Revealing storm re university funding in the US

Over Easter weekend, the New York Times published an editorial about university funding, the headline conclusion of which was that the cost of higher education (i.e. tuition fees) was rising not because of decreasing state support, but because of ‘bloated’ administrative costs. Although one might want to sympathise with the latter half of the claim — especially given the UK pay survey reported in the THE at roughly the same time — the web erupted in anger over the first claim. See comments here and here.

It seems to me, however, that both sides are enlisting statistical facts in a disingenuous manner. There are some costs associated with running a higher educational institution that are not directly proportional to the number of students. (Running a football team would be a facetious example; running a library, producing marketing material or giving a lecture are a better ones.) The crisis in small liberal arts colleges should be understood — in part — in just this way. This means that a doubling of student numbers does not in principle need to be accompanied by a precise doubling of funding. This explains the NYT contributor’s bizarre analogy of military bases. But, it does not prove his case, since there are few if any costs that have no correlation at all to student numbers.

However, the lesson for us in the UK is that a proliferation of small institutions, each running their own show, is a recipe for funding difficulties now and in the future. This is, by the way, the other side of the too-much-concentration argument that Jon and I have been rehearsing on this blog. The relationship between size of each element, and the number of elements (likewise the diversity of missions of each), surely can be optimised for any given system of provision. At the moment, though, it is not optimised on either side of the Atlantic. Here, for example, official policy encourages a proliferation of small HEIs, but then only adequately funds roughly 20% of them.


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.

The death knell of liberal arts education?

A well-known women’s college in Virginia is closing (stories here and here). While it is always sad to see a venerable institution go under, there is a much bigger underlying story here about quite radical changes in the shape of higher education. There is some current debate about whether these kinds of events mean that ‘liberal arts’ education per se is declining in America (in favour of vocational education, for example). The account here, for example, argues that liberal arts is alive and well in the ‘Honors Colleges’ that are part of big state universities. (An Honors College is an institution within an institution, providing a richer curriculum to high achieving students.) What is more clear is that the model of the liberal arts college — generally small, private, not-for-profit institutions staff by enthusiastic teachers and without much of a research profile — is declining. For more than a century, this model has been a big feature in the higher education landscape. Those colleges that are surviving are doing so by expanding their student numbers far beyond the intimate numbers for which they were famous and valued, or linking up with larger institutions. What the tale of Sweet Briar College makes clear is that the demographic of students has changed enormously, so such colleges draw students by offering more and more financial aid and scholarships, and fewer and fewer pay the full tuition fees. Another lesson, it seems to me, simply has to do with the cost ratios of providing higher education. The level of facilities and services demanded today, means that a small college will pay proportionately more of its income on keeping the place running, as opposed to just paying teaching staff. Just as in the UK, then, institutional mergers look to be an increasingly likely solution. The fact that Sweet Briar is on 3200 acres and has a couple dozen historical buildings no doubt doesn’t help…

Three key articles on the changes in Higher Education

Prof Stefan Collini’s article in the October 2013 London Review of  Books is partly based on the review of two books from key individuals (see notes 1) . His article is very strong, detailed and beautifully written. Some quotes -“But for all their differences, these two books provide a chillingly convergent description of the huge gamble that is being taken with higher education in England: an unprecedented, ideologically driven experiment, whose consequences even its authors cannot wholly predict or control.”

“Future historians, pondering changes in British society from the 1980s onwards, will struggle to account for the following curious fact. Although British business enterprises have an extremely mixed record (frequently posting gigantic losses, mostly failing to match overseas competitors, scarcely benefiting the weaker groups in society), and although such arm’s length public institutions as museums and galleries, the BBC and the universities have by and large a very good record (universally acknowledged creativity, streets ahead of most of their international peers, positive forces for human development and social cohesion), nonetheless over the past three decades politicians have repeatedly attempted to force the second set of institutions to change so that they more closely resemble the first.”

Marina Warner writes from her personal experience and how she was forced out at one University and the proliferation of gagging orders at Universities, March 2015 London Review of Books.

