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Thur 24 Nov – Guardian HE Network – First or Fail – Lord Browne and UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi: first or fail? November 28, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education.
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Lord Browne and UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi: first or fail?

Lord Browne redeems himself with a new prize for engineering, but the chancellor at University of California, Davis comes under fire


Linda Katehi

A petition is calling for the resignation of Linda Katehi, chancellor, University of California, Davis. Photograph: Paul Sakuma/AP

Heading for a first: Lord Browne

Almost exactly one year after his much contested review into higher education was published, Lord Browne of Madingley returned into the spotlight this week as the chair of trustees for the foundation overseeing the new Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering. Unlike his funding review, this announcement was greeted with fanfare and the even rarer sight of cross-party support as David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband all got behind the new initiative.

Since the industrial revolution, the UK has arguably the richest history of any country when it comes to engineering, and while the United States, China and India have probably soared past us in recent years, the establishing of a new £1m prize here in the UK to reward the very best global engineering feats has undoubtedly set engineering hearts racing in this country, and further afield too.

Remarkably this is the first prize that the queen has put her name to, and given the interest it has sparked in the global engineering community it is already being talked about as a rival to the Nobel prize. If ways can be found to start exciting the imagination of the pupils in our schools too, as well as the engineers in our universities and in industry, then its contribution will be worth several times more than the £1m prize fund that will be awarded to the winners every two years.

Heading for a fail: University of California Davis

This week UC Davis was plunged into disarray as its chancellor Linda Katehi allowed riot police to disperse a rather modest gathering of students occupying a part of the campus. In the wake of Occupy Wall Street, emulated this side of the pond with a similar gathering outside St Paul’s cathedral in London, a number of tented protests have sprung up on university campuses in the US. Although US authorities tend to be rather less tolerant of occupations, few expected the show of force that was thrust on protesters at Davis.

After getting the green light from Katehi, riot police wasted no time in trying to clear the small gathering of students. As students chose to hold their ground, what happened next was truly dreadful. Within minutes police moved from persuasion to forceful removal, but most shocking of all was the repeated use of pepper spray directly in the faces and mouths of non-resisting students. The whole farce was caught on film and has spread like wildfire on the internet.

Faced with the video evidence, Davis has been forced into acting decisively. The chief of campus police, Annette Spicuzza has been suspended while an investigation attempts to get to the bottom of exactly what happened and who it was authorised by. But as it was Katehi herself who sanctioned the police actions, and although she instructed them to do so peacefully, thousands of people have signed a petition calling for her resignation – no doubt fuelled with the anger of seeing students unceremoniously subjected to pepper spray.

Whatever your opinions on occupation as a tactic, there can surely be no justification for the use of such outrageous police actions to disperse a group of students who are peacefully trying to make a point – whether you agree with them or not.

Thur 4th Aug 2011: First or Fail: National Teaching Fellowships and US Pell grants August 4, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education.
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First or Fail: National Teaching Fellowships and US Pell grants


Up for debate this week, Aaron Porter is celebrating best practice and innovation v internal competition and mourning the potential loss of Pell grants for poorer students in the US

graduation mortarboards

There should be more recognition for inspirational teaching. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Aaron Porter gives his verdict on who has had a good week (heading for a first) and who has had a bad week (heading for a fail).

Heading for a first: Higher Education Academy National Teaching Fellows 2011

There has been a lot of debate about the status of teaching in higher education. In far too many institutions, it comes a poor second to research, and even sometimes a lowly third behind administrative capability. While I disagreed with the ideology behind his report, Lord Browne was right to point out that there are currently lots of sharp incentives for institutions to focus on research, but very few for teaching. However my solution would be different to that put forward by Browne, and endorsed by the coalition. Rather than focusing on market forces and competition, which essentially set institutions, departments and staff in opposition with one another, I would like to see good practice and innovation rewarded on its own terms.

The National Teaching Fellowships organised by the Higher Education Academy is a perfect example of how good practice and innovation in teaching should be rewarded, rather than seeking to focus on the reductive unintended consequences of the market.

This week after submissions from staff were judged, the Academy announced 55 staff from across England, Wales and Northern Ireland who have been recognised for their excellence in teaching and support for learning. At a time when there is now more focus on teaching, it is great to see some of higher education’s fantastic staff rewarded for their contribution to the sector. I have no doubts that the list of 55 names recognised by the HEA will be full of staff who inspire and challenge students, change their lives and make going to university a pleasure and not a chore.

I’m still convinced that best practice and inspirational teachers should be recognised and rewarded through schemes like the National Teaching Fellowships and Student-led Teaching Awards, rather than boiled down to narrow metrics as an incentive to chase AAB students round the system.

Here is the list of the 2011 Higher Education Academy National Teaching Fellows.

Heading for a fail: Poorest students in the US

While recent international headlines have focused on the stand-off between Democrats and Republicans in order to agree the new debt ceiling and ensure the US does not default, the implications are far-reaching – and may affect higher education.

In the original budget put forward by Republicans, and fortunately defeated, Pell grants (support for the poorest students in the US) were for the chop. Fortunately the Democrat-negotiated concession which was finally successful managed not only to save current expenditure on Pell grants, but actually to see spending in this area increase – about the only budget line to see an increase in the new spending settlement.

However, given the Republicans have set their sights on cuts in this area, and a new committee has been set up to investigate further budget cuts, support for the poorest students in the US is now under pressure. Given how expensive US universities are, it is vital that the poorest students are given the support they require, and the national government continues to put its hand in its pocket to fund this, no matter how tough things get.