Are Teachers Right To Help Students Cheat?

Roger Pope, principle of Kingsbridge Community College, Devon, wrote in the Times Education Supplement:

So governments and schools end up playing a bizarre game of snakes and ladders.  We play every trick to climb up the ladder.

We bribe kids to attend revision classes over half-term.  We warp the curriculum so that as soon as kids get maths they drop English and vice versa.  Govey knows what we are up to and sends us slithering down a snake by introducing the EBac, and on down another snake by slashing the value of easy vocational qualifications.  And heads collude with exam boards in seedy bars, plotting how to subvert his aims and climb back up the ladder again.

Mr Pope goes on to say that the government “sneaked ahead”again by doing away with coursework after the “naughty teachers” wrote it for their students and replaced it with controlled assessments.

Controlled assesments?  These teachers have been working with students to draft and re-draft pieces that are simply copied out under the so-called controlled conditions.

Mr Pope’s verdict? Single terminal exams.

Do you agree?

Single terminal exams may be the most fool proof.  But what are we trying to get out of school education? Presumably literacy and numeracy.  Some kids need more coaching than others to get those skills.

Having a single terminal exam won’t entirely curtail cheating.  Teachers will still teach the exam.  All teachers everywhere, I hasten to add, if they have any sense.

Perhaps the fault of the system lies in the emphasis of exams and results.  Okay, we need them to identify failing schools and poor standards but Ofsted does this as well – doesn’t it?

Is there some reason the state can’t rely on Ofsted rather than results to gain an accurate picture of our school system?

What do you think?


Are International Students An Indication Of An University’s Quality Discussed

Last post on this particular discussion

A few more interesting comments from LinkedIn discussions.  Again see comments for full transcripts.

Peter Esmonde, a Development and Education Sociologist, makes the point that huge international fees reduces the number of students from economically poorer countries.  He says this:

…truncated the quality of university intellectual culture in UK universities, while we also witnessed an increasingly excessive commercialization and utilitarianization of third level studies.

I can’t help but agree.  High international fees ensure that international students come from wealthy backgrounds and have probably already had access to a good (expensive) education and university preparation.  This probably propels a university’s reputation and quality.  But also closes it off because, though from diverse backgrounds culturally, share a commonality in a quality pre-university education.

An international student perspective

LSE is a UK university with a very large intake of international students.  Some of LSE’s international alumni were kind enough to reply to this discussion from the perspective of being an international student.

Somya Jain, from India, did her Masters in Development Management at LSE, says:

I won’t say that international students don’t contribute to the quality of the institution. I respect their exigency and they definitely do contribute to our learning by peer-to-peer discussions. For instance, we can read about Africa in 1000s of books, but to learn from a person who is from the conflict area definitely adds on to one’s knowledge.

American Michael Bernier graduated from LSE in 2009 with an MSc Development Studies.  He says that while on the face of it the disproportionate international fees seem unfair, home students pay for universities as long as they live in that country through taxation.  He adds:

I would argue that selectivity, retention, and all the other standard metrics make more sense than just international student attendance, except in a discussion of “profile”.

International fee paying students are applying [to LSE] because they know the name and that employers in their home country are excited by it. I am not sure there is a more important metric. Every other metric is also a proxy for school quality, but this one gets at the biggest reason people go to school in the first place.

Yes. I absolutely agree that marketability of degrees is an important metric.  For the reasons outlined in the previous post, I am not convinced it is the definitive metric for a university’s quality – merely its perceived quality.  Habit, in terms of routine and tradition, play a role here that I feel should not be discounted.

Though, perhaps on a more abstract note than is appropriate, maybe ‘perceived quality’ by prospective students and employers and ‘quality’ are the same?

Lucille Ossai, from Nigeria, studied Industrial Relations and Personnel Management at LSE.  She says:

I found the academic standard truly empowering. My course mates came from other continents and the mix sharpened my mind. Overall, the experience was very empowering. A degree from LSE is very-well regarded anywhere in the world. Still not convinced though that the high fees for international students is practical but what I have learnt in my 5 years of education in the UK is that international students are willing to pay whatever price for quality education, more so than UK students. I think that this is because most international students return home with skills, experience and the education to impact their lives, careers or countries.

International students willing to pay more than home students?

It is an interesting observation that UK students may be unwilling to pay for quality education, or at least evidently more unwilling than international students.  Is the gap in quality that extreme between international universities and UK universities?

I know that American universities are continually rated the best in the world, but lots of Americans (usually from Ivy League universities) come to study in the UK.  Clearly, the mix of students and the chance to live and experience another country is a bid draw in these cases.

