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Science and Innovation Policy in the ‘Towards Recovery: Programme for a National Government 2011-2016’

The Programme is available here.

The major section dealing with science and innovation policy reads as follows (pp 9 – 10):

Innovation and Commercialisation
We will implement innovation and commercialisation policies as outlined below subject to cost benefit analysis.
• We will progressively implement the recommendations in the Trading and Investing in the Smart Economy Report
• We will support our indigenous digital game industry by reforming R&D supports available to the industry, setting aside funding from Innovation Fund Ireland for a seed capital scheme for Irish digital gaming start-ups, introduce a digital media component to Transition Year programmes and promote Ireland as digital gaming hub.
• We will develop Ireland as a ‘digital island’ and first-mover when it comes to information technology by ensuring more progress on e-Government and moving Government services online, investing in ICT in schools, and investing in information technology in the healthcare sector.
• We will make Ireland a leader in the emerging I.T. market of cloud computing by promoting greater use of cloud computing in the public sector, organising existing State supports for cloud computing into a package to promote Ireland as a progressive place for I.T. investment, establishing an expert group to address new security and
privacy issues arising from the use of cloud computing and reviewing the adequacy of current legislation and identify what steps need to be taken to ensure a supportive regulatory environment.
• We will develop a National Intellectual Property (IP) protocol to give predictability about the terms on which business can access IP created in Higher Education Institutions and the wider digital sector.

• We will promote and support investment in technology research, development and commercialisation beyond basic research supported by Science Foundation Ireland, as well as removing barriers to innovation and accelerate exploitation of new technologies.
• We will target key technology areas and sectors where innovation can be applied including but not limited to high value manufacturing, advanced materials, nanotechnology, bioscience, electronics, photonics and electrical systems and information and communication technology. We will also focus on the application of technological innovation in established sectors of the economy like energy generation and supply, transport, creative industries, high-value services and architecture and construction by identifying challenges, establishing priorities and developing strategies which specify necessary actions to transition to more innovative approach.
• We will promote Ireland’s full engagement with the ‘Innovative Union’ proposals issued by the European Commission in October 2010 as one of the seven flagship initiatives under EU2020 Strategy, with the specific aim of refocusing R&D and innovation policy on major challenges and at turning inventions into products.
• The critical gap between basic research promoted and funded by Science Foundation Ireland and third level institutions and its subsequent development into commercial opportunity for investors can only be closed by making new technologies ‘investment ready’. We will establish a network of Technology Research Centres focused on
applied technological research in specific areas, to be linked to appropriate highereducation institutions. The centres will accelerate exploitation of new technologies by providing infrastructure that bridges gap between research and technology commercialisation. We will initially establish 3 additional centres foccussing on
biotechnology, nanotechnology and high value manufacturing. Further centres from a number of other areas will be selected at a later time.
• We will support the development of an International Content Services Centre to make Ireland world leader in managing intellectual property.
• We will pioneer within the EU a model of ‘fair use’ in European Copyright Law, like in the USA, which effectively permits the use of portions of a copyrighted work so long as the normal economic exploitation of the originating work is not undermined. This will allow internet companies and other digital innovators to bring their services
to market.

Subject to a cost benefit analysis, we will amend the R&D tax credit regime to make it more attractive and accessible to smaller businesses, in the following ways:
• Companies with R&D expenditures of under €100,000 will be entitled to full tax credit on those entire expenditures as opposed to just the increment over the base year, with marginal relief for companies with expenditure just over €100,000.
• We will allow companies to offset the R&D credit against employers. PRSI as an alternative to corporation tax.
• To cut down on red tape in the applications process, companies in receipt of a Research, Technology and Innovation (RTI) grant from one of the development agencies will be automatically deemed as entitled to the R&D tax credit.

Other relevant pieces:

Investment priorities will include education, health and science and technology (p. 16)

Undertake a full review of the Hunt and OECD reports into third level funding before end of 2011. Our goal is to introduce a funding system that will provide third level institutions with reliable funding but does not impact access for students (p 17)

Maths and science teaching at second level will be reformed, including making science a compulsory Junior Cert subject by 2014. Professional development for maths and science teachers will be prioritised. (p 40)

Third Level Reform (p 43)
We will review the recommendations of Hunt report on higher education. A reform of third level will be driven by the need to improve learning outcomes of undergraduate degree students, as well as providing high quality research.
We will initiate a time-limited audit of level 8 qualifications on offer and learning outcomes for graduates of these courses.
We will introduce radical reform in third level institutions to maximise existing funding, in particular reform of academic contracts and will encourage greater specialisation by educational institutions.
We support the relocation of DIT to Grangegorman as resources permit.
We will explore the establishment of a multi campus Technical University in the South East.
We will extend the remit of Ombudsman to third level institutions.
We will merge the existing accreditation authorities; National Qualifications Authority, FETAC and HETAC to increase transparency.

