(Isaiah)Berlin had learned that if you studied them with philosophical intent, certain second-rate minds grappling with first-rate problems could teach you more than first-rate minds lost in the shrubbery. (Another reason, perhaps, that he abandoned analytic philosophy.).
Which for some reason reminds me of a quote from the Economist:
Professors fixated on crawling alone the frontiers of knowledge with a magnifying glass.
A Wonke podcast well worth listening to featuring Matt Robb of EY Parthenon on higher education. I think it will all end in tears, but it has the virtue of laying out what is happening and — to use one a phrase I detest — the direction of travel.
Wonkhe podcast here.
Some selective notes below (not necessarily his views): there remains much misery to go around.
Never underestimate the ability of the UK to reflect on, and then destroy its own brands, particularly if consultants are involved. You can make a lot of money as the ship goes down.
Restaurants have also lagged behind retailers in offering “experiences”, as the trade jargon has it, rather than the usual broccoli. This is how the more innovative retailers now try to differentiate themselves in a crowded market. It also lets them do something with their underused floor space. ….John Lewis, for instance, opened its 49th store in October with 20% of the space dedicated to eye tests, children’s car-seat fittings and free styling services for men. Selfridges, another big department store, marked the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016 by performing “Much Ado about Nothing” in store, and last year it staged concerts. Waitrose hosts yoga classes, and Marks & Spencer mental-health drop-ins called Frazzled Cafés.
People say we spend too much on health, but business does not view it this way. As things approach the margin, there is even more to sell.
Universities are certainly putting their courses online. The question is “why?” I talked last week with a University President whom I have known for many years and asked him why he was building online courses. His answer, unsurprisingly, was “fear.”
This is an old quote, but still redolent.
Nice article in the FT. It is about the increasing use of capital markets by UK universities, and the deal by Portsmouth is highlighted. It joins some dots:
Because the Portsmouth deal is private, so are a lot of the details about it – the borrowing cost, the contractual stipulations. But one aspect in the public domain is the emphasis placed on university rankings in the deal’s press release. ]Text below] From that release:
According to The Economist’s own ranking of UK universities, the University does more to boost its graduates’ earnings that any other university in the UK. The University was ranked 37th in the 2018 Guardian University Guide (having risen for the third successive year from 43rd in last year’s guide and 49th in 2016) and for the third consecutive year, it ranked in the top 100 young universities in the world, in the Times Higher Education ranking of universities which are less than 50 years old.
Even if it is not an explicit part of a lender’s investment process, university rankings are a critical part of the emerging financial infrastructure for universities. They mediate both the demand of student-consumers (in line with the guidance of their parents and schools) and the overall marketing process of debt issuance (lenders, we assume, will be reassured by high or rising rankings).
Dr. Santos speculated that Yale students are interested in the class because, in high school, they had to deprioritize their happiness to gain admission to the school, adopting harmful life habits that have led to what she called “the mental health crises we’re seeing at places like Yale.” A 2013 report by the Yale College Council found that more than half of undergraduates sought mental health care from the university during their time there.
“The relationship of the individual student to their university is an unusual one. In Western higher education, for a long period, the student was generally viewed by the university authorities and its academic staff as some kind of apprentice to the academic discipline: there to learn, certainly, but not quite in the way a high-school student would learn; rather, to play a supporting role in the knowledge production process and thereby to absorb an understanding of the discipline concerned. Several important features of traditional university life followed from this conception. One was that students were considered to be members of the university, albeit junior members, with certain rights and responsibilities. The role was neither that of an employee nor that of someone attending merely to master a new skill, as they might be at a technical college in further rather than higher education. Another important feature was that teaching methods, as a school teacher would understand them, were considered less necessary for a university academic to grasp than a deep knowledge of the discipline and a research orientation towards it—with a desire to extend knowledge in that area. Students would, it was tacitly assumed, learn by exposure to this atmosphere of scholarship and research at least as much as by formal, structured teaching. It therefore also followed that students were expected to take a great deal of personal responsibility for their learning, with teaching contact hours (lectures, seminars, tutorials) comprising a small proportion of their time—though students in science and technology subjects usually needed to spend a good deal of time in the laboratory. (Medicine was always different, as students spent a large part of their time in hospitals and usually formed a distinctive community where professional norms typically took precedence over academic ones.)”
