Archive for January, 2010

Think tank: university challenges for Ireland – Times Online (more from Peter Sutherland)

January 31, 2010 Leave a comment

via Think tank: university challenges for Ireland – Times Online.

Why not any or all of the ideas here? There’s too much here to select particular quotes, so read the whole piece. There are many other articles referred to under the University Quality category to the right, many of which have some similar ideas.

In the end, though, funding is the key, and our universities have little enough of that, and are not free to set a market rate for the service they sell, nor are they able to go and earn other money from other sources. This situation can of course continue, but there will be a predictable erosion of university quality.

As Derek Bok, former President of Harvard, put it: ‘if you think excellence is expensive, then try ignorance’ (I might be paraphrasing slightly).

Categories: University Quality

Cash-starved universities in crisis – Analysis, Opinion –

January 31, 2010 Leave a comment

via Cash-starved universities in crisis – Analysis, Opinion –

Cash-starved universities in crisis: The Government has to put money where its mouth is on funding for third level, writes Daniel McConnell

…a world-class education system requires considerable funding, and the 8 per cent cuts insisted upon by Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe do nothing but damage Ireland’s ability to compete internationally.

The total budget for the seven universities from the Government is €1.765bn this year in current spending, with about €141m for capital development. Compare this to the $3.7bn budget for Harvard in 2009, and we see in stark terms how off the pace we are in terms of funding.

The cuts will mean that we will lose ground on our main competitors, and many within UCD and TCD fear much of the progress made in moving up the international league tables will be undone.

Indeed, the current squeeze on funding has led to many at top level of UCD and Trinity to fear that they will see an exodus of their top lecturing staff, further damaging Ireland’s standing.

Where is the money to come from? It can’t be the taxpayer. The only logical alternatives are endowments (which our universities have little enough of) or fees.  If fees, then what is the mechanism?

Categories: University Quality

Minister concerned by lack of teaching time at third level – The Irish Times – Sat, Jan 30, 2010 (and raises the use of ‘anecdata’ to a whole new level in policy-making)

January 30, 2010 2 comments

via Minister concerned by lack of teaching time at third level – The Irish Times – Sat, Jan 30, 2010.

Expressing concern about the lack of contact time for students, he said two “high-profile academics” had recently briefed him about the workload of many lecturers.

The Minister has asked the Comptroller and Auditor General to conduct a “forensic audit” of spending at third level, suggesting he may may push for a renegotiation of the teaching contract.

The Minister for Education and Science is concerned at the apparent lack of teaching done in our third-level institutions. His evidence – a conversation with two senior academics. (Name them, please, and let’s have their assertions tested by peer-review, and some, you know, actual, evidence). This bizarre and essentially evidence-free assertion raises the use of ‘anecdata’ to drive policy changes to a whole new level of, well, words fail me…

Well, there are lots of people who earn vast sums for little work. Footballers clearly only play football on Saturday afternoons; Formula one drivers when they are driving in races; TDs only work when they are speaking or voting in the Dail; TV presenters only work when they are on TV; radio presenters only work when they are broadcasting on the radio; journalists clearly only work for just the hour it takes to knock out an 800 word column; barristers and judges only work for the few hours they are in Court; actors only work for the few hours they are on stage; musicians only work when they are performing on stage; Minsters when they are on TV giving interviews or opening supermarkets or reading civil servant prepared scripts in the Dail chamber;

…. and academics only work for the hour they give a lecture.

I guess the Minister is unaware of the Full Economic Costing project of the IUA which is doing exactly what the Minister wants the C&AG to do. I guess he is unaware of the contents of his own SSTI report which wants academics to run large-scale research groups. I guess he is unaware that universities are complex entities that need to be adminstered according to the demands of multiple entities (from professional bodies to the HEA to the demands of our international peers). How will this forensic audit differ to the one conducted by the Minister for Education Dempsey a few years ago into the vast financial reserves that our universities allegedly had available to them? (Dangerously low or non-existent levels of prudential reserves, as I recall).

I guess he has no idea of how much effort goes into PhD supervision, or PhD examing, or research grant writing, or project supervision, or research paper writing, or, or… even preparing an honors level lecture course, which requires an extensive mastery of the primary literature, which requires that you are an active researcher, which feeds your teaching, which gives an uplift to your student’s subsequent lifetime earning potential. And that makes the country more attractive for locating commercial activity, because there are better educated people who have been trained to evaluate a whole body of evidence, and to not rely on anecdata to fuel their thinking.

