A Plan for Economic Renewal in Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire

With Ruth Smeeth MP -(Stoke-on-Trent North and Kidsgrove)

You are cordially invited to join us for a discussion on ‘Economic Renewal in Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire’, organised in partnership with Staffordshire University.

This is an opportunity for academics, business leaders, students and local residents to begin a serious discussion about how to develop a long-term vision for the area.

The event will feature a keynote speech from Ruth Smeeth MP on the economic challenges and opportunities for Stoke-on-Trent followed by workshops and discussions on some of the issues facing North Staffordshire.

Date: Wednesday 15th Feb

Location: LT111/113 Ashley Building, Leek Road, Staffordshire University, Stoke on Trent ST4 2DF

Time: 1.00 – 3.30pm

Facilitators from Staffordshire University (Business and Education)

Twitter – @RuthSmeeth @BusinessStaffs

To register please email ruth.smeeth.mp@parliament.uk or contact us on 020 7219 4844

For further details please contact Glen Watson on glen.watson@parliament.uk or by phone on 01782 454 370

The History of Philosophy — and the REF

An amusing, but also revealing, little piece in the Guardian. Which of the great philosophers would have been REF-able? Turns out not that many. The publishing industry didn’t have as firm a grip on our sense of research outputs as they do now. Even more recent figures, though, might have struggled: Heidegger (most of whose work were lecture notes not published until much later), or Wittgenstein (published at the rate of a book every two or three decades).

And the winner is…

One of the BIG league tables is just out, the QS World University Rankings. The BIG news this year is a change in methodology that means some BIG names drop or climb unexpectedly. So, Imperial drops from 2nd to 8th, Princeton drops out of the top ten altogether, to be replaced by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. The change in methodology concerned the way that citations (research work that is then used by others) are counted, so as not to over-emphasise the ‘hard’ sciences and medicine especially. This gives those institutions whose research and reputation is found more heavily in social sciences, humanities or arts more of a chance. This new method works well for some, with the LSE, for example, popping up from 75th to 35th place!

Just to be clear, these changes of place have little or nothing to do with that the institutions concerned have done over the past twelve months — the data collected by QS is on a five year cycle. But if changes that dramatic can occur because of a change in methodology, it does make you wonder just how valid such tables are. Another look at the QS methodology shows some interesting and far-reaching decisions taken, for no particular reason. Some of the most heavily weighted measures are clearly related to the size of an institution. This leaves the mostly smaller UK universities playing catch-up — how can even a large organisation like Bristol compete with Michigan or UCLA both of whom are at or above 40 thousand students. Other measures do not, but the weightings of the various factors (why is this 40% of the score, and that only 10%), just seem arbitrary. See my brief discussions of a similar issue here and also here.

And another thing: with enormous real-terms slashes in funding for arts and humanities over the past five years here in the UK, this table leaves the Government with egg on their faces. Presumably there was a calculation made about how higher education world-wide is judged, but then someone went and changed the rules!



New EU project – EUFORIA-Entrepreneurial Universities for Industry Alliances

This project aims to establish and develop links between universities an enterprises in order to enhance teaching and learning, upgrade the curricula in line with the needs of enterprises and improve the financial sustainability of HEIs in Kosovo

Specific objectives.

  1. Establishing bilateral links between partner country HEIs and enterprises on a formal basis to arrange representation of enterprises on university committees and placements for staff and students
  2. Improving teaching and learning methods by developing and using case studies based on partner firms’ specific experiences
  3. Conducting surveys of companies and using feedback on student placements to identify skills and knowledge shortages of university students and graduates and upgrading the curricula by embedding these skills, thus enhancing the employability of graduates
  4. Enhancing the financial sustainability of partner country HEIs by enabling them to develop additional sources of income (e.g., by organising training courses and offering services to companies based on their identified needs)
  5. Setting up advice centres for SMEs run by staff and postgraduate students


This project aims to establish and develop links between universities and enterprises in order to enhance teaching and learning, upgrade the curricula in line with the needs of enterprises and improve the financial sustainability of HEIs in Kosovo.

