Council for the Defence of British Universities

From THE, by David Matthews:

Sir David Attenborough, Richard Dawkins and Sir Andrew Motion are among the founding members of the Council for the Defence of British Universities (CDBU). It will be officially launched on 13 November and will initially focus on building its membership and developing its public agenda.

The council’s initial 65-strong membership includes 16 peers from the House of Lords plus a number of prominent figures from outside the academy, including the broadcaster Lord Bragg of Wigton and Alan Bennett. Its manifesto calls for universities to be free to pursue research “without regard to its immediate economic benefit” and stresses “the principle of institutional autonomy”.

It adds that the “function of managerial and administrative staff is to facilitate teaching and research”.

Sir Keith Thomas, historian, former president of the British Academy and a member of the council, writes in this week’s Times Higher Education that the level of “audit and accountability” demanded of universities by the government is “excessive, inefficient and hugely wasteful”.

In addition, “the very purpose of the university is grossly distorted by the attempt to create a market in higher education”.

He calls for the UK’s higher education funding councils to be scrapped and replaced by bodies truly independent of government.

Professor Thomas, a distinguished fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, was primarily responsible for drawing up the manifesto and instigating the council following a conference in London titled Universities Under Attack, held in November 2011.

Howard Hotson, professor of early modern intellectual history at the University of Oxford, has also been involved

with the CDBU since its inception.

He stressed that the launch was designed to build membership rather than put forward fully formed proposals, with a manifesto designed to appeal to a “broad church” that would have to do “a lot of thinking” before it put its full case to the public and the state.

Membership is open to anyone, not just academics, and contributions to the organisation will be voluntary, he said.

The list of founding members also includes Dame Antonia Byatt, Michael Frayn, Lord Rees of Ludlow, Sir Simon Jenkins, Lord Krebs and Sir Paul Nurse.

Read the full article and papers by historian Keith Thomas and astrophysicist Martin Rees.

Ofqual: Review into exam textbooks published

From Ofqual:

Textbooks linked to qualifications are too focused on exam preparation at the cost of subject content, according to new research by Ofqual.

The exams regulator has published its initial findings and action plan into potential conflicts of interest between qualification providers and study aids produced or endorsed by them such as textbooks.

While the report suggests there is only limited evidence that textbooks are having a negative impact on the standards of qualifications, researchers did find evidence supporting concerns about the overall quality of textbooks as learning resources.

Ofqual’s report, entitled Textbooks: Risks and Opportunities, states that “a rather formulaic approach, influenced by current endorsement processes, is resulting in textbooks that are over focused on exam preparation at the cost of subject content and signposting to wider and more in-depth reading.”

Tim Leslie, Ofqual’s Director of Risks and Markets, said: “We want to explore further whether endorsement processes can be improved to drive up the quality of learning resources available to teachers”.

Ofqual’s initial research has also triggered further work which is designed to prevent any activities which could undermine confidence in the exam system.

The research highlights particular concerns about the links between publishing and qualification awarding bodies. Pearson has both publishing and awarding interests. Ofqual is launching a review of Pearson’s publishing and awarding activities, which will focus on the effectiveness of the “business separation” between the awarding organisation and its publishing arm.

The report highlights concern that exam-endorsed textbooks are sometimes written by chief examiners. Ofqual found that breaches in confidentiality of exam questions are very rare. However as part of its wider review, Ofqual will set out what role examiners should have in writing textbooks while they are employed as examiners.

Tim Leslie said: “The research has highlighted a lack of agreement about what a ‘good’ textbook looks like. As part of further work in this area we are looking to establish new guidelines.”

Download the report, Textbooks: Risks and Opportunities

A few quotes from the report which mention mathematics:

Continue reading

Maths phobia goes viral

This is a random collection of media responses from around the world to a study by  Ian Lyons and Sian Beilock, from the University of Chicago, published in the journal Plos One. From the abstract:

Math can be difficult, and for those with high levels

of mathematics-anxiety (HMAs), math is associated with tension, apprehension, and fear. But what underlies the feelings of dread effected by math anxiety? Are HMAs’ feelings about math merely psychological epiphenomena, or is their anxiety grounded in simulation of a concrete, visceral sensation – such as pain – about which they have every right to feel anxious? We show that, when anticipating an upcoming math-task, the higher one’s math anxiety, the more one increases activity in regions associated with visceral threat detection, and often the experience of pain itself (bilateral dorso-posterior insula). Interestingly, this relation was not seen during math performance, suggesting that it is not that math itself hurts; rather, the anticipation of math is painful. Our data suggest that pain network activation underlies the intuition that simply anticipating a dreaded event can feel painful. These results may also provide a potential neural mechanism to explain why HMAs tend to avoid math and math-related situations, which in turn can bias HMAs away from taking math classes or even entire math-related career paths.