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 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 engagement
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.
 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.
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.
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.




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    @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.

Tourism and sustainability – new report

L'eroica Britannia 2015This new report on Tourism and Sustainability includes:

  • The most beautiful bicycle festival in the world L’eroica Britannia held at Bakewell in the Peak District
  • New EU project to support sustainability in the tourism sector – SMARTOUR
  • Totally Locally strategic marketing – a grass roots campaign being used in towns and villages across the UK
  • Great weblinks for visiting the Peak District, Staffordshire and Derbyshire
  • Tourism Management, Events Management and other courses you can study at Staffordshire University
  • Discussion of the Fairbooking campaign to support businesses
  • Some articles en francais

A print version of the report can be found here (23mb)

A web version of the report can be found here (1.5mb)

L'eroica Britannia 2015 
L'eroica Britannia 2015

The forgotten among the forgotten

THE reports on a study done for the HEA about the attitudes of part-time students at UK HEIs. P/T students feel like an after-thought at Universities, even including the OU (and, perhaps surprisingly, even more so at the OU). The way terms and classes are scheduled, deadlines, library loan periods — all are founded upon the traditional full time students, and part-timers just have to fit in best they can. It’s not a pretty picture, and although the main drivers for the dramatic decline in p/t are of course financial, this doesn’t help.

Nevertheless, the report doesn’t distinguish between undergraduate and postgraduate students — to me it reads as if undergraduate just assumed to be the big issue and postgrad is left to be an … after-thought. Full time pg numbers have held up pretty well over the past five years (other than a significant dip in 2013), but part-time pg numbers have been falling dramatically: 40,000 down from 2009 to 2013. P/T postgraduate students are the forgotten among the forgotten.

Numbers wise, they are hardly an after-thought, though: fully one third of all part-time students in the UK are postgraduates. Moreover, p/t pgs make up a much larger proportion of total pg numbers (just under half, believe it or not), than is the case in ug numbers (less than a fifth). Therefore, more of a problem, not less.

Sustainable Managers in the Tourism Sector (SMARTOUR) – EU project

SMARTOUR wants to define the profile of the Sustainable Tourism Manager, as a qualified professional that can contribute to the economic, environmental and social development of the community where the organisation is located.

In order to achieve its goals the project will develop a training path and related tools aiming to equip tourist professionals with the right skills to become a Sustainable Tourism Manager. This will include knowledge and skills to establish a sustainable management plan for the facilities under management, and to undertake the actions needed to achieve sustainability objectives from the environmental, economic and social point of view.

The project foresees the use of accessible online tools to allow people to understand which actions are the most suitable for their facilities. This should also enable a wider rural audience to take part in the project.

The Sustainable Tourism Manager model will develop as a result of the experience of the partners and the analysis of the territory where they are based, to encompass different perspectives, locational requirements and traditions. The structure of the project is therefore conceived to respond to European principles towards a European Area of Skills and Qualifications through the shared experience of the partners and joint recognition of training outputs. Very high turnover of staff occurs in the tourism sector, due to the inability to professionally progress through a lack of training or qualifications – this project will address this issue.

The project will be looking to work with a range of organisations including those managing accommodation, facilities and attractions. Please get in touch with the lead if you would like more information or to be involved in the project.

Project start Autumn 2015           Project end Autumn 2017

The project is funded under ERASMUSPLUS Key Action 2 Strategic Partnerships.


Jon Fairburn, Professor of Sustainable Development, Staffordshire University

+44 1782 294094


Vicki Disley, Newcastle under  Lyme College, UK

Dr. Julie Scott, Touch TD, UK

Barbara Maria Casillo, Associazione Italiana Confindustria Alberghi, Italy

Gianluca Coppola, Eurocrea Merchant Srl, Italy

Pirkko  Varis, Tampere University of Applied Sciences, Finland

Mattheos Kakaris, CrystalClearSoft, Greece



If anything, an underestimation…

THE reports on a study by KPMG, commissioned by Hefce, the headline claim of which is that UK Universities spend a cool billion pounds on quality assurance. (The full report is here.) Now, paragraph 68 lists the kinds of activities that count as quality assurance. Some are obvious: validating new courses, or completing and discussing annual monitoring. However, the list also includes ‘assessment of, and feedback to, students’. Hold on, there. That counts as quality assurance? Then, paragraph 74 tells us that the average academic staff member spends 8% of their time on quality assurance. The rule of thumb used to plan staff workloads is that one quarter of the total time allocated to teaching is spent on assessment (another quarter on preparation, and half on delivery). Everyone knows that this is a lousy rule of thumb, but even assuming it is correct, a not particularly grueling teaching load would yield around 15% of total academic staff time spent on assessment. So we’re already nearly double KPMG’s figure, and we haven’t even sat down in a meeting… Now, KPMG puts academic staff time as roughly 37% of the total economic cost of quality assurance; so, we have to add at least another 37% to their overall figure to compensate for that absurd value for the assessment of students. So, make that a super-cool 1.37 billion.

The publication of this work corresponds to an announcement of proposals to abolish the six-year cycle of institutional reviews. The two news items are obviously related, since a big part of the KPMG brief was to estimate the savings that eliminating these reviews would yield (the whole of section five in the report is devoted to this). This savings was difficult to estimate and KPMG has to resort to a pretty silly methodology in order to arrive at a figure (see paragraphs 11 and 154; basically, they cherry pick the data to exclude any institutions that didn’t believe there would be much savings — all you young researchers out there, please do not try this at home…) Their artificially inflated figure for savings is 90 million. A fair whack, to be sure, but less than a tenth of the total; no doubt BIS was hoping they would have been still more selective in their cherries.