Enterprise managers will be appointed to a number of university committees as the voice of the private sector to help the universities design programmes of study in line with the needs of enterprises and the labour market. Universities will send a number of their lecturers to companies for a short placement period to observe the working of the company and, in consultation with company managers, identify challenges facing them. The lecturers will use their knowledge of the companies and insights they have gained to formulate case studies for their subjects. Experienced EU partners will assist the Kosovar lecturers to write case studies which case be used in the classroom. The use of case studies, particularly those based on Kosovar companies, is rather unusual in Kosovo and will require a change in teaching, learning and assessment strategy. It will have a profound impact on students’ learning experience and their preparation for the labour market.

The project will also identify the knowledge and skill gap in university graduates through a Survey of 50 largest companies in Kosovo. The results of the Survey will be used by universities to revise their curricula in order to embed in their programmes the knowledge and skills which are required by enterprises. EU partners will support the Kosovar colleagues in enhancing their curricula by employability skills on the basis of their own experiences.

The universities will, through staff visits and the Survey, identify the training and other needs of enterprises and will offer to provide these services to companies. In particular they will offer training courses to company employees organised jointly with EU partners, who will also provide updating visits for some of the teaching staff of Kosovar institutions. The provision of these services will improve the financial sustainability of Kosovar universities.

Finally, universities will establish SME advice centres who would work with SMEs to identify their specific problems and provide appropriate advice for them.

Partners in EU: Staffordshire (Coordinator), Nottingham Trent, Ancona and Zagreb universities and Munich University of Applied Sciences

Partners in Kosovo: Universities of Prishtina, Peja, Gjakova, Gjilan and Riinvest College and four SMEs

Coordinator: Prof Iraj Hashi (Business School)

Starting date: 15 October 2015

The European Union – the benefits to education and research in the UK

The European Union provides enormous benefits to UK students, UK academics,  and UK Universities in supporting and carrying out teaching, knowledge transfer and research.

Examples of European support for students includes the ERASMUS exchange scheme which supports students to study or work abroad in a company. The European Union also supports the development of new and innovative teaching at all levels of education primarily through the ERASMUS+  funding mechanisms.

Similarly, with respect to enterprise and knowledge transfer, if you are thinking of starting up your own business you may want to take part in the ERASMUS young entrepreneurs scheme; or if you are an established business (trading for more than 3 years) hosting someone from another country in Europe.

In terms of research funding,  the results of the recent Research Excellence Framework (2014) in the UK demonstrates just how important Europe has been and it is likely to become even more important for funding of research in the UK in the future.

To give one example – Panel C of REF covered the following disciplines (Units of Assessment in the jargon): Architecture, Built Environment and Planning, Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology, Economics and Econometrics, Business and Management Studies, Law, Politics and International Studies, Social Work and Social Policy, Sociology, Anthropology and Development Studies, Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences, Leisure and Tourism. Figure 1 clearly demonstrates a precipitous decline in UK government funding since 2004-05  (about 50% or 80 million) — remember those heady days of evidence-led policy! Secondly, research council funding  also declined in real terms due to inflation with every other source of funding static except the EU government.

Remember that we are talking here about only the best University departments and best academics being entered into the REF exercise. So despite extensive efforts by academics and government to get more money and investment from the private sector it is not happening and UK government sources of funding are in decline. Ominously, there is still no word on what will happen with QR funding and it may well be cut again as it was in the last funding round. The only source of funding that increased since 2007-8 is the EU government i.e Commission.  

Sources of funding panel C in British Universities

The most recent results for the EU annual call for research funding are here (2014). This shows that  the UK was the second largest beneficiary of Horizon 2020 funds in the first round of calls, with nearly EUR 527 million received by more than 500 UK organisations. UK universities do very well in Europe and are well regarded.

Given this overwhelming evidence of the many valuable European benefits to UK higher education, it is not surprising that campaigns are beginning to counter misinformation on Europe, and thus influence a referendum vote. This post in the Guardian describes potential impacts on science research of pulling out of the EU and scientists are already mobilizing on social media and here on twitter. British Influence has established a website and campaign to support us staying in the EU and to put the positive case.

Universities UK which represents 133 UK universities is also supporting a pro European REMAIN campaign. So from Vice Chancellors to the National Union of Students, the University sector is overwhelmingly in favour of staying in the EU. 

