Archive for the Education Category

Quality Cat

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , , on March 6, 2019 by telescoper

Well, today is the first day of the Quality Review Panel visit to the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University. It has come up very quickly; I blogged about the preparations some weeks ago.

Anyway, what with the Quality Review and regular teaching and marking I’m going to be a bit preoccupied for the rest of today and tomorrow. I was in early this morning ahead of the first meeting, and noticed Maynooth University Library Cat was on sentry duty at his usual post:

More surprisingly I learn that said cat now has his own Twitter account, so please give him a follow!


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R. I. P. Wolfgang Rindler (1924-2019)

Posted in Books, Talks and Reviews, Education, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on March 5, 2019 by telescoper

A recent comment on this blog drew my attention to the sad news of the death, at the age of 94, of Wolfgang Rindler. He passed away almost a month ago, in fact, but I have only just heard. My condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

Wolfgang Rindler was a physicist who specialized in relativity theory and especially its implications for cosmology. Among other things he is attributed with the first use of the phrase `Event Horizon‘ as well as elucidating the nature of horizons in general relativity, both in the context of black holes and in cosmology. I never met him personally but to me, and I think to many other people, Wolfgang Rindler will be familiar through his textbooks on relativity theory. I have two in my collection:

I bought the one on the right on recommendation when I was an undergraduate over thirty years ago and the other (shorter) one I acquired second-hand some years later. Both are still very widely used in undergraduate courses.
I found the first one then (as I do now) rather idiosyncratic in approach and notation but full of deep insights and extremely effective from a pedagogical point of view. I still recommend it to students, to balance more conventional modern texts which tend to be far more conventional. It’s no easy thing to write textbooks and Wolfgang Rindler deserves high praise for having devoted so much of his time, and considerable talent, into writing ones whose impact has been so widespread and lasted so long.

Rest in peace, Wolfgang Rindler (18th May 1924 – 8th February 2019).

Surrey, another unsustainable UK University

Posted in Education with tags , , , on March 4, 2019 by telescoper

A couple of weeks ago I posted an item about planned job losses at Cardiff University during which I remarked that it seemed that a number of other universities are suffering financial problems.

I quote:

There are cold winds blowing through the sector. Many institutions (including Cardiff) have committed to ambitious building programs funded by a combination of borrowing and on optimistic assumptions about growth in student numbers and consequent increases in fee income. Although I no longer work in the UK Higher Education system, I do worry greatly about its sustainability. Even from across the Irish Sea the situation looks extremely precarious: the recent boom could easily end in some institutions going bust. I don’t think that will include Cardiff, by the way. I don’t think the Welsh Government would ever allow that to happen. But I think the English Government wouldn’t act if an English university went bankrupt.

Now the University of Surrey is ringing alarm bells, making £15M cuts and opening up a redundancy scheme `to all staff’. I wonder if that includes the Vice Chancellor, Max Lu, who is quoted on the BBC website:

Mr Lu said: “Some of the main financial challenges include reduced income due to Brexit and an ever more competitive student recruitment environment, significantly increasing pension costs and a national review of tuition fee levels.”

Mr Lu added: “Our university also faces the not inconsiderable impact of a fall in our national league table positions.”

The latter shows the ruinously real effect meaningless league tables can have on an institution and, more importantly, the livelihoods of the staff that work there. The whole higher education sector is suffering because of the ideologically-driven attempt to turn it into some sort of market. A crash seems inevitable unless the dangers are recognized and dealt with.

One thing I want to know, though, is: if the University of Surrey’s redundancy scheme is open `to all staff’, what happens if they all take it?

“No Erasmus please, we’re British..”

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , on February 28, 2019 by telescoper

As the ongoing Brexit fiasco systematically trashes Britain’s international reputation, the consequences for the UK University sector are becoming increasingly obvious. In particular, the realization that Britain now defines itself exclusively by its xenophobia has led to a decision by Spain to remove the UK from the list of potential destinations for students under the Erasmus scheme. I’m sure other nations will soon make the same decision.

The European Union has agreed to honour Erasmus grants this year to UK students wish to study at European universities under Erasmus regardless of whether there is a Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and EU, but this is unlikely to be anything other than a stop-gap. It’s very sad to think that British students will be denied access to the Erasmus scheme in future, along with losing all the other benefits of Freedom of Movement.

Every cloud has a silver lining, though. Irish universities are more than happy to accept Erasmus students, and the one I work in (Maynooth) has a very active involvement in the scheme. So if you’re a student based in the EU, and want to study at an English-speaking university, why not apply to study in Ireland?

Cardiff Blues: Sustainability and UK Universities

Posted in Cardiff, Education with tags , , , on February 20, 2019 by telescoper

Just before I left on my travels last week I saw a rather depressing news item about Cardiff University. It seems that, after posting a deficit of £22.8 M last year, the University is planning to cut about 380 staff positions. According to the news item:

“The university plans to reduce current staff levels by 7%, or 380 full-time equivalent over five years,” said vice chancellor Colin Riordan in an email to staff.

