Category Archives: Higher education

Simon Jenkins on computer science

In a polemic in The Guardian today, Simon Jenkins argues for a(nother) shake up of the UK’s education system, with less focus on STEM and computer science in particular.

This kind of misinformed ranting on the utilitarian view of STEM and why the UK should focus on being a service industry appears to be his CiF modus operandi — see a similar post from February on mathematics education. In particular, he displays a profound misunderstanding of the difference between digital skills/competencies and the rigorous academic discipline of computer science, as well as a lack of awareness of the profound changes to computing education in England from September for all pupils from age five onwards. He also doesn’t appear to be aware of the increasing demands from pretty much every industrial sector for high-value digital skills (both user and creator skills); see the recently published interim report from the UK Digital Skills Taskforce: Digital Skills for Tomorrow’s World. As for the perceived high unemployment rates for computer science graduates? Well, this isn’t the full picture and is also discussed in detail in the Taskforce report.

While it is tempting to deconstruct and refute his article line by line, I will just link to an excellent response from Chris Mairs, Chief Scientists at Metaswitch Networks and Chair of the UK Forum for Computing Education.

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Guardian University Guide 2015: Computer Science and Information Systems

I’ve been blogging about the various university league tables for computer science for over two years now…and I’m not entirely sure whether this is actually useful beyond collecting them in one place. There are a multitude of UK and international university rankings, each of which have varying methodologies and weightings. It remains to be seen what they each contribute or how they differ, or what analysis you could make that could not be done by looking at raw HEFCE/UCAS data. From here onwards I will most likely continue to publish the three main UK league tables top 10 for computer science, as well as the rankings for Welsh institutions, but with minimal commentary.

So, today saw the publication of the Guardian University Guide 2015; check out the top 10 of the (renamed) Computer Science and Information Systems category (see all 2014 tables):

Ranking 2014
1. University of St Andrews (24th)
2. Imperial College London (3rd)
3. University of Oxford (-)
4. University of Bristol (5th)
5. University of Cambridge (8th)
6. University of Edinburgh (22nd)
7. UCL (9th)
8. University of Southampton (5th)
9. University of Surrey (17th)
10. University of Bristol (4th)
(full table,methodology)

And the rankings for Welsh institutions:

Ranking 2014
27. Cardiff University (28th)
54. Swansea University (29th)
74. Aberystwyth University (58th)
84. Glyndŵr University (99th)
89. University of South Wales (-)
92. Cardiff Metropolitan University (88th)
94. Bangor University (73rd)

 
(N.B. no data was available for the University of Wales Trinity Saint David)

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The personal cost of applying for research grants

For many academics, this article is a no-brainer. Research grant proposals take huge amounts of time to put together, with low success rates (e.g. EPSRC). It’s a huge cost:

The pressure to win high-status funding means that researchers go to extraordinary lengths to prepare their proposals, often sacrificing family time and personal relationships. During our research into the stressful process of applying for research grants, one researcher, typical of many, said, “My family hates my profession. Not just my partner and children, but my parents and siblings. The insecurity despite the crushing hours is a soul-destroying combination that is not sustainable.”

 

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The Complete University Guide 2015: Computer Science

Today saw the publication of The Complete University Guide 2015, signalling the start of the UK university ranking season.

Comparing against the 2014 university league tables — especially last year’s Guide — there has been some movement, with two new entrants in the top 10 UK institutions for Computer Science:

Ranking 2014
1. University of Cambridge (1st)
2. Imperial College London (2nd)
3. University of Oxford (3rd)
4. University of St Andrews (15th)
5. Durham University (14th)
6. University College London (8th)
7. University of Birmingham (16th)
8. University of Bristol (5th)
9. University of Exeter (6th)
10. University of Glasgow (4th)
(full table)

 

As always, the rankings for Welsh institutions in Computer Science were of particular interest to me; Cardiff University retained the top spot, with a broadly similar performance to last year (albeit with some movement down the table for the top three):

