Academic Board for decades (it's top level committee for academic matters) so I saw the regular explanation of planned spending (all in public accounts anyhow). The vast majority of the £9k fee was in genuine teaching costs and central services and facilities to support that. Our shiny new buildings came from loans, others used bonds or donations. In many pre-92 Universities the more expensive courses are increasingly subsidised from other income, as they cost a good bit more than £9k
I know it can change.. but the demand needs to be there to do that.... the large majority of those in Uni are middle class kids and so I think that change will be slow. We had empty places in our new Graduate Apprentice scheme and on our revamped Engineering courses with significant industrial linkage and excellent employment prospects.
The OU is great but also small and not in an especially stable funding state; it's about time it was treated as a special case with enhanced funding but I see the opposite future: masses of competition from much lower quality HE institutions doing blended learning on the cheap.
> The vast majority of the £9k fee was in genuine teaching costs and central services and facilities to support that.
That level of funding sounds like a reasonable amount, to provide quality vocational alternatives to A levels. You can just about manage three traditional A levels on 5k per student, if your sixth form is big enough. As 85% of kids continue education. until 18, it would reach more working class ones.
In fact, the current 'thing' for practical applied science rather than classical geology is quite unhelpful as I'd rather they had a good basic 'toolkit' to build on
Aww Offwidth. How I'd love to chew this over in the pub over a pint or four, but I'm afraid I've not got the time to time to type out long well reasoned replies here. With Welcome week last week and teaching having started this week I've put in well over 40 hours of overtime in the last couple of weeks just trying to keep my head above water.
TEF, International Students, Customers, NSS, Wellbeing and Mental Health, COVID, Education Action Plans, hybrid, blended, pivoting and asynchronous are all terms I could wax lyrical about with a couple of pints in me and that's just the teaching side.
Life was tough before the pandemic and we've all just been working absolutely flat out for the last year and a half - there are a lot of very, very tired people out there. I have absolutely no idea how some of our teaching academics are still standing.
Then we could get onto the research side in the curry house after the pub? By that point I'd just be nodding and smiling vacantly but that would be OK as that bit isn't my day job.
If wintertree came sure he'd be happy to be the designated driver and give us both a lift home?
> there are a lot of very, very tired people out there
People have powered through it with good will; a limited quantity that seems to be nearing an all time low.
> If wintertree came sure he'd be happy to be the designated driver and give us both a lift home?
Some sort of pub meet is definitely required when all this is done and dusted. Tan Hill or the Langdon Beck in a week after the solstice in 2022 could be a plan…
I will follow this thread with interest. As a student and then faculty, I have spent almost the whole of my adult life in UK HE, across a range of institutions, from degree at a Polytechnic in the 80s, Phd and post doc at post-92 institutions, to 18 years in Russell Group institutions, including a stint as HoD. But I decamped in 2018, teaching in the US for a year, and then in 2019 moving to a permanent position in the EU, where I expect - and hope - to spend the remaining 10 or so years of my career.
I will be honest; I have loved my career, for the opportunities it has given me, but also for how it was day-to-day. I had very few negative experiences. Overwhelmingly, it has been privilege - and I know I'm privileged in being able to say that.
I left the UK for personal, not professional, reasons. That said, I probably jumped before I was pushed - and I would have been pushed because I no longer fitted my department's increasingly narrow research criteria. I'm very happy in my new work environment, which just seems very humane. I know what my institution is about but I don't yet have a full enough picture of HE here, it's role in society etc., to really be able to make meaningful comparisons to the UK. But, as I said, I will be following this thread with interest.
Ooh can I come to the pub too please?
What about REF then.
I was an academic 1993 to 2015 (old enough to remember the RAE), and was on a subject panel in 2008. I remember all the controversy in the 90's about the chilling effect it must have on research, especially on long-term projects, but am sufficiently out of the loop that I don't know how people feel about it now.
I do remember getting up at 0430 to read contributions from my own department in order to decide what we were going to submit, and was on a subject panel in 2008 and remember the boxes and boxes of books that arrived for me to read.
It wasn't one of the reasons I left academia, but I certainly came to the conclusion that the process was not a Good Thing.
I presume any one with an interest in HE, past or present, is welcome.
REF got delayed a bit...
On the one hand the process looks fairer to me but it is still a massive parasite on the University system eating vast amounts of time, energy and money. Plus some of secret management gaming over the last five years was more extreme than before. It was ignominious before to not be submitted to REF as a research academic but signs this time are quite a large number of academics had been forcibly shifted to 'teaching only' (or similar non-research) contracts. Fingers crossed for karma.....
> It was ignominious before to not be submitted to REF as a research academic but signs this time are quite a large number of academics had been forcibly shifted to 'teaching only' (or similar non-research) contracts. Fingers crossed for karma.....
More widely, REF/TEF pressures have resulted in teaching focused career paths being taken seriously now in most Russell group universities, which they weren't before. I'd say this is a good thing overall, although there is a danger of two disconnected groups forming.
Sounds like it's as it was when I left but worse! The game-playing was predictable and horrid, and it had always been parasitic on time and money.
How should the assessment of research be done?