Categories: University Quality

Be smart: Jobs first, smart economy second « Ninth Level Ireland

January 29, 2010 Leave a comment

via Be smart: Jobs first, smart economy second « Ninth Level Ireland.

“The smart economy is a nice idea, perhaps even a good idea. But like most nice ideas, when exposed to reality, the smart economy just breaks down. The smart economy as a concept takes no notice of the detail: who is looking for what type of job right now, and how long will it take those people to train for new ones? When confronted by the facts, we have to augment our industrial development strategy if we want to protect the real, on-the-ground, economy …” (more)

Original post:

Categories: innovation

Facebook | The Daily Mail list of ‘Things that give you cancer’.

January 29, 2010 Leave a comment

via Facebook | The Daily Mail list of ‘Things that give you cancer’.

An important resource for biomedical research into oncology…

Categories: Uncategorized

Mapping science – an astonishing figure of change through citation-mapping the past ten years of research

January 29, 2010 Leave a comment

From The Scientist (reg req), posted by Jef Akst (

While scientists have developed tools for understanding the complexity of biological systems, mapping how these systems change over time has proven a much more difficult task. Specifically, without identifying the statistical noise in a data set, real trends can get lost and false trends can be fabricated.

Now, Martin Rosvall of Umeå University in Sweden and Carl Bergstrom of the University of Washington present a new mathematical technique to tackle this problem. Rather than applying it to a biological system, though, they investigate a more meta-problem. Running more than 35 million citations of articles from over 7000 scientific journals through their model, they create a map of how science has changed over the last 10 years.

“This network of citations represents the flow of information between researchers in the world and the results show that significant changes have occurred in the life sciences,” Rosvall said in a press release. Specifically, “neuroscience has gone from being an interdisciplinary research area to being a scientific discipline in its own right.”

The figure is available at:

Original article:

Mapping Change in Large Networks

Martin Rosvall & Carl T. Bergstrom


Change is a fundamental ingredient of interaction patterns in biology, technology, the economy, and science itself: Interactions within and between organisms change; transportation patterns by air, land, and sea all change; the global financial flow changes; and the frontiers of scientific research change. Networks and clustering methods have become important tools to comprehend instances of these large-scale structures, but without methods to distinguish between real trends and noisy data, these approaches are not useful for studying how networks change. Only if we can assign significance to the partitioning of single networks can we distinguish meaningful structural changes from random fluctuations. Here we show that bootstrap resampling accompanied by significance clustering provides a solution to this problem. To connect changing structures with the changing function of networks, we highlight and summarize the significant structural changes with alluvial diagrams and realize de Solla Price’s vision of mapping change in science: studying the citation pattern between about 7000 scientific journals over the past decade, we find that neuroscience has transformed from an interdisciplinary specialty to a mature and stand-alone discipline.

‘Socrates in the Boardroom’ – Leadership of modern universities (selection committees pay attention, please!)

January 29, 2010 Leave a comment

via Socrates in the Boardroom.

Review of what looks like a very interesting new book on leadership in the modern university. Bottom line: scholars not managers!

Socrates in the Boardroom: Why Research Universities Should Be Led by Top Scholars — Amanda H. Goodall — Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009; 208 pp; ISBN: 978-0-691138-00-8, cloth $29.95 US; ISBN: 978-1-4008-3158-6, e-book $29.95 US.

A quote:

Top Scholars Should Head Research Universities

Amanda Goodall’s research — a mixture of detailed statistics and the fruits of her experience as an academic administrator — shows that just as star basketball players make the best coaches, top scholars make the best presidents. Times Higher Education writer Matthew Reisz gets a lesson in leadership

“If an organisation is playing at the highest level,” says Amanda Goodall, “it needs to be led by someone who understands the business at the highest level.”

Top architectural, legal and consultancy firms are invariably — and rightly — run by people with a first-class professional record, and not by outsiders claiming generic management or leadership skills. We can see a similar phenomenon in sport. Goodall, a Leverhulme fellow at Warwick Business School, offers striking evidence that it is the star basketball players who, 20 years down the line, prove to be the best coaches in America’s top league.

Goodall’s new book, Socrates in the Boardroom: Why Research Universities Should Be Led by Top Scholars, draws out this argument in relation to leading universities.

“The better the scholar,” she observes, “the better the university does.” Whether we look at the world’s top 100 universities as a whole, only the American institutions among them, those with female leaders or even just the ones based in the UK, the same general rule applies: “Highly ranked universities have leaders who are more highly cited.”