Of course most of this post has just dealt with the financial aspects of funding, but international collaboration provides a much wider range of tangible and intangible benefits. Being exposed to new cultures and sharing of knowledge leads to new innovation and research as well as providing us with insights to what has been tried before. My personal experience of working on a number of EU projects over the last 5 or 6 years has given me  a number of new friends and colleagues, and has directly lead to collaborating and sharing to improve the economies and societies in Europe.

Interesting data, poor inferences

Apparently, the UK higher education system is a ‘knock-out’ performer.  Although the UK system is ranked 8th in the world — not bad at all — what is holding it back on that measure is central investment. Per capita, that is, higher education is not well funded in the UK, and the system as a whole pays the price. However, we can compensate for that, correcting for the relative poverty of the country (compared to, say, the US or Switzerland) and thus its relatively low level of public investment. This yields a different ranking, with the UK way up in second place. (Behind Serbia, interestingly.)

All very interesting. It makes you wonder from where all the calls for the UK system to be over-hauled in one way or another are coming (how marking and degrees are scaled being an old chestnut). If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. On the other hand, is also makes you wonder what would happen if there was some higher level of investment…

The THE article first cited though, goes one step further. The reason why the UK system punches above its weight in this way is the Russell group — i.e. the concentration of funding into roughly 15% of the institutions. (We should also include a few other Universities who are not technically in the RG, but who enjoy big funding and strong research reputations, such as Leicester or Durham.) The article, or rather the chap being quoted, cites the recent REF results as evidence. Evidence for what, exactly? That research is concentrated, to be sure; that funding is concentrated, definitely. But it is certainly not evidence that concentration delivers ‘bang for the buck’. On the contrary, the fact that an army of researchers, working at the other 85% of institutions, are still doing international quality research with bread-crumbs of funding, much less infrastructure, and no endowments to speak of… THAT is bang for the buck. The cost per international-standard research publication at a ‘new’ university is a fraction that of the Russell Group, and I can prove it.

For example, let’s take two random Universities: Newcastle University and Northumbria. Now, Newcastle did pretty well in REF2014, staying in the top twenty nation wide. They submitted a total of 2806 outputs rated 3 and 4*. Northumbria are quite a way down the REF table, but comfortably in the top 100. They submitted 823 outputs at that quality rating. Now, clearly, there is a concentration of research in Newcastle, who produced three and a half times as many quality outputs. However, Newcastle received 35.6 million pounds in recurrent research funding in 2009-10, while Northumbria received … 3.26 million. In other words, with ten times the funding, they only managed three and a half times the number of quality outputs. It’s the same story when we compare Teeside and, say, York. The former required £6440 to produce an international quality paper, while York required £11,900.

Now, I know this is not the whole story. There is a difference between 3 and 4*, and also we may be comparing inherently expensive forms of research (laboratory sciences) with cheaper ones. On the other hand, in the above calculations, I haven’t included other big sources of funding, which are also highly concentrated, such as Research Council grants, European funds, and so forth. In the absence of more study, the evidence clearly goes against the ‘funding concentration’ hypothesis. (Hold on, who wrote this report that the THE is cheering about? — Universitas21 — and who are their UK members: all Russell Group. I’m seeing a pattern emerging.)


What should a PhD thesis look like?

Fascinating feature piece in the THE on the PhD thesis as a written document.The basic contrast being made is between the traditional 80 thousand word dissertation and a thesis which is a bundle of peer-reviewed and published papers. The latter is not at all far from the PhD by published work, and as it happens only last week I was part of the examination of just such a PhD.

There are a handful of practical issues here. How long does it take to write up a thesis (time which, it is assumed perhaps wrongly, is not spent in the lab doing real work). If the bundle comprises a set of multi-authored papers, how will the examiners discern the candidate’s contribution? Are examiners able to give as much attention to a long traditional thesis, as distinguished from six or eight papers? Given the lead time in publishing papers, might such an approach result in a delay in a candidate obtaining their doctorate? In some subjects where book publication is valued, the traditional thesis is the obvious practical choice for a young, would-be academic.