I've had a fabulous career but that doesn't mean the problems in UK HE are not growing. It was an ideal job for me in my first three decades with time and energy spare to chase academic (and climbing) interests. It stopped being that quite quickly for me, despite being in several significant positions of influence (wearing different hats). However, there are posters (from past threads) still doing OK or even well despite this. Fortunately the sector seems pretty robust to bad treatment.
My office partner felt the same way you did and jumped ship three years ago...now doing well in Australia on double the salary for an easier and much less stressful job.
I can assure you it doesn't feel that way if you think of yourself as a researcher and are being judged on which contract you need to be on by people clueless in your sub-area. I have nothing against academics choosing a teaching only route but even then you can't just switch off the spark... plus, without it, our teaching looses vital context. I've nothing against the contracts, some of which that I helped negotiate (including a practice contract for industrial, social or professional related work) as they always had a significant section of self directed time for all academics, which someone teaching only contracted could, say, use for research. I think what is not sensible at all is: forcing people into boxes they don't want to be in, too often based on flawed evidence; or abusing the contracts, as some heads outrageously did, to try and bully the end of any research efforts. To me this is a fundamental breach of academic freedom and a breach of contract. Even when handled as well as it can be people still sometimes leave, as it's not as if experienced staff with good combined teaching and research CVs aren't in demand in other countries (with better pay and conditions), or just retire early. So in my experience these new contracts are accelerating an exodus of high quality mixed interest staff, usually to replaced by overseas research staff who have never taught in UK HE and who are unreasonably expected to 'hit the ground running'. It's more of a post 92 STEM problem but it's serious.
> I can assure you it doesn't feel that way if you think of yourself as a researcher
Sure there are good and bad approaches to managing it but the concept seems sound - enabling people to do what they are good at without being forced to do stuff they aren't good at or interested in. Most contracts are still both, which is how it should be. The amount of research required for a REF submission per individual is pretty minimal - now less than 4 decent papers ever 7 or so years. If someone isn't doing this, they can't really be thought of as research active.
I think the raised prominence of teaching only roles and the buy in to a genuine and achievable career progression pathway in those roles is a major step forwards. Across my department and several other very different departments I have seen so much good come from the appointment of excellent people to teaching track roles.
On the other hand, when you have league tables compiling information on their fraction of staff submitted to RAE/REF, and when the gaming of those exercises favours only submitting higher rated outputs, this creates an inevitable conflict and the forced conversion of some research active staff to teaching roles as a way of "managing" this was distressing. This didn't affect me directly but it helps spell out how little value the machine places on the individuals that it consumes. IMO it's not a way to care for your employees or to develop them, and I didn't want to get institutionalised to the point that seemed normal.
If people apply for teaching-only jobs fair enough. However, the concept is not sound if most academics subjected to it in an institution don't think so as they mostly see themselves as researchers. Yet I've seen and heard of the majority of staff in some post 92 departments moved en-masse, from research to teaching only, mostly against their will and often without proper evidence, with REF seemingly very much in management's mind. The criteria can be laughable... above average for the REF subject area in funding and paper quality ratings being one post 92 institution's main measure. Hey, maybe we CAN all be above national average if we all just work harder!?
In reply to wintertree
That sounds like rubbish management. Although it is also true that there are many academics who rate their research much more than is justified and, ( very common among the research focused ) rate their teaching more highly than is justified. In these case some firm management decisions seem justified to me, particularly given the funding environment.
> The amount of research required for a REF submission per individual is pretty minimal - now less than 4 decent papers ever 7 or so years. If someone isn't doing this, they can't really be thought of as research active.
But many places seem to seek to game things even further, and would seek to avoid submiting somebody with "decent" papers if it's going to pull down their average rating and prevent them from saying that x% of their submissions were 4*. So there are plenty of people who are research active and doing "decent" research. It's just not "world-leading".
I'm not even sure quite *what* they are trying to game (some perceived way of looking at rankings based on REF outcomes?),
> I'm not even sure quite *what* they are trying to game (some perceived way of looking at rankings based on REF outcomes?),
The point is the funding associated with REF is highly non-linear. A marginal step up the ranking, can have a large effect on the funding received, so the pressure to optimise submissions is strong, particularly in middle-ranking institutions. I think "gaming" is a bit strong in most instances. It's more just putting in the best submission possible within the rules. E.g. my last academic contract was clearly "buying" my REF papers. Is a 40% contract for 3 years gaming, or just sensible policy?
I think you sound clueless about management. I worked alongside real international experts (academic and practice) when setting up MBA courses as a subject independent validation specialist, so I know full well what good change practice should look like. In any healthy system it's impossible to have the mass delusion you would seem to be implying and even if you are approaching significant change, due to existential threat in a business, it's best to treat your human resources as well as possible. That this toxic practice is happening in UK universities, where we are supposed to believe in academic freedom over and above 'business practice', is completely shameful.
On the 7 year point..producing 4 world class papers in such a time is a fairly high bar for a steady state output.
REF was supposed to include everyone who was research active, according to the Stern review, to stop the gaming.
> I think you sound clueless about management.
Well I seem to have done OK at it. Personally I accept I could be deluded and clueless. However, since you don't believe that's possible, you can't actually believe I am clueless about it.
>In any healthy system it's impossible to have the mass delusion
No, it really isn't.
