Wednesday, 9 July 2014

University standards

It is probable that many of my readers work in universities. I would like to hear from you, wherever you are in the world, about a number of matters:

1 What do you think of the quality of education in your university and in your country?

2 Which circumstances encourage or prevent your university from educating students to a high level?

3 How many of your students are able to follow “College Format”, which means that although they attend lectures they can also learn based on gathering and inferring their own information, and establishing and applying general principles rather than following checklists. They do their own reading and show autonomy in learning. Learners are expected to search for faults in what they are taught. They can deal with tasks which require the application of specialised background knowledge, dis-embedding the features of a problem from a text, and drawing high-level inferences from highly complex text with multiple distractors. For more guidance, they will be in the top 5% of the population, or better still, top 2%.

4 Does your university recognise that students have different levels of ability, and factor that into exam results and student opinions about the teaching they receive?

5 Are you allowed to set demanding examinations, even if many students fail your test and some are asked to leave the university?

6 Are you allowed to give extra attention to your brightest students, including additional seminars and research work?

7 Does your university recognise that university staff have different levels of ability?

8 Do you feel able to teach about group differences in ability without negative consequences to your career?

9 Are there other aspects of university standards which are relevant to the overall quality of the education provided to students?

I am happy to receive short essays provoked by these questions, rather than just comments, though those will also be welcome. I will present each as a separate posting under University Standards.  I also understand that you may wish to write to me directly, and ask for your contribution and your university not to be identified. Inventing a name for your university might help. For such matters send me an electronic mail addressed to my first name James followed by a full stop and then my surname Thompson followed by curly a and then “university college london” as initial letters only, then dot “ac” dot “uk”

That should fool everyone, shouldn’t it?


  1. Don't have the chops to write an essay without expending a lot of effort and endless rewrites, so just comments. And I'm merely a PhD student, so a university employee of sorts, but the lowest of grunts.

    1. Pretty high, I would wager. If the MOOC videos from the top US universities are representative, math classes at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology were harder than those at MIT and the like (I don't doubt that the human capital at the former is incredibly much higher though.)

    2. I would guess that harder coursework would be better for teaching someone to a high ability. Of course, this would mean more people flunking.

    And more interaction with professors would be good for learning how to become a good scientist. Some universities have an enviable student:faculty ratio.

    3. Have no idea. But I would assume that this fact from Real Education by Charles Murray would be true in Norway too (keeping in mind that one third of Norwegians go on to higher education):

    "The College Board researchers defined college readiness as an SAT score that predicts a 65 percent probability or higher of getting a first-year college grade point average of 2.7 or higher— a B-minus average in an age of grade inflation, with no limitations on the courses that qualify. Even with this relaxed expectation, the benchmark scores were 590 for the SAT-Verbal, 610 for the SAT-Math, and 1180 or
    higher for the combined score. [...] The benchmarks were not inflated by unusually high demands for the most selective col­leges. The difference between the benchmarks of the unselective insti­tutions and highly selective ones was only twenty-three points for the combined score. [...] How many of America’s seventeen-year-olds can meet the bench­ marks? Three independent methods of calculating the answer to that question, described in the notes, lead to an estimate of 9 to 12 per­cent, with a realistic best-guess of about 10 percent. So few can do well in real colleges because real college-level material is hard."

    4. Different levels of ability are factored into the exam results; the grades are usually only based on a four hour end of semester standardized test that is graded anonymously, at most 20% of the grade is decided by the coursework, none for attendance etc.

    5. There are a few classes that have an incredibly high percentage of people who flunk. This creates an awkward situation since some courses are too hard for most college students, but they should still be an obligatory part of a comp. sci. degree. In the debates about why, I've never heard anyone even imply the Voldemort that some students might not be smart enough to understand certain things.

    6. I would suspect brighter students get harder master degree topics, to see if they are cut out for PhD level work, but that is about it.

    7. Dunno.

    8. Not applicable; not a psychologist.

    1. I meant the latter, obviously. It is getting late...