Of Graduate Schools

Well, so Staffordshire University now has a Graduate School, and I am its Head. Run for the hills!

I thought it might be worth thinking about what is a Graduate School?

Coming as I do from the States, the phrase ‘Graduate School’ has two very distinct meanings. On the one hand it means, as it does here, a part of the University in some way responsible for ‘graduate’ students and their studies. A Graduate School is a place, a thing. It often has a building, or set of buildings — sometimes a whole campus! On the other hand, though, it is most commonly used to mean exactly the same as ‘I am studying for a Masters/ a Doctorate’. So, an undergraduate might be asked ‘Are you going to graduate school?’. By this the questioner simply means ‘Are you planning on studying for a Masters/ Doctorate?’ ‘Graduate School’ here is an activity or a pursuit, not a place or thing. Up to last year, a student could be at graduate school here at Staffordshire, even though we didn’t have a Graduate School.

Why is this important? For someone in my position, a newly appointed Head and trying to set up the GS, it is a salient and humbling lesson. What is being set up here need not and perhaps should not have an identity of its own, as a place or thing would. It does not need and again perhaps should not have a shiny new building (which is fortunate, ’cause that ain’t going to happen), nor a fancy name (although The Charles Darwin Graduate School springs to mind — we have as good or better claim to that name than anyone else). The Graduate School first and foremost should be a service, designed simply to help the graduate-level education that was already happening run a little more smoothly.

Global Entrepreneurship week events at Staffordshire University


This gallery contains 4 photos.

Organisers – Prof Jon Fairburn, Clair Hameed, Ben Dyer, Angela Lawrence, Hazel Squire, Mark Wordley Contacts Jon Fairburn 01782 294094 or Clair Hameed 01785 353518 with initial queries or media requests Social media Business School twitter Be Inspired twitter Ben Dyer – Enterprise Days … Continue reading

Tenure track and its branch line … some speculative thoughts

A report here from Canada where career-teaching positions are becoming increasingly common, along side career-researching positions. Some interesting data is presented, such as the facts that career higher education teachers produce students who are more enthusiastic about the subject, and receive higher grades, than when taught by research staff. I don’t find this surprising, but I suggest it reflects more the lack of professionalisation of higher education teaching than any intrinsic difference of quality or approach. The fact is that we train researchers to the nth degree, and train primary and secondary teachers likewise — but as near as I can tell, world-wide, higher education teaching remains a stubbornly amateur field.

The report also reflects the idea that higher education teachers must be engaging with up-to-date research, if they are going to be able to work at that level. It follows that teaching-tenure staff are just research staff with a lot less time on their hands, which is not a terribly productive situation for anyone.

One admittedly rather speculative way of thinking about this is in terms of what a university degree is supposed to mean in terms of the quantity of skills or knowledge acquired. Originally, the highest degree that would be obtained was a Masters, equivalent to the University of Paris’ ‘License to Teach’ (Licentia docendi).  When the first ‘modern’ universities appeared in German at the beginning of the 19th Century, what we now call a research degree was introduced, but remained a rarity. The initial four (or however many) year period made a student into an expert, and only a very few research degrees were offered and obtained.. By the middle and end of that century, the PhD idea had become very popular in Germany and then the United States as a way of extending one’s knowledge and establishing one’s research credentials. The UK introduced PhDs as late as 1917. This is normally understood in terms of the increasing need for an valuing of researchers, both within and outside universities, and in terms of the need for specialisation in all disciplines. However, can part of this long historical development be understood in terms of the increasing quantity of information and skills needed to become proficient in any given discipline? Or, in brief, there is just so much more to know?

If so, and if this trend continues, the first years of a University degree are or are becoming — for all practical purposes — essentially what the last years of a secondary education were for decades ago. A grounding in basic knowledge and skills: e.g. mathematical tools, lab techniques, etc. It would follow that there is no reason why a University should not have teaching-tenure staff, who need not participate in research activity, and who may quite rightly be unaware of what is happening in the latest journals in their field. They are no less useful at this level than good teachers are in high schools.