Suppose we accept the figure. It still means that above 90% of the quality assurance cost is self-inflicted. Obviously, quality assurance is necessary — especially if it includes assessment of and feedback to students, and likewise no one would want universities to offer courses on a whim, nor allow any of their services to operate without oversight. Nevertheless, the opportunities for internal cost savings are absolutely enormous.



Stoke on Trent Literary Festival 2015

The 2nd annual Stoke Literary Festival is nearly upon us, which includes such luminaries as Michael Palin and Margaret Drabble. Everything is pretty much sold out, which is good news for the Festival and the city, but not such good news for anyone who still wanted to attend! The program includes research on Arthur Berry by our own Emeritus Professor Ray Johnson and Visiting Research Fellow Dr. Catherine Burgass.

How is education funded in the United States?

Until fairly recently, the vast majority of funding for came from two sources: the students themselves, and State governments. As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, the last year or so has seen some desperate maneuvering by State legislatures to cut the higher education bill (see here and here, for example). But this has been going on for a decade and a half, with a real crescendo around the time of the global financial crisis. A new report from the Pell Trusts provides overwhelming evidence of a massive shift in funding from States to Federal government. Now, since most of this shift is in Pell grants — the major Federal support given to low-income students — perhaps this is no surprise, what with a major recession and all. However, what the recent battles have shown is that the trend towards Federal dependence is not reversing, and States are refusing to pick up the slack again in improving economic circumstances, but rather have taken advantage of Federal funding to permanently reduce their higher education budgets.

Even free is not free enough — World Bank

This article in University World News reports on some statements by Francisco Marmolejo head of tertiary (further and higher) education policy at the World Bank. The headline idea is that in many areas of the world, free higher education does not greatly increase participation rates among the poorest sectors of society, and is ‘regressive’ — i.e. serves to consolidate wealth inequality rather than either overcome it, or increase social mobility.

There are a number of factors here: tuition fees are by no means the only cost incurred by a student. Obviously, there is the additional cost of living for 3 or 4 years. But more importantly is the cost of spending those 3-4 years not in employment. Where the employment prospects of graduates are very high, then all these costs become insignificant in the long run. However, this is determined not by higher education itself, but rather by the wider national economy, specifically the value placed on graduate-level employees, and the ability of bright young men and women from poor backgrounds to break into what high paying professions may exist. In many developing countries, it is simply not worth it for a young person and their family to make the sacrifice. Only the affluent can afford these costs.

But ‘regressive’? Marmolejo means that making higher education free for everyone leads to an under-contribution of the affluent to the costs of such education, relative to the benefits they receive. Whether his analysis is meant only to apply to developing countries (obviously the World Bank’s primary focus), or whether he would make the same claim more broadly, is not made clear. (The reporter clearly takes his claim in the latter sense, because it goes on to report on tuition fees in the UK and their rationale.) [UPDATE: Amazing how news stories kind of have a life of their own, spawning similar reflections half-way across the world. Here at the THE is a story presenting the evidence that, in the UK too, that background you bring with you to university determines the available career options after university. Specifically, that students with poorer backgrounds are excluded from access to the most lucrative careers. Just like Mexico, according to the World Bank.]

The piece also makes the observation that the very existence of Marmolejo’s role at the World Bank is a departure for the organisation. Previously, the WB had focused exclusively on primary and secondary education; only recently has its activity suggested that higher education is now part of its remit.

Problems in the private colleges in the USA

Rolling Stone has a good  article on how higher education is being dismantled in many parts of the USA – a word of warning for those that would like to see more market forces being allowed to run free. The UK seems to be following down this road at the moment as been discussed here

Only one University in the UK (as far as we know) ever got into very serious trouble , the question is would any Minister want to be the first to have a University go bankrupt on their watch? I suspect not.

In the US the latest problem in the private sector is “the high-profile bankruptcy of Corinthian Colleges earlier this month amid a wave of fraud investigations shows that the expansion of for-profit schools has hit its limit.”  I am unsure of the latter point given the worship of market forces and the general disdain for the public sector in the USA.

Science as a hammer

This is an interesting one: a MOOC on climate science, but with an important difference. It is not simply presenting the science, in the objective way that we all believe science is supposed to work. Rather, it is presenting strategies for swatting aside climate change deniers. It is essentially weaponising a scientific position. Many of us won’t object to this, since after all the position is one we support and, moreover, climate change deniers have played hard-ball for years now. Nevertheless, I for one am a little uncomfortable, in a way analogous to the way I am uncomfortable with any other ‘fighting fire with fire’ approach: fighting criminals who would impose upon our freedoms by … restricting our freedoms; or fighting religious extremism with …  satirical extremism. Something to think about anyway.

UPDATE: On the other hand, when you’ve got this to contend with, maybe real science could do with being weaponised.

Dr Katy Vigurs presents BERA manifesto to Tristram Hunt MP

Dr Katy Vigurs presents the BERA manifesto to Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Dr Katy Vigurs presents the BERA manifesto to Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Dissemination and communication of research is essential to good research and to informing society. Dr Katy Vigurs recently presented Tristram Hunt MP with the  British Educational Research Association ‘Fair and equal education manifesto.

You can download a copy of the complete manifesto at

The manifesto we have developed makes recommendations about how the Government, educators and the wider public can work towards a more equal society. We think, given the evident problems of our increasingly unequal world, that it is essential to reinsert the word equality back into discussions about the futures of children and young people, and recognise that we need to do more than offer ladders for social mobility to a few.