But these practical issues are, frankly, technicalities which well-written guidance for both students and supervisors would solve. Tougher are the big issues. First of all, is the writing of papers — and especially of shorter pieces that can be published quickly, and get out there having an impact — profoundly more relevant in the contemporary research environment? That is to say, all other things aside, is a traditional PhD deeply misaligned with how science works?

On the other hand, a PhD is and always has been about a large-scale project — conceiving of it, planning it, and executing it, and doing so with independence and resilience — so how does the set of individual papers demonstrate these important skills?

[Update, May 30th: This report confirms what has been anecdotally known for a while: that most PhDs will not not get permanent academic posts. This means that preparation for work in a research environment outside academia is all the more important, and thus also making the shape of a PhD thesis suitable.]

How to win friends and misuse statistics

The 2016 version of one of the big league tables is out, accompanied by a commentary. The commentary is all about how the huge rise in tuition fees several years ago resulted in an equally huge increase in services University’s offer. (Actually, this may have had more to do with the fact that bond yields were historically low; so Universities could borrow more cheaply.)

One piece of evidence for this was the drop in SSR — student to staff ratio — over the period. Great. Except… this figure is not by any means equivalent to ‘class sizes’, as the commentary claims. Indeed, the claim is made that investment in advance of the Research Excellence Framework contributed to lowering this statistic. RAE investment is not primarily investment in teachers. Instead, it is likely investment in senior researchers, whom undergraduates will never see; and in part-time or zero-hours teachers who soak up the load so that headline staff can work on that research project.  The number of academic bodies around the place rises, relative to student numbers, but class sizes may in fact go up, as students are herded into big rooms to be taught by a handful of faces whose photographs were not in the prospectus.

And by the way, this is another of the league tables that includes entry points as a measure of quality. People across the University world have been complaining about this for years, but one more time: Imagine, for a moment, that you are reading a movie review. The review says that the plot is incomprehensible and silly, the acting wooden, and the direction lazy. But, it concludes, the film is popular among cinema-goers (who have never seen the movie), and therefore it must be good. Five stars! Movie of the year!

Of course they will

THE reports here that the BIS is considering whether to restrict new postgraduate — and specifically PhD — loans to the sciences. Or, more carefully and revealingly expressed, to restrict loans to ‘specific subjects where the scientific and economic case is strongest’. I’m surprised this even requires consultation, and wasn’t part of the original proposal. The Arts and Humanities Research Council has had real term cuts in its budget of 20% in the past five years, and that budget is already tiny in comparison to the sciences, broadly speaking. (The sciences budgets have ‘merely’ been frozen in the same period, representing a roughly 10% real term cut.) Funding in this area is politically an easy target, and especially if it is framed as a kind of competition between science and humanities funding, rather than a question of overall central research funding. Overall research funding as a proportion of GDP in the UK is already pitifully low — lower than any other large economy other than Italy, Spain, Russia and India. See the data here and (with particular reference to the sciences) here. So, there are two issues here: the blatant sacrifice of the future of the country because of overall funding cuts to research; and the political framing of the issue as only being a choice of what to cut.

UPDATE: A nice piece in the Guardian/Observer today that portrays at length the frustrations felt by those in the arts and humanities. The weak part of the article is that is is long on whining, but short on data. It portrays, for example, the removal of a central grant to these subjects, replacing it with tuition fees, as a ‘cut’. This is simplistic, since humanities and stem subjects were always differentially funded and remain so, to roughly the same extent. Similarly, it bemoans the rising number of technocratic managers and their salaries, without adducing data tht would show how disproportionate this change has been.

By the way, wink-wink-nudge-nudge, to any VC or Dean who really knows what they are up to, humanities and social sciences should be seen as cash cows. No need for expensive labs, high powered computers, technical assistance — even the books and journals we use cost less and have a longer shelf-life.

Professor Iraj Hashi awarded the Presidential Medal of Merit for Kosovo

Professor Iraj Hashi was awarded the Presidential Medal of Merit in the list of honours awarded on the occasion of the 7th anniversary of Kosovo’s Independence on 17th February 2015. The Medal of Merit is awarded to people who have contributed to Kosovo society in specific fields such as education and science.

The nomination for this Award was made by a group of staff from the Faculty of Economics, University of Prishtina and the Central Bank of Kosovo, including some of the former and current PhD students of Staffordshire University.