HOWEVER, there is a sting in this tale. Once this is admitted, then ALSO the standard model of university education has to change. It becomes plausible to argue that no longer are three or four years sufficient for anything beyond what a high school diploma or set of A-levels meant thirty-odd years ago. It becomes plausible to argue also that university education should be a requirement of all citizens, rather than an option — in the same way that many countries have compulsory education up to 16 or 18; and that what we now call post-graduate degrees should be the first optional stage; and moreover that research of any kind should be no more expected of undergraduate teachers at any university than it is among those in secondary schools. The funding implications would be enormous, the cultural change no less so. We haven’t had a reform of further and higher education of that magnitude since … well since Germany in the first years of the 19th Century. Maybe it is time.

New Index of Multiple Deprivation 2015

A new Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) 2015 is launched for the first time in 5 years.

The IMD is one of the most important datasets in the UK because:

  • Government departments and agencies have used it to allocate billions of pounds of spending.
  • Lottery funders, charities and local government all use it to help allocate and evaluate funds.
  • Health researchers in particular have found it very useful to look at determinants of health and to link socio-economic data with health outcomes.

So what are the key features of the Index?

  • The data is available at a very small spatial scale (the technical term is super output area, usually a population between 1,000 to 1,500 people).
  • The entire country is covered (not a sample).
  • The index includes a relative ranking (as well as some absolute figures) so we can tell how much better off one area is compared to another. For example we can find the bottom 10% of areas in the country.

Key results show that deprivation moves very slowly. Stoke on Trent as a whole is ranked 13 most deprived local authority out of 326. More detailed analysis show that 30% of the neighbourhoods rank in the 10% most deprived in the country. Furthermore despite billions of pounds going into city regeneration there are still large concentrations of deprivation in Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.

Data has also been produced for the Local Enterprise Partnerships and a series of summary reports and maps can be found on the link.  

Most of the work on the new IMD has been done by Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion (OCSI) but yours truly as in previous editions was responsible for creating the air quality domain in the IMD.

The IMD in England, Scotland and Wales formed the basis for a lot of the environmental justice work that was done at Staffordshire University over the last decade. This initial work for various UK government agencies lead us on to work in Europe and collaboration with the World Health Organisation. See my staff page for links and more.

In addition, the UK Statistics Authority have now confirmed the Indices have National Statistics status.

If you want to keep updated on any future announcements from DCLG on the Indices, please email Indices.Deprivation@communities.gsi.gov.uk.

General coverage of the IMD on twitter https://twitter.com/indices2015 


Sutton Trust research on student loans

Please see this account in the Guardian. The conclusion is that the Government’s proposed changes to the student loan scheme, although apparently minor, in fact would have significant impact. While, much less surprisingly, the changes to maintenance grants would have a still greater impact. So, more debt for students. The important subtlety to the report is that this ‘more debt’ would affect certain groups much more than others, women more than men, students from poorer backgrounds more than those from wealthy backgrounds. The net result is yet another increase in income and wealth inequality.

I might add that, unless there are other measures in place, the changes would affect most precisely those services the Government says it wants to encourage: teachers and nurses, for example.

PTES results

The Postgraduate (Taught) Experience Survey has just released sector wide scores and averages. I am pleased to inform you that Staffordshire is streets ahead of the sector average in SIX areas (including the really high profile ones such as teaching quality), equal in the seventh, and just 1% behind the sector in the eighth. So it is not surprising then that overall satisfaction is also way above the sector average. An extraordinary achievement and testament to the skills and professionalism of staff here, and our very appreciative students. Staffordshire is THE place to come for a taught postgraduate degree.

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!