Maybe UK students protest paying higher fee, or in some instances any fees, because they will pay taxes which should contribute to university funding.  But also because UK students who go to UK universities and live and work in the UK after contribute to the whole of UK society.  The education they received benefits everyone.  It is in that sense a public good.  Why should they pay so much when everyone benefits?

International students may not remain in the UK, so the education they received, while benefiting whichever society they chose to live and work in, is not plowed back into the UK.

Just about the money?

Vezuh Minang, a graduate from a UK university, now a Human Resource generalist, says:

A university’s reputation can hardly be a matter of the number of international students!! There are many factors that have to come into play here including the quality of the international students ( that is, if the number of international students has anything to do at all).

I am an international masters student studying in the UK and i have come to realise that majority of the universitites go after international students for the money. World best known reputable unis such as Harvard, Beckley, Oxford etc did not build their reputation from the number of international students but rather from the calibre of lecturers and students that those unis produce.

Unfortunately, university education has become a business.  And I am sure that the revenue universities can get from international fee-paying students is one reason universities try so hard to attract them.

Martin Levine, consultant and distance education instructor, University of Manitoba, Canada, agrees with Vezuh:

Many universities around the world want to enhance their intake of tuition fees and international students frequently pay far more than local ones. Even in the case of Canada, while almost all universities are supported by provincial governments, the universities are still required to cover part of their costs by collecting tuition fees. In some cases international student tuition fees are a significant part of the university’s entire budget.

Other influences on international student’s choice of university

But Martin also contends there are influences outside the University on international students:

Whether a given institution is open to receiving international students, what its tuition fees and local living costs are like, what the community where the institution is located is like (parents of international students will generally prefer very safe communities), whether that community welcomes outsiders and whether there are possibilities there for part-time employment while studying.

Another increasingly significant issue for the students is whether the country where the institution is located allows post-secondary studies as a pathway to permanent residence. Canada is an immigrant-welcoming country and does this.

What standards does the recipient institution require of international students in terms of English, French or other local language proficiency? Will they require additional language studies from the student before the student will be allowed to enter the institution’s main programs of study?

Thank you to everyone that responded to this discussion.  I hope people found it as interesting as I did.

Do you agree with these commentators?


Dr Liana Giorgi’s Response To ‘Are International Students Really An Indication Of A University’s Quality’

Posting this discussion on LinkedIn returned some really interesting contributions.  Please see the comments for the full transcriptions.  I have included my own response, I hope to further the discussion.

International students aren’t just sources of income

Dr Liana Giorgi Ph.D., a former Vice-Director at The Interdisciplinary Centre for Comparative Research in the Social Sciences, says it is wrong to see international students only as a source of income:

Those who claim a relationship between ratio of international students and university reputation (as measured by various established indices like publications, research funding, number of professors to students, etc.) treat this as a proxy for openness as opposed to insularity. There are a number of other policies that go with internationalization, like a more active student life, more emphasis on team work, recognition of importance of subjects like language learning etc.

I understand Dr Giorgi’s reasoning here.  However, having studied at a university with a very international student body whilst completing my Bachelor’s degree I fear that in practice this does not happen.

Again I speak only for myself and my personal experiences, but I found that nationalities became cliques on campus.  British students had British student friends, Indian students has Indian student friends, Chinese students as Chinese student friends, etc,.

Even between English speaking ‘Western’ countries, such as, UK, USA, Canada and Australia I felt students were still a little segregated.  I suppose there is a large difference in culture between these countries that I sometimes discount until actually conversing with these students and realizing our view-points are entirely disjointed.

On a side note, interestingly European students, in particular German, Spanish and French had no problems befriending fellow Europeans from outside their home countries.  Perhaps there is a genuine intrinsic ‘European’ connection (I’ve never felt it as an English citizen).

Having said all this, I must also say that this self-inflicted segregation only really applied to undergraduates.  Postgraduate students seemed to find common ground and learn things from each other in a way I came to be quite envious of in my final year of undergrad.

Reputation merely habit?

Dr Giorgi also responed to my suggestion that a university’s reputation may be a matter of habit in that students may not put the thought or research into choosing the exact right university for their desired education, learning style and motto rather students simply apply to the university they have heard of or the one at the top of the league table.

Dr Giorgi makes the point that ‘habit‘ as in routine should not be confounded with ‘habit’ as in tradition or history.

This is a very valid point in my opinion and in a way I think it helps clarify my own.

Doesn’t a habit born out of tradition and in this case a history of good quality education by a particular university at some time become a habit of routine?

A ‘good’ university attracts some of the best students, who having obtained their education and qualifications there must continue its good reputation and, in turn, this attracts new generations of best students.

As such, is it not so that a university’s reputation becomes a self-perpetuating entity?

This is not to detract from that university’s traditionally good standards and in fact consistently attracting good students would enable the university to improve upon those standards.

