Archive for the ‘life’ Category

Break Time

Well, it is nearly time for the Easter break and things have heated up at work.

There is a rush to get things done and of course there are deadlines for assignments. This week is also the time for all those meetings that people have been putting off. It is also the time for students to come to you looking drawn and full of angst and timidly admitting to you that they have not actually thought about the assignments yet and have no idea what they need to do. This is probably due to the fact that they were not in class when the assignments were explained.

I have stocked up on energy bars and coffee ready for the onslaught.


Graduating with Honours

January 14, 2018 Leave a comment

It seems we are mean graders, that or our students are not up to standard. A recent article caught my eye regarding the amount of students who came away with a first class degree last year.

The article states that more than one in four gained a first. That sounds incredibly like the old argument we had over grade-inflation for A-Levels. In the past barely 20 per cent gained a first, but now that students can complain loudly, there is a suspiciously large number of them getting higher grades.

A less thoughtful person might assume this is to help smooth the burden of paying more for their degree and to attract those fat cheques each student brings to the university. Others may assume that students are just getting more intelligent or at the very least putting in more effort now as they are seeing how they are paying for their degree.

I leave it up to you to decide which is closer to the mark.

Gis a Job

August 31, 2017 Leave a comment

A new survey suggests that “half of Scots who graduated from university and some college courses in the past five years are working in ‘non-graduate’ jobs.”

This seems to be one of the problems of the last 15 years of ever increasing HE student numbers.

It reminds me of a poor war strategy with no end game.

Numbers of University students gaining a degree rose from a peak of 90,000 in 1994 to over 400,000 in 2012. This is a positive step in giving our young adults te step up they need to become successful individuals contributing their knowledge to society.

The unfortunate problem is that this only tends to work in a society that has some developing to do. Countries such as China and Africa have benefitted from increasingly focusing on education for their young. Their economies are expanding exponentially because they are starting from a low base. Agreed the two examples have different reasons, but they illustrate the point.

For developing economies, having increasing numbers of graduates creates opportunities for growth because it attracts foreign investment from high wage economies to these low wage economies without seriously denting the organisations ability to produce technical and value-added goods at cheaper to market prices.

South Korea is an example of how this benefits an economy, as, ironically, was Japan after the WW2. Originally both of these were low skill, low technology economies which benefitted from inward investment by outside actors.

Education for both has been crucial to bring them close to the top of the economic tree. However, both now are suffering from an educational overload.

The point is, that the more graduates you have, the more graduate level jobs you require to keep these highly educated individuals occupied and productively happy. At first graduates will place the blame for their lack of career on themselves; but over time the examples of failed graduates to reach the heights they were told were theirs, will create an ‘expectation’ in the minds of those just starting out that they too will not be able to gain the sort of future they were sold by HE.

Eventually this will lead to a youth backlash. Already my students are starting to tell me that they only come because they have no other way to gain a supervisory level job. For them a degree is akin to a day-release course, familiar to many in the 1970s and 1980s. This means that knowledge is a servant of wages, not the other way round.

Having interviewed enough students who drop out of our courses, it is plain to see that many only arrive at our doors as they see no way of getting welfare benefits otherwise. At least by taking on a year of a degree they can take out student loans to pay for leaving home and setting out as an adult. That year gives them the opportunity to find some sort of employment that will pay their bills moving forward. They can at least put on their job applications that they are doing a degree, even if they fail to turn up at all.

At root, it is not the role of the student to create suitable employment, it is the broader society and economy that needs to create graduate level jobs, otherwise there is no need for so many of our young to go to university when they plainly do not see the merit in it, but are compelled to do so. It has become ‘school’ all over again.

Unfortunately for late-capitalist societies, the only way their economies can survive, is if there are plenty of people at the bottom who are prepared to work for the minimum wage. Does this also remind you of a pyramid scheme?

Categories: education, jobs, life, students, work

Charting the HE

August 17, 2017 Leave a comment

A good article appeared a little while ago online. It set out the rise in fees in relation to the expansion of HE in the UK. In my humble opinion it is worth a look, just so you can see some of the figures around HE today.

It is not perfect, for instance it show how UK fees are the second highest around the world, but does not then continue that with country comparisons throughout. So while we are second highest, is that due to the numbers of young people attending an HE institution or for some other sort of reason?

An interesting graphic shows the number of young people applying for place. Here it highlights that the numbers are still rising, despite fees now being nearly 20 years old.

It is hard to generalize from these graphics, but they do provide food for thought at this time or exam results.

Categories: education, jobs, life, students, work

Sign on the Dotted Line

July 26, 2017 1 comment

Something I mentioned when fees were muted last century is about to come to pass.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson has announced that students are to get ‘value-for-money contracts with universities’. With this the consumerization of HE has reached a zenith. Students will be allowed to challenge universities over too few teaching hours or inadequate facilities.

This may sound like a righteous solution to students having to pay fees. After all, if you are paying for something, you need a ‘right of refund’ in the event of the goods not being of acceptable standard.

