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December 7, 2006

VC blog
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» The Graduate Employment Debate

The University recently hosted a dinner with Richard Lambert the new Director-General of the CBI, and CBI members from the Valleys economic community. Many of these “Valley members” were chief executives of manufacturing and service organisations and were particularly concerned about the use of the term “graduate employment”. They were pointing out that in factories and call centres, they had need of highly trained graduates in engineering, science, I.T and business in order to compete in their particular markets. They were concerned that many graduates would be “put-off” applying for these posts because they may not be perceived as “graduate jobs” or “graduate employment”.

So, who decides whether one job is deemed “graduate employment”, but another not? The CBI? The Welsh or UK Governments? A panel of “experts”? or representatives of Skills Councils? None of these. No, the sole arbiter is “The Times”. Interestingly, graduate employment data feeds the Times’ league tables and, unsurprisingly, does not include those jobs that the CBI Valleys industrialists were attempting to attract graduates into.

The data for The Times is collected from each HEI via HESA and although HESA do not report on it, it is provided to The Times – presumably under contract. I sit on the HESA Board and I shall register my concern, re. HESA’s complicity in this matter.

I need no further evidence than to read our own internal Graduate Destination Report. I quote “All our competitors in Wales have seen their scores (graduate employment) drop in the last two years … the exception is Cardiff University”. Clearly Mr Murdoch wishes to reinforce the erroneous belief that only those engaged in public service and business function professions meet the Times’ “graduate employment” criteria. At a time when, key to Wales’ future prosperity are …

1) increasing the share of global private sector markets
2) research and development into new products

I suggest we disregard this rather spurious notion of a “Times graduate” job as an indicator of any substance, whatsoever.

December 6, 2006

VC blog
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» The A Level Debate

Why do the British always react cynically to any mention of improved standards in secondary schools? At dinner parties, or any other social gatherings, people who otherwise would be categorised as of the “sensible variety”, proclaim with sincerity that educational standards must be being “dumbed down”. These are usually people whose last relationship with secondary education was some twenty years ago and who have probably contributed to their own children’s homework in a very “supportive” way by helping them compose/write the report that contributes to the coursework element of a particular A level module, for example, in philosophy and belief.

When questioned further, it transpires that they “know” secondary educational standards are being “dumbed down” from the following “evidence”:

1. Innuendo.
2. What a personal friend in high places in a school/ LEA / government department has told them.
3. They read it in the Times / Daily Mail / Independent / Guardian / Express and therefore it must be true.
4. They have an instinct for these things.

Unsurprisingly, there is absolutely no hard evidence for any of this. Any so-called “evidence” is inconclusive and this is hardly surprising as any basic research methodology programme would counsel against comparing apples with pears, e.g. old fashioned “one exam” ‘A’ levels circa 1968 with the modular ‘A’ levels of today.

What we do know is that a greater proportion of A level students are achieving A and B grades than before and more students, as a percentage of the eighteen year old cohort, are passing A levels or equivalent examinations. Instead of celebrating this huge success, the good old traditional cynical response is to cry “dumbing down” and to argue that top universities and FTSE 100 businesses cannot possibly differentiate between the very best students with A grades. This, of course, is ridiculous. The top universities and businesses have a vast array of techniques to differentiate between students/applicants including interviewing, additional tests, etc.

Nevertheless, under pressure, the Government (through the DfES) has responded to this media howl of “lower standards” and “dumbing down”, by producing an A level grade of A star. This announcement flies in the face of a credible widening participation and access policy. The private schools have a new target to aim for that will enable them to differentiate their pupils from the rest. How is Bristol or Cardiff going to pursue widening access intake strategies when private schools are likely to respond to the latest news by “cramming” their pupils so that they achieve three A stars and crying “foul” if any other measurement is used for university entrance. If you live in the near environs of Eton or Harrogate you will probably be able to hear the champagne corks “popping” as, once again, the difference between “them” and “us” is reinstated, courtesy of the DfES.

November 6, 2006

VC blog
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» ... A hugely exciting, yet challenging year in prospect

As I write my first Blog of the new academic year, first year full-time recruitment is very encouraging and I would like to thank all those involved in the recruitment and enrolment of students, whether in marketing, enquiries and admissions, campus services, student services, student registry or in faculties themselves. I visited many programme tutors and administrators throughout the clearing process and I would like to thank them personally for the work they undertake on all of our behalf.