It’s not often that I agree with Boris Johnson…

But in this case, I do. The context here is the same changing profile of international students in the UK, that I drew attention to in my previous post. There I talked mainly about the future effect of exchange rates on the affordability of UK university places for Chinese students. The longer term story is about UK visa and immigration controls, which has left students from many countries believing that they are unwanted in the UK and indeed viewed with suspicion. Johnson (the Boris version) has written to Johnson (the Jo version) asking for urgent reforms to the student visa system, as the number of Indian students coming to the UK has halved in the past three years (a drop of 20,000 per year). An historical and hugely beneficial relationship with India is in danger. The Government’s official line is that there is no limit on the number of students coming into the country; technically true, but then there is also no limit on the number of people who can hit themselves over the head with a ballhammer. Yet the popularity of that particular pastime has never been high. In other words, it is not an undistorted market. Not surprisingly, those missing 20,000 students, plus a fair few more, are studying in the US.

The Jo version, on his part, has been talking recently about prioritising teaching quality, and about encouraging competitiveness in the HE sector. On the latter point, it is worth noting that there is not, and never has been, a truly open market in HE in this country. For one thing, the ancient Universities were given truly enormous assets at the moment of their founding, and in the centuries thereafter, most frequently at the largess of the governments of the era. When Staffordshire (for example) was made a University, no one said ‘Hey, here’s a billion quid — go out and be world-class!’. For another, there are all kinds of caps and incentives and variable bits of funding straight from Government coffers. The £9000 fee cap is the most obvious; but lesser known is the funding received to aid disabled students, which has fallen through the floor, disproportionately affecting students without financial assets of their own. In future, I suggest not only that Jo listen to Boris, but also that he mask his patent ignorance of market economics.

A review: Where to stay and eat in the Potteries

Latest update December 2019 – A review by Prof Jon Fairburn

This blog is mainly aimed at visitors who are staying the night and looking for places to eat and drink. As a University we receive visitors from all over the world. These visitors want a convenient place to stay with a selection of places to reach by foot in the evening for food and drinks if possible.


PotBank – this includes an aparthotel, and a cafe you can book through their website. Some of the rooms are available for booking through booking.com and it is only a 5 minute walk from the train station and the University.

Verdon Guest House  is popular if you fancy a guest house

The Premier Inn in the City Centre has good reviews

The Premier Inn at Trentham Gardens has been getting very good reviews and lots of people like the shopping village and gardens that are on the site.

The Best Western Stoke on Trent Moat House is centrally located and incorporates some of Josiah Wedgwoods original house  and is another popular choice. It has spa facilities and a swimming pool.There is an excellent pub a short walk away called The Holy Inadequate

In Newcastle under Lyme,

The Clayhanger Guest House has very good reviews

and the Travelodge New castle under Lyme Central Hotel this is chain but it has a good price and standard.

AirBnB has quite a few places in the area

If none of these appeal then you are strongly recommended to check Tripadvisor before booking.   especially if you are thinking of booking the large hotel near the train station.

Food and drink

Near the University

Hawasana is based in Shelton and on Stoke Road (the next road over from the College Road campus), they will provide you with authentic Afghan cuisine including huge naans  and cheap food – on facebook  – here’s a good review by a local blogger

She also gives a good review to Beirut which is a short walk (10 mins up the road) away.

in Stoke town centre a short walk away

Thalii Indian food which is good tapas style (again here is a review) , Planet Bollywood also does nice indian food

in Newcastle under Lyme

For breakfast and brunch Berts is excellent it is also open in the evenings and has a big stock of foreign beers.

Hong’s Kitchen -in Newcastle specialises in Hunan pot dishes – plus a lot of stuff you don’t usually see on Chinese menus in the Potteries.

The Blue Chilli Restaurant, 9 Berkeley Court, Newcastle under Lyme, ST5 1TT
Tel: 01782 715 885  great food, try the Thai Massaman curry.

The Art of Siam is another good Thai restaurant.

The Jalsa –  19-21 George Street, Newcastle under Lyme ST5  1JX, Tel 01782 611551     for good Indian food – try the Nowabi Chicken, Baza Lamb or the shashlik  dishes.