The one fly in the ointment here is that how do students know what is an ‘acceptable standard’? Of course you say, they will use the university ranking guides published in newspapers. However, these are often very sketchy on the fine details of particular courses, which naturally vary according to the type of degree being undertaken.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the coming year. My university has re-jigged classes to give them extra hours, which of course requires that they are rewritten to allow for that. However, this has not been supported with joined up thinking for two reasons.

1) Students are not aware that this will mean they have less time to undertake paid work to pay for their fees/living expenses. Increased hours will inevitably spill over into days when they previously expected not to have classes and were available for work.

2) Classes have not had the extra hours spread about the timetable to prevent boredom in class. Instead they have just been given an increased solid block of time. This means instead of two hours straight teaching time, they now have three or more! Previous problems with non-attendance will pale into insignificance in future as the amount of class-time missed increases significantly.

This will of course be realised too late to deal with the problem for the coming academic year and we will have to muddle through.

At the end of the day, value-for-money can only exist if staff are also part of the equation. Things like having your workload split evenly between teaching and non-teaching might help. I for one am tasked with spending most of my time on things other than teaching. I sometimes feel it is a travesty to call myself a lecturer when I am a glorified administrator for most of week. You would think that with the increased contact hours for what teaching I have, this would even things out. However, you would be wrong.

Other benefits would be to have an office, this fad of ‘hot-desking’ or shared offices might be on trend, but it does not suit the need to spend time on teaching matters.

Time will tell if students become litigious, but it will also prove the point.

Top of the Class

Some universities are apparently giving more and more firsts to their students “with some universities giving first-class degrees to more than a third of their students.

This of course assumes that students are worthy of a first.

In my experience there has not been a sudden upward trend in the abilities of students. In fact I believe it plateaued a few years back and has since gone down.

Of course, I can only speak for my own department/discipline. However, we all have to spread ourselves about as external examiners these days. So, I have been able to view the board outcomes for a wide variety of universities. In general it is the Russell Group that seems keen to promote students to a first class degree when there is little evidence of first class work to support or warrant it.

In my area, students are not becoming more intelligent, quite the opposite. Over the years students have become resistant to learning, expecting the rote learning from school to spill over into their university careers. The amount of students who come to me asking to be able to resit a lower mark than they wanted has trebled.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, there is no mechanism to allow these students, who have not attended, nor done the reading, to ‘have another go’. In our increasingly commercialized HE sector, students are seeing a degree the same way they see their shop purchases. If they do not like what they have ‘bought’ they expect to be able to return it for a ‘replacement’.

You cannot blame them for this; it is we after all, who have encouraged them to think of a degree as a ‘purchase’.

Expect The Worst/Best/Whatever.

An interesting article today on university expectations for first-timers.

It is quite correct to say that new students believe they will be getting more teaching hours than at school. I cannot count the number of times I have been told – by students – that they do not get enough hours in class. Every time I have to explain that at university students are expected to take charge of their learning as part of of, um, the learning process.

This suggestion usually causes consternation to appear on their faces as they try to reconcile the fact they are paying for having just a few hours of contact time. Usually the complete the interaction cycle by saying, ‘well, we need more hours’.

Well, this coming year they will be getting more hours, at least at my university. The powers that be have wanted to head off complaints, possibly so they can increase fees later in the year. It will be interesting to come back to this topic this time next year to see if indeed expectations have improved.

Nevertheless, more contact hours for students will have an impact, and not in the way they envisaged. As students will be gaining extra hours on their timetables, they will need to be accommodated for longer on campus. Given that most students now have jobs with long hours, they will have to give up some of those paying hours to be sat in a classroom. This will cause problems, particularly for those with children as the teaching day stretches out to 6pm.

There will also be problems in terms of keeping them in a subject group for longer. You might think that a two hour session now stretched to three hours would occur at different times. Not so; it will be a block of time. That means being faced by one person for three hours, even if there is now time to have say, two lectures split by a practical session. The average attention span of a student is 15 minutes these days, so that is going to be a problem for all concerned.

Another issue is commensurate with the paid work of students. If we are to allow them to still take up gainful employment, we will need to timetable their ‘longer’ classes for a few days to allow them to do full days work – the preference for our students. This naturally means that the days they are in campus they will be sat in classrooms for most of the day.

I for one have one day where I get a single hour free during a 9am to 5pm period. That means any comfort breaks must be taken on the run. You might consider that I will at least be able to eat lunch. However, you need to remember that students who have to spend all day on campus are also those who need tutorial help while they are no campus.

And so, I do not envisage being able to eat lunch that often. It is another action I shall have to carry out on the run; perhaps eating and toileting together in order to save time? As long as I remember which hand I am using, I should be OK.

Someone/institution with foresight would have made school visits in order to explain how university works; but who am I to suggest this? All I do is stand in front of classes for seven or eight hours a day.

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