Tag Archives: education

President Post – A Jewel in the Crown

Kellogg_College_25th_Anniversary_Dinner_by_John_Cairns_14.3.15-40

From left to right: David Griffiths, Jonathan Michie, and Lord & Lady Patten of Barnes.

At our 25th Foundation Dinner on March 14th 2015, the University’s Chancellor Lord Patten described Kellogg College as one of the “jewels in the crown” of the University of Oxford.  This, he said, was in part because of the access we provide – to those who for a variety of reasons might not be in a position to become full-time residential students, for people of all age groups, and for an incredibly international student body.

Kellogg is certainly Oxford’s most international college by any measure – the number of international students, the number of countries from which our students come, and the degree programs that most of our students undertake – such as International Human Rights Law, Sustainable Urban Development, or Evidence-Based Health Care.

Of course, it’s departments rather than colleges that determine the content of Oxford’s degree programs.  But most Kellogg students are continuing with their jobs and careers while they undertake their Master’s and Doctoral programs part-time, and for whatever reason, these part-time degree programs have tended to be more international in content than are Oxford’s full-time degrees.  This may in part be self-fulfilling, because the flexible nature of these degree programs means that people can carry on living and working in Boston, Bombay or Brisbane while they study, visiting Oxford for only short residencies of intensive study.  This facilitates a global spread of students on the degree programs, which in turn perhaps pushes the curricula to be more global – and certainly that international spread will be reflected in the class discussion (whether during the face-to-face residencies or online in between these residencies).

One positive aspect of Oxford’s part-time degrees is to avoid the ‘brain drain’ of developing countries losing their skilled workers overseas, when their students fail to return to their home country after graduating.  Part-time study enables them to continue to live and work in their home country as they earn their degrees – and they are thus much more likely to continue to live, work and contribute to their home countries after graduation.

But apart from making the world a better place, the advantage to the College of our international intake is the amazing diversity of cultural events and activities – including the themed lunches!

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President Post – Why the Social Sciences Matter

I’ve been writing and talking about why the social sciences matter over the past few days, as a result of the publication of the Academy of Social Sciences book by that title, which I co-edited. The reason might appear to be rather obvious, namely to be able to understand society, and to improve outcomes including through evidence-based policy, whether regarding education, health, housing, the economy, or the whole range of other aspects of our lives. To misquote slightly, this would appear to be a statement of the rather obvious.

Yet politicians are obsessed with the ‘STEM’ subjects. Given that Kellogg’s largest group of students and fellows are in software engineering and systems security, I’m not about to decry the importance of the STEM subjects. Indeed, I’ve been something of a fan ever since as a young child trying to understand the machine my dad had made in the very early 1960s – before computers had developed sufficiently to be useful for research into artificial intelligence – constructed out of matchboxes and colored beads, which not only played noughts and crosses, but learned how to improve its playing as it went – perhaps the earliest example of machine learning. This was what he and Alan Turing had discussed each week when they left Bletchley Park for the pub to play chess – neither of them were any good at the game, but they were fascinated about whether one might be able to build a machine that could not only play, but might learn how to improve its play.

But to get the most out of computing, we do need to understand how societies work, how decisions are made, and so forth. Indeed, a striking example was given to me recently when I was sent a transcript of my dad being interviewed about Bletchley Park, in which he relayed the well-known fact that the enigma code was broken due to a signal having been re-sent without having re-set the machine. Donald made the point that it would have been a simple matter to have engineered the enigma machine so that it could not re-transmit without being re-set. So why did the Germans not do this – especially given their excellence in engineering?

Donald’s hunch was that while the Germans were great engineers, they were also great believers in discipline, especially military discipline. So if the operators were ordered to re-set the machine between transmissions, then the machine would indeed be re-set. Nowadays it would be standard to any such innovation to be reviewed in operation, in which case this weakness in the system might be picked up. But these are matters for organizational behaviour, management decision-making and other social science disciplines – the conclusion is that we need all the relevant disciplines to be brought to bear.

