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My articles November 8, 2016

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Brexit will hit demand for UK HE differently across the globe (Wonkhe, 8-Nov-16)

Blogs for the Guardian (various)

Blogs for The New Statesman (various)

Blogs for Left Foot Forward (various)

 

Premier League Prediction 16-17 August 13, 2016

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It’s that time of the year, to pin my colours to the mast and predict 1-20 for the new Premier League season.

Arguably, this is the hardest season to predict for decades with by my count 7 teams standing a credible chance of winning, and 10 teams who could go down.

1 – Chelsea

Another new start for Chelsea. They still have a quality squad, finished the season strongly and the absence of European football could see them crowned 16-17 Champions. Success will likely depend on the durability of John Terry, and goals from Diego Costa and Michy Batshuayi.

2 – Manchester City

Probably the strongest squad on paper, but unconvinced that even with £47m Stones that defensive frailties have been addressed. But the world’s best coach, and a quality squad should see them challenge for the title right down to the wire. The Manchester derby

3 – Manchester United

Four huge summer signings should start to change the fortunes for Manchester United. Mourinho will no doubt bring his usual grit and organisation to the team, but this is still a team in transition and imagine it make take the team a little while to gel.

4 – Tottenham Hotspur

An outstanding season last campaign, which fell away at the final furlong. So Spurs. I fear they will struggle to repeat the feat of last year, but this is a young team which is still improving. So far only Wanyama and Janssen have been added which gives them stability. But 4th would still represent a good season, particularly if the next prediction is correct…

5 – Arsenal

This might finally be the year when Arsenal fall shout of Champions League qualification. Arsene is, and has been a great coach. But his stubbornness in the transfer market is baffling. Surely a world class centre back and centre forward away from challenging for the title, football has a horrible way of sending managers out without a bang. In the last year of his contract, this would be stain on a pretty remarkable 20 years for Msr Wenger.

6 – Leicester City

Last season was incredible, and Ranieri is right in many ways to say that to retain the title would be an even bigger surprise than winning it for the first time. Kante has been replaced with Mendy, so the formula will be much the same as last year. But can the magic be repeated? European nights at the King Power will surely be memorable.

7 – Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp has brought a new lease of life into Anfield, and a new style of play. They are a team moving in the right direction, but whether they can leapfrog the teams above them remain to be seen. There has been a huge overhaul of the squad, and surely it will take time to gel.

8 – West Ham United

Had it not been for the Leicester fairytale, Slaven Bilic would surely have been manager of the season (in a tight contest with Pochettino). 9 new signings have bolstered the squad, but not obviously the first XI. Their biggest signing was keeping hold of Payet, who will be one of the most feared players this campaign.

9 – Stoke City

Mark Hughes has taken Stoke to a new level, surpassing the feat of the solid if uninspiring Tony Pulis team. Other than Joe Allen, it’s been a fairly quiet summer, although they have publicly stated their interest in Saido Berahino. Defensively solid, and competitive in midfield, their front line is the weakest link in an otherwise good Stoke team.

10 – Everton

Everton have left their transfer business late in the summer, only opening the cheque book once John Stones had been sold. Koeman was clearly an astute manager, efficient and impressive at Southampton. Toffees fans will hope he can replicate this at Goodison. Perhaps the most important acquisition might be Steve Walsh (as Director of Football) from Leicester, but we may not see the returns on this in the first transfer window.

11 – Southampton

Southampton have continued to surpass expectations, managing to overcome the loss of key players (and successive managers). Claude Puel is an unknown quantity in England, but his credentials at Monaco, Lyon and most latterly Nice has been impressive.

12 – Crystal Palace

At the start of 2016, the Eagles were 5th in the league and Alan Pardew was the nailed on replacement to Roy Hodgson. But a terrible run of league form in 2016 has caused concern among Palace fans, and whilst Townsend and Mandanda are sound acquisitions beginning the season with a forward line of Connor Wickham and Frazier Campbell doesn’t scream goals. If Benteke (as rumoured) can be signed, 12th would be plausible. Otherwise I fear 40 points might not come until toward the end of the season.

13 – Swansea City

Swansea finished the season well, and now a busy summer of incoming and outgoing transfers. Now an established team in the Premier League, Swans will be hoping they can glide into the top half, but I fear they may fall just short.

14 – Bournemouth

The rise and rise under Eddie Howe has been incredible. Last season was particularly impressive as they survived with games to spare, and were without some of their most influential players for much of the season. Second season blues has caught many clubs over the years, but I think the Cherries could better their finish from last campaign. With Arsene Wenger set to retire at the end of the season, another solid finish could see Howe linked with a big move.