Andrew McGettigan brings us right up to date with the student loan book, the possible sale of the loan book and the impact on the national debt. Here is just one of the quotes “It is now thought that the new higher education funding system will add more than £100 billion to the national debt before repayments reach a significant level in the mid-2030s. At that point, the OBR thinks, the borrowing to create student loans could constitute one-fifth of national debt.”

All articles from the London Review of Books – excellent for long thoughtful reads.

Note 1

The books reviewed in Collini are:

Everything for Sale? The Marketisation of UK Higher Education by Roger Brown, with Helen Carasso Routledge, 235 pp, £26.99, February 2013, ISBN 978 0 415 80980 1 and

The Great University Gamble: Money, Markets and the Future of Higher Education by Andrew McGettigan
Pluto, 215 pp, £16.99, April 2013, ISBN 978 0 7453 3293 2

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).

Still more ‘distant mirror’

You wait ages for significant international developments re student choices and tuition fees, and three come along at once! Here is a major report from France, putting forward a vision for the future of French Universities, and especially their international competitiveness. At the moment, in France there is no tuition fee premium based upon residence: everyone pays the same really very low fee. The headline proposal is to charge non-EU students full economic cost — interestingly, with the exception of doctoral students, who are seen as research assets in and of themselves. The money gained is to be plowed back into French higher education, and there this is to be accompanied by no decrease in the level of central funding (good luck with that one). The point is that, by dramatically improving the product that French universities can offer international students, France’s market share will increase despite the rising fees.

This proposed move is broadly in keeping with the ‘super-university’ proposed for Paris, Paris-Saclay, which will join 19 universities together in a single entity, the better to compete in international league tables. While this model can work for Paris, one wonders what might in store for regional institutions who don’t have geographically near-by HEIs with which to merge.

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

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

A blog for the project is here

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.

Public lecture: Joan Walley MP ‘A woman’s place is in the house’, 9th March

Joan Walley MP ‘A woman’s place is in the house’, 9th March 6:00pm

Joan will reflect on her time in the House of Commons, consider how well women’s needs are met and what women can do to influence policy at international, national and local level.

Public lecture – to reserve a place contact or 01782 295860

Twitter accounts at Staffordshire University

An initial list of twitter accounts at Staffordshire University – if there are any more either add them to the comments or email

Business School

@BusinessStaffs Business School

@Tourismsu Tourism and Events Management staff
@PaulWilliams – Head of Business School – heritage and cultural tourism
@PaulDobsonUK – Senior Lecturer in the Business School
@Prof_RuneTBy – Professor Rune Todnem By is Professor of Organisational Behaviour, organisational change management and leadership; organisational ethics; HE management

School of Education
@aboutlearning – Steve Hall – Senior Lecturer in Education – areas of interest/research in metacognition, pedagogy, and education with enterprise
@drkatyvigurs – Senior Lecturer in Education – education and research
@Jim_Pugh – Principal Lecturer in Education – education and the student experience
@Russell_Spink – Senior Lecturer in Education – pedagogy and initial teaching training

Law School
@KrisLines – Senior Lecturer – research interests: sports law (particularly doping, personal injury and ambush marketing), torts, elearning
@DrJoBeswick – Medical law and ethics

@AllanWatson1 – Senior Lecturer in Geography – creative labour, films, music, cultural geography
@ProfFionaTweed – Fiona Tweed, Professor of Physical Geography – glacial processes and natural hazards
@drpaulbarratt – Dr. Paul Barratt, Lecturer in Human Geography – digital geographies and environmental engagements
@davemomo – Dr. Dave Moreman, Senior Lecturer in Geography and Environment – environment and sustainability
@StaffsGeography – News from Geography and the Environment, School of Sciences
@StaffsGeogML – News from Geography with Mountain Leadership,
@susdl_staffs – For notices relating to the postgraduate Sustainability and Environment programme at Staffordshire University

Politics, Arts Humanities
@rainerelkanders – Dr. Rainer-Elk Anders politics and the political economy of Russia, Ukraine and post-Soviet countries.
jackie_staffs – Dr Jacky Reynolds  Senior Researcher , arts and community engagement

