The Complete University Guide 2014

And as the football season creaks to an end with its promotions and relegations gradually becoming apparent, so the University league table season begins.

Today we have the Complete University Guide 2014, and there are few surprises in the top 10:

  1. Cambridge
  2. Oxford
  3. LSE
  4. Imperial
  5. Durham
  6. St Andrews
  7. UCL
  8. Warwick
  9. Bath
  10. Exeter

Full details of how this table works are presented here. A summary of the League Table scores is given below:

Student Satisfaction

Research Assessment

Entry Standards

Student Staff Ratio

Academic Services Spend

Facilities Spend

Good Honours

Graduate Prospects
































The Z-scores on each measure were then weighted by 1.5 for Student Satisfaction and Research Assessment and 1.0 for the rest and summed to give a total score for the University. This does mean that for a university with a lower research profile, that its overall score might be depressed all other things being equal.

For Staffordshire , we have moved from 108th to 113rd in the overall league table.


Student Satisfaction

Research Assessment

Entry Standards

Student Staff Ratio

Academic Services Spend

Facilities Spend

Good Honours

Graduate Prospects












This compares with our results in the 2013 table as follows:

Student Satisfaction

Research Assessment

Entry Standards

Student Staff Ratio

Academic Services Spend

Facilities Spend

Good Honours

Graduate Prospects












So this shows overall improvements in:

  • student satisfaction,
  • SSR,
  • number of good honours degrees awarded
  • rise in entry standards
  • degree completion rates.
  • services and facilities spend

The one area that seems to be hitting us hard is in graduate prospects. As a university with a higher level of local recruitment, this could be a reflection of our local economy, and to quote the website:

“A relatively low score on this measure does not mean that many graduates were unemployed. It may be that some had low-level jobs such as shop assistants, which do not normally recruit graduates. Some universities recruit a high proportion of local students. If they are located in an area where graduate jobs are hard to come by, this can depress the outcome”

For those who wish to delve further, individual subject league tables are available on the site. along with regional subject tables. Graphs can be plotted by subject area and overall performance as a function of time, so there’s lots to delve into.



Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey

Today the THE Student Experience Survey was published.

This does rely on a fairly small sample size of students – just over 100 for our institution – so does not provide the level of detail or accuracy that the NSS provides. From the article:

The survey was based on the views of 12,000 students across the country, taken between October 2011 and July 2012. Participants were asked to rate their institution, based on a seven-point scale, against 21 criteria, ranging from campus environment and student welfare to helpfulness of staff and class sizes.

Despite increased movement in the table, in 2012 the methodology remained the same as in previous years. Although the total number of students sampled decreased, as in previous years the number of institutions each returning more than 100 responses, a more useful figure for survey accuracy, increased slightly.

At the top of the table is University of East Anglia.

Staffordshire University has moved from 74th to 60th.

Areas in which we scored well:

  • helpful and interested staff
  • good library and library opening hours
  • cheap shop/bar/amenities

Where SU did less well:

  • good social life
  • good accommodation

We don’t score great on the final question of “I would recommend my university to a friend”.

The biggest rise however is for University of Chester, and it might be useful to look at the reasons that they cite;

Chester’s vice-chancellor, Tim Wheeler, explains this as the result of a concerted effort to address student concerns which began four years ago and is now bearing fruit.

This has included spending £600,000 refurbishing the refectory, around £3 million overhauling the university’s learning resources centre and another £1 million on sports facilities, he says.

One of the biggest improvements in its scores, however, came in the measure of “good industry connections”, an indicator that might receive greater student focus in today’s struggling jobs market.

As well as a university jobs scheme and “boot camp” for young entrepreneurs, the majority of Chester second years do a compulsory work- based learning module at one of about 1,500 employers, says Wheeler. “We place students in internships all over the world,” he adds.

So the learning for us might be to really focus on our Staffordshire Graduate implementation, and make it a bit more of a fun place for students to live and play!


David Willetts’ Speech to HEFCE 2013

The Minister for Universities and Science spoke at the HEFCE annual meeting this week. I wasn’t there, but have read his speech and picked out a few points I found interesting.

He invokes the work of Robbins and the establishment of new universities in 1960s, then states that Robbins didn’t need to worry abou money in the way that the current government needs to.

On student numbers:

I have now asked HEFCE to consider the best way to deliver further flexibility for 2014/15 – in line with our white paper commitment that ‘the share of places liberated from number controls altogether rises year on year”.

For 2014/15, we will continue to increase student choice and to enable popular institutions to expand. HEFCE will soon be consulting on a flexible and dynamic way of responding to demand from students who can’t benefit from the current freedoms for those with a high tariff of ABB or above. We want greater freedoms and flexibilities for all institutions, not just those with high-tariff students. 2014-15 will be a step towards that.