15 – West Bromwich Albion

With Tony Pulis at the helm, there shouldn’t be a problem with relegation, but they might not hit 40 points until May. So far they have only signed Matt Phillips, but TP has said he wants another 5 players at least. Will the new Chinese investment arrive in time for Pulis to get the players in he wants?

16 – Watford

The forward line of Deeney and Ighalo last year was incredible, as was the tactical approach from Flores. Much will fall on the shoulders of the forward line once again, but like Crystal Palace their league form in 2016 was not great. Another team with a new manager (Walter Mazzarri), we wait to see how they will set out their stall.

17 – Middlesbrough

Defensively Aitor Karanka organised a formidable team in The Championship last season, and that was the bedrock of their promotion success. Much will depend on goals from Negredo, and if they can continue to be tight at the back I think they might do enough to survive.

18 – Sunderland

Sam Allardyce pulled off a great late season recover for the Black Cats, when they looked down and out. David Moyes did a terrific job at Everton, but it simply hasn’t come off for him then. Summer signings don’t inspire confidence, and I fear this might be the season their luck finally runs out.

19 – Burnley

Burnley won plaudits for their determined approach 2 seasons ago. Dyche managed to get the team straight back to the top flight, but summer signings have been limited so the team will be much the same as the promotion winning team from last season. However I fear they may be a little short in quality and depth. But last season, I predicted Leicester City would finish 19th.

20 – Hull City

The only surprise would be if Hull City don’t finish bottom. The money which had been pumped in under the Alam chairmanship appears to be drying up, and what was already an uphill climb would seem insurmountable. Just 1 signing (from AFC Wimbledon) they are arguably weaker than last season. I expect to see them fall back into The Championship.

Other predictions:

Top scorer – Sergio Ageuro

Manager of the season – Antonio Conte

First manager to be sacked – David Moyes

 

PS – if you’re interested here is my prediction for 2015-16:

https://aaronporter.wordpress.com/2015/08/08/premier-league-2015-16-prediction/

Premier League 2015-16 Prediction August 8, 2015

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  1. Chelsea – although they haven’t strengthened the squad (as yet), surely the team to beat.
  2. Arsenal – matched Chelsea from January onwards last season. Cech also improves the team, but still look like a world class centre forward and centre back away from the title.
  3. Manchester City – like Chelsea they haven’t appeared to improve their squad as yet. And some key players may be past their best (Toure, Kompany). But any team with the likes of Aguero and Silva will still grind out results.
  4. Manchester United – LVG has overhauled the squad again, and more business likely. Their success will depend on how quickly some of the new signings can bed in.
  5. Liverpool – Rodgers has made a raft of signings, but tactically he is often outsmarted. The pressure could mount if they make a sluggish start.
  6. Stoke City – my prediction for the surprise package this season. Under both Pulis and now Hughes, Stoke have steadily improved. This summer some exciting additions could take them to the next level.
  7. Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs are building a team of young, homegrown talent many of whom have promise for the future. But this is a long term project and some of the signings might not come off just yet, also Kane will under pressure to replicate his goals from last year.
  8. Southampton – Koeman managed to confound critics with another stunning season last campaign, now with added Europa league commitments the top 6 might be beyond them. But 8th will still be a good return.
  9. Crystal Palace – the transformation under Alan Pardew has been sensational. Cabaye is a quality addition, and if one of Connor Wickham or Patrick Bamford hit a rich vein of form the Eagles could improve on their excellent 10th placed finish.
  10. Swansea City – Gary Monk has continued to get the best out of a good squad, playing great football. Expect another solid season.
  11. Everton – last season was a little underwhelming for the Toffees. But as yet, Martinez has not really been given the funds to strengthen the team. May be another slightly under par season ahead.
  12. Newcastle United – Steve McLaren is a good manager, and perhaps he will bring some much needed stability to a club who seem in constant self inflicted turmoil.
  13. West Bromwich Albion – Pulis will surely deliver comfortable mid table safety. Well organised and disciplined, expect them to pull off some outstanding results against some of the ‘bigger teams’ and maybe be a Cup run too.
  14. West Ham United – being unceremoniously dumped out of the Europa League by Romania’s Astra Giurgiu might be their salvation. Bilic is obviously unproven at Premier League level as a manager, a crucial season ahead for the Hammers before the (tax payer funded) move to the Olympic Stadium.
  15. Aston Villa – the loss of Delph and Benteke will be significant. Sherwood has brought in reinforcements, and despite a decent run under him last season I remain unconvinced that a manager who appears built on bravado alone will really set the world alight this season.
  16. Bournemouth – the rise and rise of The Cherries has been formidable. Eddie Howe has developed a philosophy and approach which might even prove successful in the top tier. They will surely be everyone’s second team this season.
  17. Watford – able to draw on a quite sublime scouting network, they have made some impressive acquisitions. Survival will surely depend on bedding in the new players quickly, and Deeney being able to step up a division.
  18. Sunderland – Dick Advocaat pulled off a great escape last year, but I can see some of the luck they had last season running out this campaign.
  19. Leicester City – the appointment of Claudio Ranieri is a gamble for me. Although Nigel Pearson appeared at times to be mentally unstable, the unity and performance he got from the Foxes last season was incredible. I can’t see that the Tinkerman is the right man for Leicester. I hope to be proved wrong. Somehow I can imagine Sam Alladyce in the dugout at the King Power before the end of the season.
  20. Norwich City – the progress under Alex Neil was sensational last season. Some experience in the squad, but currently Cameron Jerome will be relied upon to score the goals to keep them up. I’m not sure that will be enough.

