Challenging universities

It’s great to see some universities overhauling their applications processes to become more diverse, but something that caught my eye earlier was this new kind of offer being made to applicants.

‘Conditional unconditional’ offers on the riseBBC News
Conditional unconditional offers give students a place – regardless of their A-level grades – on condition they make the university their firm first choice. Critics say they encourage students not to work hard to get the best A-levels.

You could say that about any kind of unconditional offer, of course. As Mike Ratcliffe, Nottingham Trent University’s Academic Registrar, explains below, this new type of offer does have the worrying feel of ‘pressure selling’ about it.

The evidence against conditional unconditionals doesn’t stack upWonkhe
One concern expressed around conditional unconditional offers hinges on when a conditional offer made via UCAS is converted to an unconditional offer if the student accepts that provider as their firm choice, in particular if there is an arbitrary time limit. This is the source of the potential, it has been suggested, for universities to engage in “pressure selling”. In our view, there should be no need to require a student to choose before they have all their offers or outside of the standard UCAS decision dates.

But going back to that point about potentially disincentivising students to do well at their A-Levels, he suggests that’s less of an issue.

Another concern is whether applicants with conditional unconditional offers are more likely to coast through the remainder of their level 3 qualifications and thus miss their predicted grades. National data show it is the applicants with higher predicted grades who miss their grades the most; at NTU it is these very students to whom we make conditional unconditional offers. Our statistical modelling suggests that only a tiny proportion (1.2%) of the variables explaining our students’ propensity to miss their predicted grades can be attributed to holding conditional unconditional offers. This is consistent with the UCAS analysis in its End of Year Cycle report in 2018 which concluded: less than 2 per cent of applicants that missed their predicted A levels by two or more grades in 2018, did so as a result of holding an unconditional firm.

I was amused by this other article on WonkHE from Paul Greatrix, the Registrar from Nottingham’s other university, about the latest developments in online courses—‘nanodegrees’. I don’t think he’s a fan.

Stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap – get your micro-credentials hereWonkhe
But despite all the hype around MOOCs and the like, universities and their traditional offerings have proved remarkably resilient and therefore the logical next step was for the MOOC providers to start offering actual qualifications themselves. Not traditional awards of course but excitingly named micro-credentials, nano-degrees and micro-masters courses all of which were described as ‘stackable’ qualifications and would, again, destroy universities with all of their tedious, fusty old style qualifications. […]

It remains to be seen whether there is significant demand for these excitingly labelled new programmes and whether they will prove as popular as these extremely small awards previously promoted on Wonkhe.

But given the treatment that MOOCs, advocates of ‘unbundling’ higher ed and those who favour the ‘uber-isation’ of HE receive in Audrey Watters’ wonderful list of the 100 worst ed-tech debacles of the last decade you have to ask if MicroBachelors™ or the like are going anywhere fast.

Nicholas Felton's new app, Reporter

reporter

Nicholas Felton, the man behind the Feltron Reports and Daytum, has a new app out, Reporter. He says on his blog

“Reporter’s random prompts to answer a survey had made tracking the year a breeze and helped me to investigate questions that would have been impossible to answer using other methods. I was interested in who I spent time with, but to track this in an ongoing basis is a full-time job. I added questions for what I was wearing, eating or drinking and if I was working or not… and we streamlined the process to ensure that a report only took seconds to answer. We also added in background sampling to get information from the phone on the weather, my location and the ambient noise level.”

I loved Daytum and at one point was using it quite extensively. I wanted to use it to track which of my ties are my favourites, but couldn’t find a way of neatly naming them (the blue-ish purple-ish TM Lewin one, the more regimented gold-ish Van Buck one). I can’t see this new app helping with that question especially, but it’ll be fun to do the quantified self thing again for a while.

HE fall, environmental data

Figures suggest that the fall in the number applying to university is mostly owing to a glut of applications in 2010
Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, which represents the UK’s 20 leading universities including Oxford and Cambridge, said it was too early to predict how many students would end up at university next autumn. She said it was unfair to compare the number of applicants for next autumn’s courses with those for this year’s because the previous figures may have been artificially inflated by students applying before the near-trebling of fees came into effect. “Current 2012 figures are actually very similar to figures at the same point in 2010,” Piatt said.

Information is Beautiful on the Thailand floods
Floods. Amazon deforestation. Earthquake destruction. Satellite maps somehow don’t always help us to fully imagine the size of these disasters. Is there a better way to visualize the scale of destruction? Here I’ve been playing with the ranges of various natural and unnatural disasters, pulling data from various media reports and the US Geological Survey.