To win a free copy of the book, tweet @PalgraveSoc your thoughts on why #SocSciMatters

Jonathan Michie, February 2015

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @Jonathan_Michie

From our President: The importance of innovation

Even the University of Oxford now recognises the importance of innovation. Of course, the University has long been innovative and innovating in the sense of creating inventions and academic breakthroughs. But seeing these through to new products and processes was not necessarily the University’s thing. Indeed, it has long been a criticism of the UK’s economic and corporate makeup that we have been good at inventing, but if you wanted to see the inventions put to profitable use one needed to go to the US, Germany, Japan or China.

But the University’s own spin-out organisation, Isis Innovation, is now held in high regard globally. Many of the University’s degree programmes are both innovative in their design and also teach various aspects of innovation, such as the Master’s in Evidence-Based Health Care. And the University recently convened a high-level Working Group with representatives from other leading universities globally that suggested various ways in which the ‘innovation agenda’ might be usefully taken forward.

For my part, with Professor Ulrich Hilpert of the University of Jena in Germany, I’m convening a two-day conference at Kellogg on how public and corporate policy might best promote innovation, drawing on the experience and expertise of leading Germany industrialists and trade unionists, as well as other experts from across the globe. The papers will be considered for publication in a special issue of the Academy of Social Sciences’ journal, Contemporary Social Sciences.

To be held at Kellogg College on February 17-18, this is an invitation-only event, but anyone who would like to be included, please let me know. Papers are welcome that explore diversities of innovation – both product and process – across countries and industries; that consider the roles of personal, corporate, institutional and government activities in promoting innovation; and that explore Innovation as the outcome of human labour and of the relationships between individuals and groups.

Particular topics of interest include, inter alia, labour and labour markets; culture as a basis for divergent opportunities; continental division of modes of innovation; metropolitan industrial policy; regionalisation of innovation; the relation between innovative industries and the services they require; the role of government for innovation; modes of innovation as science-based, technology-based and tradition based; knowledge for innovation, including scientific and ‘blue collar’; islands of innovation; sectors, industries and history; education as a basis of innovation; and governmental structures (including federal vs. centralized) as an important issue for developing appropriate innovation.

Soundly empirically based papers are preferred, although high quality scholarly essays will also be considered.

Jonathan Michie,
January 2015

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @Jonathan_Michie

Prisoners’ books: a ban on reading?

Tara Stubbs, Kellogg Fellow and University Lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing at Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education, writes a comment piece on the recent press coverage about government measures to restrict the access to books for prisoners. Leave a comment and join the debate.

In recent days academics, writers and prominent prison literacy campaigners have reacted with horror to new government measures restricting prisoners’ access to books, underwear and other items we might deem as necessities. An online petition has been launched against the measures and well-known authors, including Mark Haddon and, Patron for the Kellogg College Centre for Creative Writing, Philip Pullman, have voiced their concerns.

Such topics are always fraught with tension. To what extent, we might ask, is the government really restricting prisoners’ access to books? Is it the case that, as Conservative ministers have tried to explain, it is merely that books can’t be sent in to prisoners – partly because banned substances can be smuggled in such packages? And isn’t it true that prisons have their own libraries?

But the evidence, unfortunately, points to the fact that the Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, and his colleagues might have gone too far this time. The ban on receiving parcels is not merely imposed on violent prisoners, but on all prisoners, including women and children held in detention centres: Grayling has defended the measures (put into place last November) to ensure that prisoners of any type can receive only letters from outside as an example of treating fairly all those who are interned. Now prisoners can ‘earn’ books, and money for books, through the prisoners’ incentive and earned privileges scheme. But it seems inevitable that literacy rates, and the possibility for prisoners to rehabilitate, will decline as a result of these measures. Books should be a necessity, not a luxury.

The situation is best summed up by Richard Armstrong, a prison literacy researcher from Newcastle Universty (as reported in an article in The Guardian on 25th March): ‘There is no evidence [that] the incentives and earned privileges regime will improve behaviour. But there is lots of evidence that removing the means to increase literacy reduces rehabilitation’. That, surely, is an outcome that no British citizen would support.

Tara Stubbs, 25 March 2014

http://drtarastubbs.blogspot.co.uk/