Letters – 17 January 2019

January 17, 2019

Do the sums before opening a foreign branch

As the University of Reading faces egregious losses over its branch campus fiasco (“‘Warning signals ignored’ over branch campus losses”, News, 3 January), university managers might usefully note the wisdom that the 1379 founder of this Oxford college set out in Rubric 48 of the 1402 Statutes, which he provided just before his death: “When contemplating new ventures and the financial calculations on which they are based, halve the expected income flow and double the anticipated expenditure; if the appraisal still shows a positive bottom line, proceed.”

William of Wykeham made it very clear what unpleasant medieval penalties the fellows of New College would encounter if his instructions were ignored; sadly, the incompetent and reckless decision-makers in modern university management never face any retribution and simply retire a year or two early on a generous severance package.

David Palfreyman
Bursar and fellow
New College, Oxford


Recapture control

The recording of lectures has received significant coverage recently, including two contrasting articles. Anna McKie’s piece, “Recording? Get the big picture” (News, 20 December) picks up on the work of Emily Nordmann and colleagues that rightly recommends the need for clear guidance for staff and students. It also affirms that lecture capture should be seen as supplemental to and enabling of the enhancement of teaching practice rather than just being a replacement.

In his opinion article (“Fast forward to satisfaction”, 20 December), Simon Fokt reflects on concerns that staff may have about being recorded and the use to which students may put those recordings. Recording of lectures long predates the spread of lecture-capture technology. When we were first considering adopting lecture capture, many colleagues noted that students were recording lectures on their phones or laptops. I therefore polled some of my students: significant numbers said that they were recording some or all of the lectures; in one group this was more than two-thirds of the class. When I repeated the exercise after the introduction of lecture capture, no students reported making their own recordings, the feedback being “Why would we?”

With lecture capture, the teacher can pause the recording or edit it before publishing, and the recordings are typically made available in streamed format from within a virtual learning environment rather than being downloadable. While these are not foolproof, when combined with clear policy regarding usage, there is significant return of control to the lecturer compared with the complete lack of control over independent recordings made by students.

Jon Scott
University of Leicester

In denial over drop

A sea change for HE” (News, 20 December) contained some welcome and encouraging news on the outbound mobility of UK students, as well as the conversely depressing data on the feeble growth of inflows of international students to the UK, relative to almost every other country of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development between 2013 and 2016.

Admittedly, the growth in outbound UK students is off a small base, but the OECD data on inbound student flows demonstrate, yet again, how urgently the country needs the recommendations of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Students inquiry (in its report A Sustainable Future for International Students in the UK) to be accepted and implemented by the government, for the UK to begin to regain its lost share in a valuable and growing global market.

The Migration Advisory Committee inquiry (Impact of International Students in the UK) characterised the loss of 25 per cent of the UK’s international student market share between 2007 and 2016, from the Unesco figures that it quotes, as “a modest downward trend”. One might be tempted to suggest that this illustrates the lens through which the Home Office staff, who make up the MAC secretariat, viewed the evidence that they collated from the submissions to the inquiry and which coloured the committee’s recommendations – the very same evidence, one might suppose, that was submitted to the APPG inquiry that reported a mere eight weeks later.

James Pitman
Managing director UK and Europe
Study Group


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