Des O’Malley on Ireland as a republic, 1985 Dáil debate

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From the Dáil debate on Family Planning (Amendment) Bill, 1985, and worth reading in full… but here’s an excerpt:

“Republican” is perhaps the most abused word in Ireland today. In practice what does it mean? The newspapers do not have to explain it because there is an immediate preconceived notion of what it is. It consists principally of anglophobia. Mentally, at least, it is an aggressive attitude towards those who do not agree with our views on what the future of this island should be. It consists of turning a blind eye to violence, seeing no immorality, often, in the most awful violence, seeing immorality only in one area, the area with which this Bill deals. Often it is displayed by letting off steam in the 15 minutes before closing time with some rousing ballad that makes one vaguely feel good and gets one clapped on the back by people who are stupid enough to think that sort of flag waving is the way to make progress in this island — to go back into your own trenches rather than try to reach out to people whom we need to reach. Continue reading

Some points on Ireland’s university ranking ‘slide’

I did this a short while ago for another ranking, for work in Dublin Institute of Technology’s Higher Education Policy Research Unit (HEPRU), but here it is for the Times Higher Education World University Ranking. First some facts, then a tiny bit of analysis. I’ll make it quick. We read that Trinity College Dublin has slipped in the ranking from 129th position to 138th. From the data that THE makes available, however, the overall score for TCD, as provided by THE,  has improved, from 50.3 to 51.2:

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 09.16.53Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 09.17.43This is significant, especially when we consider that the overall score is not simply the aggregate of the five variables listed above. Alex Usher of Higher Education Strategy Associates notes in a recent post: “But this data isn’t entirely transparent. THE [...] hides the actual reputational survey results for teaching and research by combining each of them with some other indicators (THE has 13 indicators, but it only shows 5 composite scores).” This is especially significant when we consider what has happened to UCD in the THE ranking. We go from last year’s result, when it was in the top 200:

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To its latest rank, this year:

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Notice anything? The overall score is withheld. Sure, there are clear differences in the individual indicators, but what do these mean? Did UCD’s researchers really publish 15.3(%? Notches? Magic beans?) less this year (Citations)? The difference in Research is 0.9, so the “volume, income, and reputation” seems to be more or less intact. Teaching has actually improved by 4.6. At best, however, the overall ‘improvement’ in score by TCD could indicate (charitable interpretation of the ranking) that other universities are also improving, but that they have improved quicker. This echoes the truth about life among predators in the wild that you don’t necessarily need to be the fastest to survive a predator – you just need your neighbour to be slower than you.

An Irish Times article goes on about the above, saying that “main impact of the cuts has been on the student-staff ratio, which is one of the major factors used by all the ranking agencies.” Which is true. But the OECD in its recent Education at a Glance report notes that staff-student ratio is not an indicator of teaching quality, nor teaching outputs, nor results. It’s an indicator which has been jumped on because it is an intuition pump, in that it “elicits intuitive but incorrect answers.” There is as much evidence saying that large classes can lead to better learning outcomes as suggests the opposite.

One may then be inclined to agree with Prof. Andrew Deeks of UCD when he says “Our own analyses show that in terms of objective measures of teaching and research performance, we are performing well and making good progress.” The call to reverse cuts, in the hope that this will magically lead to an improved performance in rankings is a political argument. And that’s fine. But beware of rankings bearing ill-tidings. Rankings measure what they measure, rather than measuring the objective reality of higher education – and what they claim to measure may be questionable in and of itself.

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Andrew Gibson:

Along with some recent developments in Canada (Ontario at least), as highlighted by Alex Usher of Higher Education Strategy Associates, this is interesting. Time for an Oswald Spengler of higher ed to make some hay on this.

From Alex Usher’s piece, the following is telling (but he doesn’t use the word “peak” anywhere here):

The numbers by field of study are even more stunning.  Overall, there was a loss of 2,050 Ontario secondary students.  The decline in Arts enrolment was 2,600.  Put differently: more than 100% of the decline can be attributed to a fall in Arts enrolment.  Hell, even journalism increased slightly.  This should be a wake-up call to Arts faculties – however good a job you think you’re doing, however intrinsically valuable the Arts may be, kids just aren’t buying it the way they used to.  And if you think that isn’t going to have an effect on your budget lines, think again.  Even at those institutions where responsibility-centred budgeting hasn’t taken hold, cash-strapped universities are going to think twice about filling vacant positions in departments where enrolments are declining.

Originally posted on Bryan Alexander:

peakDid we just experience peak higher education in the United States?

I want to try out this hypothesis as a way of thinking about many current trendlines.  Readers and listeners know I have been tracking a large number of grimdevelopments in the American higher education world.  Synthesizing them is what I’m currently addressing.

Peak higher ed means we’ve reached the maximum size that colleges and universities can support.  What we see now, or saw in 2012, is as big as it gets.  After two generations of growth, American higher education has reached its upper bound.

Consider recent news and data:

Student population: The number of students enrolled in American higher education dropped by more than 400,000 from 2011 to 2012, according to Census data.   The number of graduate students also dropped over the same period, falling 2.3% after a decade of growth.  Note that the number of American…

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About those QS rankings and Trinity College Dublin’s “slide”

I’ll be brief. All kinds of teacup storms bubble up every year about rankings, especially with regard to Ireland’s ‘falling performance’, and usually with a focus on our leading institution, Trinity College Dublin. If we look at how things actually are, however, without a sub-editor’s eye for disaster, the situation seems less awful. Here is a link to Trinity’s rankings page. Check out the box on the right, on the ‘historical data’.