The statistical detail in Socrates in the Boardroom may be complicated, but the headline news could hardly be more clear-cut: “In universities, where the majority of employees are expert workers, having a leader who is also an expert is likely to be beneficial to the institution’s long-term performance.”

There’s lots more – the statistical analyses apparently tease out cause and effect quite well. But is the conclusion surprising?  Another short quote: “Take the case of the Rockefeller University in New York, which has been led since 2003 by Sir Paul Nurse, the British-born Nobel laureate. There were crucial moments in the institution’s history, Goodall says, when “it took very clever people, with deep expertise in the relevant scientific areas, to pick some of the scholars to come and work there. They were the ones who knew that sparks would fly if you put them all in the same place.”

One for all those selection committees to read!

Categories: University Quality

THE World University Rankings « Ninth Level Ireland

January 28, 2010 1 comment

via THE World University Rankings « Ninth Level Ireland.

Is it valid to use reputation measures in university rankings? Phil Baty

Michael Bastedo, associate professor at the Centre for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education at the University of Michigan, thinks it is “best to avoid them”.

He has sent me his research on the reputation surveys used by US News & World Report to compile its rankings of US institutions. He concludes that the scores (worth 25 per cent of the overall score) correlate closely with a university’s ranking position the previous year but bear little relation to changes to other performance measures.

That is to say, a good ranking produces a good reputation score, which perpetuates the good ranking.

Categories: University Quality

Times Higher Education – More on alternatives sources of funding to the state/taxpayer

January 28, 2010 Leave a comment

via Times Higher Education – Education news, resources and university jobs for the academic world – We did it before….

Very interesting article on how university funding cuts might proceed in the UK – there are lessons for us here too, including why a graduate tax won’t work (answer politics, or rather politicians, – not economics).

Some quotes:

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, in 2007 the UK invested 1.3 per cent of its GDP in tertiary education, predominantly through public funding. At 0.9 per cent of GDP, UK public funding is not materially different (plus or minus 0.1 percentage point) from public investment in some 14 other OECD countries. It is somewhat less than in most Scandinavian countries (where it is about 1.5 per cent of GDP), although these countries also have minimal levels of private funding. There are just three OECD countries that invest more than 2 per cent of GDP in tertiary education: Korea (2.5 per cent), Canada (2.7 per cent) and the US (2.9 per cent). In Korea and the US, private funding’s share of GDP given to higher education is double the share of public funding in the UK.

What should be the overall level of investment in higher education? Who knows? That is a judgment the Government makes on behalf of taxpayers and against competing priorities. One benchmark might be the OECD average of public funding, which is 1.5 per cent of GDP. To take us from present funding levels to that average would require an increase in public expenditure of almost £9 billion. That figure is not a one-off, but rather an annual and sustained increase.

A tax on graduates:

If there is to be change, it should not be via a graduate tax, which has the specious appearance of being a “fairer” form of graduate contributions. It is anything but. With income-contingent repayments, the beneficiary repays only his or her contribution to tuition; with a graduate tax, one goes on paying long after that sum has been refunded. Moreover, it is highly unlikely that universities would see the benefit of revenues from a graduate tax. Governments do not hypothecate taxes, and no government would ever do so for a graduate tax in the current climate. Thus the risk of the yield disappearing is higher than ever over the next decade.

Research intensivity has an enduring effect on earnings, so fees should be allowed to vary, and let students decide if they want to go to a (cheaper) less research intensive university or vice versa. The graduate tax of course could be limited to just lifetime earnings, and universities could be placed in bands or tiers that attract different levels of tax.

Maybe pension funds should be the vehicle, not the state/tas payer?

Lots more to think about in the article itself.

Categories: Budget, University Quality

Times Higher Education – Morale plunges as London giants target academics

January 28, 2010 Leave a comment

via Times Higher Education – Morale plunges as London giants target academics.

Not good news from the UK – and confirms my recent feelings while travelling in the UK talking to academic colleagues there.


Imperial cuts jobs as UCL sets up committee to prepare ground for layoffs. John Morgan writes

As part of a drive to find £3 million in savings in its faculty of life sciences, UCL has set up a “redundancy committee”, as required by its governing statutes if it is considering forcing academics out.


University College London could make “unprecedented” compulsory academic redundancies, a move that follows dozens of job cuts at Imperial College London.

Categories: Budget, University Quality