Ranking 2014
31. Cardiff University (27th)
39. Swansea University (32nd)
46. Aberystwyth University (35th)
64. Glyndŵr University (93rd)
67. University of South Wales (-)
70. Bangor University (58th)
89. Cardiff Metropolitan University (89th)

 
N.B. no data was available for the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

The Complete University Guide’s methodology for the subject league tables are based on four measures: Student Satisfaction, Research Assessment, Entry Standards and Graduate Prospects. To qualify for inclusion in a subject table, a university has to have data for at least two of the four measures; a blank in the Entry Standards and Graduate Prospects columns is not a zero score but rather denotes that no valid data were available.

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2014 University Guides: Computer Science

While the higher education sector is swamped with league tables and rankings, I find it useful to keep an eye on the subject-specific tables (especially w.r.t. year-on-year variance, as well as changes in metrics/weightings). Therefore, here are the four three main 2014 UK university guides for Computer Science:

(cf. the 2013 guides)

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The Times and The Sunday Times University Guide 2014: Computer Science

Today saw the publication of the first combined The Times and The Sunday Times University Guide 2014 (£), in which the University of Birmingham was named University of the Year, along with strong performances from Bath and Coventry (also named Modern University of the Year). Looking at the methodology for the new combined guide, with higher weightings on student satisfaction (NSS) and research quality (RAE 2008), it looks similar to the original Times methodology rather than the Sunday Times. Whilst generally sceptical of the plethora of university rankings and league tables, I wholeheartedly agree with Phil Baty (Editor-at-Large, THE) — it seems bizarre to reward universities for dishing out a higher proportion of first and upper second class degrees, as this metric can be trivially improved.

As always, there are familiar institutions in the top 10 of the Computer Science category; due to the similarity in methodology, I’ve compared this new combined table to last year’s Times table (but it is also worth comparing to the 2013 Sunday Times table). I’ve also added another column to compare to the position in the overall table:

Ranking 2013 Overall
1. 1. University of Cambridge 1.
2. 2. Imperial College London 5.
3. 5. University of St Andrews 4.
4. 3. University of Oxford 2.
5. 8. University of Southampton 20.
6. 14. University of Birmingham 16.
7. 4. University of Bristol 15.
8. 7. University of Glasgow 25.
9. 11. University of Bath 7.
10. 10. University of Edinburgh 22.

 

And the rankings for Wales:

Ranking 2013 Overall
21. 34. Cardiff University 33.
37. 33. Swansea University 47.
52. 26. Aberystwyth University 82.
66. 72. Cardiff Metropolitan University 87.
83. 60. Glyndŵr University 109.
85. 41. Bangor University 56.

 
N.B. there was no data available for the University of South Wales (formed from the recent merger between University of Glamorgan and University of Wales, Newport) or the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (formed from the recent merger between University of Wales Trinity Saint David and Swansea Metropolitan University).

While there have been some significant drops in ranking for a number of Welsh institutions (most likely to due to student satisfaction scores), this does not seem to correlate with the 2014 Guardian University Guide from June (which also places a high value on the NSS). However, it is encouraging to see Cardiff just outside the top 20.

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Guardian University Guide 2014: Computer Sciences and IT

University ranking season is upon us once again — this week saw the publication of the Guardian University Guide 2014. In the Computer Sciences and IT category, there has been significant movement in the top 10, especially comparing against the 2013 table:

Ranking 2013
1. University of Birmingham (7th)
2. University of Glasgow (8th)
3. Imperial College London (4th)
4. University of Bristol (5th)
5. University of Southampton (3rd)
6. University of Sheffield (10th)
7. University of Bath (11th)
8. University of Cambridge (1st)
9. UCL (18th)
10. University of Warwick (13th)
(full table)

 

As always, of particular interest to me were the Welsh rankings:

Ranking 2013
28. Cardiff University (29th)
28. Swansea University (27th)
58. Aberystwyth University (68th)
73. Bangor University (33rd)
88. Cardiff Metropolitan University (64th)
99. Glyndŵr University (101st)

 
(N.B. no data was available for the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and the recently formed University of South Wales)

Looking at the table headings and the methodology, research does not feature as one of the ranking metrics, while student satisfaction (in particular, indicators from the National Student Survey) features highly; as you can see from last year’s university guides, the different metrics and weightings can change the ordering somewhat.