I simply wish to suggest that perhaps in the case of university applications selecting a university lately does seem to confound routine and tradition.

I singled out international students in my previous post because for the UK university system increasingly they are the subset still able to choose.  UK home students have scrambled for places at universities these last couple of years; sometimes strategically applying to universities less well regarded in the hope they will take them with lower grades or jumping at whatever university place they can get in Clearing (the post-results first-to-phone-gets-a-place limited number of partaking universities lottery).

When routine meets tradition

Perhaps the routine element of applying based on traditional good standards and regard is to the detriment of students and institutions.  Some less well regarded universities excel in a particular field and maybe some very highly regarded universities as a whole have the odd department that is far less strong than there competition.

Two highly regarded UK universities are LSE and University of Oxford, but I would argue they are entirely different in ethos and student experience.

The very fact that one is an open hub in the heart of London and the other an especially student-orientated secluded and picturesque campus is just one spark of many cultural differences.

I was always somewhat astounded that some students opted upon failing to attain a place at Oxford to try LSE: as if a degree from either is interchangeable.

Maybe in respect for qualification this is true to an extent, but most definitely this is not so in relation to the kind of education students are exposed to.

I think this example highlights the notion that allowing the routine of choosing ‘good’ universities, even if those universities are historically of high quality and the choice is rational in that sense, is bad.  Choices should, I believe, be nuanced and tailored to the student.

How does this relate to evaluations on quality?

And this impacts on my original question: are international students an indication of a university’s quality?

If we grant the assumption that international students can choose, and we grant the further assumption that international students would choose, all else being equal, safe traditionally high quality universities, then I think it is reasonable to think part of this process becomes routine and self-perpetuating.

If we admit routine then the number of international students at a university should not be thought of as an indication in itself of the quality of a university.

Yes, it may reflect a history of good quality and a record of success or openness to international communities but it may also be symptomatic of PR, poor understanding of employers of a changing industry or even laziness.

What do you think?  Has choosing a university become routine?  What’s more important: a good reputation or a good fit?  Do you agree with Dr Giorgi that an international student body encourages team work, language learning and activity?

Are International Students Really An Indication of A University’s Quality?

I’m interested to know what everyone thinks about the logic behind ‘the more international fee-paying students a university attracts the better the university must be’.

I’m UK-based and not really familiar with other country’s systems, but for UK institutions international fees can be as much as £15,000 for one year of tuition for an undergraduate bachelor degree. That’s compared to the (recently imposed and very contentious) £9,000 for home students.

Presumably, that people are willing to pay high international fees is where the idea that more international students equals higher quality has originated.  ‘Market Education’, as is sometimes banded around.

But to what extent do you think this is true?  I wonder whether a university’s reputation is more a force of habit, and similarly I wonder whether the number of international students attending a particular university also a matter of habit.

I studied at LSE, which had a large intake of international students. Talking to some, it seemed to me that a lot had chosen to study at LSE without much thought other than they wanted to study in the UK, US or Canada. They had heard of LSE so applied, sometimes having done hardly any research into what the university was about in the first place. This is only my observation/opinion and perhaps only applied to the very few people I discussed this with.

What do you think about the relationship between reputation and actual quality of a university? Are the number of international students an indicator of quality? Is reputation merely a matter of habit?


UCAS Proposes Post-Result Applications

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) released its admissions process review yesterday (31 Oct 2011).

One idea to come out of this review is to make A Level students wait until after they get their results to apply to university.

Paul Stanistreet, More, Different and Better:

There is, overall, a lot to welcome in the proposals. A post-results process would be simpler, less chaotic and, in principle, fairer than the present system, in which applicants provide a combination of predicted grades, personal statements and teacher references. Research cited by UCAS shows that just 52 per cent of predicted grades are correct. Across three A-levels fewer than 10 per cent have all three predicted correctly, meaning that many students who might consider reviewing their options in the light of their results are denied the opportunity.

But there are concerns that the implementation of the largest overhaul of university admissions in 50 years coincides with other equally dramatic shake-ups to UK education policy.

Ed, Oxbridge Essays Blog:

The timing could not be worse. With tuition fees soaring to £9000 and every university individually rewriting its own funding and bursary support packages, university applicants, particularly those from poorer backgrounds, are already being bombarded with chaos and confusion.

The UCAS consultation suggested that the current system of university applications favoured pupils at private schools.

Cribsheet 31.10.11:

UCAS says the university admissions process favours pupils at private schools. They are encouraged by their teachers to apply to institutions well ahead of the official deadline which can improve their chances of being offered a conditional place. They have the information they need to help them make decisions early, and they are advised by specialised tutors with good university connections.

What do you think?  Is UCAS on track with its proposal for a post-results application system?  Is the current system biased towards private school pupils?