Blog Archives

What’s going on?

I usually start and / or finish the day by having a look through my web Reader (an allegiance to Bloglines).  The power of Push technology means the news comes to me.  I’d never keep up if I had to go searching for the information that plops in there on a regular basis.

Here’s what Ninth Level had in store for me today –

  • A PhD diary from a student in Galway.  This caught my eye from the statement “Originally the reason for starting my PhD was mainly due to a personal interest in my subject. Now, nearly three years on, my PhD has become a job”. From a purely selfish point of view I need to hear things like this.  It make me feel that the slow death of the enthusiastic buzz that comes with under-taking large scale research into a topic you love is all part of the normal process of PhD study and I shouldn’t beat myself up about it. The buzz comes and goes and comes back again in another form…. !
  • Degrading the academic vocation” has some startling ideas.  One is the “outsourcing of grading to companies who employ graders in Singapore, India and Malaysia”.  One wonders about the quality-control not to mention the bond that arises for the lecturer-student relationship in setting, marking and feeding back on assessments. Outsourcing in the world of IT is part of the syllabus on a Business Information Systems course that I lecture on. The lesson from this field is that organisations should do what they do best, then outsource the rest as long as it is not of prime strategic importance.  Is grading of prime academic importance? I would like to think that yes it is.
  • I could comment on the pension top-ups for senior staff in some public universities but I’m choosing not to – for obvious reasons.
  • The long haul degree – more discouraging PhD news.  The New York Times says it can take 9 years to obtain a degree in the Humanities, and then newly crowned doctors can spend another 9 years obtaining a full time career position, and even then might not get one.  In the USA, “about half who enter a humanities doctoral program drop out along the way. The average student receiving a Ph.D. today is 35 years old, $23,000 in debt and facing a historically bad job market”.  My Phd isn’t in the field of Humanities, but for the sake of my confidence, I had to stop reading this particular article at this juncture.
  • The annual Sunday Times University Ranking for Ireland has been published.  Seeing as my computer insists on crashing every time (I’ve tried twice!) I try to access it…   maybe that’s telling me not to bother.
  • How Are Professors Like Cats? Let Me Count the Ways – “Like cats, professors tend to be highly intelligent, deeply self-actualized, and fiercely independent. They need to be stroked occasionally, but only on their own terms and in their own good time”.  And so what. Surely being intelligent is a good thing, as is independence and a sense of self-actualisation.  The author wonders why administrators complain about having to “herd” their feline lecturing staff, instead of simply letting the lecturers get on with their jobs.  I enjoyed this one and this little story that was linked from it.


The Sunday Times have produced their annual University Guide with todays edition of the paper. It makes for interesting reading.

The ranking order of Universities and Institute of Technology in the country is given. NUI Galway are top. As usual, people are likely to quibble about the components of this ranking and how they are measured. For example, one element concerns the number of first and 2:1 honours given to graduates.  The idea being that the more of these there are, the better. The dumbing-down argument is never far away. I have a previous post related to this so I won’t go into it here. Suffice to say, that I consider the rankings to be an indicator only and recognise that an open mind needs to be kept.

What really grabbed my attention was the profiles of the various universities / colleges. Each institution profile asks a student therein to suggest a “Worst Feature” and a “Deal Clincher” for their institution. The student comments for each institution can be found in the file box on the right (I knew that box would be useful sooner or later).

 Did you notice what I noticed? 

Very very few of the comments concern academia. With only a small number of exceptions, practicalities like parking and social life dominate the list.  I’m reminded of the episode of Friends where Rachel says she switched her major from psychology because “there was never any parking beside the psychology building”. Cue audience laughter based on Rachel not being a serious college student.

Should we as lecturers be worried?  Are learning, skills acquisition or knowledge enhancement not as important to our students as we think they are?   Or are these things simply not at the top or bottom of the list for most of the student representatives here?   

Whatever the answer, it’s a cause of worry.  If student and lecturer priorities have drifted so far apart we have a problem.  We have to fundamentally question what is the purpose of a third level education and we need to do so with our students.