If you would like a drink after visiting either of the restaurants mentioned above then I would recommend The Greyhound which is owned by the local Titanic Brewery. This is a 2-3 min walk from any of the restaurants, just head straight up the road towards Hanley.

Bellini’s café 2 Pepper St, Newcastle-under-Lyme ST5 1PR. This is at the other end of Newcastle under Lyme. It is an Italian and has the best food in the conurbation from the places I have eaten. It is a little more expensive than the others but it is excellent.  Tel 01782 943541

Excellent places to have a drink near Bellini’s are The Bridge Street Ale House and the Lymestone Vaults which is in the same street as Bellini’s.

Ten Green Bottles is also very popular for gin and has a small outside area for summer.

Others to note

For authentic Polish food try Agie and Katie in Burslem (Agie is a Business School alumni).

Try the great pizzas from a clay oven at Klay Pizzeria in Hanley   also in Hanley is the Slamwich Club 

Finally, if you fancy something traditional try the excellent pies at Pieminster at Trentham Gardens

If you want to find out more on food in the area the following accounts are excellent

Eat Stoke on Instagram   

Moorlands Eater website

General info

General visitor information for the area including ceramic and factory tours can all be found on the Visit Stoke website

Trentham Gardens and Estate is very popular whether you want to eat, shop or walk around the gardens.

in the wider area

Enjoy Staffordshire has plenty of information for visitors and we are also only 10 miles from the Peak District National Park.

Currency exchange rates and exports

If country A’s currency becomes less valuable with respect to the UK, then their cost for goods from the UK goes up — and, everything else being equal, the number of sales drops. When politicians, economists and city commentators talk about how currency exchange rates might affect the UK’s exports, their words are generally illustrated by manufacturing names: the sales of Jags and Land Rovers to China, for example. Well, no one is too worried: both the Telegraph and Guardian note that only 4-5% of UK exports go to China, so the overall effect on the economy will be modest.

However, there is one industry whose exports disproportionately go to China: higher education. We are not used to thinking of this as an export industry, but that it is — and a very successful one at that. Not only are there more Chinese students studying in the UK than students from the whole of the EU, but there are also as many Chinese students as the next five biggest non-EU nations combined. (See also this comment piece in the THE.) All in all, roughly 20% of all non-UK students are from China. It follows, again roughly, that a ten percent drop in the number of Chinese students in the UK would be a £140m annual loss to UK Universities in tuition fee terms, and as much again in associated economic activity. But of course the direct financial cost is not the only thing here: also a long-term loss would be cultural and political connections between the UK and China, that aids both prosperity and peace. I would like to know what the UK government is doing to help what could easily be a crisis in the higher education sector (other than macho posturing on immigration targets, which hardly helps)?

A dozen of the EU projects at Staffs University

Just some of the projects we are working on at the Staffordshire University. In some cases we are the lead for the project in others a project partner. Funding is through ERASMUS PLUS or the predecessor funding stream.

Key Contact Project Title Brief Description
Mark Webster RESIDENCY In 2014 the Residency team involving staff from Staffordshire University, Warsaw University and University of Barcelona embarked upon delivering artist residencies in Poland, Spain and the UK, each involving an artist from a partner country. The project secured EU Lifelong Learning funding through the Leonardo Da Vinci programme to explore how residencies could be used to train and support people in how to use community and participatory arts to promote civic engagementhttp://residencyproject.eu/
Kim Slack RECOVEU RECOVEU aims to develop innovative learning activities to help adults in addiction recovery prepare for college or university. It brings together partners working in the fields of drug addiction and education based in the UK, Romania, Cyprus, Italy and Ireland.  Staffordshire University is the lead partner. The learning activities will form a ‘taster’ representative of a complete syllabus which will seek to support participation in adult learning and enhance opportunities for social inclusion for people in addiction recovery. A key feature throughout the project is the active involvement of service users and providers