> even if you are approaching significant change, due to existential threat in a business, it's best to treat your human resources as well as possible.
OK, I didn't suggest otherwise.
> That this toxic practice is happening in UK universities, where we are supposed to believe in academic freedom over and above 'business practice', is completely shameful.
No idea what you are talking about. If you are saying people should be allowed to continue to be inadequate at half their job, I disagree.
> A marginal step up the ranking, can have a large effect on the funding received, so the pressure to optimise submissions is strong, particularly in middle-ranking institutions.
So I'm fortunate enough to not have to know about the inner workings of it all, but my understanding was that the "outputs" funding is just a straightforward £x per 4*/3*/2* paper, etc. So where is the financial benefit to having a greater _fraction_ of 4* papers, but a smaller number of submitted papers overall - even if some made-up ranking table uses that as a criterion?
> So where is the financial benefit to having a greater _fraction_ of 4* papers, but a smaller number of submitted papers overall - even if some made-up ranking table uses that as a criterion?
Side channels. League tables and student recruitment.
I'm not up on the details either, but the non-linearity was stressed in presentations. I am fairly sure there is more to it than simple multipliers on papers, or as you say there would be no point in optimising things.
MG is right in that respect: its highly non linear.
That he thinks a healthy organisation can have masses of staff who are no good at the research half of their job and deluded about that beggars belief.
How can you assess what REF will decide on papers properly without doing an impossibly identical full dry run? The internal assessment reality is dry-run light style with seriously hard consequences if this is linked to contracts... a muddle and too often a mess.
> That he thinks a healthy organisation can have masses of staff who are no good at the research half of their job and deluded about that beggars belief.
Do you really find this puzzling? Pretty much any environment has people who are poor at assessing their own abilities - in fact this is itself an academic research area.
It might sound like short termism but I'd advise all young people to think carefully and aim for job that can't be exported to, say China. Nursing and medicine seems to tick many boxes, at many different levels.
Personally I agree with many comments up thread. I think we're painting a false and unattainable reality for many young people.
Jonny T's point about the outputs funding is essentially right, and it applies to the Env and Impact sub-profiles as well. The eventual baseline QR funding is proportional to the product of fte submitted and a weighted average of % 4* and % 3*. Bumping staff onto T-only contracts in order to boost the % 4* may look good for the league tables that uiniversity management obsess about, but it doesn't win more QR funding. In fact it may win less, because some of the outputs of omitted staff might have been rated 3* or 4* by the REF panel. We had a big (and successful) fight about this in 2013 in the dept I retired from.
> Jonny T's point about the outputs funding is essentially right, and it applies to the Env and Impact sub-profiles as well. The eventual baseline QR funding is proportional to the product of fte submitted and a weighted average of % 4* and % 3*.
Isn't it the funding level between 4 and 3* where the non-linearity comes in? I.e. 4 *much* more than 3, so a higher average weight with fewer staff (potentially) gets more money?
One addition to the teaching-related problems you identified in your original post is that Covid has indirectly led to a massive increase in intake to highly selective universities, via the award of far more top A-level grades after exams didn't take place. The department that I retired from, and am still associated with, had to overshoot its ug target by 50 last year and by 100 this year. The adverse effects on teaching quality, staff research time, and the local housing market will persist for years.
No, if you look at the algebra it cancels out
I agree with your analysis, however, the equation the harder line managements take is the reputation of the higher grade and associated ability to build additional research income is worth the small hit on REF income and like MG they think it will sort out what they regard as underperforming staff without hitting morale overall. Plus you go higher on the league tables with higher REF scores: which ironically helps student recruitment whilst reducing their access to those very same high quality researchers.
> like MG they think it will sort out what they regard as underperforming staff without hitting morale overall.
"regard"? Are you totally unable to accept that staff do underperform for a whole range of reasons?
"Sort out" And that part of the role of management is to manage this. If done well it's not some aggressive, don't-give-a-shit process, but implementing changes that result in both individuals being more satisfied with their jobs and an organisation overall doing better. That you seem to regard any management activity as part of a battle suggests it is you who is "clueless" about management.
> We also hire graduates only, but lets be honest we're hiring them not for what they know, but that the degree is a demonstrated proof of an ability to think and work to a certain level.
You'd think so, wouldn't you? But having recently spent a few years contracting in a bank, first being the older guy doing a role that was recruiting most of its graduates only candidates straight out of uni, and then managing teams of said graduates through their training and into the first few months of the role, I was shocked at the lack of ability to think and work to a certain level on display.
There was a massive amount of churn (which was the business plan - stuff them in the door, give them a few weeks training and then get them to do the job with little support, and see who made it through three months) and I was genuinely bemused as to how many of the guys I had to let go could possibly have gained a degree.
Two years of work experience in an admin role would have been a far better metric to give the recruitment agency than a Desmond IMO.
It's not puzzling, it's managerially speaking complete nonsense: any healthy organisation would have acted long before masses of staff were regarded as no good at half their job. Further to that, specifically in a post-92, the normal limit of contracted class contact teaching hours is 18 per week. The only way to buy out of that on any significant research role (approaching anything like half a job) is to get promoted on clear and strict criteria, and/or to bring in funding, and/or funded research students, and/or significant recognised research prestige.
