Monthly Archives: September 2014

The best lunch in Oxford…

Carolyne Culver, Kellogg fellow and Head of Communications in the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division, reminds us of the need for effective and timely communication in order to ensure that the University of Oxford remains a leader in global higher education. 

Kellogg serves the best lunches at Oxford. That’s what we should say to anyone who jests about cornflakes! And it’s true. Having visited a number of other colleges for lunch – and enjoyed the company of the colleagues who kindly invited me – there has sometimes been a hint of school dinners about the experience.

Last week a number of fellows and staff gathered to discuss how the college ought to communicate with its various audiences, from prospective students to alumni. We agreed that the sense of community we enjoy, not least because we all eat together informally, was an important message to convey to those wondering which college to choose.

We hope that new members of college are enjoying the current packed programme of welcome events, and that it provides them with a reassuring insight into the community that they can enjoy being a part of over the coming years.

Our role in the community and making a contribution to society beyond our walls is also important, College staff and the MCR raised money last week in support of Macmillan Cancer Support as we took part in the charity’s World’s Biggest Coffee morning. You can see photos from the event on the College Instagram and Twitter accounts.

I have recently ‘defected’ from the central University offices at Wellington Square to the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division to be their first Head of Communications. This is a fantastic opportunity to indulge my interest in science and work more closely with the academics and researchers in the Science Area. It’s also a good excuse to have meetings in the cafe at the Natural History Museum, opposite our offices, and gaze down on the T-Rex and dodo. I’m still close to college too!

There are many challenges that we face, for example sustaining and improving facilities in the Science Area, but there is also much to celebrate. Research income and philanthropic gifts continue to grow, as do the number of spin outs. MPLS spin out Natural Motion resulted in more than £30 million in cash and shares for the University. The work of many academics, researchers and graduate students has been recognised by national and international bodies, and our success in securing funds for several Doctoral Training Centres means we can train the researchers of the future.

Communicating the strength of Oxford research and getting the recognition it deserves is something that the departments, divisional offices, Begbroke Science Park and Isis Innovation work hard to achieve. However, we must never make the mistake of thinking the outside world understands and acknowledges our research strengths and our stature, and that we have nothing to learn from others. We face some almighty competition, within this country and globally, and our strength – academic freedom underpinned by the principle of subsidiarity – is also our weakness when it comes to communication. In such a complex organisation it is a challenge to find out what who is doing what, and where, and ensuring that this information is shared with the people who need to hear about it.

Information about researchers, their projects and their publications are spread across many websites. This is something that we need to resolve for the sake of members of the University who wish to collaborate with one another, and outsiders who want to find out more about our research and how they might be able to benefit from, and fund it. So this is a plea that we remember that effective and timely communication – upwards, downwards and sideways – is a challenge for all of us, and is necessary for any university to remain cutting edge.

If any fellows or students based in MPLS departments would like to meet and share ideas, I would be happy to do so – and we can enjoy the best lunch in Oxford at the same time!

Carolyne Culver, September 2014

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“The biggest difference between those that attend Oxford and those that don’t ….”

amy price

Amy Price at her graduation, with President Jonathan Michie and Kellogg’s Senior Tutor Carl Heneghan

Kellogg alumna Amy Price tells us about her experience studying for the MSc in Evidence Based Healthcare and also what it means to her to be a part of Kellogg College.

To graduate from Evidence Based Health Care with an MSc is a special honour and I count this as one of my life accomplishments. My friends dared me to apply to Oxford and so I did. I have never looked back. My progress and the award would not be possible without the wonderful people I encountered on this journey.  In Oxford and at Kellogg (my college) there is a vibrant and supportive community that develops from people who want to make a difference. I have made friends here that will last a lifetime.

My experience at Oxford has helped me bridge the gap between caregivers and care seekers with real information and tools to help. I am intimately familiar with this gap due to a personal event that could have been a tragedy but instead has turned into a vehicle for influence in the corner of the world in which I communicate.

In 2003 I was advised that I was incapable of working or learning due to extensive damage to my body and brain. Pre-crash I tested in the top 2% for IQ and post-crash the lowest 3-5%. My former travel into low-resource environments to provide assistance was no longer possible. I decided to rebuild my destiny. After two years of neuro-rehabilitation, I enrolled in Open University and later at Oxford. It was challenging but daily I worked towards my goal of building a bridge between the public, science and healthcare. My experiences in a varied spectrum of settings (from low-resource to developed nations) are infused in the way I approach projects and interact with people.

I was recently accepted into the DPHIL for EBHC and I am excited to be able to develop my project PLOT-IT with the guidance and expertise of my excellent supervisors Professor Amanda Burls and Dr Su-May Liew. The Public-Led Online Trials Infrastructure and Tools (PLOT-IT) is a ThinkWell project supervised by Professor Burls that is creating an infrastructure and the processes to enable people to set up and participate in their own online trials of interventions people can do for themselves.