The Award is in recognition of Professor Hashi’s work with various universities and research institutions in Kosovo which has resulted in improvements in the quality of academic programmes in economics, business and management and building the capacity of educational and research institutions in Kosovo.

Professor Irah Hashi (left) and the Prime Minister Prof Isa Mustafa

Professor Irah Hashi (left) and the Prime Minister Prof Isa Mustafa

Professor Hashi was the coordinator of three large scale EU funded Tempus projects and a scholarship programme jointly funded by Staffordshire University and the Open Society Foundation (and until 2010 also by the UK Government’s Chevening Programme).

Through these programmes a large number of Kosovar academics were provided with updating opportunities to learn about the latest developments in their subject area as well as teaching, learning and assessment methods in various EU universities. A large number of young university graduates were also offered the opportunity to continue their education towards Masters or PhD degrees in Economics at SU. These graduates, all of whom have returned to Kosovo, are now working in universities,  research institutions, the Central Bank, commercial banks and various government ministries, contributing to the development of their country (two of these graduates are now serving as Minister of Finance and Minister of Trade and Industry, and one of them is the Chief of the Cabinet and Advisor to the Prime Minister).

Janet Napolitano on Higher Education in America

Despite a bit of hyperbole — not surprising given Napolitano is a former Governor of Arizona, and possible Democratic contender for the White House in 2016 — this Washington Post piece is a thoughtful review of the current state of the American higher education system. She rejects as knee-jerk over-excitement the common claims that the US system is in crisis. However, she does see a worrying erosion of the state (both local and Federal) backing for public universities. The point being that both State and Federal governments are losing sight of the value of higher education, particularly in its traditional face-to-face, bricks and mortar guise. However, we need to notice that, she is writing very specifically about public research universities — Napolitano is currently President of the University of California, several campuses of which are joined on the THE World Rankings (for whatever that is worth), by Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Wisconsin and Texas, just in the top 50.

Although recognising the disproportionate rise in tuition fees in most States, Napolitano prefers to see this simply as a general funding issue rather than as a specific social inequality issue — an idea she raises and then rejects too quickly for my taste.

There is also a recognition of the importance of basic research, by which I believe she means something other than headline-grabbing research. Every University would pursue and support the latter, if they could. But basic research — upon which the headline-grabbing variety depends absolutely — is dropping down the order of priorities. Indeed, one of the books she reviews here suggests separating the teaching and research units of Universities. Napolitano dismisses this idea — but of course endorses it in a different form precisely by having chosen to defend public research universities, rather than the system as a whole. What should be clear to anyone who understands the ‘economy’ of knowledge, is that 100 world-class scientists will not be able to pursue world-class work without a small army of scientists behind them doing the groundwork. Where that army is located is a different issue. And this is true, quite separately from the issue (which Napolitano pointedly does not discuss) of just how good an educator could be without some involvement in new knowledge-creation.

UPDATE: See similar and sympathetic remarks by the present of the North Carolina University system, Tom Ross, also locked in a real struggle with his State’s legislature. I wonder how he felt writing the phrase ‘just edging out Walmart’?

International conference – Health from the Outside In: Urban Design, Green Space and Human Health

There is growing evidence that close contact with nature brings benefits to human health and wellbeing, but the mechanisms are not well understood. This conference aims to bring together leading researchers in the area of natural environments and health to share new and ongoing research, and to consider how to turn the evidence in to practice.

This one-day event will include latest findings from the EU FP7 PHENOTYPE project and a range of invited speakers and panel discussions.

Full programme and how to book on this link



EU flag

EU flag

Staffordshire University graduates take ministerial positions in Kosovo

Staffordshire University economists have been working in the Balkans for over 20 years to assist with the reconstruction of those economies.  This has involved economics Masters and PhD training for several hundred people. Professors Iraj Hashi, Geoff Pugh, Jean Mangan and Nick Adnett have been the main staff involved with this work, and more recently Dr Mehtap Hisarciklilar and Dr Ian Jackson. Funding to support this work has come from the Open Society Foundation and Chevening Scholarships.

Two Staffordshire University graduates have recently been promoted to the cabinet rank in Kosovo’s new Government.

