Friday, April 28, 2006

100k? And Whither The RAE?

Two stories this time around. The first is the annual UK Graduate Careers Survey, in which we discover, amongst other things, that 12% of a sample of 16,452 current finalists - or 1974 current final year students - expect to be earning 100k a year by the time they are 30. Whilst it is tempting to just have a bit of a laugh, it is a rather deeper concern that there are so many young people at university who don't seem to be sufficiently aware of the labour market that they are setting themselves up for disappointment. It is not as if information is not available to them.
One could also see it as refreshing that, despite a constant diet of gloomy stories, many finalists are so aspirational.
There's lots of other interesting stuff in the report (as long as you ignore the rather silly stuff about what students would do if they had to pay £3k tuition fees - which look really like a thinly-disguised 'do you agree with tuition fees' question.)

Over to the Higher Education Policy Institute, where the redoubtable Tom Sastry and Bahram Bekhradnia have produced a 74-page document assessing alternatives to the RAE. The authors are concerned about Gordon Brown's budget statement, and the 'Next Steps' document, updating the Science and Innovation Investment Framework, that came out as a result. The concern arises over the statement in Next Steps that after the 2008 RAE, research funding will be allocated on the basis of quantitative 'metrics', and mentions specifically metrics based on income from research funders.

Whilst it is meticulously argued, I do wonder about the value of such a document so early in the process - we have no real picture of what these metrics will be, or if the process will change in the near future. But the authors do make excellent points about potential inequities in funding, and particularly about possible impacts on academic freedom.

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Monday, April 24, 2006

But...where's the evidence?

The headline on the front page of yesterday's Observer said, 'The true cost of a college education', and the story tells us that graduates now have to work until they're 33 before they earn as much as people who didn't go to university.

That sounds pretty bad. But...where's the evidence?

The story doesn't even tell us the methodology or where to find the report. It was conducted by Gabbitas Educational Consultants, a perfectly reputable consultancy specialising in private education and seems linked to Independent Remuneration Solutions, another perfectly reputable consultancy who do a lot of salary surveys (both companies share the same director, Peter Brown, who also lectures at Cranfield Business School).

But for some reason, none of the evidence we need to evaluate the piece is available. Until then, it doesn't add anything to the debate. Why was it printed in that form?

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edited at 10:45 on 25/04/06 because I got a crucial fact wrong - Peter Brown is identified as the author of the piece. Sorry.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Panel for Research Integrity

The new UK Panel for Research Integrity in the Health and Biomedical Sciences began operation on 12th April. The remit is to combat fraud in the health and medical sciences.

Professor Michael Farthing, of St.George's medical school, and the pro-VC of medicine of the University of London, chaired the planning committee, and has said some pretty robust things about supporting whistleblowers, particularly in light of the case of Dr. Aubrey Blumsohn, in which a senior Sheffield University academic was suspended from his job (which he has subsequently left) after highlighting concerns about the conduct of a drug study.

Sir Ian Kennedy, a medical ethics expert, will chair the board. Sir Ian has already described some university procedures for investigating misconduct as 'completely unequal to the task', 'not fit for purpose', and 'pitiful', so we can be confident that the Panel will take their role seriously.

The intial proposals for the panel are documented here, and it looks like a really positive move. Many critics of health research, rightly or wrongly, are very fond of throwing allegations of unethical practise at research they don't like, and this may help counter that.

So saying, Dr. Peter Wilmshurst of the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, an eminent cardiologist and member of the initial consultation panel, has expressed concerns about the panel operating under the auspices of UUK - arguing that UUK often has a vested interest in suppressing issues that are heavily critical of universities.