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A thousand cuts: flaying higher education starts here. December 23, 2009

Posted by calvinus in The Academic Life, Training.
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And so it begins.

Universities funding cut by £533m for higher education.

I know this is inevitable and it isn’t as large a cut as I first feared but it is only the first.  There will be many more.  However, it isn’t the size of the cut that worries me, nor is it the fact that the information has crept out when the country is worrying about the weather and getting back for Christmas.  What worries me more is the following,

The government also wants to see more degrees completed over two years rather than three as a way of easing the funding crisis and to broaden education to a wider range of students.

This would tend to appeal to those doing more vocational subjects such as engineering and law.

More degrees to be completed over two years, rather than three? That is not a degree.  The three-year degree is bad enough, and rather typical of the English education system in that it is far, far too focussed and results orientated.  Spitting people out of the system with a two-year degree, most likely a foundation degree by the looks of things is just a way of keeping young people in a system, off the statistics sheets for as long as possible.  2 year “vocational subjects”.  Be honest.  Invigorate some form of apprenticeship programme that doesn’t involve Siralan, you muppet.  Universities are not the place to that.  Of course, it will help you reach the target of 50% of da yoof in higher education.  “Higher” than what, remains to be seen.

I am, sadly, resigned to very hard times ahead for the HE sector, especially at “widening participation” institutions such as my own.  I am resigned to the cuts in funding, I am resigned to the massive spike in workload and the job insecurity.  Don’t make matters worse than they already by adding insult to injury with bizarre, illogical directives that will obliterate any semblance of quality in an already stressed system.  I have no idea what will be left of the HE sector by the end of this.

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Mathematically Safe (falling off a log) December 12, 2009

Posted by calvinus in The Academic Life.
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Two first year students were in my office yesterday.  We were going through an impromptu tutorial on UV/vis and the Beer-Lambert law (or Beer-Bouguer law if we are to acknowledge the actual originators).  Calculators were out and it would appear that there is some difficulty calculating absorbance (A) from transmittance (T):

A = -log10(T)

A simple enough equation for a first year student you might think, but once we got over the problem of logarithms, we struck on the increasing problem of how to use a calculator.  Both students are studying life science degrees and one suggested that we should teach maths classes.  Now, I happen to agree fully with this and am not entirely sure why we don’t (at least, not sure enough to comment openly here).  Unfortunately, what the student had in mind was not teaching actual maffmaticks, but use of calculators as what followed was a 15 minute “masterclass” in using the [shift] button to go from the log of 1000 being equal to 3 and back again.

Looks like we are not alone in this as the following image came from the website of The Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada:

I realise, or course, that this is a common problem for those of us at the frontline of “widening participation” institutions such as mine, but it will get worse.  How many of “da yoof” use/own calculators these days?  Not that many.  I’ve lost count of the number of times that I have narked at people using mobile phones in the lab, not for communication, but for working out how many moles of hydrochloric acid are in a 25 ml sample!

Exponentials?  There’s an app for that, innit?