(more…)

Is another tuition fee hike on the horizon? May 11, 2015

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Originally posted on Progress website:

http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2015/05/11/is-another-tuition-fee-hike-on-the-horizon/

Is another tuition fee hike on the horizon?

In 2010, the first big flashpoint for the coalition government was the very public and very brutal, at least for the Liberal Democrats, clash over whether to increase tuition fees. The independent Browne review suggested no fee cap whatsoever. The Liberal Democrat manifesto had promised their abolition, the National Union of Students campaign pledge signed by all Liberal Democrat candidates opted for a freeze on fees and the Tories had not really said anything at all. Eventually the coalition opted for a fee cap of £9,000 a year, the Liberal Democrats broke their promise and the rest, as they say, is history, a bit like most of the Liberal Democrats members of parliament who broke the pledge.

But as soon as the vote to increase fees squeezed through parliament, passed by 21 votes, it became clear that issues of sustainability were coming to the fore. The resource accounting and budgeting charge for the new fee regime continued to rise steadily, and well beyond projections from BIS. By the end of the parliament, the latest figures suggested that for every £1 loaned to a student, 48p would never be paid back. Figures from the public accounts committee suggest that by 2042, the tuition fee black hole could be as big as £90bn, a system which critics described as costing students and the taxpayer more money than the previous regime, while part-time enrolments fell by 40 per cent during the last five years and universities are, privately at least, very concerned about the first generation of £9k students and their willingness to stump up yet more fees for postgraduate courses.

Labour’s policy on tuition fees in the last parliament was always unclear. In their respective leadership campaigns, both Ed Miliband and Ed Balls suggested they preferred a graduate tax. During the fees debate in parliament the Labour position was simply that it opposed what the coalition was proposing and then after months and months of uncertainty and internal wrangling over the feasibility of a graduate tax, the manifesto finally opted for a reduction to £6,000. In opposition, Labour should have had an easy time criticising the coalition on tuition fees, but without a clear and compelling alternative it always felt like they did not exploit that advantage. Liam Byrne was impressive as the shadow minister for higher and further education. He engaged thoughtfully with the sector and seemed prepared to think about the wider challenges for universities beyond the headlines generated by tuition fees. When the Times Higher Education magazine polled academics just before the 2015 election, nearly 46 per cent cited they would back the Labour party. Byrne’s robust and evidence based approach will have been a large contributor to that. However, it was not clear that the thoughtfulness demonstrated by the shadow minister made its way into the Labour manifesto on higher education.

So against this backdrop, and with a strong body of opinion that higher education funding is already unsustainable and wider questions about regulation of the university system there will be some pressure to look at the question of tuition fees once again. Speaking at a post-election briefing hosted by Pearson and the Financial Times this morning, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA and formerly head of the Number 10 policy unit in the Blair years, suggested that a further increase in the fee cap would be likely this parliament. He went on to say, that it appeared the government really only listens to the Russell Group of universities and a number of their vice-chancellors have already gone on record as saying that the cap should increase further.

Whatever the new government might be thinking, Labour needs to be more thoughtful than simply arguing against whatever might be proposed. Labour’s approach needs to consider the interplay between schools, further and higher education policy, and the contribution that employers can make toward both funding and appropriately contributing to curriculum and assessment. There needs to be a credible position on funding, but that should not just focus solely on full time undergraduates. There is a crisis in part-time funding, and the postgraduate system is also under pressure and shows signs of being woefully underrepresented by those from non-traditional and working-class backgrounds, these all need to be taken into account.

