Times Higher Education,
Metrics, Sporting Metaphors and the Impoverishment of Higher Education

Liz Morrish, writing in the Times Higher Education Blog, highlights problems of sports metaphors and metrics for improving higher education:

“The bar must be raised, and raised again. No one must slip beneath the bar. There is only the bar, the metric that cannot lie.

Except it does. There is always a rush to judgement as metrics occlude any other evidence. This is the weak spot, and one that offers a route to resistance. What about content? What about the imagination, passion and risk-taking that animate research? What about bright people having fortuitous conversations?


So let’s indeed raise the bar. Let’s raise the bar for decency, humanity, respect and trust. Let’s realise that academic staff do not have either the resources or the capacity to keep expanding their workloads and output every year, and please let’s keep in mind the human consequences of systems that push people above, over and beyond.”

Well said.

The desire to better manage higher education through metrics reduces the richness of the conversations that are at the heart of discovering the new — in research and teaching. These rich and, at times, messy, fractious and difficult conversations are where the flaws in orthodoxy are found and are the necessary obstacles on the path to better understand of our world. Creating management systems that reduce time and energy for such conversations sets back our intellectual progress.

Metrics based management of higher education also has another deeply troubling effect, especially in teaching. As students become more accustomed to ‘studying for the test’ and their lecturers and tutors buy in to the idea that students only do things if being assessed, the circumstances for authoritarianism are strengthened.

Critical thinking, critically engaged reviewing and critically engaged teaching and learning is hard work, much more so that narrow methods-sound research and knowledge-aquisitation education.

So yes, let’s not treat academic endeavour as a game of high-jump, with the metaphors and logic of metrics of the sporting business. Instead, we should use our understanding of the development of knowledge and judge by those terms if our research and teaching are satisfactory.

Read the full article on Times Higher Education website.

See also:Academic Irregularities (extended version of Times Higher Education post)
See also:Academic Irregularities (extended version of Times Higher Education post)
The Telegraph,
University lecturers ‘more worried about research than teaching’, minister warns

“Mr Johnson will also call for students to know in greater detail where and how their tuition fees are being spent by universities.”

There is no doubt that the public should be able to see how public money is spent.

The question will be at what level of aggregation will data be published? University or faculty level aggregation offers chances for institutions to hide the extent of cross subsidies.

Read the full article on The Telegraph website.

Times Higher Education,
Clearing the way to higher dropout rates? Lessons from uncapped Australia

“Data released recently by Australia’s Department of Education and Training show that the annual nationwide dropout rate rose in 2013 to 14.8 per cent, the highest level since 2005. Graduate employment prospects have also declined.”

The results will not surprise first year tutors and senior tutors.

First year tutors need to be made aware of changes in the profile and the likely impact on their students’ ability to cope with the material as previously taught. First year modules might need to change significantly to reflect changes in the cohorts’ skills and experience. While the first should be a matter of course, the month between confirming places and the beginning of teaching makes the latter a significant challenge. Universities would be better with larger financial reserves and a greater willingness to deal with year-to-year variations in student numbers.

Students should think carefully before accepting places in programmes that typically accept differently qualified students— the ideal formal study material and support resources are less likely to be available, with consequences for academic performance, retention and employability.

Read the full article on Times Higher Education website.

The Guardian,
Growing student debt is entrenching unfairness for a whole generation

Will Hutton develops the link between financial capital endowments and university access.

Students from poorer families are much less likely to go to elite institutions, will then earn less and pay more in loan repayments. Given the source of much middle class wealth (unearned profits from residential house price inflation), the inequity is even more distressing: 

“Britain is in the process of creating the most stratified, least socially mobile, cruelly unfair society in its treatment of the young in the advanced world. The over-50s, rejoicing in the untaxed capital gains they enjoy from buying property a generation ago, will help their own kids, but are not asked to help anyone else’s. As in the US, family formation, the birthrate, home ownership and small business startups are all beginning to be affected and parents will work far into old age to try to help their children. All this to ensure that the allegedly malevolent state is shrunk.” 

Read the full article on The Guardian website.

The Guardian,
Tuition fees are a consumerist fallacy. Our students deserve better.

Stefan Collini on student fees:

“The fundamental conceptual mistake of this system is to treat education as a ‘product’ that an individual ‘consumer’ purchases from an individual ‘provider’. It is not hard to see how these assumptions can lead to lines of students standing at the tills arguing for their consumer rights to a higher grade of degree (‘I’ve paid good money, I’m entitled to a good degree’). And it is not hard to see how universities are thereby encouraged to market themselves and to prioritise getting good scores for student ‘satisfaction’ rather than providing a rigorous but exacting education.

“It does not have to be like this. Ours is an enormously wealthy country that can easily afford to support a high-quality system of public higher education – even if it is felt that there is not sufficient political will to return to a proper system of public funding.”

Professor Collini is right that the consumer product market approach to higher education is ill-conceived. It defines parameters for engagement between students and institutions that are unhelpful for intellectual development.

Things are, however, worse than he represents because there has been little movement in streamlining the information required for students and institutions to make good decisions. Ensuring that students had their grades, last year’s NSS results and updated KIS data before finalising their choices would be a start.

Read the full article on The Guardian website.

See also:Andrew McGettigan (on retrospective repayment changes)
See also:Andrew McGettigan (on retrospective repayment changes)