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HEA STEM Workshop: “Rethinking The First Year Computing Curriculum”

In the context of recent (and ongoing) curriculum and qualifications reform for computing education in UK schools, I am hosting a one-day Higher Education Academy workshop in Cardiff in May entitled: Rethinking The First Year Computing Curriculum.

This workshop is being held under the auspices of the HEA Computing discipline area, as part of the HEA STEM workshop series:

HEA STEM (Computing): Rethinking the First Year Computing Curriculum

24th May 2013, 10am-4pm
Department of Computing & Information Systems, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Western Avenue, Cardiff, CF5 2YB

There have been profound changes to computing education in UK schools over the past two years, with significantly more to follow; soon we will see applicants to higher education courses with 4+ years of rigorous computing education at school. How will this affect the first year university computing curriculum?

This workshop will offer a forum to discuss this and related themes:

  • What are the potential issues with the new focus on computing in schools?
  • What changes do we envisage to the content and level of the first year computing curriculum?
  • How will the new GCSEs in Computer Science affect the pipeline of students coming through to university?
  • How can we change the perception of A-Level Computing, especially in light of proposed A-Level reform?
  • Getting kids coding: can we expect a better understanding or aptitude in programming?
  • How can universities encourage and support the teaching of computer science in UK schools (e.g. CAS/BCS Network of Computer Science Teaching Excellence)?
  • Are we doing enough outreach and public engagement activities for computer science, compared to other STEM disciplines?

Registration for this workshop is online (N.B. the cost is £50 for attendees from HEA subscribing institutions).

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The Complete University Guide 2014: Computer Science

Today saw the publication of The Complete University Guide 2014, one of the many university ranking guides, and the start of the university ranking season in the UK.

Comparing against the 2013 university league tables, especially last year’s Guide, there are two new entrants in the top 10 UK institutions for Computer Science:

Ranking 2013
1. University of Cambridge (1st)
2. Imperial College London (3rd)
3. University of Oxford (2nd)
4. University of Glasgow (9th)
5. University of Bristol (4th)
6. University of Exeter (15th)
7. University of Birmingham (16th)
8. University College London (6th)
9. University of York (10th)
10. University of Warwick (8th)
(full table)

 

As always, the rankings for Welsh institutions in Computer Science were of particular interest to me:

Ranking 2013
27. Cardiff University (35th)
32. Swansea University (30th)
35. Aberystwyth University (34th)
58. Bangor University (49th)
76. University of Glamorgan (63rd)
89. Cardiff Metropolitan University (88th)
93. Glyndŵr University (72nd)

 
N.B. no data was available for Swansea Metropolitan University or the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (who merged in 2012), or for the University of Wales, Newport (who recently merged with the University of Glamorgan to form the University of South Wales.

The Complete University Guide’s methodology for the subject league tables are based on four measures: Student Satisfaction, Research Assessment, Entry Standards and Graduate Prospects. To qualify for inclusion in a subject table, a university has to have data for at least two of the four measures; a blank in the Entry Standards and Graduate Prospects columns is not a zero score but rather denotes that no valid data were available.

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Review of ICT in Wales

A written statement released today by Leighton Andrews AM, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Education and Skills:

The ICT sector in Wales is a driving force in both economic development and wider social change and it encourages productivity and competiveness across the economy. The sector in Wales is global and dynamic and includes a wide range of companies from blue-chip corporates through to innovative small and medium-sized enterprises across IT services, software, telecommunications and electronics.