The Labour party has much to be proud of for the way it oversaw a significant rise in students from the poorest background going to university and the development of a sustainable footing for British universities to compete with the best of the world during their time in government. But with new pressures ahead to find a sustainable funding model, the same level of thought needs to be given to universities once again.

#UniNumbers – how many universities have you visited? March 24, 2014

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Inspired by Paul Wakeling (University of York) and his blog on the number of universities he’d visited (http://theelbowpatch.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/confessions-of-a-campus-completist/), I thought it was about time I’d totted up the number of institutions I’ve managed to visit so far too.

I must confess that although I knew I’d been to a lot, I was surprised at how many. 125 to be precise.

My favourite campus of the 125 (so far) is Stirling, and the most impressive building is the Founder’s Building (at Egham, Royal Holloway).

I am genuinely intrigued if there is anyone who has been to a greater number, and whether I can find an excuse to visit the remaining 18.

Visited – 125
Anglia Ruskin University
Aston University
Bath Spa University
University of Birmingham
Birmingham City University
Bishop Grosseteste University
Bournemouth University
Brunel University
University of Bradford
University of Bristol
Buckinghamshire New University
University of Cambridge
Canterbury Christ Church University
Cardiff University
Cardiff Metropolitan University
Central School of Speech and Drama
City University
Courtauld Institute of Art
Coventry University
Cranfield University
De Montfort University
Durham University
University of East London
Edge Hill University
University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh Napier University
University of Exeter
University of Glasgow
Glasgow Caledonian University
University of Gloucestershire
Goldsmiths, University of London
University of Greenwich
Harper Adams University
Heriot-Watt University
University of Hull
Imperial College London
Keele University
King’s College London
Kingston University
Lancaster University
University of Leeds
Leeds Metropolitan University
Leeds Trinity University
University of Leicester
University of Lincoln
University of Liverpool
Liverpool Hope University
Liverpool John Moores University
London Business School
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Birkbeck, University of London
Institute of Education
London School of Economics
Queen Mary, University of London
Royal Academy of Music
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
University College London
London Metropolitan University
London South Bank University
Loughborough University
University of Manchester
Manchester Metropolitan University
Middlesex University
Newcastle University
Newman University
University of Northampton
Northumbria University
University of Nottingham
Nottingham Trent University
University of Oxford
Oxford Brookes University
University of Plymouth
Queen’s University Belfast
Regent’s University
Roehampton University
Royal Agricultural University
Royal Holloway, University of London,
Royal Veterinary College
University of Salford
University of Sheffield
Sheffield Hallam University
University of Southampton
Southampton Solent University
University of South Wales
Staffordshire University
St George’s, University of London
Swansea University
University of Strathclyde
Teesside University
The Open University
The Robert Gordon University
University for the Creative Arts
University of Aberdeen
University of Abertay Dundee
University of Bath
University of Bedfordshire
University of Bolton
University of Brighton
University of Central Lancashire
University of Chester
University of Chichester
University of Cumbria
University of Derby
University of Dundee
University of East Anglia
University of Essex
University of Hertfordshire
University of Huddersfield
University of Kent
University of Portsmouth
University of Reading
University of Stirling
University of Surrey
University of Sussex
University of the Arts London
University of Ulster
University of Warwick
University of the West of England, Bristol
University of West London
University of Westminster
University of Winchester
University of Wolverhampton
University of Worcester
University of York
York St John University

 

Not visited – 18
Aberystwyth University
Bangor University
Falmouth University
Glyndŵr University
Heythrop College
Institute of Cancer Research
Norwich University of the Arts
Queen Margaret University
Royal College of Art
Swansea Metropolitan University
The Arts University Bournemouth
University of Buckingham
University of St Andrews
University of St Mark & St John
University of Sunderland
University of the Highlands & Islands
University of the West of Scotland
University of Wales, Trinity Saint David
 

 

Tribute to outgoing University of Leicester Vice-Chancellor, Sir Robert Burgess at Alumni dinner (Claridge’s, Thursday 20th February 2014) February 22, 2014

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– Over the last 5 years, at Alumni dinners year in, year out we have been able to hear a series of fantastic achievements which the university has accomplished. From the developments which have helped to transform campus such as the David Wilson Library and re-development of the Percy Gee SU building, through to internationally significant find of Richard III, the exquisite development to halls of Residence in Oadby and now the developments of the £42m  Medical Building.