“Universities and Colleges: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)” by David Palfreyman, Paul Temple
On the: Office for students (OfS).
We learned last week that not only was DfE’s compliance with the Commissioner’s requests woeful, but the interference by special advisors in Number 10 led to the effective no-platforming of candidates with any ties to the National Union of Students. It can now safely be said that we’re in a post-irony world. The minister also broke the rules about public appointments when choosing to appoint Ruth Carlson to the student experience board position, despite her not having been interviewed for the role and for not consulting on the appointment.
And if you thought that the way in which the whole episode was handled was as if Jo Johnson was writing his own episode of The Thick of It, we haven’t even got to the fact that Toby Young’s appointment was made without even a cursory glance at his Twitter history. By contrast, the original student experience role candidates had extensive checking by the “No 10 Googlers”, to see whether they had ever expressed any negativity about the Prevent duty, or dared to whisper the word “union”. The OfS board appointments were a shambles of the omni variety.
So, Orwell lives, and business as usual. Some are indeed more equal than others.
From the Monday Note
What we need is MBA-like programs for journalism. (They will have to be less expensive than a year at Stanford Graduate School of Business, which can shoot up to $120,000. Last year, one of my classmates, a bright Indian woman, said to me, ‘I’m depressed for the whole week when I have to send my quarterly $40,000 check’; her Big Five consulting firm was too cheap and too short-sighted to pony up the cost, she had to resign and take a loan.
“While in some nations the professor is still a figure to be respected if not revered, the question does arise in the US and UK of whether the faculty brought upon themselves their decline of status. Were they too readily involved in political protest in the 1960s, many joining their (back then not much younger) students at the barricades? Were they rumbled for operating a ‘ProfScam’ by being poor teachers, lazy researchers, waffly writers of trendy jargon-filled trivia that was passed off as academic output; squabbling among their various sub-tribes about obscure issues and neglecting their students? Or did they just suffer in the general passing of a deferential age and its being replaced by a cynicism about professionals of all kinds and a reaction to one-time deference within explicit social hierarchies? Probably for all these reasons the professors as a whole have lost status and in many cases, comparatively, pay and perks—but some can still carve out enviable lifestyles in comfortable environments, enjoying their very special benefits of academic tenure and academic freedom (as well as in some countries still enjoying high social status).”
“Universities and Colleges: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)” by David Palfreyman, Paul Temple
“The Master of Arts (MA) took another four years and earned the Master the right to teach at any other university in Christian Europe (ius ubique docendi)—today’s Master’s is usually a one-or two-year degree. Then, for some students, another six to ten years of study culminated in a Doctorate in law, medicine, or theology (the equivalent of today’s PhD): the first two, even back in the Middle Ages, being nicknamed ‘the lucrative sciences’; the last, being rather less well-rewarded in this world, was at least styled ‘the queen of sciences’.”
from “Universities and Colleges: A Very Short Introduction” (Very Short Introductions)” by David Palfreyman, Paul Temple
But teaching bright young adults also teaches one a lot about the law – and quite a lot about how to spot liars.
Lady Hale: ‘Studying law? Make sure you have the stomach for it’ | Law | The Guardian
“If parents have the discretionary income, they consider business school one of the endless costs of raising children,” she says
The article is about Germany, but I just wonder how much the rite of passage of moving out of the family home is relevant.