PLOT-IT turns the current model of health research on its head by crowdsourcing research ideas and health data (with academic health researchers providing a support service to ensure that the research is ethical, methodologically sound, clinically safe and that personal data is protected). Research trials conducted over the internet are experiencing exponential growth with little methodological research to inform their conduct.

Oxford and Kellogg College have been very good to me. Here I have received the best teaching and training in the world and as a research student at Kellogg College I am profoundly grateful for being able take advantage of the College’s excellent facilities. This is a learning and mentoring climate where there is room to follow your dream. In the MSc for Evidence Based Health Care at Oxford you will be equipped with the tools and knowledge to do the job well and to expand your horizons. You can learn to analyse the literature and to put evidence into practice. Most importantly, I want others to know that when you do your best you can make it farther than others believe that you can go and as my wise daughter said to me before I applied to Oxford, “Mom, The biggest difference between those that attend Oxford and those that don’t is that those that do filled out the application!”

From our President – Two Contradictory Principles

I try to live by two contradictory principles, firstly to say what you do and do what you say, but also to over-deliver, so I’m pleased to say I accomplished both on our summer holiday. Having reported in my previous blog post that my holiday reading would be the two books by fellows Tara Stubbs on Ireland and American authors (American Literature and Irish Culture, 1910-1955: the politics of enchantment. Manchester University Press, 2013), and Martin Ruhs on migration (The Price of Rights: Regulating International Labor Migration. Princeton University Press, 2013), I set a new personal ‘holiday reading’ record by not only completing those two, but also reading Thomas Piketty on inequality (Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Harvard University Press, 2014), and Saïd Business School professor Colin Mayer on the need to reintroduce trust into corporate behavior (Firm Commitment: Why the corporation is failing us and how to restore trust in it, Oxford University press, 2013).

Dr Tara Stubbs’s book is a masterful analysis and exposition of the way in which Ireland – or at least how it is perceived – influenced American authors of the 20th Century. One point I hadn’t previously appreciated, although now that it’s been pointed out it is rather obvious, is that although the image of American ‘Irishness’ today is associated with the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York, and support for republicanism, the Irish heritage in America – and hence in American authors and literature – of course included that from the North, and Protestantism.  However, some authors from that cultural background may still have tried to have the best of both worlds, conjuring up an image of Ireland that also incorporated the whole island.

I find one of the great things about Oxford is that it continually reminds one – or at least, it continuously reminds me, of just what a small proportion of human knowledge I have a grasp of or could even aspire to understand. And in my case, no-one manages to remind me of this better than Tara.

Dr Martin Ruhs has written the definitive book on the relationship between rights afforded to migrants to enter countries, and the rights they are entitled to once they arrive. (His book was launched at a joint event with Tara at Kellogg, where they introduced each other’s books; there is of course an obvious link given the importance of migration to both Ireland and the U.S. – indeed, one of my grannies was American, although of German origin, whereas the other was Irish, although moved to England. My American granny recounted being on holiday in Germany in 1936 when the SS Officer came round the restaurant tables collecting for their ‘youth summer camps’, to which she responded no, she had already donated to the Jewish Defense League.)

Martin argues that the obvious and common appeal to have ‘migrant friendly’ liberal policies, that enables people to migrate, and affords them full rights, may sound worthy but is intellectually lazy and actually rather worthless. Because if one does the empirical work – which Martin has done – one finds that affording full rights post-arrival is likely to be accompanied by rather small numbers being allowed in. So if one wants to provide migrants with the opportunity to move to other countries, you may need to settle for a less than full set of rights in order to facilitate this. This has not been easy or popular to argue, but it does appear to be correct, at least in terms of the evidence. Of course, there are some rights that should not be negotiable, and Martin includes a careful and sophisticated discussion of the ‘hierarchy’ of rights in this context. The work reported in this book was the subject of two of Oxford’s REF ‘Impact Studies’. And his book has deservedly won a prize from the American Political Science Association. Indeed, Martin has not only written the definitive book on the subject, he has pretty well established the subject itself, which previously had been largely avoided.

Piketty’s book on Capital in the 21st Century details the huge inequalities up to the time of the First World War, followed by major ‘capital destroying’ events in the form of the First World War, the Great Depression, and the Second World War, which led to a reduction in inequality. The ‘Golden Age of Capitalism’ from 1945 to the mid-1970s was generally accompanied by the development of welfare states, commitments to full-employment, and a conscious attempt to create and maintain a degree of equality, along with taxation on the wealthy and high earners which both helped to deliver the desired degree of egalitarianism, and helped pay for the welfare state commitments. However, from the 1980s onwards, these commitments have been largely abandoned, especially following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of faith that there was any alternative to capitalism, however unequal or unjust capitalism might become, hence removing the political requirement to deliver on welfare or employment – or on egalitarianism. Piketty documents the rise in inequality that seems set to re-establish pre-World War One degrees of ‘Downton Abbey-esque’ economic and social stratification.

