‘League ta­bles come with struc­tural lim­i­ta­tions’

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - Education - Sarah Zia sarah.z@htlive.com

With in­creas­ing pres­sure on dis­ci­plines to add prac­ti­cal course­work, ap­plied so­cial sciences al­lows tra­di­tional re­search meth­ods to come to­gether with new age in­no­va­tion. Tim Black­man, vice Chan­cel­lor, Mid­dle­sex Univer­sity, shares his views on chal­lenges faced by univer­sity lead­er­ship in gen­eral and the so­cial science dis­ci­pline in par­tic­u­lar in the wake of grow­ing un­em­ploy­a­bil­ity glob­ally. Edited ex­cerpts:

How do you re­spond to the need to in­te­grate the­ory with re­search and in­no­va­tion?

Mid­dle­sex Univer­sity is a com­pre­hen­sive univer­sity with a full range of sub­jects with a fo­cus on ap­plied per­spec­tives acrosa fac­ul­ties. Re­search en­riches our teach­ing and ap­plied re­search con­nects students with real world chal­lenges and con­cerns. Our strat­egy is to en­sure re­search has an im­pact ei­ther on busi­ness, so­cial pol­icy, en­vi­ron­ment as the univer­sity’s ethos is to im­prove for the bet­ter. Given that re­search across UK has be­come an open en­ter­prise, we can all draw from each oth­ers’s re­search projects more eas­ily now. There is no sep­a­ra­tion be­tween re­search and teach­ing which are aimed at the same ac­tiv­ity that is learn­ing with a com­mon goal of prob­lem solv­ing. Some­times so­cial science is crit­i­cized for be­ing too crit­i­cal or not be­ing ap­plied enough. How­ever, crit­i­cal think­ing is im­por­tant too. Busi­nesses and so­ci­eties need in­no­va­tion and new think­ing and crit­i­cal think­ing can be a source for new ideas.

We also fo­cus on pro­fes­sional doc­tor­ates which in­clude prac­tice-based study, where cur­ricu­lum is de­signed around a se­nior pro­fes­sional’ or man­ager’s area of prac­tice. Thus, the dis­ci­pline is linked to one’s oc­cu­pa­tion. The doc­tor­ate will help the pro­fes­sional take for­ward their think­ing in an area where they have sub­stan­tial ex­pe­ri­ence.

Aca­demic in­te­gra­tion and syn­ergy across de­part­ments is a chal­lenge. How do you achieve that?

This is a chal­lenge as aca­demics across the world tend to iden­tify most with their re­spec­tive dis­ci­pline and may even think that their dis­ci­pline is for a lack of bet­ter word su­pe­rior that the other. There can be an un­said hi­er­ar­chy among sub­jects that may pre­vent aca­demics from bor­row­ing from each other. This is one of the rea­sons we are mov­ing to larger fac­ul­ties and smaller schools so that larger units can al­low for greater in­ter­pre­ta­tion among col­leagues from di­verse dis­ci­plines. While iden­ti­fy­ing with your dis­ci­pline is im­por­tant, it is also im­por­tant to know a dis­ci­pline’s lim­i­ta­tion and be open to the best pos­si­ble way of solv­ing a prob­lem. As univer­sity lead­ers, it is upon us to cre­ate a con­ducive en­vi­ron­ment for mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary re­search. For in­stance, in­ter­nal fund­ing is a good in­cen­tive where you make it nec­es­sary to in­volve more than two de­part­ments. Fund­ing de­pends on your abil­ity to get more peo­ple to en­gage with each other. For in­stance, sev­eral science and en­gi­neer­ing grants are look­ing at not just dis­ci­pline spe­cific but sci­en­tific pro­posal as a lot of big changes in the world to­day can­not be ex­plained with­out un­der­stand­ing so­cial pro­cesses and in­di­vid­ual be­hav­ior. Newer pro­grammes with a broader range of mod­ules are an­other means of multi dis­ci­plinar­ity. Most prob­lems to­day lie at the in­ter­sec­tion of un­der­stand­ing hu­man be­hav­ior and tech­nol­ogy which re­quire teams source from mul­ti­ple dis­ci­plines. An ex­am­ple we are work­ing on is as­sis­tive tech­nolo­gies for the care of older peo­ple – us­ing tech at home that en­ables an old per­son to live in­de­pen­dently longer such as an as­sis­tive alarm, smart tech­nol­ogy to op­er­ate taps, lights or even cooking or care ro­bots who could help with do­mes­tic chores. This team w ill re­quire peo­ple from so­ci­ol­ogy and psy­chol­ogy among oth­ers to de­cide whether these tech­nolo­gies will be ac­cept­able to so­ci­eties.

How does univer­sity lead­er­ship counter the chal­lenge of map­ping qual­ity in re­search? Are league ta­bles an ac­cu­rate means of map­ping re­search qual­ity?

League ta­bles cer­tainly come with their owns truc­tural lim­i­ta­tions as none of them, for in­stance, talk about qual­ity of teach­ing in an in­sti­tu­tion. They give an idea of the kind of grade you need to get in, how sat­is­fied students are, how much does the in­sti­tu­tu­ion spend. How­ever these may not di­rectly cor­re­late with qual­ity of re­search. The teach­ing ex­cel­lence frame­work (TEF) and re­search ex­cel­lence frame­work in the UK are com­pli­men­tary as­sess­ments of the teach­ing process holis­ti­cally. TEF re­sults in UK have been dif­fer­ent from league ta­bles as they fo­cused on stu­dent out­comes. League ta­bles are about aca­demics set­ting the rules of the game of their own as­sess­ment. At this point, uni­ver­si­ties need to rise to the chal­lenge of in­clu­sive eco­nomic growth and are re­quired to make so­ci­eties bet­ter and in­crease pro­duc­tiv­ity. Details from league ta­bles can an­swer ques­tions on aca­demic pa­ram­e­ters but not help with the prag­matic con­cerns.

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