Second, apprentices in less prestigious positions are paid very poorly, she said. A trainee hairdresser might receive just €350-€400 (£311-£356) a month, not enough to allow them to move out of their parents’ house, Professor Solga explained, and sectors with shortages such as hotel work or food processing often involve shift and evening work. “For young people, they are not the best working conditions,” she said. THE
Young people, both rich and poor, are ill-served by the arms race in academic qualifications, in which each must study longer because that is what all the rest are doing. It is time to disarm.
I guess we need a version of CND fit for out time. Economist.
In the US, “belief in work is crumbling among people in their 20s and 30s”, says Benjamin Hunnicutt, a leading historian of work. “They are not looking to their job for satisfaction or social advancement.” (You can sense this every time a graduate with a faraway look makes you a latte.)
The OU’s vice-chancellor, Peter Horrocks, says it must adapt to a world where Facebook or LinkedIn could start doing degree courses on a global scale
I think this is just silly. There are lots of things universities do badly, and there are a lot of things they have done well. And it is true most seem to be unaware of how they need to change, and what they need to hang onto.
The problem in my neck of the woods is that many of the proposed solutions to these problems risk making things worse. A lot worse. And in any case, using Eblen Moglen’s terminology, how long do you think the thug with the hoodie will be running things.
I am not a big fan of lectures. The single best piece of advice I received at medical school was not to attend. I therefore skipped lectures for three years (although I got the handouts). It is not that all lectures are bad, they are not. It is just that often they are used for ‘content delivery’, much as we think about delivery of a takeaway. They are ill suited to this role, now that we can write and distribute text cheaply. Good lectures serve a different purpose, but you don’t need too many of them and, in my experience of medicine, there are very few people who lecture well. Lecturing well means choosing those fragments of a domain that lend themselves to this media type. Lectures are (and should be) theatre, but the theatre of the mind needs more.
By chance, I came across the following thoughts from the preface to the Ascent of Man (the TV series and the book). Bronowski understood many things, and I still marvel at how prescient his ideas were.
If television is not used to make these thoughts concrete, it is wasted. The unravelling of ideas is, in any case, an intimate and personal endeavour, and here we come to the common ground between television and the printed book. Unlike a lecture or a cinema show, television is not directed to crowds. It is addressed to two or three people in a room, as a conversation face to face – a one-sided conversation for the most part, as the book is, but homely and Socratic nevertheless. To me, absorbed in the philosophic undercurrents of knowledge, this is the most attractive gift of television, by which it may yet become as persuasive an intellectual force as the book.
The printed book has one added freedom beyond this: it is not remorselessly bound to the forward direction of time, as any spoken discourse is. The reader can do what the viewer and the listener cannot, which is to pause and reflect, turn the pages back and the argument over, compare one fact with another and, in general, appreciate the detail of evidence without being distracted by it.
Then there was PowerPoint and lecture capture.
As Bryan Caplan points out in his new book, The Case Against Education, most of the earnings differential associated with college does not reflect stuff colleges teach their students, but rather the already-existing advantages that college graduates possess (more intelligence, greater discipline, more ambition, more prior learning, etc.) that a diploma reveals to employers. The Sheepskin Effect is real. We expend enormous resources in producing pieces of paper (diplomas) conveying labor market information. The move toward getting a master’s degree—more diplomas—aggravates an already hugely inefficient system. [link]
This of course is the debate about what is valuable about the HBS is not what they teach you, but their ability to recognise those who are already likely to succeed. Many years ago, Paul Graham wrote a great essay touching on so many key issues that Higher Ed wants to wish away.
A new copy of Glenn Hubbard and Tony O’Brien’s widely used introductory economics textbook costs more than some smartphones. The phone can send you to any part of the web and holds access to the sum of human knowledge. The book is about 800 heavy pages of static text. Yet thousands of college students around the US are shelling out $250 for these books, each semester, wincing at the many hours ahead of trying to make sense of this attempt to distill the global economy into tiny widgets and graphs.
