srhe

The Society for Research into Higher Education


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Performance-based research assessment is narrowing and impoverishing the university in New Zealand, UK and Denmark

performance

The article below is reposted from the original piece published at the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog It is reposted under Creative Commons 3.0.

 

Susan Wright, Bruce Curtis, Lisa Lucas & Susan Robertson provide a basic outline of their working paper on how performance-based research assessment frameworks in different countries operate and govern academic life. They find that assessment methods steer academic effort away from wider purposes of the university, enhance the powers of leaders, propagate unsubstantiated myths of meritocracy, and demand conformity. But the latest quest for ‘impact’ may actually in effect unmask these operations and diversify ‘what counts’ across contexts.

Our working paper Research Assessment Systems and their Impacts on Academic Work in New Zealand, the UK and Denmark arises from the EU Marie Curie project ‘Universities in the Knowledge Economy’ (URGE) and specifically from its 5th work package, which examined how reform agendas that aimed to steer university research towards the ‘needs of a knowledge economy’ affected academic research and the activities and conduct of researchers. This working paper has focused on Performance-Based Research Assessment systems (PBRAs). PBRAs in the UK, New Zealand and Denmark now act as a quality check, a method of allocating funding competitively between and within universities, and a method for governments to steer universities to meet what politicians consider to be the needs of the economy. Drawing on the studies reported here and the discussions that followed their presentation to the URGE symposium, four main points can be highlighted. Continue reading


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News values

Ian Mc Nay

Ian McNay

My interest [obsession?] with the way the press report HE issues has had several items to feed it recently. I had a spat, unpublished, with John Morgan of Times Higher Education over an article on 27 March on student number allocations by HEFCE headlined ‘No bonanza for those who left places unfilled’. The story opened with the assertion that ‘the big post-92s suffer’, having  proved [sic] ‘less popular’, and the third paragraph lists four of them.

Then comes the table giving percentage reductions, where those with the biggest reductions are not post-92s, but Leeds, Bath and Surrey. The article comes to them in the fourth column, with a claim that their reduction was probably ‘strategic’. As a researcher, I looked for evidence of the different reasons behind reductions. There was none, since ‘figures were issued on a “no approach” embargo’ where no questions could be asked of institution staff. So, opinion, based on speculation, based on stereotypical bias, is presented as news reportage.

The reporting of research demonstrating the [not new] findings that state school entrants outperform those from private schools with the same entry qualifications, mentioned the recommendation to consider adjusting offers, and produced the usual protective outcry on the web page. Nobody reported the evidence from UCAS stats that grades are adjusted by Russell Group universities, where applicants from privileged backgrounds are more likely to get an offer than those with similar qualifications from less advantaged backgrounds.

Finally in this rant is the question: ‘what is newsworthy?’ In recent weeks, the Centre for Leadership and Enterprise at Greenwich has offered commissioned programmes for staff in the Nigerian Ministry of Education, including the permanent secretary, covering issues of policy on teacher development and deployment, vocational provision, standards, and school governance; and for senior staff from Ukraine – both sides of the country and the language divide – on leadership as a new Higher Education Law is developed.

I thought these together were newsworthy: a small centre working with staff from countries with challenging contexts and offering good news to balance the bad. I was wrong apparently. Judged by the University as not worth a press release or even a mention in the University’s daily coverage on its web pages.

There is, apparently, a ‘London effect’: had we been in Lincoln, or Teesside, or even at the university’s Medway campus, it would have been worth trying to get something in to the local press. London journalists are more blasé and world-weary, it appears, so nothing appeared. But at least you now know about it. I am due in Kyiv in October; if I get taken hostage, will that count as news?

SRHE Fellow Ian McNay is emeritus professor at the University of Greenwich.


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Ethnicity trumps school background as a predictor of admission to elite UK universities

Kurien Parel

Kurien Parel

Vikki Boliver

Vikki Boliver

By Kurien Parel and Vikki Boliver 

Last year an article in the Guardian newspaper described significant disparities in the success rates of white and non-white applicants to the University of Oxford, even among students who received top grades at A-level.  The article, by Kurien Parel and James Ball, reported that, in 2010-11, offer rates were around 1.5 times higher for white applicants than for ethnic minority applicants with the same grades, and up to twice as high in relation to Oxford’s two most oversubscribed subjects, Medicine, and Economics and Management. This pattern was found to hold even for students with 3+ A* grades at A-level.