Yes there are too many unhealthy organisations in HE. I used 'sort-out' to seperate what is unfair ill- evidenced targetted action, to say game the REF in an unhealthy organisation, from standard supportive management practice in fair appraisal process in a healthy one.
I think your experiences of HE are rather narrow.
....and I think I'm exceptionally lucky to have worked across so many institutions, nationally and internationally in so many aspects of academic work and retained friendships from the very top of institutions to the lowest paid.
> The adverse effects on teaching quality, staff research time, and the local housing market will persist for years.
20% over-recruitment in my neck of the woods.
> The adverse effects on teaching quality, staff research time, and the local housing market will persist for years.
Agreed. Not great in terms of viral load and ventilation over the next few weeks either.
Presumably there's a corresponding under-recruitment elsewhere in the sector, which will have its own downstream problems?
> I was shocked at the lack of ability to think and work to a certain level on display.
As someone who has been responsible for sending 18 year olds off to Uni. with top grades but an inability to think, I'm not.
> Two years of work experience in an admin role would have been a far better metric to give the recruitment agency than a Desmond IMO.
Given the grade inflation that has occurred, I'd be inclined to view a Desmond as an indication they had failed their degree.
As a non-academic, it seems to me that Universities have morphed form prioritising education to prioritising income, and as such have gone down the 'attract international students who will pay lots more money for the same degree a UK student does' route. so the question is, is that source of revenue going to remain, and is it a wise route to continue down?
Hi Offwidth, I’m never ever going to be an apologist for the REF, but I will pick out one upside which I observed a fair bit in the post ‘92s as PVCR. Academic areas with practitioners rather than researchers, like Health and Social Care, Nursing and OT etc. had always been sidelined as cannon fodder for teaching only. However, as the ex Polys looked to upgrade their staff and implemented a PhD requirement, suddenly these practitioners were Doctors, with some publications from their theses and a feel that they could ‘do’ research. Fast forward, and their papers have become practice and policy in hospitals and regulatory bodies (because that’s what they do), they have brought in associated small NIHR grants and have gold plated impact case studies. I’ve observed this regularly and it is both life and career changing. Only a small glimmer but very good.
Good question. Yes, probably, but risky.
I think its pretty hard sometimes to judge an inability to think in a teenager: so many factors can hide that. I've seen so many new students stuck in bad learning habits or unmotivated by their subject or plagued with life problems who transformed with good targetted tuition and pastoral support, or go on to do well after transferring to a course more suitable for them.
Another lucky aspect of my career was working in departments that retained decent standards: a significant minority of students who did not achieve enough (despite being bright enough and good support being available) did fail and repeat. When I was a year one tutor the most common reason I was told was they didn't think it would be such a big problem not turning up to classes, nor listening to what we said in formal meetings to discuss those absences! Most of them at least had had a good time.
I've long felt that average intellect was obviously OK for HE as that was the situation all my career, with a significant proportion of the upper middle class kids from private schools.
> 20% over-recruitment in my neck of the woods.
We may be talking about the same place
> Presumably there's a corresponding under-recruitment elsewhere in the sector, which will have its own downstream problems?
For sure. I'll be surprised if all the post-92s survive as independent institutions. I've heard that one Midlands post-92 that has under-recruited is offering to lend staff to a nearby pre-92 that has over-recruited.
I'd see that as a big glimmer as although a smallish number such things lead to big change. I'm pretty sure I can guess where you were working from past posts. If I'm right a good PVC friend of mine was interviewed for the first VC position and if he had got it I might have followed, as I was part of his key team of overseas validators who were passionate about his progressive (genuine) quality-led ethic. He sadly died young but others in that group made it to PVC and one to VC.
For the moment things look OK, thanks to good exchange rates and historical reputations. The problem is there are cheaper and rapidly improving courses taught in english across most of Europe as well as the mainstream competition from the english speaking OECD nations, plus much cheaper courses in developing nations that articulate to western Universities. That's without considering blended or online providers (have a look at the MIT material if you want to see how good these can be). I was especially impressed with visits to Dutch and Danish institutions from what I saw and what staff and students 'at the coal face' said. We worked with a lot of Eastern European nations as their HE quality bodies were fussy about business qualifications so validation and franchise was good high quality business there.
The income from overseas students is vital for the UK... without it, due to the generally underfunded teaching and research efforts, and any fast reform to resolve that, we will see many institutions collapse like a house of cards.
It's a mystery...every since London Met hit self-generated serious financial problems in 2008 predictions of some imminent collapses were predicted but here we are with none as yet.
> I think its pretty hard sometimes to judge an inability to think in a teenager: so many factors can hide that.
I agree it is hard to judge, its been exaserbated by a focus on exam results that have been achieved by regurgitating what they have been told. In 18 years od A level maths and further maths, I can name the two students who asked why, after they had got a questions correct. I did teach more who IMO could think, but they are out numbered by those who achieved A/A* without having to.
>I've seen so many new students stuck in bad learning habits or unmotivated by their subject or plagued with life problems who transformed with good targetted tuition and pastoral support, or go on to do well after transferring to a course more suitable for them.
