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What is says on Ninth Level

Alas alas alas, this blog’s been neglected this last while.  Such are the demands on me at the moment (and the time taken up with Twitter!).  Anyhow, for the extra hour, the holiday weekend, the Halloween sound-effects that prohibit any work requiring concentration, and the current catch-up with http://9thlevel.ie, a post is forthcoming.

Here are some Ninth Level contributions of late:

  • http://www.collegetribune.ie/index.php/2011/10/stopfees/  Apparently €5,000 is an annual fees figure that is being thrown around.  Hmmm. My humble opinion is that if students genuinely want to go to third level education they will find a way to do so, regardless of cost.  Paying one’s own fees  has a way of focusing the mind in a way that freebies do not.
  • http://trinitynews.ie/wordpress/archives/3222   So that’s the guy’s whose visage is gracing the entrance to TCD over the last while!
  • http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=417915&c=1  The University of Cambridge and research as “inherent to the very fibre of a university” calls for putting research back into the heart of the system.  The rift between the economic and intellectual research comes to the fore once again.  No prizes for guessing which side I am on.
  • http://ciarnthelibrarian.blogspot.com/2011/10/college-students-social-networking.html   A study of undergraduates use of social media is under the spotlight.  Their use of Facebook is taken alongside other typical “identity markers of emerging adulthood”.  I wonder what that means for the use of Facebook for older people, and how the current 18-year-olds’ use of Facebook will evolve in years to come.
  • http://www.good.is/post/if-professors-stop-lecturing-will-students-stop-checking-facebook/    Apparently, Facebook use in Harvard classes “has become so ubiquitous that no one even questions it”—not even professors.  Yikes!  The reasoning given is that lectures are boring, the lecturer repeats him/herself too often, and the lecture content is irrelevant because “much of knowledge has become commoditized on the web”.  Now, this is one more reason to flip the classroom / nonclassroom activity structure.  That is, the lectures can be put online for students to peruse in their own time. Then, classroom space and time can be freed up for discussion, and practical applications of concepts, software etc.  This is, of course, far more demanding on the cognitive abilities of students and there is the concern that many will not be able for it.  Whatever, it’s more constructive than students Facebooking their way through class.  I’m not against Facebook per se but students facebooking their new hairdos and night-out socialising is not the way to spend classroom time.
  • http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/8843640/Tradition-of-Oxbridge-free-Masters-degrees-under-fire.html   It seems that some universities, (Oxbridge is singled out) bundle a BA with an MA.  The idea is that the student studies for and achieves their BA and are automatically awarded an MA to go along with it.  I am in total agreement with the author that this devalues the work of the many many postgraduates taking MA qualifications at other universities.  It makes one wonder what exactly a Masters qualification is.  What is the transition point from undergraduate to postgraduate?
  • http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/oct/21/bad-science-publishing-claims   Prof Susan Greenfield is being her usual controversial self.  Her latest is that computer games could cause dementia in children.  Now, to be fair, I like to keep an open mind about scientific findings.  Unfortunately, Prof Greenfield tends to make this difficult.  As a result, I find myself thinking ‘here we go again’ when her latest research emerges.  Besides, think about it – how many children do you know who play (or have played in the past i.e. children who are now adults) computer games?  How many of those suffer from dementia?
  • http://limerick.studenty.me/2011/10/22/is-ul-really-the-hardest-irish-university-to-obtain-the-magic-21-degree-from/   Here’s a quote from the study (carried out by the Irish Times): “Fourteen per cent of its (UL) graduates gained first-class honours, while 34 per cent achieved a 2:1. This 2:1 rate is by far the lowest in the country, a full 19 per cent behind the highest, which is TCD, and 9 per cent below the national average”.  Flash back to the later part of the last century when I was a graduate of that same institution (UL).  There were approximately 200 of us business graduates.  5 achieved a first class honours.  That’s 2.5%.  Enough said.
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How many strings can my academic bow have?

One of the more interesting aspects of my job is teaching research methods to e-business and international business masters students.  A large component of this is having students actually do some research, a trial-run on their dissertation as it were.  The techniques of research methods are not rocket science but finding the right and interesting topic to apply them and then fine tuning that topic is a challenge for students. In many cases, it is as difficult as actually implementing the research.

Given that students come from a variety of backgrounds (business, law, literature, history, ocean science, electrical engineering, entertainment, social science to name a few) the variety of topics is always wide ranging but more importantly for me it is far more interesting than reading 50 (or 250, depending on class size) copies of specific assignment material I’ve prescribed. There are always several every year that “wow” me, change my thinking and have me questioning how and what exactly students should be studying.