Where student demand is low and institutions significantly under-recruit then unfilled places will be moved to those with stronger recruitment patterns. This will give greater flexibility to all institutions. It will remove some of the fear of penalties for over-recruitment and provide a sustainable means of matching supply with demand. Combined with the current ABB+ measure, this will allow for dynamism across the whole sector. It will allow all students more choice about where to study, not just those who achieve a certain attainment level – truly putting students at the heart of the system.

Two things- this is as usual only about full time undergraduate. But, and it is a very big but, this must be deeply worrying for a number of universities who have seen falls in their full time undergraduate applications.

On the public value of universities, Willetts explains that the benefits to the individual are not jus economic:

We fully understand that the value of universities comes in many forms. There is of course a public value to university and that is reflected in the substantial public support we still offer.

On outreach activities:

We have just had the highest rate ever of applications for university from the most disadvantaged quintile. In 2004 it was a scandalous 11 per cent application rate. Now it is up to a barely respectable 19.5 per cent compared with 54 per cent from the most advantaged quintile. I do not believe that just because you come from a poor family you are less suited to go to university. Nor do I believe that if you have had the misfortune of poor quality schooling this should ever bar you from higher education – the evidence is that university can transcend previous disadvantages.

Universities also need to be confident that they will gain credit for their outreach activity even when the young person chooses another university. With 3,000 secondary schools in England, and over a hundred universities, the number of potential links between them is very large indeed. Again, we have asked HEFCE and OFFA to advise on this. We are asking them to consider if we need some kind of simple infrastructure. It might be a small team of dedicated people to engage with schools and colleges and ensure their pupils get access to the right outreach activities for them. It could ensure some schools don’t fall between the cracks whilst others get a surfeit of attention.

Forgive me if I am wrong, but wasn’t AimHigher set up to do just this. Until it was abolished.

On A level reform where universities are being asked to help develop curricula:

We all understand the problem. Ask a group of university physicists about 18 year-olds’ knowledge of physics and they will be shocked at how limited it is and demand more. The same goes for the historians. For each specific discipline, the pressure from academics can easily be for more specialised knowledge sooner. And as universities control their own admissions in this country – quite rightly – their power can shape the way schools structure subject choices after GCSEs. But we cannot just let each subject discipline shape its own A level without looking at the wider requirement for university students with a breadth of understanding and knowledge: scientists with a knowledge of history; historians who can do some maths; mathematicians with a foreign language. I know that Michael Gove with his broad Scottish education recognises the importance of this point.

So, to everyone who believes in the civilising role of the university in this the fiftieth year of Robbins, I say that the role of universities in A levels reform is an opportunity to advance the cause of a broad liberal education.

I appreciate the call for a broad liberal education, and we should be well aware that such would mean a difference to how we might deliver the first year of degrees. Of course, this does not address the issue of all those students who come to us with alternative qualifications, and who in future might be be more tempted into apprenticeships.

On Key Information Sets:

For many people it is one of the most transformational experiences of their lives. We all need to communicate this. Many university applicants come from families with a history of attending higher education, or are at schools with successful records in sending people to a university. But other applicants are in the dark about the differences between different institutions, different courses and different options. That is why we launched the Key Information Set last year, so that people have access to comparable data on costs, courses and employability.

And in recognition of the limitations thereof, about which I have blogged previously:

A different approach has been proposed by the estimable Graham Gibbs in his work ‘Dimensions of Quality’ and the follow-up report. He argues that student engagement in learning is a good proxy for how well students are learning.

Engagement can be measured by a range of indicators including class/cohort size (which he attaches more importance to than contact hours); who does the teaching; close contact with lecturers; effective feedback on assessments; and student effort.

These are different indicators from those we have in our Key Information Set. The KIS has been constructed to reflect what current students say they want to know. Nevertheless, I hope we can continue to reform the wider information landscape to take account of Gibbs’ important findings. Of course, these are more complex factors to communicate. But I challenge the sector to develop a coherent and common presentation of these key factors so that students can easily access them on institutional websites.

So, some interesting things here. Clearly a man who really understands the benefits of HE, in particular its transformative power to the individual, and who appears to have an understanding of the breadth of HE provision (even if there might be some gaps, but hey, it’s a complex business).

Week 4 of Surviving Disruptive Technologies



The fourth week of this course brings a quick examination of the publishing industry, two lectures on education and the details of the mid term assignment and final assessment.

Clearly for me, the section on education was the most interesting- here we have an academic whose expertise is in disruptive technologies and their impact on businesses, using what is claimed to be the big disruption for HE.