Dr. Avdullah Hoti, who completed his MSc in Economics for Business Analysis in 2002 and PhD in Economics in 2007, has been given the top economic post in the cabinet, the Minister of Finance. After the completion of his PhD, Dr. Hoti returned to Kosovo to work at the University of Prishtina where he is now an Associate Professor of Economics. For four years up to 2013, he was the Deputy Mayor of Prishtina, Kosovo’s capital city.

Dr. Avdullah Hoti

Dr. Avdullah Hoti, Minister of Finance, Kosovo

His period of study at Staffordshire and his PhD, which focused on Kosovo’s labour market, have given him the right training and preparation for one of the most important posts in the cabinet. He says, ‘I know that I have taken a huge responsibility and I will do my best’ to meet the expectations of the electorate.

Dr. Hoti is followed by Dr. Hykmete Bajrami, who completed her MSc in Economics for Business Analysis in 2003. She also went back to Kosovo after completing her Masters degree and joined the Faculty of Economics at the University of Prishtina as an assistant. She completed her PhD at the University of Prishtina and is now Assistant Professor of Marketing there. Since 2010 she has been a Member of the Kosovo
Assembly (the Parliament) and active on economics and business related issues. She has been appointed to the second economic position in the cabinet, the Minister for Trade and Industry.

 Dr. Hykmete Bajrami,  Minister for Trade and Industry, Kosovo

Dr. Hykmete Bajrami Minister for Trade and Industry, Kosovo

Both Avdullah and Hykmete were recipients of the Open Society Foundation- Staffordshire University scholarship during their studies in Stoke. They follow an earlier Staffordshire graduate, Dr. Fatmir Besimi, who has been a Minister in the Government of Macedonia in 2007. He is currently Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for European Integration.

 Dr. Fatmir Besimi, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for European Integration, Kosovo

Dr. Fatmir Besimi, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for European Integration, Kosovo

Kosovo’s general elections in June 2014 did not give any party a majority control and following months of negotiations, the new Government was formed on 8th December with the LDK leader, Professor Isa Mustafa (himself a long time partner with the Centre for Research on Emerging Economies at the Business School), becoming Kosovo’s new Prime Minister and immediately announcing his cabinet which included the two SU graduates.
The cabinet was confirmed by the Assembly and the Ministers have now started their work. We wish them success.

Fair and Equal Education: An Evidence-based Policy Manifesto that Respects Children and Young People.

On March 10th, 2015, there is a public launch event in London for “Fair and Equal Education: An Evidence-based Policy Manifesto that Respects Children and Young People.”

This event summarises the outcome of the British Educational Research Association (BERA)  Respecting Children and Young People project, which Dr Katy Vigurs (Staffordshire University) has been leading along with Dr Ruth Boyask (Plymouth University), Professor Vini Lander (Edge Hill University) and Dr Pam Alldred (Brunel University). The aim of the project has been to use the best educational research conducted within six of the BERA SIGs to inform public debate prior to the Westminster election in May 2015, celebrating the work of our members and demonstrating how it can be used to provide an evidence base for policy that has issues of equality and social justice at its heart.

Children and young people are entitled to an education that has their best interests at heart and develops their personality, talents and abilities to the full. Fair and equal education recognises differences in children and young people’s experiences, interests and backgrounds and ensures equality in access and provision. Over the last 40 years, evidence from educational research has told us about the extent of inequality. It has also told us how to make education more equal and fair.

 The manifesto launch event will be used to debate the policies needed to make this vision a reality.

 The event is being held at Mary Ward House, 5-7 Tavistock Place, London, WC1H 9SN.

 Partners for this event include:

 * Cambridge Primary Review Trust

* Paulo Freire Institute-UK

* Runnymede Trust

* Citizenship Foundation

This event is free to attend, however pre-registration is essential because of the venue.

Book your place at the event online:
Phone: 020 7331 5217
Email: events@bera.ac.uk

A blog for the project is here

Digital Future

The House of Lords report entitled ‘Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future’ has just been published. It is extraordinarily wide-ranging, covering everything from infra-structure, to industry to education. With respect to higher education it makes several recommendations, all of which I find interesting.