Here are some from this year

  • One student’s project is a business plan considering a particular tourism venture in Turkey. Unfortunately, the format of a business plan doesn’t suit the academic requirement of the exercise. But, I ask myself, why not?  Would not a business plan be far more practical and useful for this particular student?  This then has me wondering why she didn’t pursue a master’s in entrepreneurship. The reason is simple – there isn’t one. What does a master’s in entrepreneurship look like?  What would the capstone project of an MSc in Entrepreneurship look like – an academic dissertation of an in-depth well considered business plan?  When would a student be considered to have “mastered” entrepreneurship – on submission of this plan, on successfully acquiring the necessary funding, on turning their first profit?  Would the awarding college incubate the idea and then claim a percentage of the profits?
  • There are plenty with the recession as a theme, requiring me to get to grips with various strands of economics, finance and policies therein. How exactly did we allow our banking system to become so corrupt in this country?
  • Every year I am astounded by the Chinese students. They continue to be fascinated by Western perceptions of them and their country, and are excited about China finding its place in the global world.  They genuinely make me question my pride in my nationality. When I travel abroad do I question the perception of Irishness that might be out there?  Is being Irish a significant part of my identity?
  • A Croatian student’s topic revolved around the effects on importing and exporting to and from her country once it acquires EU membership.  The effect of being so close to the EU for so long but not quite being part of it is palpable. Balancing this with the very strong feelings both for and against accession for her country makes this a fascinating topic for this student. But again, I have an agghhh reaction. To fit academic research requirements, the project has to lose its speculative and futuristic approach.
  • Sometimes I don’t know the strength of my own words until they come back to me in another format. The class has a large variety of nationalities. There are students in there from 14 different countries. An ice-breaker at the start of the year involved me generating discussion on social construction of ideas, knowledge and practices arising and evolving from where people find themselves both personally and geographically and who they find themselves surrounded by.   One student used my attempt at integrating nationalities to build his topic – the innovative manager amidst the melting pot of a large multicultural team.

Having students research and chose their own topic adds an extra challenge that they don’t have to the same extent in many of their other subjects. Some struggle with it but none can deny that it adds a dimension of self-discovery that is vital.  It’s vital for me too.

To MBA or not to MBA?

When things go bad there is a tendency to dig the finger of blame out of the pocket and point it at someone(s) or something(s).  In terms of the current recession, the latest finger pointing is towards graduate business schools.  See here and here. The premise is that the schools that educated our bankers and financiers didn’t do enough to teach them about ethics and didn’t focus enough on the required skills of proper business.

Do they have a point? Is that pinnacle of business qualification, the MBA, somehow responsible for the current global economic crisis? 

Having spent some time recently analysing MBA courses on offer in Dublin colleges / universities, I felt the urge to blog about the world of the MBA.

Apparently, the prefered destination of MBA graduates is banking and finance. However, it seems to me that this cannot imply a direct cause-and-effect with bad business decision-making.  Can the motivations and actions of corrupt bankers and financiers really be traced to their MBA studies. The term ‘long shot’ comes to mind.  While such programs of study encourage reflection and expose students to aspects of themselves and their work activities, there are far more contributing factors to why a corrupt banker is a corrupt banker.  It’s not as if an MBA program has a subject called ‘how to be a corrupt businessperson’.

On the other hand, there is interesting content in the reports. There is comment that MBA courses are short on ethics.  I find myself agreeing with this one. Personally, I reckon ethics should be a core feature on every business course.  But it’s often marginalised as a light subject on the outside of the core business subjects. Instead of having a named Business Ethics subject, I reckon that integrating ethical thinking and activities into each and every domain subject is a better approach. This way, students can study much more directly, the ethical implications of different courses of action and possible solutions.

Lack of ethics manifest in other ways too.  The BBC report tells us that “A 2006 study of cheating among US graduates, published in the journal Academy of Management Learning & Education, found that 56% of all MBA students cheated regularly – more than in any other discipline”.  Now, this is a serious cause for concern. There is plenty anecdotal evidence to suggest that academic infringement cases among students are on the rise. Tackling it is a problem facing many educational institutions.  An emphasis on ethics imbued through out a program would help but I doubt if it would eliminate the problem. There are (in my humble opinion) just too many people for whom ethics is just a word in the dictionary that doesn’t apply to them.

There was criticism that the graduate business courses are not equipping students with appropriate skills for the workplace. My (admittedly not in-depth) look at MBA courses begs to differ. I found the courses I looked at to be very practical in focus. The influence of ivory-tower academia was not in evidence. I was struck by the number of courses that don’t refer to the masters capstone project as a dissertation, a term very suggestive of academia. TCD’s MBA, for example, has a Company Project as its capstone. It certainly looks like an in-depth project grounded in reality.

So, on balance, can graduate business schools be blamed for this recession? I, for one, do not agree.