– The quite momentous rise & rise of the University of the Leicester since 1999 has been overseen by the distinguished leadership of Sir Robert Burgess. After nearly 15 years of quite outstanding stewardship the Vice-Chancellor retires at the end of the academic year. The VC’s contribution to the University has been little short of extraordinary and his retirement marks the end of an illustrious chapter in the university’s history.

– I know that whether you were a student under Bob’s tenure or as a graduate before he arrived, we can ALL be proud of his tremendous achievements. Under his guidance this is a university that has now soared into the UK’s top 20  universities – and he will tell you if you consult the best tables the top 10 –  is consistently scored as one of England’s leading university for student satisfaction, and is the only university to have won awards at the Times Higher Education awards in every year since 2007 – including the coveted university of the year.

– To steal one of the VC’s best lines, ‘even if we graduated before he arrived, we all benefit from the continued success of the university’.

– As a students’ union leader and then as President of the National Union of Students, I always found Bob to be an exemplar of what you’d hope from a university vice-chancellor. Indeed my first encounter with the VC came as an undergraduate student in the Department of English, when in my final year I edited The Ripple student newspaper (now an online publication) I secured an interview with him, and like any budding writer at the time was hoping to trip him up. Of course he glided through the interview seamlessly and left me with nothing other than good news stories to write about. During my time at the students’ union he was a model Vice-Chancellor to work with, placing partnership, collaboration and crucially the student interest at the heart of everything he did.

– At NUS, I worked with dozens of Bob’s colleagues at universities across the UK. Without exception their interactions with him have been exemplary, and he was widely acknowledged by his Vice-Chancellor counterparts as not having made a transformational impact on the University of Leicester, but also to the higher education sector in the UK more widely. In addition to his outstanding work at Leicester, he has chaired a hatful of national committees his legacy will not just be restricted to our university or the city of Leicester, but in many respects right across the UK.

– So whilst 2014 marks the beginning of a new and exciting era for the university, the VCs achievements of the last 15 years leave an indelible and lasting imprint of the university I know we can all be immensely proud of. For all who have had the pleasure of working with him, I know I can speak on behalf of them all by saying he has been a pleasure to work alongside, a wonderful ambassador for the university and if I may say personally a tremendous mentor.

– I know we’d all like to wish the Vice Chancellor a rewarding and fulfilling next phase in his life and that together with Lady Burgess wish them both the very best for the future.

I’d now like to invite Patrick Mulvihill as Chair of the Alumni Association to make a presentation to the Vice-Chancellor.

OpinionPanel – It’s time to challenge university league tables April 19, 2012

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http://www.opinionpanel.co.uk/community/2012/04/10/its-time-to-challenge-university-league-tables/

The world of information, advice and guidance for prospective students entering higher education is a complex one. Some students are born into environments where access to both information and, crucially, to advice and guidance is abundant. Others are fortunate to have schools or supporters to guide them through. However, many are still left to navigate an often unfamiliar environment alone and without crucial context to help inform and shape their decision making. Many of those students may well end up making decisions they could later regret, with an accompanying price tag that won’t exactly cushion the blow. The axing of AimHigher and the hands-off approach from the Department of Education towards career guidance in schools is only likely to make the problem worse.

Photo by Procsilas Moscas

Central to the information landscape are league tables. Yet, as I see it, very little is done to challenge their obviously gaping flaws. Practically all of the broadsheet newspapers turn their hand to league tables at some point in the calendar year, with universities quick to pounce on the table which places them highest as the “most authoritative”. Yet I’d argue that for many students, perhaps even the majority, all newspaper league tables are largely redundant, and frankly don’t give any indication of many of the crucial elements that students are really interested in; such as the quality of teaching, access to work experience and curriculum content.

Of course the simplicity of league tables, the fact that universities can be boiled down to a single digit, then placed in a rank order, is on the surface at least quite appealing. Prospective students can be duped into thinking that the university ranked 43rd is somehow better than the university ranked 51st, but in reality of course there is a very good chance that the ‘lower’ ranked university may well be more suitable for huge swathes of students.

So my major problem with university league tables boils down to two central arguments. The first is that the methodology which underpins most league tables is horridly out of sync with what undergraduate students in particular care about. The second is that whilst university league tables continue to be published with a simple rank order the ability for students to determine which factors are most important to them (e.g. employability scores, staff-student ratios etc.) are usually overlooked, which means that students are forced to judge universities on the factors which The Guardian or Sunday Times considers to be important, and not what the student her/himself cares about.

