University tuition fees – the accounting is almost over

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The Offa deadline for universities in England to declare the fee levels they propose to charge from 2012 passed yesterday. In the run-up, the Times Higher Education (THE) has been tracking declarations. The data make interesting reading. Despite David Willett’s initial assertion that most would charge more than £6000 only in “exceptional circumstances” and the average would be £7500, as most commentators (and indeed economic theory – see http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/mortarboard/2011/apr/07/tuition-fees-economic-theory) might have predicted, in reality the fees appear to have settled at the top of the range.

A quick analysis of the latest data on the THE web site (and hence using the same assumptions as they make in relation to the small number announcing variable fees), reveals the following for those whose intentions are included there:

  • 46 of the 72 institutions included in the THE table plan to charge the maximum £9000, with the average being just shy of £8700. Just 3 institutions intending to charge below £7500 average, and none plans to charge only £6000. Clearly the exception is not just the norm; it’s universal.
  • No Russell Group or 1994 Group university is planning to charge anything other than the maximum £9000. Among this group especially, but also more widely, it is evident that charging below this might be seen as reflecting lower quality (or a commitment to same).
  • Among the remainder, average fees are £8128 for Million+ universities, £8400 for GuildHE, £8510 for University Alliance and £8863 for the remaining (unaffiliated) institutions.
  • Eight universities plan to charge variable fees, all of them from the post-92 sector.

It remains to be seen how the Government will respond… And of course, how demand by students as consumers will be affected. Importantly however, if fees are allowed to be set at this level (rather than, for example, capped), one suspects that the latter may be less tolerant of poor quality teaching, the widespread use of postgraduates as instructors, and of minimal contact hours; as expectations rise, one hopes this will be reflected too in good teaching being more fully recognised and rewarded…

UK university web site rankings

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This is just a quick post prompted by the recent Times Higher Education (THE) ranking of university web sites according to sixth formers (‘Deciphering the code‘, 19 August 2010). There are of course – as most people acknowledge – serious methodological questions and caveats with most newspaper league tables, this one included. However, the impetus for this post is the misreading of these tables by various commentators (who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty).

The misreading is that the list published in the original article is ordered alphabetically, rather than by total score (which the THE helpfully doesn’t report). It’s therefore completely erroneous to state for example, that Bangor ranks 3rd. It doesn’t; it’s (joint) 15th, along with my own institution (Swansea). Still worthy, but not quite so impressive as their alphabetical position might indicate!

So before others make the same mistake, and for everyone’s convenience, here’s the top 20, with total scores and ranked on the basis of this total:

THE university web site league table (ranked)

All quiet on the blogging front (or is it?)

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It’s been a long while since my last post (8 months or so to be precise), mainly because I tend to use my public postings to talk about teaching related matters. And that’s how long it’s been since I last did any teaching proper. What’ve I been doing instead? I’ve been working on an ESRC/Acas-funded placement at Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service for those who aren’t familiar), spending about 40% of my time based in London, and looking at various issues around, inter alia, workplace mediation.

But I am a teacher; you can take me out of teaching, but you can’t take teaching out of me. And so various thoughts and ideas have been percolating away while I’ve been away from the chalkface, soon to appear in the form of blog entries.

And is it quiet on the blogging front? Heck, no! I’ve been using a second blog as a research journal - a place to note ideas, record thoughts, try out concepts, store documents etc. The placement was really a unique chance to do this as a little experiment. A blog lends itself to this beautifully – it’s chronological, one can theme entries, and of course, tag them for easy cross-referencing and subsequent retrieval…

Progressive humour… ?!

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Those who know me will know of my major penchant for prog(ressive) rock music – I’ve even got the name of an IQ album into a presentation at the Royal Economic Society Annual Conference ;-). The genre often takes itself very seriously, with a reputation for pomposity and self-indulgence. IMHO humour is essential – not least to cope with the frequent mickey-taking by (shame on them!) spouses, friends, etc. One example of this is the humour in some of the lyrics by Grace, a couple of whose excellent albums I picked up at 10 for £10 (lol – utter bargain) at the recent Twelfth Night gig at The Peel. Another example that I turned up today while searching out info on this year’s Summers End Festival, is that you can now find out here what your prog own band would be called (based on your name) courtesy of BBC Gloucestershire. For information, mine is Galactic Machine…

Why essays are like sandwiches…

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I had a really interesting chat with one of my students today over a cup of coffee. Among the various topics we discussed were the relative merits of Steve Levitt’s Freakonomics and Tim Harford’s The Undercover Economist (my student’s preference was for the former), and why essays are like sandwiches…

Let me elaborate (briefly) on the sandwiches. As all faculty know (and students too), good essays basically comprise three parts: the introduction; the main body; and the conclusion. In essence one can think of an essay as a sandwich (this idea is not I realise, new – see for example http://www.rediff.com/getahead/2007/aug/13abr1.htm). The main body of an essay (the filling) is ‘sandwiched’ between the introduction and the conclusion (the bread). Leave out the filling, and all you’re left with is two pieces of bread – pretty unsatisfying; leave out the bread, and the sandwich loses its structure and falls apart. A common mistake made by students in exams is the equivalent of thinking you can make a sandwich without the bread…

Now then, who’s got the mayo…?!