Piketty also claims that with the return on capital set to exceed the general global rate of growth over the coming decades, the rich are set to get richer, and inequalities of wealth and income seem set to widen. He argues that this will be unsustainable – that something will have to give. But rather than wait to see what form that might take, he urges that action should be taken now, in the form of a wealth tax and the return to more rigorously progressive income tax systems to prevent any further exacerbation of inequality.

It took me back to my PPE days of reading The Wealth of Nations, Capital, and The General Theory. None of those publications would, perhaps, have been deemed admissible to the REF, but it is great to have some ‘big picture’ theorizing combined with detailed empirical work and thoughtful policy discussion. For Piketty’s 600-page, heavily footnoted tome to have become an instant international best seller is quite something.

Piketty briefly touches on the role of inequality in creating the 2007-8 global financial crisis and subsequent global recession of 2009 from which the world economy is still only uncertainly recovering five years later – a far weaker recover than in the Great Depression, when five years after the 1929 Wall Street Crash recovery was generally more established. Another take on where it all went wrong is presented by Colin Mayer, a Professor and former Dean of Oxford’s Said Business School, whose book argues that companies should exist for a purpose, namely to produce goods or services, and that companies should have long-term commitments to do this with the best combination of high quality and cost effectiveness that their customers seek. With those goals in mind, companies will deliver for their customers, their employees, their owners and the communities in which they operate. The diversion down the ‘shareholder value’ road of the past 30 years, with increasing focus on short-term decision making to boost share-prices, with Executives often being rewarded with stock options that pay out more the higher the share price has been engineered, has been disastrous corporately, economically, and socially. That short-term financial engineering fuelled much of the pre-crash hubris which proved ultimately value-destroying rather than enhancing – but then, much money was made along the way, and the winners generally kept their winnings, whilst others were suffering the consequences or paying the price.

Colin Mayer’s conclusion about the need for trust, including the actual formation of ‘Trusts’ that would give legal form to positive visions, resonates with some of my own work on non-shareholder corporate forms of co-operatives, mutuals and employee-owned companies. I’m pleased to say that Colin is leading a major research programme funded by the Mars Corporation (of chocolate fame) whose founding charter incorporates ‘mutualism’ as a core principle. It is still a family-owned business, and the project will research the nature of mutualism in business, with Kellogg College’s Centre for Mutual & Employee-owned Business participating in the project, and Kellogg Fellow Ruth Yeoman leading the project along with Colin. I was looking forward to working with Colin (with whom I collaborated during an ESRC Programme in 1992-97) even before reading his book. Thank goodness for holidays – I’ve now discovered that we share more thinking than I had appreciated, and I’m more excited than ever about getting started on the research.

Jonathan Michie, September 2014

Infrastructure, Development and Finance at Kellogg College

Dr Jennie Middleton Course Director and Senior Research Fellow at the Transport Studies Unit and Kellogg College writes about the latest Leadership Course facilitated by Oxford University’s Transport Studies Unit, which was hosted at Kellogg College at the beginning of September.

At the beginning of September Kellogg College hosted Oxford University’s Transport Studies Unit (TSU) for its ‘Infrastructure, Development and Finance’ Leadership Course within the Global Challenges in Transport programme. The TSU is currently half way through its second successful year of the programme with each of the four courses comprising a blend of lectures, seminars, distinguished visiting speakers, and practice-based workshops with industry experts. Attracting a range of international delegates from both the public and private sector, the courses enable participants to broaden their critical understanding of global transport challenges and how these relate to contemporary economic globalisation, urbanisation, social policy, resource scarcity, and climate change.

Participants were welcomed to Kellogg with a sumptuous networking dinner with pre-dinner drinks accompanied by an engaging talk from Ben Plowden, Director of Surface Transport at TFL, on the current UK government’s application of behavioural science to transport policy-making.

Throughout the week the key themes of ‘infrastructure’, ‘development’ and ‘finance’ were engaged with from a variety of transport perspectives. For example, Professor Naomi Brookes from Leeds University delivered a session on Mega Project Management, addressing the extreme complexity and challenges surrounding such large-scale infrastructure and project management schemes. Whilst Toru Kubo from the Asian Development Bank provided a macro-level perspective on the Bank’s roles and responsibilities in relation to transport infrastructure. The internationally renowned transport commentator broadcaster and journalist, Christian Wolmar, concluded the week by stimulating a lively final debate with an engaging talk on mega-projects and the much-debated HS2 scheme in the UK.

The course hosted delegates from the UK, US, China, Mauritius, Finland and Belgium who were able to not only spend the week engaging with a broad range of speakers but had opportunities to network and share their professional experiences with each other.

The TSU and Kellogg look forward to welcoming a further set of participants for the December course on ‘Health, Well-being and Urban Mobility’. For further details please see the website or contact Lucy Mahoney (Course Coordinator)