From The Economist: The best universities now have worldwide reach (More Hunt Report thoughts)

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment

The Economist has a fascinating article on where the World’s leading universities are headed.

The best American universities are nothing like the stereotype of isolated ivory towers. Take the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), founded in 1861 to accelerate the industrialisation of America. Its ties with business are now intimate and global. Companies fund much of its research. Staff and students collaborate with established firms and set up a prodigious number of their own. A study in 2009 by the Kauffman Foundation, a think-tank in Missouri, estimated that MIT alumni had founded 25,800 companies that were still active, employing 3.3m people and generating annual sales of $2 trillion. “It’s a very entrepreneurial culture,” says Susan Hockfield, MIT’s president.

Will the Hunt Report deliver institutions of this type here in Ireland? (Me too).

The Hunt Report is now available – A few comments on centralisation

January 7, 2011 2 comments

The Hunt Report (National Strategy for Higher Education) is now available. There’s been lots of commentary on it: e.g. from Eoin O’Dell, Ferdinand von Prondzynski and various newspapers (see Ninth Level Ireland for an aggregation of many of the stories).

Here, I just want to draw attention to a conflict between a recommendation of the Hunt Report and Bord Snip Nua (Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes). The two reports have very different recommendations for the Higher Education Authority, with Snip recommending abolition, and Hunt recommending beefing it up. This conflict has not attracted any attention that I have noticed yet.

Hunt comments:

‘The multiple role for and expectations of the higher education system will require a strong central driving mechanism. Since the Higher Education Authority Act of 1971, funding and policy advisory responsibility have been vested in the HEA. This responsibility was widened to include the Institute of Technology sector in 2006. The Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes (2009) recommended that the HEA be abolished and its staff and functions be merged back into the Department of Education & Skills.’

Instead, Hunt recommends: ‘The Strategy Group, taking account of the more specialised role involved in future system governance, took the view that the best approach to take is to retain a Higher Education Authority.’

The McCarthy group stated:

D. 3 Merge HEA with D/E&S

There is duplication in the number of staff carrying out administrative supervision work for the third level education institutions across D/E&S and the Higher Education Authority (HEA). There are 44 staff in the D/E&S supervising the third level institutions4. The Special Group is of the view that this staffing level is too high considering that the HEA (staff of 59) already carries out similar activities. The Group considers that the HEA should be merged with the D/E&S to generate efficiencies in staffing and administrative expenditure. The Group envisages savings of €1m and associated staffing reductions of 15.

How will these differing views be brought into register? Central Planning hasn’t worked so well (either in the former USSR or currently in the HSE), for reasons that good Hayekians appreciate: the existence of a widespread  ‘pretence that central government …[can] acquire knowledge which, in fact, is unobtainable’ (via), which can then be used to generate courses of action,  and even to know and predict the future.

It would be have been good to have seen within the Hunt report sunset options for strategies that were palpably not working, as well as a few clear statements of what empirical observations would void the recommendations of the report. (See also this post on how centralisation suppresses cognitive diversity, creates perverse incentives and misallocates resources). Homogenising the third-level system cannot be a good thing; as Ferdinand von Prondzynski comments:

The flaw in this vision is that it doesn’t work. Universities are at their most innovative and creative when they are allowed to pursue their own vision. So for example, the current German government is busily changing the post-War framework of universities as coordinated government agencies and giving them higher levels of strategic autonomy exactly because the ‘agency’ model has made them under-perform in global terms. American universities became the global leaders they now are from the moment that they were allowed to escape from bureaucratic controls. There is no evidence from anywhere that a centralised coordination of institutional strategies creates wider benefits for society. (Emphasis added)

Further on the (over)production of PhDs

December 23, 2010 Leave a comment

PhD production as a process of self-discovery by Chris Blattman (post reproduced in full). See also this post. A different and less-depressing view of PhD (over)production.

There is an oversupply of PhDs. Although a doctorate is designed as training for a job in academia, the number of PhD positions is unrelated to the number of job openings.

Meanwhile, business leaders complain about shortages of high-level skills, suggesting PhDs are not teaching the right things. The fiercest critics compare research doctorates to Ponzi or pyramid schemes.

From The Economist.

