Thursday, 26 May 2016

Neither a Borrower nor a Lender be...

In 1604 William Shakespeare wrote "Neither a borrower nor a Lender be..."  There's more to the quote but the bard would not have made a good banker by failing to lend money at all!
Modern day bankers do borrow and lend and, often, do it rather well so that they do not lose much at all (one of Shakespeare's reasons for not lending).  That's just as well because banks lend other peoples' money, not their own.
In the consumer market lending decisions are often made using credit analytics - creating an index of creditworthiness built from information and data about an individual both from public records, such as the voters' roll, the bankruptcy register and court judgment records and private information such as credit card usage, provided by banks and other lenders.  Credit scoring, as it is known, is statistically consistent, reliable in that it delivers a lower level of default than old fashioned human judgement and can be controlled for different levels of risk, depending on the banker's risk appetite.  At a micro level it can grade likelihood of default and can help to price risk (interest charged reflecting the likelihood of loss).
Couple this with the wealth of information that banks have on day to day transactions on our credit and debit cards whereby they can spot potential fraud by tracking odd payments behaviour and you have a relatively successful business model based on the analysis of available information, where losses are managed and high risks avoided.
But credit scoring is not without its flaws. It can only really capture available information and uses history to predict the future. It can commit both type 1 and type 2 errors and does , rather, reduce personal relationships to binary code, distancing bankers from their customers.  This can add risk of a different kind as institutional trust built through long relationships is replaced with institutional distrust, bankers are replaced by robots, machines and computers - and all in the pursuit of profit for shareholders.
So, as I said.  An excellent business model IF the working assumption is that the overriding aim is to improve profitability in the short term.

Now, is that an assumption that can be applied to British Universities?

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The Corporate University

Consider the apparent oxymoron - "Corporate University".  Yes, we all know what it means and it's useful shorthand recognising that the corporate world can, sometimes, lose patience with "proper" Universities and create an institution more focused on their needs.
Why sponsor degree programmes or students who then fail to "repay" the investment by taking up graduate positions? 
Why not wait until a compliant government sets the scene for "competition" in the University "market" and set up your own institution?
Now I'm not knocking A.P.Grayling or genuine niche providers and there should be proper recognition of serious alternatives to mainstream Universities.
But setting the scene for purely commercial ventures, focused on a return on investment is a slippery slope.

Hang on....

Re-wind all of that.

What a splendid idea.  Making Universities focus on money, the generation of surpluses and revenues and the reduction of costs.  That will surely ensure that Universities that attract more students are, obviously, the better ones.

Now, if only there was a sensible way to measure how good a University is...

Trust me...I'm a doctor

I remember being ill as a child. My Nan would bring Lucozade and Mum would keep me in bed and ring for Dr. Heinz Court.This sensible old German gent was well known in our village and well respected. He regularly made house calls. His charm and wisdom meant that his prescriptions were followed to the letter. He was considered as rather eccentric but the fact that he was well educated and an experienced doctor gave people reassurance and confidence in their recovery.

Fast forward 50 years.

A sick child might be seen in a walk in centre as the GP is fully booked and, not using a simple triage system, fails to see the child. The GP also has a waiting room full of folks with even more horrible ailments for the child to be exposed to.  The GP will then be the target of blame via a complaints system or trial by social media.

Demographic changes and heightened expectations, coupled with poor resourcing, a failure to invest in training for many years and a series of government initiatives forcing knee jerk behaviours amongst practitioners have lead to today's sorry situation.

Trust me, I'm a University lecturer...

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

So, what does T.E.F. stand for?

Terribly Easily Fudged
Treat Everyone Falsely
Truly Educationally Flawed
Trebled Education Fees
Thirty Extra Forms
Tinkering Erodes Freedom
Totally Evidence Free
Trust Eroded Fully
Tories' Evil Farce
Trickery Eventually Fails
Tired Evaluation Format
Thinks Everybody's Fooled
Trite Electioneering Function
Teachers Embrace  Fretting
Tremendously Error Filled
Trying Everyone's Forebearance

Thursday, 5 May 2016

When did you stop beating your wife?

Although the NSS protocol for Universities precludes prompting of scores and responses on the basis that:
"The better the score, the more prestigious your University will appear"
the logic does not escape the students asked to complete the survey in Spring each year.
Nor does the logic escape those who wrote the 22 questions of the survey. Each is couched in positive terms, seeking agreement with a satisfied position on (amongst other things)
Staff - e.g. Q2 "Staff have made the subject interesting"
Feedback - e.g. Q9 "Feedback on my work has helped me clarify things I did not understand"
and Overall satisfaction - Q22 "Overall, I am satisfied with the quality of the course"

And then, to ensure a positive result, only those purporting to  "definitely agree" or "mostly agree" (scores of 5 or 4, respectively) are counted - the remainder not being reported.

"Mostly agree" is an interesting concept....."I agree that most of my last flight from India was satisfactory - then we tried to land at Birmingham in a crosswind" (see the YouTube footage HERE).

Now, if that was a survey conducted by, say, a luxury hotel during happy hour on the club floor, we'd laugh and say " whoever designed this survey must have got a bare pass in their GCSE Marketing Research!" And yet, as experienced researchers and academics we do not. Instead we worry and fret over response rates, marginal changes in satisfaction rates, league table positions and then marshal resources to tackle perceived problems that a few disgruntled respondents have mentioned after being pressed by the polling company by email and phone for weeks.......

Actually I think I'll start beating my wife. It promises to give more interesting and authentic results.