At the heart of the concerns about methodology, I am of the opinion that most league table compilers feel restrained by pulling together a methodology which ensures the same universities finish in roughly the same positions every year. The prospect that Cambridge or Oxford Universities wouldn’t finish in the top 2 positions is too horrific a thought for league table compilers to contemplate, so the metrics end up being heavily weighted toward ensuring this just ends up happening year after year. Convention suggests that they are the top two universities, and the Russell Group (24 of the most research intensive universities) are somehow the best universities, so rather than worry about having their own methodology questioned, it seems to me that newspapers retreat to a convenient set of metrics which mean that Oxbridge occupy the top 2 spots, and most of the Russell Groups universities are somewhere in the top 35. Employers also fuel the vicious cycle by largely focussing their recruitment efforts on the same narrow group of universities, whilst simultaneously complaining that many graduates don’t arrive with the skills they want. But whilst many of the big employers still confine themselves to a narrow group of universities it will continue to mean those are the universities which will continue to benefit from inflated employment scores. Employers might actually find that there are graduates from other universities which are just as adept, perhaps even more so given the more business-focussed curriculum that often exists in those institutions. But whilst many employers continue to screen out graduates from outside certain universities, they won’t ever know whether they are better or worse than what they are getting at present.

But in my criticism of the methodology of league tables I want to question why such a weighting is placed on the research output of universities. The role of research in universities is crucial, but frankly it doesn’t have the disproportionate bearing on the undergraduate experience that most league tables lend it in their weightings. In fact you could argue that the more research intensive a university, the less emphasis is placed on the undergraduate experience and teaching. However, could it simply be that newspapers know that by playing the research funding game, the 24 Russell Group universities who scoop around 75% of the total research income will comfortably take slots in the top 30? Our newspapers can then breathe a sigh of relief, knowing their rank order ‘looks about right’. It surely can’t be because these institutions provide the best teaching, the most work experience opportunities, the opportunities to participate in a range of assessment methods or add most educational value to their students – because in the main these are not the universities that do that.

So do most undergraduate students really agree that Oxbridge, or indeed the Russell Group more generally, are really the best universities? According to lots of measures that exist, the majority of students actually have concerns about our so-called ‘top ranking’ universities. From student satisfaction (many Russell Group universities are ranked in the bottom quartile on this measure) to value added (the extent to which a university adds to your educational performance during your years of study) these universities actually perform very poorly.

So rather than newspapers seeking to dictate what they consider to be the most important facets of a university, I’d like to see more effort placed into providing personalised advice and guidance to individual applicants to work out which university is best for them. There is nothing wrong with saying that a post-92 university is better for some students, and a research intensive environment better for others – but let’s get comfortable with that, and stop the pretence that we should be judging all universities along the same lines. For those actively wishing to benefit from a research environment it may well be Oxbridge or the Russell Group, but for a more employer-focussed curriculum or educational value added it is likely to be somewhere else, and I don’t think that summing up a university as a simple digit does anyone any favours!

University admissions need to look beyond grades March 13, 2012

Posted by AaronPorter in Higher Education.
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University admissions need to look beyond grades

http://www.opinionpanel.co.uk/community/2012/03/13/university-admissions-need-to-look-beyond-grades/

March, 13, 2012

 

We’ve all heard the headlines; over 100,000 qualified applicants have missed out on university places in the summers of 2010 and 2011, that pupils from private and selective schools still dominate the most selective universities and perhaps most shockingly that there are more Afro-Caribbean male students at London Metropolitan University compared with the entirety of all Russell Group universities put together.

Whilst few would dispute that universities perform a vital role in changing lives and stimulating social mobility, I want to argue that many of our most selective universities haven’t done enough to get students from non-traditional backgrounds through their doors. But crucially it means they are also missing out on students who have the potential to out-perform counterparts from more traditional backgrounds.

I want to stress that prior academic attainment should still be seen as central to the university application process. The ability of a student to perform in assessment is critical to giving any university an assurance that they will also be able to perform at university too. But without taking into account the context of the performance of a student, our universities are missing out on talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

At the moment, the overwhelming majority of universities only consider previous grades, predicted A levels (or equivalent) and a personal statement when deciding who to offer a place. Some universities also include an interview, and done in the right way this can be helpful, but for many it also acts as a barrier to many prospective students. So an applicant with AAB generally stands a better chance of getting offered a place at the most selective universities compared to someone holding just ABB, and at face value that just seems common sense.