I could probably say the same, but think it would be misleading, as it is still a relatively small proportion of students. I also firmly believe that younger students are generally more malleable. Certainly at IMO secondary school level it is a mistake to focus on the older students. At the risk of upsetting people on this thread I'd argue that increased resources at primary level will be far more effective in the long run.
> I was told was they didn't think it would be such a big problem not turning up to classes
I do envy the freedom that has seemingly been enjoyed in HE. Latterly, If a student missed a lesson without a good reason, it would be addressed before the end of the lesson. Mobile phones do have their uses.
On the intellect side of things, I'd tend to agree that someone of average intellect is suitable for a HE course. I however would add that that person also has to be reasonably well organised and hard working. From a secondary maths perspective (probably 10 years out of date) that would result in a 4b kid getting an A at GCSE, but that would put them in the top 20% even though they will have got half the questions on the exam wrong. Does this make them ready to progress to A level? Certainly, but I'm not sure how much lower the requirement should be.
My brother teaches English to foreign students even through Covid and Brexit they were still pouring in to the Uk via direct and also online teaching.They have suffered from more students wanting training, not less.
He even had the pleasure of teaching a bunch of Chinese students from Wuhan at the height of Covid.
He will say people underestimate the pull of learning English in the UK, they can after all easily do the same in China or any other overseas country.And a Dutch business friend who sent his daughter here to speak English he will say--its just not the same no matter how impressive the facilities.Aus and USA/Canada are the other alternatives of course.
I have no view on it, both yours and his views are valid.
We saw the growing issue with maths qualifications early and ran compulsory maths induction classes for anyone at risk (all those who failed entry tests in the induction week). Coventry engineering were a leading light in publishing on such work, showing the maths skills they tested at entry had shifted several A level grades. I can't find anything on searches right now but I linked it several times on some ancient Uni related threads here.
Its funny how people seem to get better at thinking when well trained and practiced (ditto for IQ tests). These days you can download a puzzle Ap on your phone or tablet that 'proves' your IQ is 200 (until you stop playing).
> I was especially impressed with visits to Dutch and Danish institutions from what I saw and what staff and students 'at the coal face' said.
At which point I 'fess up I'm in Denmark. As I said, I didn't feel pushed out of UK HE, but reading this thread has made me feel glad not to be there.
I'd agree with him. It's lucky for the UK that it's true. It's still just one big factor in a pile of shifting considerations.
As is a close relative of mine on an undergrad couse. Good luck to you both.
I did listen to an idea from a Scandinavian based politician that they should dump their language and switch to English.
Seemed a good idea……….
> We saw the growing issue with maths qualifications early and ran compulsory maths induction classes for anyone at risk (all those who failed entry tests in the induction week).
So dispte, both, rising numbers of students taking A level maths and an even bigger number gaining higher grades, the mathematical ability of students entering University wasn't rising?
>Coventry engineering were a leading light in publishing on such work
I am both intrigued and a born sceptic. Every school that has claimed something similar, that I have looked into, has done so by statistical manipulation. Employers, singing the praises, of the quality of current graduates, are in short supply and Universities can seemingly make up their own grade boundaries with at best a professional body taking some interest.
> Its funny how people seem to get better at thinking when well trained and practiced (ditto for IQ tests). These days you can download a puzzle Ap on your phone or tablet that 'proves' your IQ is 200 (until you stop playing).
Has anyone invented a test yet, where practising something similar, doesn't result in improvement?
> > We also hire graduates only, but lets be honest we're hiring them not for what they know, but that the degree is a demonstrated proof of an ability to think and work to a certain level.
> You'd think so, wouldn't you? But having recently spent a few years contracting in a bank, first being the older guy doing a role that was recruiting most of its graduates only candidates straight out of uni, and then managing teams of said graduates through their training and into the first few months of the role, I was shocked at the lack of ability to think and work to a certain level on display.
I was going to comment on wbo's post, but you did it so much better.
The whole 'degrees demonstrate proof of an ability to think and work at a certain level' smacks of a lazy HR department, "How do we put off 70% of potential applicants?"
That may have been true in the past, but now seems to demonstrate that the applicant is probably middle class, or has been convinced that spending £27k on a degree is the only possible way to avoid destitution. So much for encouraging a diverse workforce.
The new graduates I encounter, (and occasionally manage / mentor), range from those who make me think "Oooh. You're destined for bigger things" to "If he actually attended a University it must have been in a jar of formaldehyde in a lab somewhere".
Generally our direct entry graduates don't appear to be any smarter than our technical apprentices, nor are any more more motivated or hard working. They're 20 somethings with still a lot to learn.
> There was a massive amount of churn (which was the business plan - stuff them in the door, give them a few weeks training and then get them to do the job with little support, and see who made it through three months) and I was genuinely bemused as to how many of the guys I had to let go could possibly have gained a degree.
> Two years of work experience in an admin role would have been a far better metric to give the recruitment agency than a Desmond IMO.
Agreed. I take Offwidth's point that we need a much better educated workforce, but the current "The only way is Uni" mindset prevalent in parents, teachers, employers and Universities desperate to recruit new 'clients' isn't the way forward.
> That may have been true in the past, but now seems to demonstrate that the applicant is probably middle class, or has been convinced that spending £27k on a degree is the only possible way to avoid destitution. So much for encouraging a diverse workforce.