In this context, I am determined to ensure that learners progressing through our education system have the skills required to work in and contribute to the sector.

There has been a significant decline in the number of learners taking the GCSE ICT course in Wales and I am aware that some employers have expressed concern over what is being taught in schools, that young people are being ‘switched off’ careers in the sector, and that they lack the necessary skills. There is a risk that the current curriculum is failing to provide young people with relevant skills.

On 1 October 2012, I announced a review of assessment and the National Curriculum in Wales. The review aims to streamline and simplify assessment arrangements and consider the National Curriculum core and other foundation subjects at each stage, to ensure that our expectations of content and skills developments are suitably robust.

As part of this wider review, the time is right to consider the future of computer science and ICT in schools in Wales. I will begin this process by chairing a seminar on 19 November, which will bring together some of the key players in Wales to discuss the future of ICT in schools.

I have invited representatives from the National Digital Learning Council, Further Education, Higher Education, and industry to contribute to what I hope will be a lively and informative debate on the best way forward and how to ensure that Wales is well placed to play a leading role in the global economy of the future.

I have been invited to this meeting on the 19th, so I hope to have more information in a couple of weeks.

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Bath withdraws from the 1994 Group

This afternoon, Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bath* made the following announcement (emphasis mine):


I have today informed the Chair of the 1994 Group of universities, Professor Michael Farthing, of our decision to withdraw from membership of the group.

We have been an active member of the group of 15 research intensive universities since its formation in 1994, helping to promote our common interests in higher education and to share best methods and practice.

However, following a period of reflection and consultation with colleagues, we have concluded that continuing our membership of the 1994 Group does not reflect the type of University we are, nor sit well with the future direction of the University’s strategy.

Where appropriate, we will continue to be involved in existing collaboration initiatives with other leading universities (such as the SETSquared initiative) and are actively exploring future opportunities to work together with colleagues regionally, nationally and internationally in support of our mission to deliver world class research and teaching.

This is a bold statement. Bath see themselves as one of the “research-intensive” universities (with some justification, especially in light of recent league performance), but are not members of the “elite” Russell Group of 24 institutions. Furthermore, this is another snub for the 1994 Group, following four of its members joining the Russell Group in March.

Maybe being unaligned is the new ethos; but thinking more broadly for the UK HE sector, this calls into question the value of the other university groups (1994 Group, Million+ and University Alliance) if the only thing that counts (especially from the UK government’s perspective) is being a member of the Russell Group. Has the Russell Group now moved from being a lobby group to a “badge of honour” (or perhaps morphed back into the old CVCP)?

Finally, with increasing divergence in higher education policy in the devolved nations, will the Russell Group inherently become more Anglo-centric?

* my alma mater

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Sunday Times University Guide 2013: Computer Science

Yesterday saw the publication of the Sunday Times University Guide 2013 (£), one of the many university ranking guides in the UK (in fact, we are very much in university ranking season, with the news that UK universities are slipping down the world rankings).

As with the 2012 Guide (£), as well as the Guardian University Guide 2013 published in May and The Times Good University Guide 2013 published in June, there were some familiar institutions in the top 10 for Computer Science:

Ranking 2012
1. University of Oxford (1st)
2. University of Cambridge (2nd)
3. Imperial College London (4th)
4. University of Birmingham (12th)
5. University of Bristol (3rd)
6. University of Bath (6th)
7. University of Sheffield (14th)
8. University of York (7th)
9. University of Warwick (9th)
10. University of Glasgow (15th)

 

As always, the rankings for Computer Science in Wales were of particular interest:

Ranking 2012
28. Cardiff University (21st)
41. Swansea University (33rd)
52. Aberystwyth University (58th)
63. Cardiff Metropolitan University (50th)
73. Bangor University (41st)
74. University of Glamorgan (81st)
94. University of Wales, Newport (40th)
103. Glyndŵr University (68th)
104. University of Wales Trinity Saint David (88th)

 
(N.B. no data was available for Swansea Metropolitan University)

The Sunday Times’ methodology differs somewhat from the Guardian’s methodology (and even The Times‘!), especially with respect to research, but with less focus on academic services and student facilities.