Of course, A-level performance is not the only criterion for admission to Oxford or other Russell Group universities. Indeed, admissions decisions are often made before A-level results are known, on the basis of predicted A-level grades, prior grades achieved at AS-level and GCSE, references, personal statements, and other criteria. Moreover, certain degree subjects have certain A-level subject prerequisites.

Nevertheless, the figures reported in the Guardian appear to contradict claims made on behalf of Oxford University that ethnic differences in offer rates are due to ethnic disparities in academic attainment at schools as reflected in A-level grades coupled with the fact ethnic minorities apply disproportionately to more competitive subjects such as Medicine.

Some have speculated that ethnic minority applicants to Oxford have lower offer rates because they are more likely to have attended non-selective state schools. Such schools are thought to be less adept at helping applicants prepare for university-administered tests and admissions interviews than state grammar schools and private fee-paying schools.

Expand below to read the full article

Eloise Tan


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The National Forum for Teaching and Learning…a new voice in the Irish HE system

By Eloise Tan

In January of this year I started in my position as Educational Developer for the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning.  The Forum was established by Ireland’s Minister for Education and Skills with the mission to enhance teaching and learning in the higher education sector, inclusive of universities, institutes of technologies, and private colleges. Ireland’s National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 (often referred to as the Hunt Report) identified teaching and learning as a core mission for higher education and made concrete recommendations for enhancing teaching in the sector.

Starting a new role is always an adventure, but it’s not often that one gets the opportunity to start in a new role in a relatively new organisation. Continue reading

MarciaDevlin


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Using students’ admissions rank should be highly qualified

By Marcia Devlin

The Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank or ATAR, a numerical, relative ranking derived from senior high school performance, is a source of angst for many Australian school leavers hoping to become university students. Many assume, understandably but incorrectly, that the higher the ATAR needed to get into a course of study, the ‘better’ the quality of the course. There is no independent evidence to support this assumption.

However, there is evidence that just under half of the university places offered in Australia this year were made to students who do not have an ATAR. Almost fifty percent of new university students in Australia are mature age, international, vocationally qualified or will have come to university through a myriad of alternative entry schemes. None of these students have the magic number that automatically makes the course ‘better’ quality. It makes one begin to wonder about the point of the ATAR. Continue reading

Alison Le Cornu


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Is the future flexible?

By Alison Le Cornu

Is flexible learning going to be more of a key feature in the future than it has been in the past? It depends on how you define it, of course, and depends too on what the perceived drivers are behind it. For some, the change in the fee structure in UK HE means that increasing numbers of students will need to earn while they learn, and hence require the flexibility to combine work and study, quite possibly also with family life. For others, the wider global context coupled with technological advances mean that HE is not the only sector that will see greater flexibility: employers too will be looking for flexible employees, which in turn will impact family and leisure time. In the not-too-distant future we will be living in a ‘flexi world’ and HE will have to adjust.

Whether we embrace this vision or eschew it, flexible learning is gaining increasing prominence throughout the sector. Key to its practical outworking is the notion of offering students choice in how, what, where and at what pace they learn: the flexibility of pace, place and mode that the HEA uses to focus its work in this area. Certain features underpin its practice. Flexible learning is largely contingent on learners studying part-time. It is both dependent on and enhanced by rapid technological advances that allow innovative pedagogical approaches. It facilitates cooperation between higher education providers and employers which has led to a strong culture of work-based learning, and requires a determination on the part of institutions to adapt their structures and systems so that the student experience is effective and of high quality. Credit transfer, still in a state of flux, remains one of the key players of the future. Continue reading

Paul Temple


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Departmental dysfunctions

By Paul Temple

The quality of the management or, if you wish, leadership of university academic departments has been a cause for concern – from both ends of the hierarchy – for as long as anyone in the system can remember. In my usual guide to finding out what people were thinking the day before yesterday about university operations – Lockwood and Davies’s 1985 Universities: The Management Challenge – John Davies remarks that heads of academic departments are “middlemen [sic] in a complicated communications network…[with] enormous intellectual, emotional and physical demands in this difficult position… the role is a target for others’ frustrations” (74). I think this nicely sums up what we still find today.

It’s fairly clear that these difficulties arise in large measure because academics in these roles find themselves doing mid-career management jobs with, at best, limited prior experience. Up until that point in their careers, they have concentrated on being good historians, physicists or whatever; whereas their equivalents in most other organisations will have done several more junior management jobs and will perhaps have worked closely with people at or near the top of their organisation, in the process learning tacitly what good management looks and feels like. (Obviously, it doesn’t always work out like that, the world not being perfect.) Continue reading

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