Since I left Cardiff University in the summer I didn’t get the email from which this is quoted and I don’t know the wider picture. (If anyone would like to forward the V-C’s email to me I’d be very interested.)

The news item also says

Its aim is to get back into surplus by 2019-20 and it wants to cut staffing costs from 59.6% of total income to no more than 56% of income by 2022-23.

Between you and me I was quite surprised that a University can be spending less than 60% of its income on staff, since staff are by far its most valuable resource. Bear in mind also that academic staff will be responsible for only a fraction of this expenditure. In some universities this fraction is only about half. Cutting this still further seems a very retrograde step to me, as it means that student-staff ratios will inevitably rise, making the institution less attractive to prospective students, as well as increasing the workload on existing staff to intolerable levels.

I sincerely hope none of my former colleagues in the School of Physics & Astronomy is affected by the deterioration of the University’s finances. At least the news item I referred to does mention new investments in Data Science, so that is presumably a positive development for the Data Innovation Research Institute with which I was formerly associated.

Incidentally, best wishes to anyone at Cardiff who is reading this, and good luck against England in the Six Nations on Saturday!

I’ve mentioned Cardiff here just because I noticed a specific news item (and I used to work there) but it seems a number of other universities are suffering financial problems. There are cold winds blowing through the sector. Many institutions (including Cardiff) have committed to ambitious building programs funded by a combination of borrowing and on optimistic assumptions about growth in student numbers and consequent increases in fee income. Although I no longer work in the UK Higher Education system, I do worry greatly about its sustainability. Even from across the Irish Sea the situation looks extremely precarious: the recent boom could easily end in some institutions going bust. I don’t think that will include Cardiff, by the way. I don’t think the Welsh Government would ever allow that to happen. But I think the English Government wouldn’t act if an English university went bankrupt.

Lecture Demonstration

Posted in Education, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on February 18, 2019 by telescoper

I am very proud to be at the forefront of teaching innovation, frequently deploying sophisticated new technology in the classroom for the benefit of the student learning experience.

I thought I’d share one of the latest devices I have developed for the Linear Algebra part of my module on Engineering Mathematics as I am all too aware that not all lecturers have such a firm grasp of the range pf possibilities offered by novel educational appliances.

This sophisticated yet lightweight tool utilizes a pressure-sensitive adhesive (`blu tack’) to attach shapes cut from a flexible sheet of a substance derived from cellulose pulp (`paper’) to a rigid plastic geometric measuring device (`ruler’) in order to represent the magnitude and direction of a vector. Illustrated here is the version designed for use with a chalkboard; an alternative version in black is available for use with a whiteboard. The head can be detached in order to separate the concept of magnitude from that of direction.

Made from lightweight materials this device is easily carried to and from the lecture theatre and can be deployed in all weather conditions (apart from rain, wind, snow, etc).

This simple yet effective hi-tech teaching tool is available for purchase throughout the European Union for just €19.99 and in the United Kingdom for £599.50.

 

Copenhagen Yet Again

Posted in Biographical, Education with tags , , on February 14, 2019 by telescoper

Once again I find myself in the wonderful city of Copenhagen. As far as I’m concerned, at least, my wavefunction has collapsed (along with the rest of me into a definite location: Ibsen’s Hotel, in fact. Henrik Ibsen isn’t here: he checked out many years ago.

The hotel management, being Danes, are refreshingly honest in their description of my room:

Usually hotel rooms this size are described as `standard’…

After a very enjoyable but rather tiring day yesterday I was up early this morning to get from Loughborough to Luton Airport. What I thought would be the reasonable way of making the trip – train from Loughborough to Luton Airport Parkway and shuttle bus from there – turned out to be inconvenient in terms of timing and cost, so the kind people of Loughborough University just booked me a cab all the way there. I had to leave at 7am, though, so missed the hotel breakfast but I got to the airport in good time to have something there.

My second flight with Ryanair this week was also on time and Copenhagen’s excellent public transport system got me to this hotel very quickly. It’s a good few degrees colder here than in England.

When I checked in the receptionist asked me if I had stayed here before. I said yes, but couldn’t remember when. She said it was 2012, as I was still on their system. I did actually post about it then. The hotel hasn’t changed at all from what I remember last time. I must remember to get to breakfast in good time.

The flight from Luton Airport carried a large contingent of Chelsea supporters. Their team is playing  Malmö this evening in the UEFA Europa League. Malmö is easily reachable from Copenhagen by train over the Øresund Bridge. Fortunately I was heading into Copenhagen on the Metro so parted company with the supporters as soon as I left the airport.

Anyway, I’m in Copenhagen again as one of the External Examiners for a thesis defence at the Niels Bohr Institute tomorrow morning and then I’ll be returning directly to Dublin on Saturday afternoon. I’m missing today’s Computational Physics lecture and laboratory in Maynooth, but the students are being well looked after in my absence by John and Aaron who have all the notes and lab scripts.