Rosie Borup DESTINY It is well known that EU member states are in a time of economic challenge.  There is an acknowledged need for more innovation and entrepreneurship among our businesses, to foster economic growth and provide jobs for our unemployed (or under-employed) labour market,  but while our youth and adult job seekers leave schools and Universities with educational qualifications, employers complain of a mismatch in skills WORK SEEKERS (WS)  offer, and skills employers require.  The rationale of DESTINY is to develop, implement, test, refine a method for HEIs to PROMOTE + SUPPORT the use of MOOCs as a tool to address LLMN SKILLS SHORTAGES, thereby supporting regional ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT +  improving the EMPLOYABILITY of  youth and adult learners. www.destiny-eu.net
 Jon Fairburn SILVER WORKERS SILVER WORKERS will look to assist people in their 40s and 50s to set up a business. This is the most common age for business start ups but many businesses fail because they do not get sufficient guidance when starting up. As the Potteries has one of the lowest start up rates in the country it will help to meet a strong local need.
Jon Fairburn SMARTOUR SMARTOUR will look to develop a new curriculum and qualifications for those in the tourism industry. It will be targeted at accommodation and facility providers and look at a broad range of sustainability topics. An online tool will be developed for the delivery of courses. Staffordshire University is the lead partner, there are two partners form the UK (including Newcastle under Lyme College), as well as partners in Finland and Italy.
Claire Gwinnett EFEN The Development of a European Forensic Education Network (EFEN)’, funded by ERASMUS+ Strategic Partnerships aims to create an inclusive and sustainable network of HEIs and industry partners working within the criminal justice system.  This network will improve European collaborations within forensic investigations by sharing best practice in forensic learning and teaching and linking industry with higher education. A main output of this project is the creation of a postgraduate award in International Forensic and Crime Science that will offer an insight into forensic science and policing practices across Europe and the rest of the world in order to create awareness of cross-border investigation protocols and provide professional development for individuals planning to work or already working in investigations that involve multiple countries.
Bobbie Fletcher MINDSET The objective of the @MINDSET project is to actively support diversity management within education settings, by equipping teachers with the appropriate tools to deal with diversity issues, while better encouraging students to become active citizens and empathizing adults. The project will identify the most common types of diversity in the school environment and develop on one hand the tools for the teachers to better manage it within the classroom and the school in general. While on the other promote the issue of diversity and what it entails within society for pupils and help them embrace it.http://bdfprojects.wix.com/mindset
Rosie Borup IDEATE Staffordshire University is part of a major 3 year EU funded project, working with partners in Slovenia, Finland and Lithuania, from 2013 to 2016. The project aims at changing higher education through the use of innovative, interdisciplinary teaching methods. The project will enable a ‘pilot’ of  4 groups of inter-disciplinary  students to learn entrepreneurial skills and knowledge through trans-national intensive learning mobilities themed around employer led projects. www.ideate.me
Peter Kevern PEP This Grundtvig-funded project grew out of a shared concern: that the rapid rise in the numbers of older people with care needs across Europe was creating the conditions for neglect and abuse. It brought together agencies from 6 countries, representing a wide diversity of perspectives  and social roles, for a series of exchanges which proved by turns both frustrating and mutually enriching. The presentation will outline the structure, conception and management of the project, along with some of the key findings, the learning points and possible directions for future projects.
Steve Kelly PERFECT Developing a curriculum for the procurement industry and supply chain activities.
Iraj Hashi EUFORIA 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.
Louise Rutherford SUCCEED SUCCEED (Shaping University Curricula to Critical Infrastructure Employer Needs) aims to look into ways to help tackle terrorism and cybercrime through education and partnerships. Research and consultation with key employers will inform strategic HE curriculum development. www.succeed-eu.uk




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

Universities, jobs, apples and oranges

Reports here and here (and, not surprisingly, in a dozen other newspapers) of a study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, with the headline claim that 59% of UK university graduates are in sub-graduate level jobs. This contrasts with Germany and the Netherlands, who have only a 10% rate. Now, what are we to make of this? Depending upon your political persuasion — and thus what newspaper you are likely to read — this means that the UK is producing too many graduates and should focus more on vocational training, especially given the debts accumulated by university students; OR it means that the UK economic recovery over the past few years has produced some low-pay low-skills jobs but very few jobs that demand university-level skills, a bad sign for the economy’s balance and its future.

