Archive for November 12, 2020

Memories of Philae

Posted in History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on November 12, 2020 by telescoper

It seems that today is the sixth anniversary of the day (November 12th 2014) that the probe Philae, having detached from its parent spacecraft Rosetta, and subsequently landed successfully (ish) on the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

I didn’t realise it was so long ago, but who could forget the feeling of intense excitement we felt on that day as Philae approached its objective?

A Vice-Chancellor on University Rankings

Posted in Education with tags , , on November 12, 2020 by telescoper

I couldn’t resist sharing this clip of Nobel Laureate and Vice Chancellor of the Australian National University, Brian Schmidt giving it to the university rankings system with both barrels. The whole video is quite long but the link hopeully takes you to the point where Brian takes aim:

If it doesn’t jump to about 23.28 please go there manually using the slider or try this link.

There are two important points to amplify here. One is a lesson I learned in my own brief time as sort of Senior Management at Sussex, which is that rankings are not just “important” in such circles: they are literally the only thing that drives decision-making. The reason for that is something Brian touches upon, namely that most Vice-Chancellors are driven by their own ambitions more than they are by the good of education and research. Those that think this way want to make sufficient impact on the league table position of their University so by the end of their period of tenure they will be in line for a more prestigious job with an even higher salary. Not every VC thinks like this of course – Brian for one certainly doesn’t – but those that do are in the majority. That’s why so many institutions are driven by short-term decision-making in a way that reminds me of a warship, forever steering towards the last fall of shot.

In my view the pathological obsession with rankings is at least in part a symptom. The underlying cause is this group of management types who know little about and care little for what the purpose of academia actually is. In my opinion the quickest way to improve universities worldwide is to eliminate these Leadership positions and instead have Vice Chancellors or Presidents or Whatever They’re Called and simply have leaders elected by the academics of the institution from among their ranks.