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Students – earning less, owing more

Several bad news stories for students have emerged this month.

A report (‘Payback Time’) published by the Sutton Trust in the UK, sets out to analyse the impact of recent changes to student loans and fees.  Under the new regime, under which tuition fees rose to a maximum of £9,000 a year, students will leave university with almost £20,000 more debt on average than under the previous system.

The report concludes that most students will still be paying back their loans into their 40s and 50s.  Many will never clear their debts.  The study uses the example of an ‘average teacher’, who would still be paying back the student loan into their early 50s.

Meanwhile, as the cost of an education increases, the value of a degree is declining.

According to research by The Complete University Guide, over the last five years, the value of a degree has declined by up to a third.  Researches analysed data based on graduate employment and earnings six months after leaving university.   They found that the average starting salary for graduates in professional employment dropped by 11 per cent in real terms between 2007 and 2012.

However, some degree courses, including librarianship and information management, have bucked the trend.

Meanwhile in Sweden there are moves to amend existing student loan guidelines.  The proposed changes would mean that student loans will no longer be written off when graduates reach the age of 67 and that fees for ‘late payment reminder’ letters will double.

Reputation – the major academic currency

Times Higher Education has released World Reputation Rankings 2014.

Institutional ranking is a major consideration for academics when moving jobs, for students deciding where to study and for potential partners and collaborators. The published rankings are based on over 10,000 responses from 133 countries.

US universities reign supreme

American universities take the top three slots – and take 46 of the top 100.  Harvard remains in first place, with MIT second.  Stanford University has moved into third, jumping ahead of Oxford and Cambridge Universities.  However, US State universities are slipping slightly after suffering budget cuts.

UK – cause for concern?

The UK holds ten of the top 100 places – up from nine last year but the survey suggests there is a growing gap between what it calls the London-Oxford-Cambridge triangle and the rest of the country.

Major Asian institutions make progress

Japan is the region’s best performer, with five in the top 100.  Korea’s Seoul National University has jumped from 41st to 26th.

The story in Europe

  • Two of Sweden’s institutions fell out of the top 100 leaving it with only one (Karolinska)
  • France also lost two universities from the top 100, leaving it with two (Université Paris-Sorbonne and Université Pierre et Marie Curie)
  • Germany is faring much better – it comes third after the US and UK with six universities in the top 100
  • Other European countries featuring in the top 100 are:
    • The Netherlands (Delft University of Technology ranks 42nd).  University of Amsterdam; Leiden University and Utrecht also appear in the top 100
    • Switzerland (ETH Zurich ranks 16th; Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne ranks 49th)
    • Belgium – Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

New survey open

Thomson Reuters has launched its fifth annual Academic Reputation Survey. The survey informs two key indicators of the 13 used to create the annual Times Higher Education World University Rankings, which will be released later this year.

Developing professional networks – what social network analysis teaches us

Social network analysis has been used to measure the impact of the DREaM project which set out to nurture a network of researchers.

Social Network Analysis (SNA) explores social relationships and their implications.  As a research methodology, it is employed by a range of subject specialists, and is much favoured by knowledge management practitioners seeking to explore the ‘human’ aspects of knowledge mobilisation.

A new article by Louise Cooke and Hazel Hall* explores the applicability and value of Social Network Analysis (SNA) as a means of investigating the development of researcher networks. The authors believe that their study provides transferable lessons about SNA as a tool as well as the interventions that can encourage speedy development of social infrastructure in new networks, which are applicable across professional groups.

After a discussion about the development of SNA as a research tool and its previous use in the context of library and information science (LIS), the article reports on a case study based on the Developing Research Excellence and Methods (DREaM) project.

DREaM was established in 2011 to create, and support the development of, a network of LIS researchers, connecting them in new ways and improving the quality and impact of LIS research. It is this case study that will be of most interest to LIS practitioners.

What does the ‘before’ and ‘after’ data from the case study tell us about how strong professional networks can be nurtured?