However take a not so hypothetical situation. Is it really more of an achievement to attain AAB in a private school, with a staff-student ratio of 15:1 and a private tutor outside of school in the run up to A levels compared with another pupil securing ABB in a difficult comprehensive where the average in the school in CCC and the staff student ratio is 30:1? It’s surely at least arguable that the second is more of an achievement, and certainly an indication of greater potential in the second case. But more importantly put both those pupils in the same university and then think who might end up performing best after 3 years?

A study attempting to look at this very issue demonstrated that taking university applicants with the same grades but one from an independent school and the other from state schools in the bottom quartile, showed that if you then put those same pupils into the same university course the student from a state school would on average out-perform their previously independent schooled counterpart by as many as 7 degree points. Therefore you could quite easily make the case that students from particularly disadvantaged background could actually be offered a place with 1 or 2 lower A level grades (BBB instead of AAB for instance), and they would still on average at least match the performance of an independently schooled equivalent.

Now critics will scream that this is unfair social engineering and an affront to university admissions. But I would argue that this is the only way universities will actually get the very best students at the point of exit from university, and not simply at the point of admissions. Context matters, and the circumstances in which an applicant has secured their previous attainment should be taken into consideration.

I don’t doubt that there are huge complexities, but universities must start seriously considering how they can consider the context of their applicants to better judge what they are capable of achieving. Perhaps then we might start to see a more diverse range of students fortunate enough to study at the most selective universities who undoubtedly play such a crucial role in changing lives and setting graduates up for the world beyond formal education.

You’re just a punch-bag for the Coalition! January 10, 2012

Posted by AaronPorter in Uncategorized.
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Aaron Porter, former NUS President and regular OpinionPanel blogger, asks whether savage cuts to young people’s services might be the result of young people failing to engage in politics.

http://www.opinionpanel.co.uk/panellists/2012/01/10/punch-bags-for-the-coalition-are-young-people-getting-beaten-up-for-not-engaging-in-politics/

Young people seem to be bearing the brunt of government cuts. Photo by asplosh

Over the last few years, young people could be forgiven for thinking that they’ve been the butt of a series of damaging government policies. The recent recession has seen youth unemployment soar to over 1 million, there are as many as 80 applicants for every graduate position, the Educational Maintenance Allowance has been scrapped, as has the Future Jobs Fund and the AimHigher programme. In the last 7 years we have seen tuition fees treble twice, first by Labour in 2005 and then more recently by the Coalition – despite an explicit promise by the Liberal Democrats that they would vote against any increase whatsoever.

The government will undoubtedly turn to the deficit as the explanation for their recent decisions to take the axe to many of the services young people have relied on. But cynics might claim that a lack of political engagement from young people could be the reason behind these particularly acute measures. If you consider the relatively small amounts of money that the government have saved in scrapping initiatives like the EMA and AimHigher, and compare that with similar amounts of money spent on schemes benefiting pensioners, such as free bus passes and the Winter Fuel allowance (both of which are not means tested), it poses the question why young people appear to have consistently taken the hit to the benefit of others in society.

So, are young people really doing enough to engage with politics? A quick analysis of voting statistics shows that when it comes to elections they clearly are not. In the 2005 general election, only 37% of 18 – 24 year olds turned out to vote. Whilst that figure rose to around 44% in the 2010 general election, in part due to a more focussed drive to register young voters, it still looks pretty paltry when you compare that to the 76% of over-65-year-olds who voted. Faced with difficult decisions on spending, the government appear to have made some crude political calculations and decided that spending cuts for pensioners would cost them more votes than spending cuts for young people. Politically speaking, they are probably right.

So why is it that young people are voting in such small numbers, and what can be done to rectify it? Firstly, it’s worth noting that this is an historic trend. It’s not just the under 25s of recent years that are voting in lower numbers; the under 25s have tended to turnout in much smaller numbers than their elder counterparts for decades.

As with many things, education clearly has to be at the heart of the solution. A number of commissions and studies looking at the issue of young people’s engagement with politics have flagged up how citizenship education could be improved in school to stress the importance of voting, and how it can help influence issues like employment, benefits, taxation and services. Interestingly, in the run-up to the 2010 election, research by YouGov and the Social Market Foundation into how people develop voting habits has found that those who are old enough to vote while still at school are far more likely to vote again than those who have to wait until their 20s for their first chance. In the 2001 election, for example, turnout among 27-year-olds was 49%, compared with 65% among 28-year-olds who had been old enough to vote in the 1992 election.

