Archive for April 4, 2012

By Gove, I agree!

Posted in Education with tags , , , on April 4, 2012 by telescoper

I never thought the day would come, but I have to admit it. I agree with Michael Gove. There. I said it.

Not with everything he says, of course. But I do think that universities should take over responsibility for the examinations required for University Entrance, currently known as A-levels. Here is an excerpt from an old post on this, and I’ve said much the same thing on several other occasions:

So what’s the solution? I think it is to scrap A-levels entirely, and give the system of pre-university qualifications over to the people who actually know what students need to know to cope with their courses, i.e. the universities. There should be a single national system of University Entrance Examinations, set and moderated by an Examination Board constituted by university teachers. This will provide the level playing field that we need. No system can ever be perfect of course, but this is the best way I can think of to solve the biggest problem with the current one. Not that it will ever happen. There are just too many vested interests happy with the status quo despite the fact that it is failing so many of our young people.

But lest you all think I’ve turned into a Conservative, let me point out that the fault with the current system is precisely that market forces have operated to the detriment of educational standards. The GCE examination boards compete for customers by offering easier and easier examinations each year, regardless of what students need to know to cope with University courses. What I advocate is renationalisation.  I bet Mr Gove doesn’t like it put that way…

Oh and another thing. I think universities should be given this task, but should also be paid for doing it just as the examination boards now are. That way it will not be treated as yet another imposition from the top, but an important task that has a similar status within a university as teaching and research.

Cape Town Connections

Posted in Biographical, Books, Talks and Reviews on April 4, 2012 by telescoper

Now I’m properly online and reconnected to the blogosphere. The problems I had yesterday turned out to be quite easy to resolve once I spoke to a competent person.

I’m staying here on the delightful campus of the University of Cape Town, where I’m visiting George Ellis and other cosmologists here with a view to setting up a collaborative project with them. The last time I was here was in 1995, and I came here to put the finishing touches to a book George and I wrote. At that time I don’t think there was much of an internet connection at all, so I had no distractions from the task in hand. Except, that is, for the Rugby World Cup which took place in South Africa at the same time. Which was not, if I’m being honest, a coincidence. I even managed to get a ticket for the semi-final between England and New Zealand which was held just down the road at Newlands and saw Jonah Lomu running amok as England got thrashed. New Zealand went on to lose to hosts South Africa in a tense final and the celebrations afterwards were something I’ll remember for a long time!

That was all during June/July, which is winter time here. Now it’s April. Technically speaking this is autumn, but the weather is sunny and warm although there are stiff breezes and scudding clouds. Not unusually, Table Mountain is wearing a white fluffy crown, as you can see from this picture I took this morning from the base of the stairs leading up towards the Jameson Memorial Hall and, to the right, the Mathematics department at UCT:

I realised yesterday that I’m staying in exactly the same flat (one of five at the UCT residence called Kopano), a short walk down the hill (or a long walk up it) from the guest office they’ve provided. When I started to walk up yesterday morning the memory of the route came back, apart from one or two new buildings which have inconveniently appeared on the way. I’m reassured that I still have some functioning memory cells!

Another connection I have with Cape Town is that my former PhD student Rockhee Sung has a PDRA position here. I’m looking forward to catching up with her again, although she’s not here at the moment owing to here having to sort out some problems with visas, etc.

Anyway, I have to give a talk tomorrow and since I’m going out for dinner tonight I had better prepare it this afternoon.

P.S. My commiserations to those of you back in Blighty who are shivering as the recent warm spell has been decisively ended by a cold snap, complete with snow. It seems I left at exactly the right time!