For a 4-year "integrated masters" science degree, including accommodation costs, it's closer to £80k of debt by the end of it, and on terms for the debt that are not advantageous.
I would want to think very critically about if the lifetime cost of that debt is worth it to me, if I was looking at going to a university these days. Some of the intake do think about this a lot, decide it is worth it for them, and it adds to the increasingly crushing pressure they put themselves under, sometimes to great mental and physical health detriment. The problem is it's only worth it for them if they make the 2:1 cutoff used by many large graduate intake schemes, and if their wheels start to come off under the pressure that rapidly erodes their achievement levels and there follows a dangerous and damaging spiral of decline. Some people are dropping out or graduating really very damaged by the whole process - it's hard to see it as acting in their interests. Certainly when advising students in the past, there were times I would encourage them to think about all the options, but then there is parental pressure and expectation layered on top of them as well, which makes perhaps the best option for them (walk away sooner rather than later) unthinkable. The biggest change in their favour where I was was the adoption of much more flexible degree structures where they could move to other subjects and fields more aligned to their interests and motivations - rather than what their parents or 6th form careers advisor shoe-horned them in to because it's popular with city recruitment.
> Agreed. I take Offwidth's point that we need a much better educated workforce, but the current "The only way is Uni" mindset prevalent in parents, teachers, employers and Universities desperate to recruit new 'clients' isn't the way forward.
I'm surprised there hasn't been a class action mis-selling scandal over undergraduate degrees and student debt. What's been really depressing is seeing the trend to more people doing PhDs in science subjects because that is now seen as a step up for recruitment in to various unrelated business areas.
> Agreed. I take Offwidth's point that we need a much better educated workforce, but the current "The only way is Uni" mindset prevalent in parents, teachers, employers and Universities desperate to recruit new 'clients' isn't the way forward.
You are right. There is, however, quite a lot going on to redefine what HE means and to get away from it being 18-21 before a lifetime of work. Some is well advertised (e.g. degree apprentices); other aspects are still emerging or being experimented with. For example real life-long learning (e.g offering short but high level courses for career changers); different models of university (getting away from semesters with long holidays); closer industry involvement (Dyson Institute); more imaginative ways of widening participation (e.g. UA92).
> What's been really depressing is seeing the trend to more people doing PhDs in science subjects because that is now seen as a step up for recruitment in to various unrelated business areas.
My current role has always had 'degree in relevant subject' in the "essential" requirements. MSC has now made it's way into the "desirable" column.
I have neither, and can't say I feel particularly intellectually challenged by my fairly mundane job.
I’d previously founded the School of Engineering there and absolutely loved it. As it turns out, a brilliant VC was in charge, which is a rarity.
However, it was in the wrong county for a keen climber so I left for an endowed research chair where the only requirement is to bring in high profile grants and run a little high impact research team and be left completely to my own devices.
Which brings me on to a bugbear related to REF and the post ‘92s. When I left Sheffield Uni to get my first Chair, I’d been in a big research group and been PI on a slew of EPSRC and EU Framework grants, so when I ended up in post ‘92s I was able to use that track record to get more grants and industrial collaboration. ECRs in the New Universities don’t have that privilege, and the grant reviewers, funding panels and industrial research collaboration teams tend to be current or ex Russell Group, so at the very least unconscious bias is commonplace. EU funding was generally based upon the science rather than the University so tended to be a relatively level playing field but is sadly gone. Basically it’s hard to compete outside the RG and so the days of privilege should be replaced by a blind review process for grants which *is* possible irrespective of the cries of 30 or so VCs 😩
> As a non-academic, it seems to me that Universities have morphed form prioritising education to prioritising income, and as such have gone down the 'attract international students who will pay lots more money for the same degree a UK student does' route. so the question is, is that source of revenue going to remain, and is it a wise route to continue down?
I've been worrying myself about UK HE's financial over-dependence on overseas students for at least a decade, but the students keep coming. Two things worth keeping in mind - this is now a significant source of income not just for the universities, but for the country as a whole. HE is in effect an export industry, whose estimated value is £16 billion per year - worth more than aircraft (£10 bn) but a bit less than cars (£22 bn). The other thing is that this money underpins both new facilities that home students get to benefit from, and essentially subsidises the research done in universities. To a first approximation, UK research-intensive universities about break even on home students, lose money on research, and make up that loss with the surplus from overseas students.
People talk about there being a "dual support system" for paying for research in UK universities - project specific research grants from research councils, and a "quality related" research block grant from Research England (and corresponding bodies in Wales, NI & Scotland). In fact there's a triple support system, with the surplus from overseas students being pretty much as big as the block grant.
"EU funding was generally based upon the science rather than the University so tended to be a relatively level playing field but is sadly gone."
Not sure thats completely true as I'm involved in project applying for whatever the current 'Horizon' programme is called & we have a UK partner & nearly had 2. But maybe biodiversity related research is dealt with differently than engineering.
Found the old forum posts but the Coventry links in them all see dead now. But hey, I did find that now I'm retired I'm not quite as shouty as I once was. Still angry though.
