Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Open University Ranking System?

Cameron Neylon, Curtin University
Greetings from the Future Campus webinar on the CWTS Leiden Ranking Open Edition. This claims to be an open verifiable way to rank universities. It is an advance on the ranking systems produced by publishers, in that you can look at the data, and use it to come up with your own custom ranking system. Also Leiden ranks 1411 universities, which is more than most other systems (except Webometrics). Cameron Neylon mentioned the interesting work he is doing at Curtin University for a more detailed analysis of Australian university rankings.

The rankings on the Leiden system are not that different to others, in that the leading Australian universities still come out on top. This should not be a surprise as this is ranking research only. As Elisabeth Gadd pointed out in the webinar, the rankings are not an indication of education quality. As a result, in my view, these rankings are no better than previous ones for the purpose which they are most used: students, and their parents, selecting a university. 

Unfortunately the public assumes that research quality translates to education quality. Universities exploit this misunderstanding in their marketing. The ranking scheme I still prefer is Webometrics, as it covers more institutions. 

Monday, January 22, 2024

Applying for a Job With a Major Multinational Technology Company

Linkedin sends me updates about jobs. Normally I ignore these, but one recently sparked my interest. This was providing advice for a multinational tech company selling products to educational institutions. At the very least, I thought it would be helpful to go through the process of applying so I could understand what the students I teach to apply for jobs go through.

The last time I applied for a job, it was on paper. This process was fully online. The job description was relatively short, the equivalent of one A4 page. The description of the role was a little vague, and the requirements of applicants broad. You needed a degree in education or computing, plus a nominated number of years experience (the higher the qualification, the fewer years). You then registered interest in an online system. This asked for contact details, and if you were permitted to work in Australia. There was the option of having my CV produced from LinkedIn, which I chose, rather than uploading one (it produced an okay result, and I assume the details were ingested into the company's system).

One confusing aspect was that I could not find anything about my claims to the job. Normally as well as a resume or CV, the applicant would submit the specific evidence of how they met each criterion. My hope is this company, because they have such vague requirements don;t do this. My worry is I missed an upload option somewhere. 

Surprisingly quickly I got "Thank you for your application". There was then n email reminding me to update my "profile". The profile is on the account set up with the application. This again asked for my CV, so I again opted to have it up loaded from LinkedIn. This also asked for my latest qualification. Fortunately my latest qualification is also my highest. This could be a dilemma for someone who did a short course after finishing a higher degree. Also I was asked if I would be willing to relocate. First I ticked "no", given I had applied for an online job. Then I changed this to "Yes", thinking I wouldn't mind doing so, and might seem a bit inflexible if I didn't. It took three attempts to change the "No" to "Yes". 

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Talking About Data Center AI Energy Use on Sky News

Tom Worthington, interviewed at Parliament House
on Sky News, 19 January 2024
This week I was interviewed at Parliament House for a news item on data centers and their expanding energy use ("Tech companies spending billions to meet data centre demand", Brent O'Halloran, Sky News 19 January 2024). 

There are boom times in Australia, and world wide for data centers. Microsoft alone is planning nine new data centers in Australia. One reason is AI increasing the computing capacity needed, which is also increasing the processing required at data center, and thus energy use.  therefore power needed.

One way around the power use problem is to collocate the data centers with big batteries, at transmission line nodes from renewable energy zones. I talked about this at a conference in Singapore last year. One example is the Brendale Supernode in Queensland.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Petition Against Silly University Ranking Systems

Philip Moriarty has published an Open Letter "We reject the absurd QS/THE World University Rankings", which has so far been signed by 107 academics. While I agree with the sentiment, this list of distinguished academics have missed the point of university rankings: they aren't about scientifically measuring the scholarly & educational worth of institutions, they are a marketing tool. As a marketing tool, and a publishing business, rankings have been very successful. However flawed, the rankings are a response to a real need from students, to provide advice on the quality of institutions. 

When I wanted to study internationally, I turned to ranking systems to check the university I had selected was okay. I didn't care exactly where it rated, but more so it was actually a real university, not a scam. For this I used the Webometrics Ranking of World Universities, as it lists many more than the commercial ranking schemes, and is more open.

If academics want to do away with the current silly ranking systems, they have to come up with something better, which measures what they think should be measured. They then need a marketing strategy to have it adopted, and a business model to sustain it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Design Education for Disadvantaged Students

Dr Neil Raven
Dr Neil Raven, a UK educational consultant has provided a useful analysis on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the educational ambitions of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds (Raven, 2023). They talked to 14 teaching professionals from schools and colleges in the English disadvantaged areas. Raven concluded that the participation gap for higher education widened due to the pandemic. However, I suggest a problem with the analysis is that it focuses on how to get more students to attend existing forms of higher education not designed form them, not what is best for the students. 

Universities were unable to send staff to schools during the pandemic to recruit students. What Raven doesn't point out is that universities could, and should, have had alternative ways to interact with students. Just as universities could have had an online teaching option available before the pandemic, but most chose not to, they could have provided ways to reach out to school students online. That lack of care for students, I suggest, could be a useful indicator for future students. Those institutions having inflexible practices, may not be the best for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. These students will be more likely to need part time jobs, and have family care duties to attend to, so need flexible ways of learning. They therefore should choose a university, or VET institution, which provides flexibility, and does not require in-person attendance.

Raven also mentioned students’ concerns about moving away from home to study were made worse by the pandemic. This is a reasonable and rational concern of students. Rather than dismissing it, as an inconvenience for universities which have a campus based business model, I suggest it can be addressed by bringing the institution to the student. In addition Raven mentions the cost of higher education being a greater concern due to the pandemic making jobs less secure. Here again, the solution should not be trying to convince students that the cost is not a problem, but lower the debt burden on students, through lower fees, and options for part time work, with nested qualifications. 

Ironically Raven's research is published by the UK Open University, but the paper doesn't discuss the option of studnts from disadvantaged backgrounds studying at such institutions, which were specifically designed to overcome such disadvantage.


Raven, N. (2023). The impact of the pandemic on widening participation students: the teaching professionals’ perspective. Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning25(1), 99-124. DOI