More immediately important, however, is the confusion over the numbers. You see, the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey reveals that only 32% of graduates are in non-graduate employment — and this survey is only counting recent graduates and its measurement point is six months from graduation. That means the real number — where we give graduates a bit more time to get on their feet — is likely to be considerably lower.

That’s a big difference.

What? You don’t suppose all this fuss is about nothing more than a difference in the definition of ‘graduate level employment’, do you? Oh, yes I do — although no one is publishing their definitions or how the data is gathered (students, what have I always said about defining your terms!?).

The study by the Chartered Institute uses European data; the Destinations survey uses UK data. If there is a difference in definition, likely it can be traced to the differences in the conception of universities in the UK and on the mainland. Historically countries like Germany have had massive systems of vocational education, and have not experienced nearly as huge a broadening of university systems. By contrast, in the UK the university system is much larger than it was only a couple of decades ago. This increase is greater than the increase in students studying classics, theoretical physics or philosophy; instead, it has been achieved in great part because courses that tended to be mainly in the vocational sector, are now increasingly taught at universities: design subjects, for example. Journalism, nursing and education schools are now much bigger than they used to be. It would not be surprising, then, if the definition both of university level subject, and also graduate level job, were different between mainland Europe and the UK.

Throwing it away again – does the left ever learn?

“We didn’t lose – we threw it away! Four years after gifting power to Margaret Thatcher, that’s how I summed up the 1983 general election for Labour. What we in the Labour Party have to ensure is that we never throw it away again. And to do that we have to make certain that the Party never again comes under control of the left.” So begins John Golding’s Hammer of the Left (full publication details at the end).

John Golding was the MP for Newcastle under Lyme until 1986 when he became General Secretary of the Nation Communications Union. The book details how he took on the Militant Tendency and the rest of the hard left within the Labour party in the early 1980s. The book is visceral in it’s description of the left and gives an incredibly detailed insight into the internal politics and campaigning.

Do we learn nothing from history? Watching the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership election you might think not. There seems to be a flat out refusal to not only ignore history but also to disbelieve the electorate. The electorate has told both the left and the right time after time that they are not interested in extreme positions, but too many activists just don’t want to listen. And if forced to choose given a choice between ideology and competence they will choose what they perceive as competence.

The Conservatives tested to destruction the idea that they needed to be a more right wing party losing a series of elections under William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and then Michael Howard. In the end it was only when David Cameron (who consistently polls to the left of his party) was elected leader did they begin to win again.

For the left the early 1980s demonstrated that leftist positions (anti Nato, anti EU, unilateral nuclear disarmament, renationalisation) were outright rejected by the public in the 1983 election manifesto, also known as the longest suicide note in history. All of these positions are now being espoused by Jeremy Corbyn again!

When do political polls matter?

It should have been obvious by now that there is a problem with polls, after all according to the polls Neil Kinnock won the 1992 general election remember! This is a very well known issue in academic research which is sometime known as stated versus observed preference or social desirability bias. My favourite example of this was a street survey asking people if they bought free range eggs, 25% of people said yes, after the results were published the supermarkets stated that just 2% of the eggs bought were free range. But political polls can be useful if you look back to see who WON and LOST after the event.