Maybe someone with access to academic search facility can find one of their papers...Coventry University. Electrical and Electronic Engineering or similar. Internal math testing at induction and with a main result something like a top end D at A level when they started testing shifted to results at the end that were equivalent on their tests to a borderline A grade. It's not the same thing as saying the A level standard had dropped that much, but the skill retention they needed for their tests had. Publications made around 2010.
One thing I do realise looking back is I gained a lot of respect for Paul and Richard for input from their senior management perspectives, despite our disagreements on some detail. Thanks due to them and everyone who made substantial contributions.
Everything you've said about overseas student income resonates strongly.
It's a pretty common concern in the subset of non-management academics who pay attention to the finances, especially with the recent round of giga-buck scale long term borrowing to rapidly grow campuses to expand this market in particularly. I have concerns over the scale of control given to select US investing institutions (and to their government via fiscal laws, suppliers and US sanctions) through some of this investment, although the terms are not available to lowly folks like me except where something butts up against them.
Something I've not seen discussed were the steps taken to keep income flowing from Chinese students unable to attend in-person due to the pandemic in 2020. A teaching logistics issue we've contented with for some time is that Chinese students are unable to access many UK and external resources from China due to the Chinese state's firewalls. This forced many students to engage via VPNs which don't exactly seem to be illegal but probably put some black marks in their party file, and which have issues of their own.
What used to be an inconvenience during holidays became a show stopper during the pandemic.
Cue a rapid coordinated response sector wide to implement gatekeepered access to approved material within UK institutions marshalled trough JISC, with none of the institutions willing to comment on their complicity with the CCPs control of access to information in total contravention of the ideals of free speech and academic freedom upon which the long term future of academia rests.
Other than a few media stories at the time, this radical capitulation has quietly sailed by.
> But hey, I did find that now I'm retired I'm not quite as shouty as I once was.
We'll have to take your word for that 😊
> It's not the same thing as saying the A level standard had dropped that much, but the skill retention they needed for their tests had.
I wonder if the change in maths spec. in 2000 contributed? Not so much the introduction of AS, more the modular nature of the course, with there being upto 4 assessment points. I always thought the spiral nature of the Core modules in particular meant that cramming and forgetting didn't happen in maths as much as it did in other subjects. Unlike when the modular GCSE became popular, pretty sure many kids who got 100% on the initial stats. module couldn't recall any of it two years later, at the start of their A level. Perhaps I was wrong, just not aware we were passing a similar problem on.
You’re absolutely correct, but the value of grant bids from the U.K. has fallen off significantly, and it’s not a long term relationship at the moment.
> It's a pretty common concern in the subset of non-management academics who pay attention to the finances, especially with the recent round of giga-buck scale long term borrowing to rapidly grow campuses to expand this market in particularly. I have concerns over the scale of control given to select US investing institutions (and to their government via fiscal laws, suppliers and US sanctions) through some of this investment, although the terms are not available to lowly folks like me except where something butts up against them.
One of the things I did in my last university was lead a scenario planning exercise, where we used a simple financial model to test how robust the university's finances were to external shocks. Among the scenarios we modelled were losing all the Chinese students and leaving the EU (though not at the same time; this was 2014 or thereabouts).
Two things I learnt from this. One was that the institution was more financially robust than I feared - the loss of Chinese students came out as being difficult but a long way from terminal. The second came from trying to understand what precisely was meant by a university "going bust", and I had some really enlightening conversations with the CFO about this. Was it running a deficit on the statutory accounts for a number of years? No, enough malleable conventions there for that not to be meaningful. Was it running a cash deficit? Much worse, but we could probably cope longer than one might think. But the really serious issue was when you breached the loan covenants - and as you say, those terms are kept very close.
My understanding of the current situation is that the UK and EU have agreed terms - including the UK's financial contribution - for the UK to continue to participate in the EU's Horizon scientific programmes. But the EU is holding out on finally signing until the NI situation is resolved.
The bit of the EU programmes I know best is the European Research Council, where I was on an Advanced Grant panel for a couple of years. The panels are very firmly instructed that they're judging the individual and the programme, and that no account should be taken of the institution. But it's still the case that most grants go to people in very research intensive institutions. The advantages accumulated over the years in terms of infrastructure are hard to overcome.
There is little discussion on the post covid situation here yet.
How are things going?
I'm glad that the Northumbria situation seems to be the exception on major H&S concerns but there do seem to be plenty of local niggles. How are say tight packed lecture theatres being looked at for improved ventilation for instance?
How are staff getting on with workload issues (hopefully returning to a more sane average level)? What do students feel about the arrangements this term?
> "this is now a significant source of income not just for the universities, but for the country as a whole. HE is in effect an export industry, whose estimated value is £16 billion per year - worth more than aircraft (£10 bn) but a bit less than cars (£22 bn). The other thing is that this money underpins both new facilities that home students get to benefit from, and essentially subsidises the research done in universities."
From a GDP perspective this is one the most frustrating things in the UK. Instead of celebrating this success and the research outputs that per capita are as good as almost any country produces, the 'industry' gets shackles. How on earth does a party that prides itself on reducing end tape end up in this increasingly expensive bureaucratic situation (a rhetorical question as it seems anything public sector always ends up with disproportionate scrutiny) and a ridiculously overblown obsession with culture wars? Car companies get huge bungs (sorry, development loans), universities get more and more constraints.