Those of us involved in Open Days know that the recruitment process for September 2007 is well underway. The enthusiasm of those involved is very heartening, given the pressure that we have been under to increase full-time student enrolments. Open Days are extremely important in the recruitment process and I am always proud of the way the Open Day team represents the University.

The clear agenda, given this enrolment success, is to improve the retention of these students. There are a number of staff development activities which need to be implemented – peer review of teaching, appropriate and compulsory training for new staff, understanding and support for advice centres, customer-focused training, and, underpinning all of our work, a continuing focus on student needs and aspirations. It can be argued that excellent learning and teaching activities and learning excitement in the lecture and seminar rooms will do as much to retain students as the student support that Glamorgan is justifiably renowned for throughout the sector. Academic quality is clearly key in our deliberations this year and will remain so.

This year is the first full year of Merthyr Tydfil College operating within the University. I look forward to a very positive year where corporate services become more formally integrated and, advice and support from faculties on academic matters becomes commonplace and two-way.

I am also keen to reinforce our relationships with our accredited college network and welcome Neath Port Talbot College into the forum this year.

In terms of strategic alliances, the work with RWCMD goes on apace with the development of a proposal supported by the governing bodies of both institutions and HEFCW which will be submitted to WAG for their agreement to a newly integrated college within the University from 1st January 2007.

The new campus building in Cardiff moves on apace. We look forward to a high quality building matched by high quality provision. I would like to thank all of those members of staff involved in this project, with particular thanks to Alun Woodruff, Director of Estates.

Whilst these projects are indicators of expansion and confidence, it is the core business of providing a high quality learning experience for all our students which is at the heart of our purpose as a first rate University. This is the year we will debate the concept and practice of the Glamorgan Academic that reinforces the place of scholarship and research within the student’s learning experience.

We have a hugely exciting, yet challenging year in prospect. I look forward to it with relish.

July 24, 2006

VC blog
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» The End of Another Academic Year ...

The end of another academic year is a time for reflection; did we achieve what we set out to do, what could we have done better, what lessons are to be learnt. I can confidently say that most of the things that we set out to do have been achieved … the Cardiff development is on track, faculties will be established next week, the Enquiries and Admissions Unit is up and running, the Estates Strategy was submitted to HEFCW, and so on. The “to do better” list includes meeting our undergraduate credit targets and improving student MIS, but I am certain that measures put in place this year will make a fundamental impact in the coming years, e.g. introduction of scholarships, establishment of Advice Shops, review of Quercus +, etc.

The 2005-06 academic year was also a difficult year arising from the protracted pay dispute. I am, as I am sure you are, glad that this issue has now been resolved. The examination period was a particularly difficult and stressful time for staff and I thank you all, especially the support staff, for the extra effort put in to ensure our students graduated last week.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all staff involved in the Awards Ceremonies, which as ever, went very smoothly. The temperature in the hall was an issue, but we can hardly complain given that winter will be soon upon us!

Have a good summer, wherever you may be, and I now look forward to working with you in 2006-07 in the pursuit of achieving our key strategic priorities. See you at Clearing!

June 19, 2006

VC blog
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» Details of the nationally agreed pay award – subject to ballot

I thought it would be helpful if I explained the details of the pay offer that is currently subject to ballot.

Every year, the nationally agreed pay award is presented to the University’s Board of Governors to consider and approve locally.

As this institution will not have implemented a new pay and grading structure (as part of the National Framework Agreement) by 1 August 2006, the award, if approved by Governors, would be applied to current pay scales. The detail of this is being finalised at national level but as soon as the rates are available they will be posted on Inform.

The national agreement provides for pay rates for non-clinical staff covered by HE national agreements to be increased as follows:

August 2006 - greater of 3% or £515
February 2007 - 1%
August 2007 - 3%
May 2008 - greater of 3% or £420
October 2008 - greater of 2½% or RPI (as at September 2008).

If you have any queries about the pay award, please refer them to the HR department.

April 4, 2006

VC blog
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» Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic Development)

I trust you will join me in welcoming Julie Lydon to the University as our new Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic Development).

Julie comes to us with a strong reputation in many areas, notably in relation to academic quality, learning and teaching strategy and implementation, retention, regeneration and outreach.

As you would expect, Human Resources has provided Julie with a comprehensive induction programme which will entail her visiting many parts of the campus in the coming weeks. If you see Julie on her travels, please do make her feel at home in the same way you did for me when I started at Glamorgan. This was a great help and much appreciated.