Sunday, October 26, 2014

British universities 'packing in too many students': Academics say standards are slipping because institutions are admitting more undergraduates than they can cope with

Standards in universities are slipping due to a ‘rack ‘em, pack ‘em and stack ‘em’ culture which has seen rising numbers of undergraduates squeezed into lecture halls, it has been claimed.

Academics say that institutions are undermining standards by admitting too many students and over-marking work to satisfy ‘money obsessed’ senior staff.

Almost a third believe that quality is being ‘compromised’ due to soaring numbers of students admitted onto degree courses.

And about four in ten lecturers surveyed by the Times Higher Education (THE) magazine admit they are increasingly encouraged to inflate results, helping boost the proportion of top degrees being awarded.

The research comes as Oxford revealed it had record applications from students this year while Cambridge said its entrant level was about the same as the previous record level.

There is growing concern over the impact of government reforms, designed to increase numbers of students entering higher education.

Last week, it was revealed that due to limited space in some universities’ halls of residence, students were being forced to share single rooms or take up places in bed and breakfast accommodation.

The THE magazine questioned more than 1,000 academics. Thirty-eight per cent claimed the ‘pressure to give better marks has risen’.

And 32 per cent said they believed their university had ‘compromised on student quality in order to maintain or boost student numbers’.

A lecturer in engineering and technology at a university in the South of England said the vice chancellor was ‘money obsessed’ and had ‘implemented a culture of rack ‘em, pack ‘em and stack ‘em’ regarding student recruitment.

He claimed that the ‘senior management team encourages unethical and immoral recruitment’.

A science scholar at one new university said: ‘It is not sensible for 50 per cent of students to graduate with first or upper second class degrees.

‘Forty years ago it was about ten per cent. Senior management do not openly admit to that change, but frontline staff more or less passively fall into line.’ A senior lecturer in northeast England claimed that ‘students on science degrees enter barely numerate and don’t always leave much better off’.

A professor in biosciences at a Russell Group university said: ‘Academic standards are slipping…marking not hard enough. Too many students are getting a first – 33 per cent in my subject.’

Figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency in January showed that that 69,625 students (18.4 per cent) gained a first last year compared with just 28,635 (11 per cent) a decade earlier.

In all, some 256,990 students (68 per cent) gained at least a 2.1 last year.


Illustration to be Handed Out at Public Schools: Human Bible Sexually Assaulting Woman

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist group, is planning to hand out in several Florida public high schools a pamphlet that features an illustration on its cover depicting a humanized Bible sexually assaulting a young woman.

The pamphlet is entitled: “An X-Rated Book: Sex and Obscenity in the Bible.”

The front cover of the small purple booklet is illustrated with a cartoon Bible--which has arms, legs, face and drooling mouth--sexually assaulting a screaming woman as she tries to escape its grasp.

According to a news release posted on its website, FFRF plans to distribute the pamphlet, along with several other brochures and a few books, in 11 public high schools in Orange County, Florida, in January. Orange County is in central part of the state and includes the city of Orlando.

The materials will be available at the high schools of the Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) on National Religious Freedom Day, which is Jan. 16. Each year, on this day, the OCPS allows outside religious groups to set up a table with pre-approved literature—including Bibles--that students can take if they choose.

Members of the outside groups are allowed to stay near the table and restock it as needed, but they are not allowed to have contact with students per school district rules.

FFRF Legal Counsel Andrew Seidel contended to that the pamphlet with the cover depicting a Bible engaging in sexual assault is “pretty tame” compared to the Bible itself.

“I think if you look at the content of that brochure and what is actually in the Bible, and some of the things that are in the Bible in terms of sex and compare that to the cover [of the pamphlet], the cover is pretty tame compared to anything that is in the Bible,” Seidel said.

“I think the bottom line is, you can’t consider any of our materials obscene when compared to the Bible,” he said.

The text of the pamphlet includes dozens of snippets from Bible verses that FFRF deems “obscene,” including Biblical passages mentioning sex, nudity and circumcision.

Seidel said that even if the image on the pamphlet does offend Christians, that’s a fair trade-off for how atheists feel when Bibles are passed out in school.

“I think we recognize that it might upset some people, but the Bible upsets many, many non-believers, especially when it’s being pushed in the public schools,” Seidel said. “So really, all it’s doing is placing believers and people who are in the majority in the position that we in the minority have been in for a very long time, and are in every time the government espouses one religion over another. That’s what we feel like all the time.”

FFRF gained the chance to distribute their “An X-Rated Book” pamphlet after engaging in a legal battle with the OCPS.

According to court documents, FFRF protested in 2013 when Orange County Public Schools began allowing World Changers of Florida, a Christian group, to distribute Bibles at 11 public high schools on Freedom of Religion Day.

In response, on Jan. 29, 2013, FFRF announced a plan to begin passing out packets of atheist literature, including “An X-Rated Book,” to the same public high schools that May. David Williamson, an FFRF member, then submitted the group’s literature to the Orange County School Board for consideration before it was going to be distributed, in accordance with the district’s rules.

