LLAS News Blog

News articles of interest to higher education LLAS subject fields.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Labour backs English baccalaureate to boost languages study

The government's English baccalaureate (Ebacc), which recognises pupils who achieve good passes in a mix of academic subjects at GCSE, has won support from Labour's education spokesman.
Stephen Twigg, who was appointed shadow education secretary last month, gave qualified praise to the measure, which he said might reverse the decline in children studying languages.

The Guardian

Monday, 21 November 2011

King's College London to establish dedicated Russia Institute in 2013

A new institute for the study of contemporary Russia is to be established at a London university, the latest in a network of institutes at King's College London devoted to mapping the rise of emerging powers.
The university's Russia Institute, due to open in 2013, joins an India Institute which opened in September and institutes focusing on Brazil and China that were set up in 2008.

The Guardian

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Skills warning over foreign language assistant cuts

The number of foreign language assistants in Scottish schools has fallen by 80% in the past six years.
Figures from British Council Scotland revealed the total had dropped to 59, down from 284 in 2005/06.
Only seven out of 32 local authorities employed native speakers of French, German, Italian, Spanish or Chinese

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Discard the irrelevant: Statistics don’t bleed, but our students do.

John Canning, LLAS Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies

Some rise by sin and others by virtue fall. William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

Statistics are everywhere in education. We have the National Student Survey (NSS), the First Destinations Survey, newspaper league tables, and the Times World University rankings among others. Universities are now required to publish ‘Key Information Sets’ (KIS) from 2012. The KIS has data from the NSS (the higher the agreeing percentages the better), the cost of university accommodation (presumably the lower the better), fees (the lower the better), graduate employment rates (the higher the better), percentage of assessment which is written exams (depends on the student) and number of ‘contact’ hours (again, depends on the student). In short if it can be measured the data is out there. And if it can’t be measured, we’ll find a way to measure it anyway, (research impact anyone?). Add to all this the information that students get from visit days, Facebook, twitter, the online student forums, friends and the phrase ‘information overload’ comes to mind. In his report Dimensions of Quality Graham Gibbs warns us about that immeasurable factor, reputation, which can override any real measure of quality. I suspect that all this information only serves to make reputation all the more important.

As I warned in a recent article on the NSS chasing the ratings can be tempting. Bad practices can beget good statistics which are really evidence of a bad situation. Sometime in the early 1990s I watched a football game between Cheltenham Town and Worcester City in the Beazer Homes League. Disappointingly, for those who feel distressed at having missed this mouth-watering encounter, I’m not aware of it being available on DVD, but the Worcester goalkeeper had an amazing game making save after save. But why was he so good that night? He had to be - the rest of his team were dreadful. The Cheltenham Town attack kept him busy all evening. And despite the goalkeeper’s super performance his team still conceded five goals (fans of the statistically excited sport of American football may find the illustrations on the Freakonomics blog even more exciting than my example). A course with a high number of contact hours could be one where students are spoon-fed in endless lectures or who have timetabled ‘group work’ sessions which exist for the sole purpose of increasing contact hours. Low rents may make university cheaper, but they can be a reflection of poor economic conditions or poor quality accommodation.

If we are near the top of the employability league we proclaim it online, at our open days and to anyone who will listen for ten seconds. When they work against us, statistics can motivate us to make excuses. We say that our performance reflects the industries our graduates go into; they have all gone abroad or they like our town so much they don’t want to leave and area doing odd little jobs until they decide what they really want to do. We seek loopholes – are office hours contact hours? Can we ‘reset’ that programme that didn’t do so well, by changing its name or by merging it with a more successful programme? Then there’s outright ‘cheating within the rules’ as when American football wide receivers (the person who tries to catch the ball when the quarterback throws it) once put adhesive on their gloves to enable them to catch better (a loophole in the rules now since closed). I am not going to speculate what the higher education equivalent of gluey hands might be, but statistics can bring out the worst in us. Mark Twain said that we are apt to use statistics like a drunk uses a lamppost – to support ourselves rather than to see the right way to go. As Escalus says in Measure for measure, “Some rise by sin and others by virtue fall” – statistics can facilitate our sins and our virtues. In this ‘New World’ of higher education more and more of us are looking back to our defacto ‘patron saint’ Cardinal Newman.

If then a practical end must be assigned to a University course, I say it is that of training good members of society... It is the education which gives a man (sic) a clear, conscious view of their own opinions and judgements, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them, and a force in urging them. It teaches him (sic) to see things as they are, to go right to the point, to disentangle a skein of thought to detect what is sophistically and to discard what is irrelevant. John Henry Newman, The idea of a University.

Higher Education statistics can lead us to pursue what is irrelevant. Let us seek the truth - the statistics will follow to vindicate us... possibly.

John Canning is Senior Academic Coordinator at the LLAS Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies, but writes here in a personal capacity. He can be found blogging about matters higher education at his website www.johncanning.net

JAPAN: Global Economy Exposes Japan's Shortage of English-Speaking Graduates

In Japan's business world, they call it the "Rakuten English shock." The country's largest online retailer has told its 6,000 employees that they must be fluent enough in English to converse with one another by next year. Executives who aren't up to speed will be fired; rank-and-file workers will find their path to promotion blocked.

That dramatic move by Rakuten's Harvard Business School-educated founder, Hiroshi Mikitani, is the latest sign that some Japanese companies are accepting a long-held truism: English is the language of global business. It is also, however, exposing a long-term shortage of local university graduates fluent in the world's lingua franca.

Chronicle of Higher Education