Key findings

  • ‘before’ data shows that members of this participant network were not highly connected or aware of each other’s expertise: existing networks were highly centralised around a small number of academic librarians and researchers
  • ‘after’ data shows a demonstrable increase in expertise awareness and interaction; participants had increased their number of network ties; the network became more ‘even’ with less dependence on a small number of densely networked actors; academic librarians in particular moved towards the centre of the network

What was it about the way the DREaM project was designed that helped develop the network?

The authors suggest that the combination of workshops, social events, networking opportunities, the development of an online community and the effective use of social media tools:

  • Reduced the isolation of participants
  • Helped participants exchange ideas and broaden their knowledge base
  • Provided opportunities for participants to exchange sources of information and references

A range of event amplification techniques (live-blogging/tweeting; delegate reviews; session recordings and many more) also helped those unable to attend events in person, to participate in the network remotely.

This inclusive, boundary-spanning approach helped the participants double their awareness of each other’s expertise and almost double their levels of social interaction.


*Cooke, L. & Hall, H. (2013). Facets of DREaM: a Social Network Analysis exploring network development in the UK LIS research community. Journal of Documentation, 69(6), 786-806.

Further information about the article (Hazel Hall’s blog).  You can download the full text of the article from Emerald (subscription-based service).  You can download the full-text of the article manuscript at no charge here.   Further information on the DREaM project can be found here.

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MOOCs and librarians – fulfilling the potential

Recent OECD research measured the literacy, numeracy and information skills of adults in 24 countries.  The results show how the divide between those who have skills and those who do not can be perpetuated.  Those with lower skills can be excluded from the job market altogether, or stuck in low paid work.  They can also be excluded from other aspects of society.  However, those who have already achieved high levels of education are much more likely to continue to develop their skills throughout their lives.

Statistics also show that the vast majority of those engaging with MOOCs already have some form of degree.  There is no evidence that education is ‘opening up’ – as yet.

MOOCs and universities

MOOCs have the potential to transform the ways in which people participate in higher education or develop their skills.  For universities they offer new ways for people to engage with the institution (whether virtually, or in real life).  A MOOC can be a shop window for the institution, enhancing its reputation and reaching out to new audiences.   MOOCs have the potential to transform the way that people learn – and teach.   At a lively pre-conference workshop at Internet Librarian International delegates heard from those who had created, taught or been a learner – and considered the potential for librarians to contribute to the success of MOOCs.

Learners and MOOCs

The current statistics show that the announcement of a MOOC generates a great deal of interest but that engagement begins to tail off by week two.  Average completion rates are approximately 7-10%.  However, these rates should not been seen as a failure.  Participants do not need to have completed the entire course to have benefited from the process.

Jo Alcock, an academic librarian, gave an interesting account of her experiences as a MOOC learner on two courses.   With one course she chose a basic track which involved 2-3 hours of work per week for ten weeks with a final multiple choice exam.  She declined the option to pay a sum for more advanced material.  For the other course she was much more engaged – participating for 8-10 hours per week for six weeks.  Reading was released for the course and she undertook weekly assignments which were graded using a peer review process.  The peer review process was incredibly rich and valuable – both as a reviewer and being reviewed.

Lessons learned so far

  • MOOCs represent a new model for education – one which is lifelong rather than something we intersect with periodically
  • It is possible to be a student, a mentor and a teacher simultaneously
  • Creating a MOOC involves so much more than simply making learning materials available online
  • Libraries and librarians should ‘knock on doors’ and get involved asap
  • Invite yourself to every meeting you hear about!
  • MOOCs are a great opportunity for librarians – they are truly ‘public’ schools!

Opportunities for librarians

  • Helping learners develop their digital skills – with a view to widening participation
  • Facilitating and moderating peer support processes
  • Helping to make connections with OA resources and repositories
  • Copyright and data protection

Speakers at the workshop: Ben Showers, David Lankes; Gavin Beattie; Claire Beecroft; Andy Tattersall; Jo Alcock.

[Follow Val Skelton on Google+]

Open access: academic libraries and article processing charges

Despite challenges, the new emphasis on OA provides librarians with a positive platform to re-establish their role in the research process.

A new report published by SAGE explores the current – and future role – of academic libraries in helping implement OA processing charges.  The report explores the current state of the art, and shares recommendations.  Although librarians support the goals and principles of open access, the OA mandates from funders are creating many challenges.

