News in brief - 26 February 2015

February 26, 2015

International students
China rising

The number of Chinese students enrolling on full-time taught master’s courses in England has grown to all but match the number of home students, and has resulted in postgraduate courses showing an “over-reliance” on China. An analysis of Higher Education Statistics Agency data by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, published on 18 February, finds that non-UK learners made up 74 per cent of the 2013-14 intake. The 29,360-strong Chinese contingent accounted for 25 per cent, up from 23 per cent in 2012-13. Home students made up only 26 per cent of the intake to full-time taught master’s courses in 2013-14, down from 34 per cent in 2005. “A combination of continued growth from China coupled with decline or decelerated growth from other countries has led to an overreliance on China at postgraduate level,” the report says.

Peer review
Secret identities

A top science journal is to offer authors the chance to remain anonymous when their manuscript goes through peer review. Nature and its wider stable of research journals will introduce “double-blind peer review” from March as part of a trial. The journals will continue to offer researchers the option of publishing their research using more traditional single-blind peer review, where the identity of the reviewers is concealed but they know who the authors are. Some believe that the single-blind peer review, which is used by the majority of journals, can be open to bias because reviewers form judgements about a piece of research based on the identity of its authors.

Academia beats Hollywood

Becoming an academic is the third most desirable job for Britons and is seen as more attractive than being a Hollywood film star. Survey results published by YouGov found that 51 per cent of people surveyed on their ideal jobs said that they would like to be a scholar, bettered only by the 54 per cent who opted for librarianship and the 60 per cent who thought being an author was the best career. Working in higher education beat professions such as lawyer (43 per cent), interior designer (41 per cent), television presenter (36 per cent) and Hollywood film star (31 per cent). “It seems that an aura of prestige still surrounds the quiet, intellectual life enjoyed by authors, librarians and academics,” the study reported.

Means rather than an end?

The way that UK universities prioritise research over teaching echoes the way that banks put profit before customers’ interests prior to the financial crash, two academics have claimed. Ken Starkey and James Devlin, of Nottingham University Business School, say that students at some higher education institutions have become “a means rather than an end” and that their fees “are treated as capital to be leveraged with a lack of transparency in terms of how [the fee income is] contributing to an improved student experience”. Writing in a pamphlet published on 19 February by the Centre Forum thinktank, they say that students “are taken for granted by a culture obsessed with research excellence in much the same way as banks were focussed on the glamour and profitability of investment banking at the expense of more traditional activities”. The authors acknowledge that there is unlikely to be a crash in higher education like that in the financial sector. What is more probable, they say, is that students will become more vocal over time, and their feedback – through the National Student Survey, for example – will cause a shift in higher education priorities.

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

A Times Higher Education investigation revealing that UK universities’ commission payments to overseas recruitment agents have topped £86 million, with an average of £1,767 paid per non-EU recruit, had our Twitter followers talking. Tom Such (@tomsuch) said the article offered “interesting insight into the ever-growing reliance on overseas education agents across the sector”, while @Terry_Hathaway described agents as “parasites on the academy”. “Who would want to study at a University that cannot attract students based on word-of-mouth and superior results?” asked @GerdLuders.

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