Blair won three elections (invested billions in schools and hospitals which the left seems to forget) from the centre ground. His polling figures were right in the middle of the political spectrum when asked by the public to rate different political leaders consistently through his entire tenure.Gordon Brown polled consistently to the left of Tony Blair and lost (a little simplistic as there is sometimes a swing but still true), Ed Milliband consistently polled much further left than Gordon Brown and lost even more seats. Jeremy Corbyn and his backers seem to have persuaded themselves of one of two options, either

1. Labour just weren’t left wing enough to be elected at the last election or

2. The electorate are stupid,

neither is a credible position that will get the party back  into power.

As an aside doesn’t Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters find it odd that both David Cameron and the Daily Telegraph want him to win? Or is it they have no interest in actually getting power to change things?


Existential threats in the UK are rising

1. Labour could be wiped out and destroyed by a Jeremy Corbyn led party in the next election. He has consistently taken anti EU positions and this will rapidly become a big issue, he will have no credibility if he suddenly changes sides which is unlikely anyway.

2. The SNP are still agitating to leave the UK.

3. The Euro referendum in 2017 will tear the Tory Party apart as nothing that David Cameron brings back from Brussels will satisfy a section of his party, how big a section is still to be seen.

We could well be in a position  of a Labour leader advocating leaving the EU with a split Tory party, cheered on by UKIP in 2017. Leaving the EU would be a disaster for the country.

Towards the end of his book Jon Golding reflects on the 1983 election “We went into the general election with an unelectable Leader, in a state of chaos with a manifesto that might have swept us to victory in cloud-cuckoo land, but which was held in contempt in the Britain of 1983. We thought that things could only get better, but they got worse” (pg 297)

There is a good chance that Labour supporters will only need to change the date in that paragraph if Jeremy Corbyn is elected leader of the Labour party.

Publication details

John Golding (edited by Paul Farrelly) 2003 Hammer of the Left: defeating Tony Benn, Eric Heffer and Militant in the battle for the Labour Party. Politico’s

ISBN 1842750798

His book  was completed posthumously by the current MP for the seat Paul Farrelly.

Engaging with key stakeholders – Ruth Smeeth MP

Here at Staffordshire University our focus is on applied research, many of us carry out research in the area with local organisations businesses and residents. Having strong links with Members of Parliament is important – academics can provide evidence and reports, MP’s can raise questions or topics they would like to see investigated.

Ruth Smeeth came into see some of the work and projects and to start our working relationship.

Ruth Smeeth with academics

From left to right

Jim Pugh – Acting Head of the School of Education interests includes primary teaching, access to education, also works extensively with international partners. Current research the impact of tuition fees on access to higher education.  @Jim_Pugh

Dr Chris Gidlow   – (Associate professor) – Primary care-based health and physical activity promotion, natural environments and health. Extensive experience of researching health in Stoke on Trent with key stakeholders.  @cgidlow_staffs 

Clair Hameed – Programme manager for Enterprise, all things enterprise. Clair has been extensively involved in start-up programmes including student start-ups @beinspiredsu 

Ruth Smeeth MP  www.ruthsmeeth.org.uk    @RuthSmeeth

Dr Katy Vigurs – the elected co-convenor for the British Educational Research Association’s Special Interest Group (SIG) on Social Justice and Education. Katy was also a key member of the BERA team that produced the Fair and equal education manifesto. Katy currently runs the post doctoral programmes in education. @drkatyvigurs

Jon Fairburn (Professor of Sustainable Development) – environmental justice, energy and sustainability, economic regeneration, tourism. Extensive experience of EU projects, has worked with many govt departments and the World Health Organisation  @BusinessStaffs

Geoff Pugh (Professor of Applied Economics) – education policy, international economics and macroeconomics. Current research agenda is focussed on small business development: in particular, on SME diversification and innovation. @BusinessStaffs

After a round table discussion of common interests  it was over to the Science Centre where Dr Roozbeh Naemi explains the new equipment being developed to help patients in the biomechanics lab @StaffsBiomechanics

Ruth Smeeth MP and Dr Roozbeh Naemi

Prof Nachi Chockalingham explains the process…

Ruth Smeeth and Nachi Chockalingham


Then it is time for Ruth to have a go…looking a little nervous ruthontreadpad


And the results are very good….