Psychology, Sport and Exercise
@DrJamieBarker – Dr Jamie Barker, Sport and Exercise Psychology
@DrMattSlater – Matt Slater, Sport and Exercise Psychology
@ProfMarcJones – Professor of Stress and Emotion
@ProfRodham – Karen Rodham, Professor of Health Psychology
@pgwjones_dr – Dr Peter Jones, Head of School of Psychology Sport and Exercise
@JackyForsyth – Senior Lecturer in Sprt and Exercise
@SUPeakCondition – student-led sports science support service

Engineering and computing 
@lady_akatosh Debbie Roberts – Automotive/Motorsport/Engineering/Women in said areas/Academia/personal views
@staffsracing – views and news for students on Automotive/Motorsport courses at Staffordshire
@aerostaffs – views and news for students on Aeronautical courses at Staffordshire
@jcwestlake –  Jonathan Westlake, Technology blogger and outreach news
@MartinFiddler – in School of Engineering, comments on HE, recruitment and Aeronautics

Executive/Senior Staff
@StaffsUniVC – Michael Gunn, Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive
@mikehamlyn – Mike Hamlyn, Director of Academic Enhancement
@daveparkes – Associate Director, Information Services

Enterprise and careers
@beinspiredsu – Be Inspired, business support, entrepreneurs and student businesses programme
@Staffs4Business – For Business, Enterprise and Commercial Development
@careeratstaffs – Careers service

Stoke’s Big Debate: Election 2015

Have YOUR questions answered in an hour-long General Election debate on the issues that matter.

Chaired by Professor of Journalism and Politics Mick Temple

Venue: Staffordshire University Science Centre

Date and time: Friday March 27, 6.30pm

Confirmed participants:
Tristram Hunt (Lab)
Jan Zablocki (Greens)
Liam Ascough (Cons)
Dr Zulfiqar Ali (Lib Dems)
Mick Harold (UKIP)

Book your place: 01782 295860/

Attendees are invited to submit their questions beforehand to

Students use your vote!

This general election on the 7th May 2015 will be one of the most important in recent history – not only do the two main parties have radically different views on the function of the state but they will also be joined by a range of minority parties including the Greens, UKIP as well as nationalists.

Turnout at the last general election in Stoke on Trent was poor:
Stoke North 55%
Stoke Central 53%
Stoke South 58%
it was also poor amongst young people, nationally just 51% of 18 to 24 year olds voted.

Poor turn out by young people and students is one of the reasons that we have the highest student fees in Western Europe and generally poor support for young people. Both main parties target policies at pensioners and older people as they know they are much more likely to vote.

Voting can be viewed in many ways:
a. A right established over centuries in the UK – this is the 800 year anniversary of Magna Carta
b. A duty as a citizen and as a remembrance for all those who died to establish and maintain democracy.
c. A way of showing your support for ideas and for change in society.
d. To act as a beacon across the world. All over the world people are killed, tortured and imprisoned simply because they want to have a vote and say in their country.

So this time there is a big drive both locally and nationally to engage students and young people and to get out the vote including:
1. Staffordshire University Students’ Union has successfully applied for funding from the National Union of Students to train General Election Ambassadors, who will be driving up engagement. And they have also had their application for the University’s first on-campus polling booth approved.

2. The NUS has launched a General Election campaign called “New Deal for the Next Generation” that declared: “Students could swing almost 200 seats at the General Election”. For further information visit:

3. Come along and debate the issues with our special event at the University, chaired by Professor of Journalism and Politics Mick Temple, panel members include Stoke Central MP Tristram Hunt and Stoke Central Prospective Parliamentary Candidates

  • Liam Ascough, Conservatives,
  • Jan Zablocki, Green Party,
  •  Mick Harold  UKIP
  • Dr Zulfiqar Ali Liberal Democrats
  • Mick Harold (UKIP)

Venue: Staffordshire University Science Centre
Date and time: Friday March 27, 6.30pm

Book your place: 01782 295860

If you haven’t registered to vote yet then see these links

If you live in Stoke on Trent then here

The registration deadline is 20th April.

