The scandal of academic journal profits...

[I thought I had posted this last Monday! Obviously I forgot to hit the right button.] The scandal of research journal profits seems to be gaining visibility in the world outside academia with articles in the press and a government working group. The proposed solutions seem to miss an important point which I’ll come to later. First, what is the problem? Well, governments throughout the world pay researchers in universities to do fundamental research. This can take numerous forms, either the money is paid to the university in general money or to specific researchers to do specific research via bodies such as EPSRC. Once the research is done and new results have been found, the researchers put these in a paper and send it to a journal. The editor of the journal sends the paper to an anonymous referee who assesses the paper (are the results new? Are they worthy of publication? and so on). If accepted, the paper is published in the journal. Researchers who want to read the paper can do so by consulting a copy from their university library (online or in hard copy). The problem becomes apparent when you follow the money. The tax payers give money to the researcher. The researcher gives the results to a company to publish. The editor and the referees are not paid to edit and referee – generally academics work for free on those. The libraries get money from the taxpayers to buy the journal (often at a very high price). So what is happening is that tax payer ends up paying twice for the same research. We researchers do the research, give it away and then buy it back. Obviously something is wrong here. This is compounded by the fact that the publishing...

The Carol Vorderman review of mathematics...

Today Carol Vorderman’s review of maths for the Conservative Party is unveiled and I was invited to talk about it on BBC Radio Leeds (I’ll give a link when one appears, UPDATE: For one week from today see here from 1:18:15). The report is hard to find on the web so I was only going on the rumoured recommendations. [Update: it’s here. The report was actually mainly written by Roger Porkess rather than Carol Vorderman.] The main points are 1. Maths should be compulsory until the age of 18. 2. There should be a two types of GCSE. The first of these is not going to help the standing of maths with the general public, is it? Maths is not the most popular of subjects and forcing people to do this until 18 is not going to help. However, that is a rather small point. The real killer of this proposal can be summed up in the question “Where are we going to find the teachers?”. The country has an acute shortage of maths teachers already; enacting this proposal will only make it worse. It will force teachers to be spread more thinly leading to poorer learning. So I can’t see it going ahead, at least for a number of years. The secretary of state for education, Michael Gove, has said he would like the majority of students to be doing maths up to the age of 18. This may turn out to be like Tony Blair’s 50% of young people going to university, i.e., end up being “more of an aspiration”. [UPDATE: See section 9.3 of the report. This problem is not really dealt with in my opinion.] The second proposal, two types of GCSE, is something we have got already with the...

Lanchester on higher education Jan05

Lanchester on higher education...

Happy New Year! Back from holidays and back to posting. I would have posted sooner but had a stack of emails to do yesterday. (Many still left to go…). I have been reading John Lanchester’s, Whoops, an account of the financial meltdown of the last few years. It’s a good account and an easy read. If you have been following the story in detail it won’t tell you anything really new but is worth reading nonetheless. I particularly liked something he wrote as an aside in parenthesis: The whole question of what Britain is best at, in global terms, is an interesting one. There are four sectors in which Britain is world-class: finance, arms manufacturing, the creative arts and higher education. Of these, the first receives strong government support, the second lavish investment and strong support, the third is largely left to mind its own business and the fourth has been gradually run down, with three decades of consistent discouragement and underfunding. What would Britain look like today if instead of the arms industry or the City it had been our Russell Group universities which had been the subject of attempts to achieve world supremacy? We can only imagine and weep at the opportunities...