Many of the arguments are valid. But make two plausible assumptions and you get a different answer.

Assumption 1: Innovation, including academic research, is the fundamental driver of long term health, wealth and happiness for the human race. (The “including academic research” bit is the biggest leap.)

Assumption 2: Unfortunately it’s very difficult to say beforehand who will and who will not produce great, or even good, research. (Even after five years departments have trouble predicting which of their crop will excel.)

In this world, each extra PhD raises the chances of one more brilliant, world-changing idea. While hardly comforting to the thousands who toil without job prospects, the collective benefits just might outweigh all the individual misery.

The decision might be individually rational as well, especially if students are no better at predicting their success than their advisors (they probably aren’t).

(A similar analogy comes from Lant Pritchett, who points out that you need a system that produces an enormous number of terrible dance recitals to get the handful of sublime performers. The same logic applies, he argues, to development projects and policies.)

One counterpoint: Here is where I would expect to see overconfidence bias lead to oversupply (and few of the collective benefits thereof). So maybe we need a system that gives the least promising an easier out that saves face.

The Browne Report on Funding 3rd Level in England – Will it influence the fees debate here?

October 12, 2010 1 comment

The Brown Report is now available. It proposes a deferred payment model to part-fund third-level in the UK.

A quote:

•• Students pay nothing up front. Graduates only make payments when they are earning above
£21,000 per year.
•• Payments are affordable – 9% of any income above £21,000.
•• If earnings drop, then payments drop. If graduates stop work for whatever reason, then payments stop
as well.
•• The payment threshold is reviewed regularly to bring it into line with growth in earnings
•• The interest rate on the loans is the low rate that Government itself pays on borrowing money. There is a rebate for low earners.
•• Any balance remaining after 30 years is written off

The report is a model of clarity. Will the Hunt Report be similar?

Update: more from the Guardian and from the Daily Telegraph. These reports suggest uncapped fees could rise hugely, but competition between institutions may moderate this tendency.

US school ranking names no winners: Nature News

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

US school ranking names no winners : Nature News.

A non-ranking ranking system for Graduate education in the USA.

A quote:

Graduate programmes are assessed and measured, but stale data could reduce impact of long-awaited report.

Which US chemistry department is the biggest? As of autumn 2005, the University of California, Berkeley, had a whopping 406 graduate students. That must be some departmental picnic. Which ecology programme takes the longest? The median time to complete a PhD degree in the ecology and evolutionary biology department at Tulane University in Louisiana is 8.5 years. Which genetics programme has the highest average number of citations per faculty publication? The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge dominates, with a knockout 10.08. Which physics programme is the best? A new report that supplies all of the other answers doesn’t make the call.

Released on 28 September, the long-awaited National Academies study on US PhD programmes, A Data-Based Assessment of Research-Doctorate Programs in the United States (see go.nature.com/tqvokc), is notable for not ranking programmes in 1-2-3 order. But it aims to offer comparisons that are detailed enough both to help students determine where to apply and to help job-seekers judge offers. The findings could also guide spending by administrators at a state or school level — whether by lavishing funds on standout programmes or by spending money to improve less-successful ones.

More at the NAS and the rest of this report via the link at top.

A True Rating for Universities (via Ninth Level Ireland)

September 21, 2010 Leave a comment

A True Rating for Universities “A new academic year is inevitably heralded by a splurge of commentary about university rankings: Shanghai Index (now ARWU), the QS Top Universities and the Times Higher Education rankings. Each, on the surface, tells the same story for Irish universities – a dip in performance – UCD out of the top 100, Trinity out of the top 50, according to QS. The ARWU, with its heavy emphasis on science and Nobel Laureates, takes an unsurprisingly dim view of … Read More

via Ninth Level Ireland

And a further quote:

“There is no country of comparable size to Ireland that registers in the top 100 at all – the University of Helsinki scores consistently well at around 50 – Finland has a population of 5.25 million. Portugal, with a population of 10.7 million, has no university in the top 200. Ireland continues to punch above its weight, despite all the negative commentary about the third-level sector: two universities in or near the top 100, the remaining ones figuring in the ranking alongside highly respected institutions globally. This is a good news story – we are on a par with universities that are funded in ways similar to our own, we struggle to compete with universities whose per capita income outstrips ours. UCD’s annual income in 2008 was €357 million – less than a third of that of Cambridge University (ranked top in QS, 6th by THES) at £1140 million. UCD has a slightly larger student population than Cambridge. Go figure.”

To the constant and oft-repeated refrain of doing more with less (Minister Coughlan), the answer is that the sector is doing that already.