What is a University education for? To create an informed, discerning, educated citizen so take your place in society discuss, debate and VOTE. And if you really don’t like any of the political parties then form your own party or stand as an independent.

Research Excellence Framework funding – a fair share needed

Universities are vital to a successful local and regional economy; many of them are carrying out applied research with business and other stakeholders such as Local Enterprise Partnerships. The Research Excellence Framework funding allocation acts as seed money for many of these universities. For example, the money we have received last time at Staffordshire University has allowed us to lever in EU project funds and to provide staff time to bid successfully for work with companies.

December 2014 provided the announcement of the Research Excellence Framework results for British Universities. What these results demonstrated is that world class research was occurring throughout most of the University sector although often in pockets within a University. The summary for Staffordshire University is here

Research funding in the UK is overly concentrated in two ways:

a. The vast bulk of the money goes to a very small number of Universities, in fact University research funding is the most concentrated research funding in the world. For example, in 2013-2014 the top 9 universities received 51% of research funding, and 87 universities shared just 10% of the funding.

b. An incredible spatial concentration of funding to London and Oxbridge. A further concentration of funding is only likely to exacerbate regional inequalities in the UK.

Decisions on the split  for funding will focus on how much is awarded to 3* and how much to 4* units over the next couple of months. We need to see that research rated at 3* receives at least 40% of the allocated budget with the remaining 60% going towards 4* rated research that way world class research will get funded regardless of where it takes place.

Dermot Lynott provides an initial look at the Psychology ref and whether we are getting bang for the buck with some of the most prestigious universities.

Dorothy Bishop has an  entry on how the REF exercises over time have led to a divergence in the sector and whether this is desirable.

A wider spread of funding will be best for the UK and best for the regions the Universities serve.

Images of Research Competition

The Staffordshire University Images of Research Competition1 was launched in 2014. Here at Staffordshire University we are engaged in applied research that has an impact locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Through our Applied Research Centres (ARCs), smaller research institutes and centres, and our specialist business training and support service; we develop highly viable and practical solutions to real-world problems. We promote knowledge transfer. We support postgraduate research. We engage with industry, commerce, the healthcare professions and our communities.

The Images of Research Competition allowed us to showcase our work; using just an image and 150 words competition entrants aimed to give an insight into their research activity showing how they make a difference, have real world impact and produce real benefits. The competition culminated in an exhibition of the images in the Science Centre and the announcement of the winner.

Richard Halfpenny’s winning entry was entitled “The better to smell you with”. He is pictured below being awarded his trophy by Professor Allan Howells, Deputy Vic e Chancellor for Research, Enterprise and External Affairs at Staffordshire University.


Richard’s winning image

Richard photographed a section of the antennae of a male British mosquito, magnified 100 times. The mosquito in the image had come from Stoke-on-Trent. Richard explained how he is trying to learn more about how mosquitos use their antennae to find sources of sugar. If he can understand more about this behaviour and the kinds of smells that attract mosquitos, he hopes to develop chemical smells that will work to better control mosquitos in the future.

awarding of prize

Richard receiving his award from Prof Howells

***** ***** *****

Link to PDF of the brochure.Images of Research Brochure


1 This competition was inspired by Images of Research at the University of Bath.

Welcome to the Professoriate’s blog!

Staffordshire University Professoriate

The Professoriate is a forum for the Professors of Staffordshire University to influence and contribute to the advancement of University Policies and Strategies in the areas of Research and Scholarship, Learning and Teaching, Enterprise, Research Governance and Staff Development.

The members of the Professoriate act as academic ambassadors and intellectual leaders, to enhance the research, scholarship, teaching and learning and enterprise culture within the University. To facilitate this several events across the University are being supported and hosted by this group.

Currently, it is coordinated by its Chair and a core group of Professors drawn from all Faculties and subject areas. This group meets a few times a year to discuss key issues.

The whole Professoriate normally meets twice a year with another extended meeting in summer hosted by the Vice Chancellor, which will be extended to the Emeritus and Visiting Professors, Visiting Fellows and Associate Professors.

We hope you enjoy reading the blogs and contribute to the discussions!