Higher education

That spare 50K or more

by reestheskin on 26/02/2018

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“If parents have the discretionary income, they consider business school one of the endless costs of raising children,” she says

FT

Flat out on the apprenticeships

by reestheskin on 20/02/2018

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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

MAD and Mutually assured instruction

by reestheskin on 12/02/2018

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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.

Not so much in the tea leaves, but in the latte

by reestheskin on 07/02/2018

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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.)

Post-work: the radical idea of a world without jobs | News | The Guardian

Like this!

by reestheskin on 22/01/2018

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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

[Link]

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.

Theatres of the mind

by reestheskin on 19/01/2018

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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.

On mastering certification and signalling

by reestheskin on 18/01/2018

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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.

Textbooks and smartphones

by reestheskin on 11/01/2018

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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.

Link

Quote of the day

by reestheskin on 10/01/2018

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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.

Teaching led research, anybody?

by reestheskin on 03/01/2018

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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.

Of patients, clients, customers and the student experience

by reestheskin on 02/01/2018

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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.

Toni Mascolo, hairdresser and entrepreneur, 1942-2017

Against the laity

by reestheskin on 20/12/2017

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“In the harshest single sentence of an otherwise gentlemanly book, he calls the French educational system “a vast insider-trading crime”.

An economist’s guide to the real world

Doubt and truth

by reestheskin on 19/12/2017

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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.

“De Correspondent is ambitious in its ideals, yet modest in its claims”.

by reestheskin on 18/12/2017

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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.

“De Correspondent” and the blueprint for a successful membership model

Too much awareness

by reestheskin on 15/12/2017

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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

Just waive the tuition fees

by reestheskin on 13/12/2017

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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.

Editorial in Nature.

Five years

by reestheskin on 07/12/2017

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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.

 

Multiple births and close birthdates, and university costs

by reestheskin on 06/12/2017

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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.

Compound interest, USS and all that

by reestheskin on 29/11/2017

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Take salary: as Mrs. Neal told us during her crash course, you’ll carry your whole life the compound price of an un-negotiated first salary.

From Frederic Filloux in the Monday Note. A great article which, whilst focussed on the topic of journalism schools, has bags of relevance to future and therefore present day medical schools. The professional schools have a lot in common.

 

Multiple births and close birthdates, and university costs

by reestheskin on 28/11/2017

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This is from the FT, pointing out that means testing of parental contribution to student 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 by how many of our medical students work part time. That says as much about me, as them.

Seeing things differently

by reestheskin on 24/11/2017

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This is from a review of Jaron Lanier’s new book, in Nature. I think these comments give a flavour of one arm of the pincer movement that will hit higher education over the next decade.

What struck me most was the originality of Lanier’s trajectory as a research pioneer. His technological trailblazing and vision have led to him sitting on the faculties and boards of big universities. But the book shows that a conventional academic career might have hindered him considerably. As he reveals with tales of his development of VR programming languages and the VPL experience, he carved out the freedom to follow his scientific curiosity, unlike many a postdoc or tenure-track faculty member. That is a useful insight at a time when technology research is thriving outside academia, as Google’s DeepMind and other technology companies lead the way in quantum computing, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles and, of course, VR.

Nature

Childhood lost?

by reestheskin on 06/11/2017

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Childhood, which is supposed to be the province of spontaneous play, has become highly administered, with parents and schools priming their human capital investments — children — for a merciless jobs market: “Between 1981 and 1997, elementary schoolers . . . recorded a whopping 146 per cent gain in time spent studying.”

FT link here

Rearranging the deckchairs

by reestheskin on 06/11/2017

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Woodrow Wilson once remarked that it is easier to change the location of a cemetery than it is to change a curriculum.

Via Jon Talbot, commenting on an article on the ?failures of online learning. I would only add the comment made by Henry Miller, in the context of medicine: curriculum reform, a disease of Deans.

Old university towns

by reestheskin on 27/10/2017

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I always find there is something appealing about old university towns. I am in Uppsala, a city I have visited for work on many occasions. Seems so small, and yet in reality it is Sweden’s fourth largest city. I was speaking at a mini-symposium on academic publishing, and how tech fits into the world of teaching clinical medicine.  But there is always some time to enjoy the sights— even as the days draw in. 

REF, TEF and now DEF

by reestheskin on 25/10/2017

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Yes, the Digestive Excellence Framework (DEF) fro PhD students. And as sensible, too.

Power

by reestheskin on 23/10/2017

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I came across these images from the late Antony Sampson’s series of books on “Who runs this place”. They were part of a fascinating presentation by Tom Loosemore on tech in government and inter alia the design of Universal Credit. A lot I didn’t know, and well worth a listen — even to somebody who used to make me rage with anger. But I write this, having just read the story over the weekend about how if you are on or below the poverty line, you have to pay 50p a minute for telephone advice**, whereas if you want to report ‘cheaters’ (other than bankers)  the phone line is free. Even inspirational thinking and coding cannot escape this sort of evil. In the context of politics, Nye Bevan knew what to call such people.

Check out the universities, academia and scientists in Sampson’s perceptual maps of power and influence over 40 years in the UK . The designs reflect the dates (top to bottom: 1962, 1980, 2004).

** telephone advice: an interesting example of how a technology allows you to charge for what once was free and a right of any citizen.


No HR solution available

by reestheskin on 19/10/2017

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This was a comment on on the political question of our time by Janesh Ganash in the FT, but to me it has a wider relevance, including how we think about higher education. Of course, people will keep perseverating, believing the contrary.