Institutional policies – still evolving

  • Although some participants reported full OA policies were already in place, the majority of policies are still ‘evolving’
  • Libraries at every participating institution are involved in OA policy development
  • Institutional repositories are an essential element
  • Participants expressed concern at possible shortfall in funding for author pays (‘gold’) OA publishing (RCUK is currently making some funds available)
  • Some institutions are making up the shortfall; others are not

What roles and tasks are librarians undertaking?

  • Entering into publisher OA agreements
  • Allocating funding for individual papers – including one library which split its total funds into equal quarters for the year
  • Most reported a low take-up of APC requests by researchers – many librarians are working to educate and advise researchers
  • Working with publishers to administrate the cost – a task which many reported as frustrating or overly-complicated


  • Funders should provide clear guidance on reporting and measurement
  • Publishers need to better communicate copyright options and which of their publications are RCUK policy compliant
  • More robust systems for managing APCs are needed
  • Cross-industry initiatives and international standards should be developed

The report Implementing Open Access APCs: the role of academic libraries summarises the round table discussions of a panel of academic librarians and other interested parties and is available for free download here.

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Is Higher Education value for money?

The UK’s Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and the consumer organisation Which? has published the 2013 survey of the student academic experience at English universities.

The first survey, in 2006, coincided with the introduction of HE fees and the surveys aim to discover whether students are getting a ‘better’ academic experience in the light of increased fees.  The report concludes that there is “no apparent relationship between the fees students are being charged and what they receive”.


  • Although students are paying more, universities themselves are not receiving additional money – student fees are simply filling the gap left by reduced centralised government funding.
  • Student fees trebled in 2012.  The average fee charged is now £8500+
  • Contact with academic staff has hardly increased, despite higher fees
  • Diverse student experience in terms of teaching format and contact hours and the perceived gap in helpful upfront information to help students choose the appropriate course

Key findings – choosing the right university

  • 32% of students might have chosen a different course if they had known what they know now
  • 21% of students thought information provided by their institutions was ‘vague’; 9% thought it was ‘misleading’
  • 29% of first year students think their course is ‘poor value for money’

Student workload

  • The average weekly workload is 30 hours per week
  • Women and mature students study more than men
  • 14% of the 10,000 students who said their course was worse than they expected said the course had not been challenging enough

Contact time

  • No significant change in the amount of contact time or proportion of small group teaching
  • Students paying less than £8000 received same amount of contact time as those paying more
  • Other factors important to students include their satisfaction with the quality of teaching as well as they amount of face-to-face time
  • Significant differences in contact time between subject areas and institutions
  • Students recognise the importance of small group teaching and the amount they receive contributes to their satisfaction levels
  • Contact time has risen by just 20 minutes per week since 2006

The report is available for free download from the HEPI website.

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The (Australian) university of the future

The Australian university of the future

In a report by Ernst and Young, Australian universities are described as being on ‘the cusp of profound change’, with current models unlikely to remain viable over the next decade and beyond.

The report discusses five ‘mega-trend’ drivers of change in the academic sector:

  • Democratisation of knowledge – access and availability of knowledge growing globally (especially in emerging markets)
  • Fierce competition for both students and funding
  • Digital technologies transforming the way people access education
  • Globalisation – opportunities for global mobility and partnerships and the emergence of global, elite university brands
  • Integration with industry – driving innovation and research via deeper relationships and new partnerships

If they are to be successful, universities need to respond by creating new lean business models (which involves reducing the ratio of ‘support staff’) and becoming more ‘corporate’ in the way they work.  This may include the streamlining of the number of subjects/programmes offered and taking decisions to focus on specific sectors.

New business models

The report describes three potential business models (while acknowledging that there are other models open to universities):

  • Streamlined status quo –in which established universities maintain broad-based teaching and research but transform the way in which these services are delivered and administrated
  • Niche dominators targeting customer segments and refining their services
  • Transformers  - new entrants, new market spaces, new sources, new partnerships


The report also explores future scenarios for research within university

  • Research will  become concentrated on universities that can demonstrate research impact and excellence
  • Smaller universities will focus on narrower range of research programmes, and build links with partners

The report is free to download.