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 17.35.03We can ignore the numbers before 2011 (when QS split from Time Higher Education [THE], and they both went their separate ranking ways after 2009), and focus on what has happened in the QS ranking. Now, the weightings change for all of the rankings somewhat (though not really or at all for for the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities [ARWU]), but even with those fluctuations, Trinity’s score has in fact been improving. The rank has bopped around the place a bit, but there isn’t much to suggest that there is some kind of horrific decline in evidence here. Trinity’s QS score is improving, but its rank is not. So, we have to conclude that perhaps Trinity is getting better, but that other universities and institutions may simply be getting better more quickly.

Now, I know there is lots to disagree with here. QS scores what it finds important, Trinity is thus only getting better/staying the same according to what the QS wants etc. But there isn’t much sign of decline, with Trinity or other Irish HEIs. Trinity even made it into the ARWU top 200 hundred this year (one of the more research-stringent rankings, and begetter of all this “world class university” chatter). So yeah. Not quite the decline and fall that makes for good click-bait, but there you have it.

Sidebar: I note that Imperial College London is joint second this year in the QS. So what with the LSE and MIT similarly highly ranked, you’d think Trinity’s powers that be might consider the renaming exercise….

Quote: Rankings, reputation, and soft power

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“Plentiful information leads to scarcity of attention. When people are overwhelmed with the volume of information confronting them, they have difficulty knowing what to focus on. Attention, rather than information, becomes the scarce resource, and those who can distinguish valuable information from background clutter gain power. Cue-givers become more in demand, and this is a source of power for those who can tell us where to focus our attention.
Among editors and cue-givers, credibility is the crucial resource and an important source of soft power. Reputation becomes even more important than in the past, and political struggles occur over the creation and destruction of credibility.”

Joseph Nye, The Future of Power, pp. 103-4

Sugata Mitra on the role of technology in education

While looking around on the website of the Institute of International and Economic Affairs (IIEA, an Dublin-based think-tank), I discovered the following lecture by Sugata Mitra. Mitra, originally trained as a physicist, and then got into programming and technology, which has led to his present work on getting computers into schools and the ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiment. Ken Robinson’s TED talk gets a lot of attention (arguably too much if you’re me and you’re arguing), and though it undoubtedly introduced many people to the debates surrounding what education is and should be, it never quite hit the spot for me. Mitra’s lecture here – which admittedly isn’t subject to the TED tyranny of 20 minutes – goes from the history of education and technology in education, to the implications of sociological research on teaching and education, to specific policy and technical suggestions. It’s an hour long, but well worth watching. Alternatively, check out his own two TED talks below (Mitra also won the TED Prize in 2013). Much cause for optimism with the future of technology in education, mercifully free of the platitudes of tech in pedagogy and ‘there’s an app for that’.

“America’s Got Schadenfreude” – The reality of reality television

The complement to a culture of celebrity has become therefore the unabashed theater of cruelty, the public spaces where we gaze upon the half-speed car wrecks of the lives of others in the throes of failure, Nascar for the politically challenged. In one sense the programming of everyday sadism explicitly aimed at the poor and distressed is so ubiquitous that one need hardly recite the titles: The Jerry Springer Show, Dr. Phil, The Apprentice, Shattered, Unbreakable, Big Brother, Hell’s Kitchen, Survivor, American Idol - it is hardly worth the minor effort that it takes to disparage it. A moment’s reflection reveals it is pervasive in American culture. Unremarkable people, desperate for some sort of acknowledgement and validation, yearning for some promise of escape from the stale and commonplace, offer themselves up on the altar of abject humiliation to an audience of millions; smarmy celebrities berate them to their face; and the spectacles proliferate because they are cheaper for the networks to program than either scripted fiction or news. In many instances, the audience is even encouraged to pay to “vote” for those to ostracize and banish – a clear simulacrum of the neoliberal marketplace.

Philip Mirowski, Never Let a Serious Crisis Go To Waste, p. 133.

This sums up, in a few sentences, what has sat unparsed in my mind for the better part of a decade. I recall once in conversation using the title “America’s Got Schadenfreude” as simultaneous shorthand for and dismissal of these types of shows. It saved discussion. The characterisation so satisfied me that I had left things at that, and moved on to other things. I don’t own a television and I don’t watch television on my laptop. These shows are of no relevance to me. Yet what Mirowski writes here is important because it explains why not caring about (or indeed carrying around a psychologically analogical underground coal-seam fire of hatred for) these shows isn’t simply snobbery. That is the usual assumption when the subject comes up. “I don’t watch television” is a sentence that is becoming increasingly difficult for people to interpret in any other way than “I think I am superior to you”. The truth is closer to the polar opposite in that I think we are, all of us, so much better than what is put up on our televisions. Perhaps the part of my brain dedicated to a love of documentaries, PBS, and the (old) BBC is hyperdeveloped, and pressing on that part of the brain concerned with ‘just enjoying’ myself. So be it.

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