There is no human resources solution to an ideological problem.

Most lawyers don’t make anything except hours.

by reestheskin on 17/10/2017

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This was a quote from an article by an ex-lawyer who got into tech and writing about tech. Now some of by best friends are lawyers, but this chimed with something I came across by Benedict Evans on ‘why you must pay sales people commissions’. The article is here (the video no longer plays for me).

The opening quote poses a question:

I felt a little odd writing that title [ why you must pay sales people commissions]. It’s a little like asking “Why should you give engineers big monitors?” If you have to ask the question, then you probably won’t understand the answer. The short answer is: don’t, if you don’t want good engineers to work for you; and if they still do, they’ll be less productive. The same is true for sales people and commissions.

The argument is as follows:

Imagine that you are a great sales person who knows you can sell $10M worth of product in a year. Company A pays commissions and, if you do what you know you can do, you will earn $1M/year. Company B refuses to pay commissions for “cultural reasons” and offers $200K/year. Which job would you take? Now imagine that you are a horrible sales person who would be lucky to sell anything and will get fired in a performance-based commission culture, but may survive in a low-pressure, non-commission culture. Which job would you take?

But the key message for me is:

Speaking of culture, why should the sales culture be different from the engineering culture? To understand that, ask yourself the following: Do your engineers like programming? Might they even do a little programming on the side sometimes for fun? Great. I guarantee your sales people never sell enterprise software for fun. [emphasis mine].

Now why does all this matter? Well personally, it still matters a bit, but it matters less and less. I am towards the end of my career, and for the most part I have loved what I have done. Sure, the NHS is increasingly a nightmare place to work, but it has been in decline most of my life:  I would not recommend it unreservedly to anybody. But I have loved my work in a university. Research was so much fun for so long, and the ability to think about how we teach and how we should teach still gives me enormous pleasure: it is, to use the cliche, still what I think about in the shower. The very idea of work-life balance was — when I was young and middle-aged at least — anathema. I viewed my job as a creative one, and building things and making things brought great pleasure. This did not mean that you had to work all the hours God made, although I often did. But it did mean that work brought so much pleasure that the boundary between my inner life and what I got paid to do was more apparent to others than to me. And in large part that is still true.

Now in one sense, this whole question matters less and less to me personally. In the clinical area, many if not most clinicians I know now feel that they resemble those on commission more than the engineers. Only they don’t get commission. Most of my med school year who became GPs will have bailed out. And I do not envy the working lives of those who follow me in many other medical specialties in hospital. Similarly, universities were once full of academics who you almost didn’t need to pay, such was their love for the job. But modern universities have become more closed and centrally managed, and less tolerant of independence of mind.

In one sense, this might go with the turf — I was 60 last week. Some introspection, perhaps. But I think there really is more going on. I think we will see more and more people bailing out as early as possible (no personal plans, here), and we will need to think and plan for the fact that many of our students will bail out of the front line of medical practice earlier than we are used to. I think you see the early stirrings of this all over: people want to work less than full-time; people limit their NHS work vis a vis private work; some seek administrative roles in order to minimise their face-to-face practice; and even young medics soon after graduation are looking for portfolio careers. And we need to think about how to educate our graduates for this: our obligations are to our students first and foremost.

I do not think any of these responses are necessarily bad. But working primarily in higher education, has one advantage: there are lost of different institutions, and whilst in the UK there is a large degree of groupthink, there is still some diversity of approach. And if you are smart and you fall outwith the clinical guilds / extortion rackets, there is no reason to stay in the UK. For medics, recent graduates, need to think more strategically. The central dilemma is that depending on your specialty, your only choice might appear to be to work for a monopolist, one which seeks to control not so much the patients cradle-to-grave, but those staff who fall under its spell, cradle-to-grave. But there are those making other choices — just not enough, so far.

An aside. Of course, even those who have achieved the most in research do not alway want to work for nothing, post retirement. I heard the following account first hand from one of Fred Sanger’s previous post-docs. The onetime post-doc was now a senior Professor, charged with opening and celebrating a new research institution. Sanger — a double Laureate — would be a great catch as a speaker. All seemed will until the man who personally created much of modern biology realised the date chosen was a couple of days after he was due to retire from the LMB. He could not oblige: the [garden] roses need me more!

Left and right: where is the difference?

by reestheskin on 16/10/2017

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There are now more demands and requirements placed on higher education institutions than ever before. It’s an unlikely truism, but Conservative governments generally tend to seek to centralise and control universities – in Michael Barber’s language of how policy is made: It’s the difference between “Trust and Altruism” and “Choice and Competition” drifting into “Command and Control.”

Wonke newsletter 16 October 2017

Surpluses from teaching

by reestheskin on 12/10/2017

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Phil McNaull, director of finance at the University of Edinburgh and chair of the British Universities Finance Directors Group, says that “it has been clear for some time” that direct income for research “does not cover the full economic cost of conducting it, and the net deficit is subsidised by other sources”, such as surpluses from teaching.

Quoted in THE, (emphasis mine). Factually, this is true. It is a mistake to believe that the price of things, equates to how much they cost to produce. Look at the differential pricing of home and non-EU students, for instance. Or the gap between the component parts of an iPhone and the retail price. Or why most successful drugs only cost a fraction of what pharma claims is the cost of development. But the possibilities for some sort of arbitrage are there. And in an area in which agents make up their own standards (i.e. higher education), I think a lot more scrutiny is required.

Patents or graduates? I guess the latter are worth more.