And Prof Lucas doesn’t disappoint. He provides a really coherent understanding of how a MOOC might be suitable for graduate education, and the possible limitations for undergraduate. However, unlike so many of the proselytisers he then provides a great description of how online could be used in undergraduate in response to the changing nature of students and the huge levels of tuition fee debt. The disruption then ceases to be just the technology, and becomes the impact on university estates policies, on calculation of credit hours ( this is less of an issue in the UK although still a problem in Europe, as we have accepted the idea of credit mapped to learning hours as opposed to contact), and on the calculation of faculty workloads. He doesn’t shy away from the need to rewrite online materials after 2 years of delivery, as indeed we would expect to carry out a major refresh of conventional lecture materials in that time.

So, having viewed the final assignment, I will be submitting an essay on the response of a lower ranking university to the possible disruption of MOOCs. Hence the cartoon above- if we want to do something like this, let’s make sure we know why we are doing what we’re doing, and not just chasing bandwagons.

Data Visualisation and Portfolio Analysis

I watched a great TED talk this week, all about how data visualisation an be used to show clearly what is happening in complex systems. As we all know – a picture is worth a thousand words, so I thought I’d play around with the graph plotting options in Google drive together with some of our full time undergraduate portfolio performance data.

Two things are immediately apparent – firstly the University implementation of the WordPress blogging software does not allow for interactive chats to be embedded, whereas I can do this on my other site. Secondly, I was surprised that Google provided a couple fo graphing options that were not available in Excel

And finally, here’s a couple of visualisations. The first takes two differences and unrelated performance measures, and plots a scatter graph of these, with bubbles representing each award. The size of the bubble represents the cohort size. This might be useful to identify quickly how awards in a faculty are performing, and which ones deserve intervention based on their size.

The second graph is a tree diagram, which shows the relative size of each of the awards in a faculty. Again this might be useful to provide a quick visual idea of relative sizes of awards.

Completion of the first UK MOOCs via Coursera

The first MOOCs offered by a British university through Coursera were from Edinburgh, and I completed the one on “E’-learning and digital cultures”. In this week’s Higher, an article provides analysis of the operation and the experiences of instructors and students.

I’ve written previously about my own experiences, so I won’t repeat that. I see some fellow students who became part of my personal learning network are quoted in the article.

Some key facts:

  • 308,000 students enrolled on 6 courses
  • one instructor reckoned he spent 8 hours a week from August to January on MOOC related activity prior to the course starting
  •  in the course I took, 42,000 enrolled, 4500 joined the Facebook group, there were 700 tweets per day using the hashtag #edcmooc and 2000 students joined a Google+ group
  • of the 42, 000 who enrolled, about 17,000 logged in at least once
  • about 2,000 students completed the final assessment
  • cost estimate from development to delivery – about £30,000

And I presume the income was zero, although instructors learnt an awful lot in the process.


Another Avalanche is Coming

After the apocalyptic prophecies of the recent IPPR report, where MOOCs were going to sweep away everything in their path, Steve Smith, formerly of Universities UK and now VC of Exeter writes in this week’s Higher about what the other  and possibly more pressing challenges are which threaten UK higher education.

He does provide a bit of criticism of the IPPR report – there’s much on it that could be criticised  but at least it provoked significant debate – and then describes what he feels are the main threats.

  • austerity
  • the student finance system
  • research
  • admissions
  • visas

Under austerity:

“The IFS estimates that there will be a further cut of about 2.8 per cent to unprotected departmental expenditure limits in the 2013 spending review, which is expected in June and will cover 2015-16. Many estimate that this will lead to a 6-8 per cent cut in the BIS budget.

But the IFS notes that the real problem will arise after this, when whoever is in government will have to reduce departmental spending by 12.7 per cent by 2017-18, which means that the likely cuts for BIS will be considerable. By 2017-18, those cuts could total 43 per cent.”

The student finance system:

“an avalanche really is coming in terms of the costs of student support.

I cannot see that system surviving, and expect any incoming government in 2015 to look again at the student finance system and to try to reduce its costs. Think for a moment about how it might do that, and how that might influence student demand for different types of institutions. To mention just one controversial way to reduce costs, what would be the effect of re-examining the Browne review’s notion of requiring minimum qualifications before students gain access to the loan system?”


“Another area facing avalanche-like upheaval is research selectivity. Even a cash ring-fenced science and research budget entails no adjustment for inflation for eight years.

That looks to me like a real-terms reduction of about 20 per cent in research funding by 2017-18. The only options for dealing with that are to reduce all funding by the same amount in real terms, or further increase research selectivity.

I suspect that the latter is the only way to balance this financial constraint with the need to compete internationally. One obvious indication of this thinking is the near universal move by the research councils to concentrate funding for PhD training into a small number of doctoral training centres.”


“the end-of-cycle report published by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service in January showed that a growing proportion of the higher-performing students are applying to a smaller subset of universities. There also seems to be a trend towards increased competition for the highest-performing students”

And visas:

“I remain worried about the inability of all of us to win the political battle to get student numbers removed from the net migration figures…..But if we do not win this battle, and more importantly soil the perception of UK higher education overseas (especially in India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia), then we could see significant reductions in international recruitment. I think that as a sector we win all the economic arguments, but it seems that the politics of immigration trumps that.”


