Posted tagged ‘Robert Gordon University’

Winter days

December 7, 2012

Winter has arrived in Aberdeen, and over the last few days we have had freezing cold temperatures and the first serious fall of snow. The scene below is the RGU campus in Garthdee, with Garthdee House in the background (where my office will be from spring 2013).

Garthdee, RGU, Aberdeen

Garthdee, RGU, Aberdeen

If you want to see a close up (and less wintry) photograph of Garthdee House, you can see one here.

RGU announces fees for students from the rest of the UK

September 23, 2011

As readers of this blog will know, there are no university tuition fees in Scotland for Scottish and EU students. However, in the light of the new fees régime in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and further in order to ensure that university places in Scotland are not placed under impossible pressure of demand from the rest of the UK, the Scottish government announced that universities can charge rest-of-UK students up to £9,000 p.a. from the academic year 2012-13.

Most Scottish universities have now announced their rest-of-UK fees, with a number of institutions opting for the £9,000 limit (though in the cases of Aberdeen University and Heriot Watt, these fees apply to three years only, with the final year free to those whose studies cover four years).

Today my own institution, Robert Gordon University, has made its rest-of-UK fees announcement, and we have decided to set fees in accordance with the actual cost of delivering the degrees. This means that we have set the fees in three bands, with fees ranging from £5,000 to £6,750, with one programme (Master of Pharmacy) having a fee of £8,500. Under this framework Scottish students do not subsidise students from the rest of the UK, and these in turn do not subsidise Scottish students; we regard this as a fair and transparent framework.

RGU will also announce a framework for scholarships, bursaries and student support for all students in due course.

Education and obesity

August 23, 2011

One of the biggest social and health problems facing the developed world is obesity. Obesity has implications for the health services, for insurance, for social policy and welfare, for transport, for public safety, for the fashion industry, for economic performance. In the United States it is estimated that obesity costs the economy some $75 billion annually, and affects such things as the size of clothes, the design of cars, even the average width of coffins and graves; 25 per cent of American adults are thought to be obese. But apart from the material costs there are also the psychological issues, including questions of self-esteem and self-confidence.

While obesity has an impact on almost every corner of society, it has particular significance in education. In Aberdeenshire it has been estimated that 8 per cent of primary school pupils are obese, and as these and other young people progress through education the problem gets worse. Across a number of countries serious questions can be asked about catering and eating in the education system. In Ireland there is generally no school catering, and as a result students leave school at lunchtime and, typically, eat crisps and chocolate, or junk food. In countries where there is a school catering service the quality of the food is often very questionable.

Nor does it get better, necessarily, at university, where catering is often built on what one might call the fast food culture.

However, as the problem gets worse, there are now university research centres on obesity. Some of the leading ones include centres at Yale University, Sydney University, Bristol University, and my own Robert Gordon University. One of the notable aspects of the work of these centres is that, apart from research, they also do outreach and public education in relation to obesity issues.

Obesity is one of the key health and social problems of our age. Universities need to harness their expertise to support drives for management of this problem and the search for solutions. At the same time, educational institutions at all levels need to ensure that their students enjoy appropriate and healthy diets. The future is at stake.

Graduate employment

July 17, 2011

Every year the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) in the UK releases data on graduate employment and unemployment. More specifically, it shows how many graduates are employed or engaged in further study six months after completing their studies. Leaving aside the position of graduates of smaller specialist institutions, the 20 universities with the best performance in the table published on Friday are as follows, in this order (figure in brackets is the percentage of graduates in work or study after six months):

The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen (95.7%)
Bishop Grosseteste University College Lincoln (95.5%)
The University of Surrey (94.8%)
The University of Edinburgh (94.5%)
Trinity University College (94.4%)
The University of Aberdeen (94.4%)
Canterbury Christ Church University (94.3%)
The University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (94.3%)
University of Glamorgan (94.2%)
Cardiff University (94.1%)
Harper Adams University College (93.8%)
The University of Keele (93.8%)
The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (93.8%)
The University of Huddersfield (93.7%)
The Nottingham Trent University (93.7%)
The University of Cambridge (93.6%)
Edge Hill University (93.6%)
Leeds Trinity University College (93.6%)
The University of Bristol (93.4%)
Newman University College (93.3%)

At the bottom of the table are the following:

London South Bank University (82.4%)
The University of Wales, Lampeter (81.1%)
The University of Bolton (79.9%)
UHI Millenium Institute (78.3%)
The University of East London (78.0%)

It is an interesting table. Two newspapers (the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail) have suggested that it shows that graduates of post-1992 universities fare less well in securing employment than old universities; this is not borne out by the table, which in fact suggests that at least at the top end old and new universities are not easily distinguishable. Actually, Oxford does not make it into the top 20, and Cambridge is at number 16. More generally the Russell Group universities do not perform particularly well. Scottish universities are, on average, better than English universities. And in that context, I am of course delighted that my own university, Robert Gordon University, leads the field.

Also interesting is the information about subject areas of study. The best post-study employment rates are in medicine and related subjects, followed by education, law, agriculture and biology. Mass communications and computer science fare worst.

Overall, even with the uneven performance between institutions and subjects noted here, a university degree still looks a good bet: 90 per cent of graduates across the UK as a whole are in employment or further study after six months. We do not have entirely up to date statistics for Ireland, but in 2006 the equivalent figure appears to have been 92%; it is likely that in current economic conditions this will have been eroded.

Gaudeamus igitur

July 14, 2011

All this week Robert Gordon University is holding its summer graduation ceremonies. I have always enjoyed these events, in all of the universities at which I have worked. In Trinity College Dublin they were (and, I believe, are) entirely in Latin; and the Provost has no active role at all, and does not speak (in any language). The University of Hull matched TCD for formality, though in the vernacular; well, the sort-of vernacular, in the sense that there was no requirement to use the remarkably strange Hull accent.