Onto the Geographic Information System laboratory with Dr Ruth Swetnam @drruthswetnam old maps of Tunstall digitised including former bottle banks and potteries

Ruth Smeth and Ruth Swetnam

Ruth Smeeth and Ruth Swetnam

So the end of our first big conversation together and plenty more to come hopefully.

University systems at a cross-roads

The person most likely to be the next President of the United States, Hillary Clinton, has made of higher education an election issue that it has rarely been before in the US. Her plan, costed at above £200 billion over the next ten years, seeks to control the spiraling costs of higher education and ensure that students can afford it with a minimum of debt. The plan may or may not be realistic for economic and political reasons, but it is a hugely important move in the American political landscape.

Meanwhile, in the UK, two announcements. First, from the Chancellor George Osborne, that maintenance grants for University students will be eliminated and replaced, like tuition was, with loans. The loans will have generous repayment and forgiveness terms, but nevertheless the burden of paying for higher education will now fall almost entirely on individual students (or their families). Second, from the man currently the front-runner for the leadership of Labour, Jeremy Corbyn, a proposal not only to reverse that decision but scrap tuition fees altogether. This, presumably, in the interests of social justice and in recognition of the vast contribution that Universities make to the UK, and not just by way of individuals and their job prospects.

As I noted in a recent post, it is difficult to imagine (in the real world, I mean) a more polarised set of visions of what higher education is, and who or what is it for.


Standardised testing and university admissions

The latest trend in HE admissions in the United States is to move away from standardised tests. George Washington University has just joined the well populated ranks of universities who feel that the tests may be doing more harm than good in expanding the range of their student bodies and allowing them to pursue their access agendas. Advocates of tests like the SAT or ACT in the United States have always argued that they can evidence a student’s intellectual abilities, regardless of that student’s background; critics have argued that such tests are more closely correlated to zip code, and to hot-housed test preparation, than to anything else. Wesleyan University has found that using school grades (as determined by individual schools and teachers) as a predictor of university success not only works well, but increases the intake of first generation and minority students.

Curious, then, that the UK should be so adamant that moving from course work to standardised national tests is the only way forward. I am thinking of the currently-being-introduced changes to GCSE and A level — although to be fair, these are subject exams rather than general aptitude tests. Curious, also, that in the US there are calls to expand the standardised testing that takes place after graduation from university.

What is university for?

There are two schools of thought, and never before have they been so polarised. The first school of thought is that a university education is all about economics, both for the individual (higher lifetime earning prospects) and the nation (gdp growth). The second school of thought is that such an education is about self-improvement, again both for the individual (becoming a skilled, critical, reflective member of the world community) and the nation (clear-thinking, responsible adult citizens). I have written about this polarisation before, e.g. here.

Probably most people beliefs are somewhere in the middle, or rather a combination. Yes, going to university is for self-improvement, but getting a good job ain’t a bad idea either. Or, yes university is my path to lucrative employment, and if I learn a few things about myself and the world along the way, that’s all good.

So, in the UK, the league tables of Universities have an uncomfortable job of trying to quantify both of these polarised positions simultaneously, in order to satisfy everyone. There are scores for student satisfaction, the quality of staff research, and class sizes (all of which are meant to be broadly correlated to the quality of the self-improvement experience), and there are job prospect ratings also. One of the reasons why these tables give such dramatically different results (a university ranked 50th on one might be 30 on another or 80 on the third) is the weight they give to these various opposite views.

In the United States, Money Magazine has admirably avoided this nettle. It has produced a ranking based entirely on economics, on return on investment. (Typically, you might notice, it is all about the economic benefits to the individual, since on this view of matters the wider benefits could only be achieved in that way). See the nearly ecstatic Washington Post discussion here. I say ‘admirably’ — what I mean is, this is a hard-headed way of denying any validity at all to the other way of thinking about the value of education.