However, this clearly highlights the quirks of having three newspapers publishing university league tables (as well as The Complete University Guide, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the QS World University Rankings) with widely different metrics and weightings. It begs the question: does all of this information help prospective students make more informed choices about where to study Computer Science in the UK?

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Strategic Information Pack: teaching Computer Science in schools in Wales

In April, I sent a Strategic Information Pack (zipped) to all state-maintained secondary schools and colleges in Wales (following on from a similar exercise in England) in order to explain the opportunities they would have from September 2012 to develop Computer Science as a rigorous academic component within a reformed ICT curriculum. The supporting materials in the information pack provided comprehensive information that would help head teachers, principals and school governors make the right decisions:

Alongside the information pack was the announcement of the Network of Computer Science Teaching Excellence, to create a network of schools and universities across Wales to advance teaching excellence in Computer Science. Schools that are members of the network would:

  • be offered enhanced and heavily subsidised CPD for a teacher in their school;
  • be part of a regional teaching hub (see CAS Hubs in Wales) for sharing good practice and offering grassroots organised CPD;
  • have regular contact with university Computer Science departments across Wales to support and inspire teaching material;
  • be expected to teach Computer Science at Key Stage 3 or 4 as a catalyst for a renewed Computing curriculum as recommended by the Royal Society, which is benchmarked against the CAS curriculum;
  • have opportunities for showcasing their teaching practices and experiences at national conferences;
  • be proactively consulted for their views and opinions for future campaigns related to education policy.

The centres of excellence in Wales would become part of a wider UK network for establishing best practice and spearheading innovative teaching in Computer Science, with ongoing support from CAS, the universities in the network and BCS; it has already generated a huge amount of interest, with over 500 schools across the UK applying.

It is not too late to join the Network of Excellence: we need leading schools from across the Wales to drive forward this initiative. Please contact me for further information.

(N.B. I would like to say a massive thanks to the Technocamps project for their financial and logistical support in getting the Strategic Information Pack sent out to school and colleges in the run up to our joint conference this week)

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Times Good University Guide 2013: Computer Science

Yesterday saw the publication of The Times Good University Guide 2013 (£), one of the many university ranking guides in the UK.

As with last year’s Guide (£), as well as the Guardian University Guide 2013 published in May, there are some familiar institutions in the top 10 for Computer Science:

Ranking 2012
1. University of Cambridge (1st)
2. Imperial College London (3rd)
3. University of Oxford (2nd)
4. University of Bristol (4th)
5. University of St Andrews (6th)
6. University College London (7th)
7. University of Glasgow (10th)
8. University of Southampton (5th)
9. University of York (8th)
10. University of Edinburgh (9th)

 

Of particular interest to me were the rankings for Computer Science in Wales:

Ranking 2012
26. Aberystwyth University (26th)
33. Swansea University (30th)
34. Cardiff University (31st)
41. Bangor University (56th)
60. Glyndŵr University (51st)
69. University of Glamorgan (61st)
72. Cardiff Metropolitan University (103rd)
91. University of Wales, Newport (89th)

 
(N.B. no data was available for Swansea Metropolitan University or University of Wales Trinity Saint David)

The Times’ methodology differs somewhat from the Guardian’s methodology, especially regarding research. While four Welsh institutions in the top 50 highlights the strength of Computer Science in Wales, we should be aiming to break into the top 20 over the next two years.