10,000 students have their say on textbooks

This summer the e-textbook publisher surveyed nearly 10,000 students in Europe and the US about their use of printed and e-textbooks.  (The results for the Netherlands, the UK and the US have just been released – further results for Denmark and Germany will follow).

The findings are of interest to publishers, librarians and academic staff – and highlight some differences between students in the US and the rest of the world.

The results show that students in the US are further down the line in accepting and using e-textbooks.  Price continues to be a barrier for students everywhere while another issue that drives purchasing decisions is whether only a portion of the textbook is required reading.

Key findings US

  • More than 75% of students do not buy required textbooks.
  • Over 90% of students feel textbooks are too expensive
  • 58% prefer digital textbooks
  • On average US students spend $655 per year on textbooks
  • The majority are buying second hand books

 Key findings Europe

  • In Germany, Netherlands and the UK only 30-40/% prefer digital textbooks
  • In the UK 83% do not buy required textbooks
  • 95% say textbooks are too expensive

You can read more about the survey, and see some interesting infographics, on the Bookboon blog.

New teaching and new learning – universities in 2020

Higher education is as susceptible to technology disruption as any other information-centric business.  Communications technologies mean that knowledge transfer need no longer be tethered to a physical university campus.  Simultaneously steadily increasing fees mean that customers are questioning the value for money and quality of higher education while the current economic climate means that a college degree is no longer a guarantee of future employability.  New competitors are entering the market – and not just in the US.

The Pew Research Center has released a report on technology disruption and higher education.  The research presented two future (2020) scenarios to which selected invited experts and members of their trusted networks responded.

Scenario one presented a future in which higher education was not significantly different to today, although some new technologies such as teleconferencing, personal wireless smart devices were more widely adopted (39% broadly agreed with this scenario).

Scenario two presented a future in which higher education was transformed.  This transformed landscape includes a significant move to individualised learning activities;  hybrid classes; mass adoption of teleconferencing to leverage expert resources (60% of respondents broadly agreed with this scenario).

Several key themes are discussed in the report including the need for universities to be highly adaptive and innovative if they are to thrive. Several respondents referred to the slow rate of change in the current system.

New teaching

  • less demand for traditional lecture based courses
  • increased demand for individualised learning
  • increasingly connected student body
  • more hybrid education – a blending of online and offline
  • improved virtual environments
  • face to face for ‘the privileged few’
  • increased focus on employability
  • a move to competency based education

Technological innovation

  • web based delivery to meet growing global demands and provide value for money
  • more ‘tele-education’
  • distance learning integrated with social networking

New business models

  • structural changes to coincide with retirement of baby boomers
  • increasing corporate involvement
  • open research
  • push for value for money by consumers

New learning

  • collaborative education and peer to peer learning
  • a focus on how to learn and lifelong learning and self education
  • and, of particular interest to information professionals, an examination of how tools can enhance students critical thinking and information skills acquisition skills

The report is available, free of charge, from the Pew website.


Top priorities for European librarians

A report published by OCLC describes the changing priorities of librarians in Germany, The Netherlands and the UK.  This is the first time that an OCLC survey has focused solely on European librarians.

The report explores some of the changes that librarians are anticipating in the way their libraries will be used.  A separate report is available for each of the participating countries.

Top priorities for academic libraries


  • Licensed electronic collections/e-books
  • Future of higher education and the library’s role
  • Visibility of the library’s collection


  • Licensed electronic collections/e-books
  • Digitisation projects
  • Visibility of the library’s collection


  • Licensed electronic collections/e-books
  • Future of higher education and the library’s role
  • Facilities issues

Top priorities for public libraries


  • Addressing literacy
  • Access by mobile devices
  • Access to new technology for the library

The Netherlands

  • Visibility of the library’s collection
  • Forming community partnerships
  • Demonstrating library value to local government

 The UK

  • Demonstrating library value to funders
  • Forming community partnerships
  • Addressing literacy

The reports are free to download and feature interesting visualisations and figures.