That is a basic difference between being accountable for public money and shareholders.Its a big difference and leads to more scrutiny.
My wheeling and dealing would not be suitable for the public sector.
The constraints are in a way self induced by so many interested partys or stake holders which those in the private sector often do not have to contend with.
I can assure you wheeling and dealing happens in Universities they effectively run as independent not for profit businesses. I'm not against public scrutiny of public spending, just that it should be proportionate: do you think a quarter billion is a suitable cost for distributing two billion in the REF? Private companies also deliver services with public money with much lower scrutiny levels...test and trace most famously recently but also all these service companies like Carrilion (now bust), Serco etc. Look at the damage done by the Carillon collapse and how the signs were so obvious for a key provider of public funded services:
> How are things going?
OK, I'll bite, briefly
> How are say tight packed lecture theatres being looked at for improved ventilation for instance?
Things are more cautious in scotland for now, I think, and Glasgow has been more cautious than many. We don't have students in packed lecture theatres at all - just big lecture theatres being used for small classes. I probably shouldn't share my medium-term views on how seriously the university is taking ventilation, though.
> How are staff getting on with workload issues (hopefully returning to a more sane average level)?
For myself I am fortunate that everything I spent hugely excessive hours putting in place last year can largely be reused again this year in some form or other (plus other things where we have returned to pretty much the "normal" programme).
> What do students feel about the arrangements this term?
For undergraduate teaching labs I am fielding questions ranging from "I am worried, where is the risk assessment, is this safe?" (for which I have answers - and empathy), all the way to "I didn't have to wear a mask in the nightclub last night, so why should I have to in your lab?" (which is a valid observation on one level, but the student can GTF).
It is perhaps worth reflecting that the advertising industry contributes £100 Bn plus to gdp,dwarfing HE, cars and aircraft.
Almost suggesting that media and film degrees etc have significantly more impact than people think.
My numbers weren’t their contributions to GDP, but export values (i.e. contributions to UK’s trade balance). But I don’t disagree with your point about the importance of advertising and other knowledge intensive business services.
> I know it can change.. but the demand needs to be there to do that.... the large majority of those in Uni are middle class kids and so I think that change will be slow. We had empty places in our new Graduate Apprentice scheme and on our revamped Engineering courses with significant industrial linkage and excellent employment prospects.
Not only middle class but private schooled as well. I think that only one of the people on my floor in first year went to a state school. The numbers were a bit better where I worked as a graduate engineer but private schooled pupils (including myself) were still over represented.
From what I can see industry doesn't have enough engineers available to enable us to meet the challenge of climate change, even if we can wasteful and pointless pet projects. We need to be encouraging huge amounts of young people into the profession both via apprenticeships and degrees.
I've been arguing we need regional capacity for key subjects from when Exeter Chemistry closed, leaving much of the SW without a Chemistry provision for local students and local collaboration with business or social projects.
Back on covid impact its a shame we have only had one post. It does seem that nothing like the worse case predictions of the covid impact on the new term have happened, which is good news. I remember reading the linked article below from the summer, which rightly pointed out there still was no clear meaningful planning (as covid risk levels in halls and clubs would make class safety mainly only important to staff) and that as ever the HE customer taking on all this debt was also taking the main educational risk as well (students and staff faced bigger covid risks than in competitor nations). It still seems to me the sector is playing Lemmings on a grand scale albeit saving itself so far; partly down to skill and partly luck.
In going back to find the summer article about covid risk reduction this October I also found this from the same author....
... on assessment methodology during covid (no detriment etc) and the clear efforts made institutionally despite somewhat a national quality vacuum, beyond tabloid obsession. The comment below the article is also well worth reading. My take-away is universities are trying hard but as there is no perfect one-size-fits-all solution, there needs to be some serious national look at the statistics of all this. Evidence seems to show assessment was broadly fair overall yet most students feel their marks have been detrimented.
Disruption should be a lot less serious this year at least. Hopefully mental health support for students will have improved as well as a result of the pandemic (too often in my career the uni chaplains (of all denominations) kindly stepped in to cover in emergencies during what was a normal grossly overloaded official support system in exam periods).
> yet most students feel their marks have been detrimented
Interesting. I wonder if our students would say that. It's clear from looking at their grade profiles that their transcripts have done jolly well out of the no-detriment regulations. A number of my own advisees recognised that very well, and we had quite candid conversations (raised by them) about whether it would be better to graduate with a high BSc classification or continue to the integrated MSci where they know full well they can't hope to match their existing pandemic-era grades.
(To be clear, I'm talking about "most students" here - not the ones who had severe, personal impacts beyond the typical impact of the pandemic)
It's clear to me already this year that students' understanding has been significantly detrimented by the pandemic - a lot of indications that students have no understanding of basic principles from the last two years of their work (no junior-year exams at all to revise for, 2 summers ago, and open-book exams last summer).
Maybe average student views on detriment varies a lot by subject? I must admit the news of student concerns from STEM courses I know detriment wasn't looking like a big issue once they knew the planned mitigation.
A timely reminder of one if the biggest scandals in HE.......shame on Cambridge and well done Sheffield and Birmingham for showing there is a fairer way.
At least they were being paid
because £3.50 an hour, was extortionate?