Wednesday, November 05, 2008

How to mislead by selectively telling the truth

The headline: Downturn causes students unease over degree choice.

The data: 8% of a sample of 357 final year students "wish they'd chosen a different degree given the current economic climate". 4% of a sample of 1,041 students of all years.

If this headline were honest, it would be 'Downturn causes small minority of students unease over degree choice. More than 90% still happy.'

Don't mess with statistics.

Researcher Brain Drain

There's a report coming out soon looking at a downturn in the number of young researchers entering academia. The Independent provides an interview with the author, Nigel Thrift of Warwick University.

This report will make interesting reading when it emerges, but judging by the interview it may continue to indulge the wishful blindness that the HE sector indulges in when it considers postdoctoral careers. The simple fact is that the HE sector treats its researchers poorly, is not honest about their career prospects and is reluctant to give them job security. The work of Vitae is trying to alleviate this, but if you tell the best-educated young people that they will have to work several short-term, temporary contracts in order to get a 20% chance of a permanent post - and that 80% of them will be looking for a new career in their 30s if they persist - then it is unsurprising that many will be reluctant to take that on. Instead, they'll leave university now under their own steam and take their chances rather than have that choice forced on them several years and several stressful contracts down the line.

In fact, I suspect that an economic downturn will mean more researchers staying on because of a reduction in opportunities outside university. Hopefully the sector will start to treat the researchers it needs to keep afloat a little better.