First, the report takes a dim view of the recent decline in research funding to Universities (paras 151, 153) and also, and this is most interesting, clearly argues for a reversal of the concentration of research funding into a small number of institutions. This is the subject of a lengthy discussion (paras 240-269) in which it is recognised that high tech industries tend to grow up in clusters around Universities, but that the UK has only two examples of this (not surprisingly, in Cambridge and in London). They call for a greater role by the Research Funding Councils in reversing the trend, and assisting a number of regional strengths and clusters.

Second, the report takes a number of swipes at current education immigration policy, particular with respect to postgraduate research students, who should be seen as a resource rather than some kind of threat. (See specifically para. 152, but also throughout)

Third, the report suggests that one factor holding back the upskilling of the UK population is inflexibility in education provision, and Universities should be encouraged to offer more short, part-time courses. Fair enough. Utterly bizarre, then, was the omission of distance learning courses from the menu of recommendations to Universities (see paras 198-200), despite the fact that the OU is one of their case-studies.

Using EU research projects to inform policy making – research seminar

The next Business, Education and Law, Faculty Research Conversations seminar will be taking place on Wednesday 4th March12.30-1.30pm – in B325 Brindley, hosted by Dr Katy Vigurs.

One of our Visiting Professors, Prof. Heather Eggins, will be leading a session on Using EU research projects to inform policy making.

The seminar will explore the connection between research and the development of policy. Heather will draw on a recent project that was funded by the European Commission under its Lifelong Learning programme to identify barriers in promoting the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance (ESG) at Higher Education Institutional level.  This was a three year project (2010-13) that studied 28 higher education institutions in seven European countries (the Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Latvia, Poland, Portugal and Slovakia).  Particular dimensions of institutional quality were analysed through the study: e.g. access, students, stakeholders, management and governance, the academic profession, information provision, and the interface with secondary education.

You can see more about the IBAR EU project here:


This project is now complete and the resulting outputs of the project include a series of institutional case studies, comparative analyses, a final report to the European Commission and a book (Eggins 2014). The findings and recommendations were made available to the E4 group tasked with drawing up proposals for the revised ESG, which will be presented for consideration at the Higher Education Area Ministerial Meeting in Armenia in May 2015. The research is thus of relevance to European policy makers, and will inform policy making in the quality assurance domain.

Heather looks forward to discussing with you both the process of developing a successful EU project as well as reflecting on the outcomes and implications of the specific IBAR EU project.

All welcome.

External engagement, a trans-Atlantic perspective

This opinion piece in the Chronicle for Higher Education gives an overview of the problem of external engagement by researchers, in the US environment. Notice, though, that external engagement has a particular flavour here: it is not primarily about interesting the public or communicating findings or even encouraging regard for higher education. Rather, it is about well-informed commentary on the ‘bigger picture’ — in other words, about participation in the crafting of public policy.

Are Universities efficient with their funding?

Interesting poll reported in the THE: Among Members of Parliament, UK Universities are given a poor rating in the ‘value for money’ / ‘efficiency’ category. This no doubt reflects the political hot potato that tuition fees still are, especially with the prospect of them increasing further. No self-regarding politician, a few months prior to an election, wants to suggest that Universities are doing the best they can with the fee income. And no doubt there is waste in the system, although probably less than many think.

Also reflected in these results is that the decision is now close on how to distribute — and indeed also reform — research funding in the light of REF2014. Reality is more clear here. Even the United States, which has a history of concentrated funding, is moving away from this. Any one concerned about ‘value for money’ in research funding need only glance at the REF results. Take Staffordshire University for example. With research funding amounting to a rounding error on that received by some Universities, internationally excellent and world-leading work is being achieved. A denser concentration of research funding into the hands of fewer Universities is certinly not going to improve the ‘bang for the buck’.

REF 2014

This THE article shows a remarkable consistency in REF submissions that contain exactly 14 or 24 full time staff. Why should this be? Because, if one submits more than 14 full time staff, then one also has to submit three (rather than two) impact case studies. Having a poor impact case study in one’s submission is much more damaging than not having one (even two or three) members of staff included — regardless of how good their research is. Not being included in a REF submission is a potentially career-damaging event. Even those who unequivocally agree that research should have an impact, and that impact should be measured, should find depressing the unintended effects of the REF rules.