The campaign behind lowering the voting age to 16 has also gained momentum. There are some who feel that giving 16-year-olds the chance to vote will help to drive up youth participation overall by opening up the political process to them a little earlier. Particularly to combat the fact there are large numbers of 16 and 17 year olds who feel disenfranchised by being prevented from voting, especially when you consider they are old enough to pay taxes, get married, have sex and even die for their country. But others claim that 16 is too young, that they may not have had the time to properly form an opinion about voting and should therefore continue to wait until they are 18. At present, Austria is the only country in Europe that has introduced votes at 16.

At the end of 2011, analysis from credit information firm Experian found a worrying trend with the number of young people even registered to vote. According to their figures, only 520,000 who had turned 18 were registered, which is around 55% of those eligible. Yet this compares with an estimated 1.05m 18 year olds with Facebook accounts. It led to the understandably striking headlines that twice as many 18-year-olds had Facebook accounts, compared to being registered to vote.

So should voting be compulsory? In Australia this is the system they have, where all citizens above the age of 18 have to be registered to vote and fines are administered for those who do not vote. Whilst this unsurprisingly leads to higher voter turnout, I remain unconvinced that any compulsory system would really lead to greater genuine engagement.

There is proof that technology could provide the solution for encouraging greater numbers of young people to engage with politics, though. It is not that they aren’t interested in expressing an opinion, it’s just a feeling that the debate does not take place in a medium in which they feel it should. A lot is made of the fact that millions of people, huge numbers of them under the age of 25, are prepared not just to express an opinion but also to vote on a weekly basis for programmes like the X Factor and Big Brother. But in part this is because that vote can be made with the click of a button or a text message. Considering issues beyond reality TV talent contests, it was interesting to note that the Electoral Commission website www.aboutmyvote.co.uk had 1.8m visits around the last general election, nearly half of which came from 18 – 24-year-olds.

Whilst security and the ability to ensure that those eligible individuals are only able to vote once needs to be fundamental in any electoral system, surely it should not be beyond the realms of possibility for there to be proper consideration given to online voting for national ballots.

We shouldn’t ignore the fact that young people are simply not voting in great enough numbers. The real solution lies in education, technology and a change in culture: a huge shift in attitude toward voting and politics in general is needed to really start get young people punching above their weight, rather than consistently appearing to be the punch-bag for difficult political decisions.

Thu 15 Dec: Guardian HE Network – First or Fail – Universities helping the economy and insular British graduates: first or fail? December 15, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education, Uncategorized.
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Universities helping the economy and insular British graduates: first or fail?

Two reports – the first highlights British universities’ economic worth, the second warns about the lack of internationalism

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/dec/15/universities-economy-british-graduates-fail

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Universities are driving economic growth says a report by Universities UK/ Photograph: Keith Leighton / Alamy/Alamy

Heading for a first … universities driving economic growth

With news this week that unemployment has increased yet again, and the eurozone crisis cutting the prospects for growth any time soon, a recent publication from Universities UK, Driving Economic Growth, sets out a series of compelling evidence on how UK universities play a critical role in driving the UK economy.

At a time of record teaching budget cuts, it reminds us of quite how big a gamble it was 12 months ago for the coalition to pass its higher education funding reforms, by what is still the closest vote margin it has faced to date.

The UUK report makes a forceful case for our universities, one which we can only hope the government will sit up and take notice of. Particularly striking is a map of the UK that shows the clear correlation between the number of people in a region with high level skills and the economic prosperity of that same region.

It also shows that whie the UK has indeed seen a sizeable growth in students over the last decade, we still lag behind the US, Canada and Norway in the percentage of people with a degree, coming 10th out of the OECD countries.

If the recent reforms to higher education do indeed lead to less people going to university, it won’t just be our universities that are worse off, but it will be our economy and society as a whole that lose out too.

Heading for a fail … British graduates’ international perspective

This week a report from the British Council and Think Global, Next Generation UK, painted a fairly bleak picture of the value that British graduates place on an international outlook and the benefit this could have on their work prospects. Business leaders in the UK feel that British business will fall behind unless young people are encouraged to think more globally.

Sadly, the timing of David Cameron’s European snub couldn’t have come at a worse time given the findings of this report.

There are worrying signs that the anti-EU and anti-immigration rhetoric coming from government could well have a damaging impact on education in this country. It is well documented that international students are significant net contributors to the British economy, so the short-sightedness of Theresa May and David Cameron in scaring them off is counter productive.

If we are to seriously realise the ambitions of the Next Generation UK report, it will require a more open-minded approach to wanting to study abroad from British students and further integration of international students here in the UK.