After reviewing the FFRF materials, however, the school district decided to ban about half of its literature, including “An X-Rated Book.”

In a letter to FFRF dated April 22, OCPS Superintendent Barbara Jenkins explained why some of the group’s literature, including the pamphlet, would not be allowed in the schools.

“An X-Rated Book: This brochure may not be distributed,” Jenkins wrote. “This brochure will cause substantial disruption and is age inappropriate. There is a picture on the cover of a Bible book given human features sticking its hand up the dress of a woman.”

Jenkins added that the pamphlet included information on how to become a member of FFRF, and that the school district may “prohibit the distribution of materials which contain solicitations.”

On June 13, 2013, the FFRF filed a lawsuit against OCPS, claiming the school district had unlawfully discriminated against it and violated its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, according to court documents.

The OCPS and FFRF then made an agreement.

A Motion to Dismiss handed down in the Orlando District Court on June 3, 2014, states: “On or about January 3, 2014, Defendant unconditionally agreed to allow Plaintiffs to distribute the materials that Defendant had previously prohibited.”

The Motion to Dismiss also says: “Moreover, Defendant represented that it has ‘no intention in the future to prohibit these materials.’”

But, in keeping with a previous Florida court ruling relating to what outside groups can and cannot be distributed in public schools, the court also said in the Motion to Dismiss: “Indeed, Defendant may lawfully prohibit outside groups from distributing materials that are not appropriate for distribution in a school setting with the aim of controlling student conduct in the schools.”

“This includes dissemination of content that is sexually explicit, indecent, lewd, or offensive in such would ‘undermine the school’s basic educational mission,’” the court said. called and emailed OCPS and the school district’s legal counsel to find out why the school district had decided to allow FFRF to pass out the materials OCPS had previously banned, given that the court conceded that schools could lawfully prohibit indecent and lewd materials.

Katherine Marsh, communications director for OCPS, stated after speaking with the school district’s legal counsel: “At this time, Legal indicates they have shared what they can since we still are in litigation.”


Professor at top university was suspended for nine months after he was accused of sighing and being sarcastic during job interviews

A professor at a top university was suspended for nine months after he was accused of sighing and being sarcastic during job interviews.

Thomas Docherty was banned from the University of Warwick in January following allegations he had given off 'negative vibes' and undermined the authority of the former head of the English department.

The English and Comparative Literature professor was said to have been 'making ironic comments' and 'projecting negative body language' when interviewing candidates for a job.

Professor Docherty was banned from the campus and from writing references for students without permission during the suspension.

He was also stopped from returning their work or providing guidance on PhDs and was not permitted to have contact with undergraduates.

Today it emerged the professor - whose suspension was lifted last month - is set to be cleared of all allegations against him.

Professor Docherty, who is well-known as a critic of the marketisation and bureaucratisation of higher education in the UK, said: 'I'm looking forward to getting back to teaching, working with students and colleagues, and writing again, as normal.'

And writing on a Facebook page set up by students to show support for the popular professor, he added: 'I'm now able to say that none of the allegations against me were upheld.

'Throughout this past year, I have been deeply moved and touched by the level of support that I have received.

'The only way I can think of beginning to repay that is through my teaching and writing - and I look forward to returning properly to that in the hope that it will be adequate to what you deserve.

'There are many colleagues - students as well as staff - whose position has been more difficult than mine.  'They now deserve the benefit of our combined reasoning, arguing, and sustained democratic debate.

'Thanks again to you all - and, with luck, I'll see some of you in class, in conference, or just around and about.'

Katja Rebmann, a research assistant at the university, replied: 'Your teaching has been and I'm sure will continue to be inspiring - very pleased to have you back.'

The University and College Union (UCU) - who welcomed the lifting of the suspension - have now blasted the University of Warwick's procedures.

UCU regional official Anne O'Sullivan said: 'It beggars belief that an academic can be suspended with no contact with students or colleagues for almost a year while charges are finalised.

'The one thing this protracted process should ensure is that the University of Warwick looks closely at its internal procedures.

'There is clearly the need for a better structure to deal with these kinds of issues and to ensure that academics have a speedier form of redress.

'Academic freedom is a key tenet of our universities and staff should not be worried for their careers if they wish to speak out about matters of concern.'

Dennis Leech, president of the University & College Union branch at Warwick, added: 'The fact that a member of the academic staff can be suspended for almost nine months and subject to such a protracted disciplinary process suggests that there is a need to review the governance of the university.

'I hope the university will look again at how it can strengthen its procedures to protect and defend academic freedom, which this case exemplifies to be threatened from obtrusive managerialism.'

A spokesperson for the University of Warwick said the process had taken the time it did 'in order to accommodate the specific requests and needs of all the participants in the process'. 

In 2011 Professor Docherty published 'For the University: Democracy and the Future of the Institution', which has been described as book that 'helps to make more people aware of the contradictory and short-sighted way that universities are now discussed and managed in Britain.'


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