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Academia vs. Industry

Whenever I hear politicians demanding that our education system has to change to better meet the needs of industry, I am reminded of this xkcd comic:

Academia v Business

While this might be facetious, I am not being naive nor pontificating from an “ivory tower” — I think there is an important point to be made about reconciling the traditional aims of education and the modern needs of industry. I understand that there is an imperative to equip our graduates (or school leavers) to be useful members of the nation’s workforce. However, higher education should not be conflated with training — the onus should be on industry to train their workforce, especially if they require specific skillsets. Clearly we have to be aware of the requirements of industry in a more general sense, but I would much prefer to develop a graduate who is capable of applying their existing knowledge and learning new skills (e.g. Alvin Toffler: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.“), rather than one who only has specific (and perhaps increasingly transient) skills and understanding. Furthermore, trying to meet the immediate needs of industry can be problematic without taking into account the latency of the graduate “pipeline”; this is especially relevant to the ongoing debate regarding computer science education and fulfilling the needs of the IT industry.

But overall, I would like to ensure that as a nation we continue to promote education as being important in its own right — for enjoyment and self-betterment (as well as lasting for longer than the time spent in formal education) — rather than primarily as a means to determining a career path.

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Guardian University Guide 2013: Computer Sciences and IT

This week saw the publication of the Guardian University Guide 2013, one of the many university ranking guides in the UK. In the Computer Sciences and IT category, there were some familiar names in the top 10 (especially comparing against the 2012 table…apart from Oxford, for whom there was no data):

Ranking 2012
1. University of Cambridge (1st)
2. University of St Andrews (2nd)
3. University of Southampton (8th)
4. Imperial College London (4th)
5. University of Bristol (7th)
6. University of York (6th)
7. University of Birmingham (5th)
8. University of Glasgow (13th)
9. University of Liverpool (24th)
10. University of Sheffield (20th)

 

Of particular interest to me were the rankings for Computer Science in Wales:

Ranking 2012
27. Swansea University (34th)
29. Cardiff University (46th)
33. Bangor University (38th)
64. Cardiff Metropolitan University (74th)
68. Aberystwyth University (44th)
89. University of Glamorgan (78th)
90. University Of Wales, Newport (101st)
101. Glyndŵr University (49th)

 
(N.B. no data was available for Swansea Metropolitan University and University of Wales Trinity Saint David)

Looking at the table headings and the methodology, research does not appear to be one of the ranking metrics; as you can see from The Complete University Guide 2013, this can change the ordering somewhat. While this is a reasonable performance in Computer Science by Welsh universities, we should be aiming for at least one top 20 placing in the next year or two.

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The Complete University Guide 2013: Computer Science

Today saw the publication of The Complete University Guide 2013, one of the many university ranking guides, generally marking the start of the university ranking season in the UK.

Familiar names in the top 10 UK institutions for Computer Science:

Ranking 2012
1. University of Cambridge (1st)
2. University of Oxford (2nd)
3. Imperial College London (3rd)
4. University of Bristol (5th)
5. University of Southampton (6th)
6. University College London (4th)
7. University of St. Andrews (7th)
8. University of Warwick (9th)
9. University of Glasgow (12th)
10. University of York (8th)

 

As always, the rankings for Welsh institutions in Computer Science were of particular interest to me:

Ranking 2012
30. Swansea University (34th)
34. Aberystwyth University (30th)
35. Cardiff University (37th)
49. Bangor University (59th)
63. University of Glamorgan (58th)
72. Glyndŵr University (52nd)
88. Cardiff Metropolitan University (92nd)
94. University of Wales, Newport (102nd)

 
N.B. no data was available for Swansea Metropolitan University or the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

The Complete University Guide’s methodology for the subject league tables are based on four measures: Student Satisfaction, Research Assessment, Entry Standards and Graduate Prospects. To qualify for inclusion in a subject table, a university has to have data for at least two of the four measures; a blank in the Entry Standards and Graduate Prospects columns is not a zero score but rather denotes that no valid data were available.

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