And for us? All of these are worrying, and considerably more of a threat than the emergence of one form of online learning. There will be less and less money available for the sector, and although we rely in student income increasingly, further changes to the student finance system could reduce the numbers wanting to attend full time courses. Research is not a huge income earner for us, but crucial for our academic reputation, to support learning and teaching at a leading edge, and to build relationships, business opportunities and change for our commercial partners.

Further polarisation of student admissions will not benefit us and as David Willets said earlier today at the HEFCE annual meeting, “We want greater freedoms and flexibilities for all institutions, not just those with high-tariff students. 2014-15 will be a step towards that. Where student demand is low and institutions significantly under-recruit then unfilled places will be moved to those with stronger recruitment patterns.” This has to be a worry for many universities in the newer part of the sector. Finally  I know that we are well aware of the importance of portraying the UK HE sector as being one which is open for business to students from India, China etc – the tension between the Home Office and BIS does nothing to help us.


We’ve got a Facebook App

As well as the Twitter stream and pre-existing pages on Facebook, Staffordshire University have now launched their own Facebook app, which is designed to provide information about the broader benefits of university study, rather than just as an advert for this university. We also provide drop in sessions for people to come an talk to us, and online discussions.


Two items of league table news

We are moving inexorably towards the start of the league table season, and much hand wringing is to be expected if table positions do not reflect what universities believe about themselves.

Firstly the THE World University Rankings for Asia was published last week. Staffordshire University has had a long running partnership with City University Hong Kong, through their School of Continuing and Professional Education., so it is interesting to see that City U makes it into the top 20 of universities in Asia.

Secondly, an article I originally missed in the Guardian, reports on the relationship between league table position and student recruitment.

“Prospective students are increasingly influenced by university league tables when deciding where to study, according to research that found rises and falls within league standings provoking sharp changes in numbers of applications.

The research by economists at Royal Holloway, University of London, found that individual departments moving up a subject-level league table experienced a rise in applications of almost 5%, with the increase most pronounced among overseas applicants.

They also found that the influence of league table standings has increased since the introduction of tuition fees, suggesting that students are now more aware of the reputation and relative standings of university departments.”

So far, so much like announcing the Pope’s Catholicism, however the study found that the impact was not the same for all universities:

“the boost in applications only applied to university departments sitting towards the upper end of the tables, and especially those within the top 10%. The economists found students to be “more or less indifferent” to changes for departments in the bottom half of the tables.”

Which provides an interesting conundrum – the higher you get in the table, the more significant it might become.

Surviving Disruptive Technologies- week 3 Newspapers

Into the third week of this MOOC and it’s becoming significantly more interesting. The initial weeks have provided examples of companies or industries that have already been disrupted and massively changed by technological changes. Now we’re looking at those currently undergoing change.

The sessions on newspapers are particularly interesting- parallels could be drawn here between this industry and that of higher education( which we will be looking at later in the course).

Prof Lucas makes an impassioned plea for the continuing existence of newspapers, by highlighting activities they carry out that might not be done so well by other news organisations. In particular he highlights the importance of investigative journalism,citing the Watergate affair, to which for the UK we could add investigations over MPS expenses and phone hacking. The other key function is the provision of analysis of the news.

Looking at the parameters of the model for disruption:
Resistance to change
Mind set
Sunk costs
Lack of imagination

I would suggest that many remaining newspapers might not score too badly, particularly when we regard how they are using new technologies to distribute their content (websites, Kindle, iPad editions). However, there is still the difficulty of monetization and loss of advertising revenue to deal with. In addition as indicated in a New York Times article, many businesses have other structural problems such as underfunded pension schemes, unserviceable levels of debt, legacy manufacturing processes and legacy union and labour agreements.

The key thing for newspapers will be to identify what business they are in and how to use technology to support them.

They are clearly not just in the business of reporting news. They are in the business of investigation and provision of analysis and commentary. (The tabloids in the UK are probably in the business of providing something to read at lunch for those in jobs where Internet connectivity is not available).

The next week of the course will look at education, but there are parallels between the newspaper industry and HE that we can start to consider.

Like newspapers we will cease to be in the business of transmission of information ( although attendance at many of our lectures wouldn’t convince you of that).

Like newspapers we need to identify what is the added value that we can provide to readily available information.

I would suggest that from a teaching and learning perspective, the role of the university is about: curation of resources; identification of suitable packages of information; provision of support for learning; accreditation of learning. In addition there is our role in research, generation of new knowledge and support for business and per organisations.

It’ll be interesting to see how the next week’s sessions on education pan out.

Finally,as part of an undergraduate education, there is still a part of me at thinks that all students should read a daily broadsheet newspaper!