The easiest way to predict the future is to prevent it.
Original version is Alan Kay (the easiest way to predict the future is to invent it), and this permutation is his, too. As he says, very appropriate for education.
There is something about teaching that makes you a better researcher. I know this is very countercultural wisdom, but I believed it all along. Luria, Magasanik, and Levinthal all believed it. Levinthal and Luria both had a very strong influence on me in this regard.
An (old) interview with David Botstein, in PloS genetics. Link
At least we are spared the ‘research led teaching’ mission statements.
Like all good business people, he often knew better than the client what they needed. He once told The Guardian: “I look at the whole body and the face. You must not necessarily cut what the client wants. Often when clients think they’re looking at the hair, they’re actually admiring how stunning the model looks.
“In the harshest single sentence of an otherwise gentlemanly book, he calls the French educational system “a vast insider-trading crime”.
The distinctive characteristic of academics, their DNA, is doubt.”
Quoted in: An economist’s guide to the real world
Just as the fundamental business model of a university is truth, I would add. Yes, there are still some of us dinosaurs around.
Seems a nice term of phrase for what the academy might once have been (and still should be). But I guess the the definition of the Fourth Estate in a networked world is broad.
Recent years have seen a major drive by government, the NHS, and mental health charities to change attitudes towards mental health and to raise its profile in line with physical health. In a crescendo of media coverage, royals and celebrities have opened up about their own struggles.
Despite having welcomed Prince Harry’s interview about his mental health in April, Wessely believes we can have too much of a good thing: too much awareness. He particularly questions surveys in which most students report mental health problems. “We should stop the awareness now. In fact, if anything we might be getting too aware. One wonders what’s happening when you have 78% of students telling their union they have mental health problems-you have to think, ‘Well, this seems unlikely.'”
Simon Wessely quoted in the BMJ 23 September 2017 p433
For example, graduate stipends at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) are capped at $23,844 and are not adjusted for cost of living. To help out, universities often waive tuition fees, which can sometimes be more than a student’s income.
This is from John Naughton, although I haven’t the URL to hand. I read it five years ago.
Like democracy, public universities are also ‘inefficient’ — often, in my experience, woefully so. And only some of that inefficiency can be defended in terms of academic freedoms; much of it is down to the way university culture has evolved, the expectations of academic staff, poor management (rather than enlightened administration), and so on — things that could be fixed without undermining the really important values embodied by the idea of a university. The advent of serious tuition fees in English universities will have the effect of highlighting some of the more egregious deficiencies — poor (or at best uneven) teaching quality, little pastoral care, archaic pedagogical methods, etc. But any attempt to remedy these problems is likely to be seen as interference with cherished academic freedoms, and resisted accordingly. Already, however, students are beginning to ask questions: why, for example, should they pay £9,000 a year for crowded lectures, ‘tutorial groups’ of 50 or more, zero pastoral care and — in some cases — lousy social facilities? Why should complaints about the crass incompetence of a particular lecturer be ignored by the Head of his department? (These are gripes I’ve heard from students recently, though not at my university.)
Universities engage in different activities, with different norms and timeframes. You have to ’ship’ teaching, at least the ‘low-level’ teaching that makes up most of the bums on seats. Advanced teaching and research should march to a different pace, and the last thing you should be doing is ‘shipping product’. But John’s comments are spot on.
This is from the FT, pointing out that the means testing of parental contribution to students maintenance, has some perverse side effects.
The UK’s hidden one-child-per-family university policy. Supporting two children studying at university could cost much more than you think.
And even when parents do cough up the parental contribution, that doesn’t mean the full maintenance loan amount is enough. For a good chunk, it doesn’t cover basic costs. Students on courses with long hours who can’t secure a part-time job are in trouble, but most won’t hear about this until they get to university as the debate is so skewed towards focusing on the ‘debt’.
I am still shocked at how many of our medical students work part time. That may say as much as about me, as them.