The conferrings in DCU and RGU both have an interesting mix of the formal and informal, and both seem to me to work very well. Graduations are of course milestones in a student’s life, and should be celebrated in a dignified ceremony. But they should also reflect a sense of achievement and joy, and this is best expressed in some moments of informality and sheer good humour. It is n ot an easy balance to strike, but both universities do it well, and this is confirmed by unsolicited comments from graduates and their families and friends.

For those presiding (which in DCU was always me, and in RGU is either the Chancellor or me, taking it in turns), a key task is to shake avery graduating student’s hand. During my ten years as President of DCU, I believe I shook about 25,000 graduands’ hands. There is a slight physical strain involved, but some might wonder whether there is also a hygiene issue. On one occasion at a graduation a student being conferred refused to shake my hand, loudly explaining that he had hygiene-related concerns about doing so.

Did he have a point? Well – and I am grateful to this website for the reference – this has been the subject of some research in Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. The researcher in question ‘got the idea for the project after years of attending the Bloomberg School’s graduations and wondering what would be growing on the dean’s hand at the end of the day.’ This was what he found:

‘Our study indicates when shaking hands, the rate of hand contamination among graduating students to be 100 times lower than the 17 percent rate observed among health workers caring for patients known to be colonized with MRSA. Reasons for the lower rate of contamination at graduations include the much briefer and less-extensive contact in a handshake and what we presume is a lower prevalence of MRSA in graduating students compared to hospital patients. Another reason may be that subsequent handshakes could remove pathogens acquired in an earlier handshake.’

And this is his very reassuring conclusion:

‘With a lower bound estimate of one bacterial pathogen acquired in 5,209 handshakes, the study offers the politicians, preachers, principals, deans and even amateur hand shakers some reassurance that shaking hands with strangers is not as defiling as some might think.’

As a semi-professional handshaker, with four more graduations to come this week, I shall embark upon my task with renewed confidence.

Changing places

March 18, 2011

Today, Friday March 18, is my last full day in Ireland before I travel to Scotland where, on Monday, I shall be taking up my post as Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. I am leaving the Irish higher education system just as it is going through some rather serious convulsions, most notably (but not exclusively) caused by the daft ‘employment control framework’. There are other challenges: the larger resourcing and funding question, the future shape of the sector, the autonomy of the universities, the degree to which rationalisation and restructuring is being pursued, the drive for a different model of employment terms and conditions for academic staff, the future of quality assurance in a new institutional structure yet to be properly established, and so forth.

I know that it is hard to be confident and optimistic in such a setting, but in fact many of the fundamentals of Irish higher education are still remarkably sound. Universities and colleges have managed to perform really well on much lower funding than what is available in our key competitor countries; Ireland’s academic research effort has grown exponentially over recent years and has contributed directly to the country’s growing success in attracting knowledge-intensive inward investment; the development of new intellectual property is growing; innovative new programmes of study are being rolled out; new technology-savvy learning methods are being pioneered. It is a resilient system, and in the end I believe it will overcome the obstacles. But those representing higher education need to be articulate and outspoken in defending its cause; not necessarily defending each and every thing that it does, because there is a need for some reform – but defending its importance and its potential for securing national recovery. Increasingly from a distance my own voice may not be so important, but for what it is worth this blog will continue to raise issues in Irish higher education, sometimes written by other contributors.

In moving to Scotland I shall encounter some similar issues and some that are different. I guess that funding issues are ones that come up everywhere right now, and Scotland certainly is no exception. Having nailed their colours to the mast of free higher education, the main political parties in Scotland are now grappling with how to make that affordable, and some rather curious ideas are now being mooted, such as the idea of charging EU students (and English ones, as is already the case), but not Scottish ones. This almost certainly cannot be dome within the terms of EU law. In the meantime funding cuts have placed strong pressures on the universities, some of whom are having to reduce costs significantly and with some dramatic consequences.  The question of whether universities are autonomous or are bodies that need to reflect government priorities has also been a live issue. But overall there is still, I believe, a reasonable degree of self-confidence in the system and a willingness on the part of politicians to give the university sector a high priority.

As I move from Ireland to Scotland, I cannot help feeling that, both as countries and as higher education sectors, we have many common interests, opportunities and problems. I hope that I shall be able to witness and perhaps stimulate some new connections between both jurisdictions. There is much to be gained from that.

The next phase

September 23, 2010

As some readers of this blog may already have heard, I have been appointed to the post of Principal of the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland. I shall be taking up the appointment in March 2011. For those who may not have visited it, Aberdeen is an extraordinarily beautiful city in North-East Scotland, and the university has established a magnificent reputation, indeed having just won the accolade of Sunday Times Scottish University of the Year. So as coincidence would have it, I am moving from this year’s Irish University of the Year, to the Scottish one. While of course I shall miss DCU, I am looking forward to the challenge and excitement of RGU, and to working with some extremely talented colleagues.

Judging from yesterday’s traffic on this blog, I suspect that we have already acquired some new Scottish readers, who are most welcome. During the months ahead, I shall continue to publish posts on higher education in Ireland and elsewhere, but you may find a Scottish angle emerging in some of these posts. I do however intend to keep at least some of the focus of this blog on Ireland – in equal measure with Scotland eventually  - and I may in due course seek a co-editor  from Ireland so that the Irish items remain accurate and up-to-date.

Some of you have already emailed me in the course of yesterday, but to all of you, whether from Ireland, Scotland or elsewhere, I would like to convey my thanks for your support and for your interest in this blog.


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