Archive for University of Glamorgan

When is a Professor not a Professor?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 29, 2011 by telescoper

Now that I’m back from panel duty, I notice that Amazon have finally corrected the misleading information on the page advertising a book by Mark Brake. Until a couple of days ago this page stated that the “author” was a Professor at the University of Glamorgan, despite the fact that it’s over a year since he was dismissed from that position. I’m not sure why they have suddenly removed their misrepresentation but now it merely says that Brake is an “academic”. I think that’s misleading too, as to my knowledge he doesn’t have a job at any university; the OED’s definition of the noun academic is

A member of a college or university; a collegian. Now spec. a senior member of a university; a member of the academic staff of a university or college; also loosely, an academically-gifted person.

Does the loose definition apply?

Meanwhile, this is taken from the front page of Mark Brake’s personal website.

Which seems to demonstrate that although Amazon have corrected their error, Brake himself is content to continue passing himself off as a Professor. I wonder how long it will be until this turns into the version that’s advertised on Amazon?

Also, does anyone know what the “L” stands for in “Mark L Brake”?

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Astronomy Look-alikes, No. 63

Posted in Astronomy Lookalikes with tags , on September 25, 2011 by telescoper

I’m struck by the remarkable similarity between “author and science communicator” Mr Mark Brake (alias “@ProfMBrake”  on Twitter) and Mr Mark  Brake the disgraced former University of Glamorgan employee who falsely claimed to have a PhD when applying for a grant in 2006 and whose professorship at Glamorgan was terminated in mysterious circumstances in 2010. Old habits clearly die very hard…

Professor Yes?

Dr No

Welsh fee plans up in the air…

Posted in Education, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2011 by telescoper

I had just finished the exciting job of marking my examinations and collating all the results with coursework when I noticed a rumour circulating on twitter about the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) having rejected plans by all Welsh universities to charge higher fees than the basic £4K laid down by the Welsh Assembly Government. The rumour later developed into a story on the NUS website and then on the local BBC News, Wales Online and the Times Higher.

In case you’re not up with the intricacies of Welsh Higher Education policy, universities here in the Principality will, from 2012, be allowed to charge fees of up to £9K per annum (as in England) if and only if they have approval from HEFCW for plans relating “to widening access and to improving the student experience.” Note there’s apparently no requirement of providing a better education in that. As a mere university teacher I have no idea at all what has gone into Cardiff University’s plan nor do I know why it is deemed satisfactory. Such things are done by our lords and masters in the University administration.

It does seem strange, though, that the process works this way, i.e. that HEIs have to produce plans that they hope will be accepted by HEFCW. Why doesn’t HEFCW simply tell the HEIs what they have to do to be able to charge the fees? I wonder how the clear the guidance from HEFCW was. It might be a case of “Read my mind to see what I want, and if you don’t give it to me I’ll shoot you”.

Universities wishing to charge £9K (which is, predictably, nearly all of them) had to submit their plans to HEFCW by the end of May. Several universities did so, including Cardiff, Aberystwyth, Bangor, and even Glamorgan, who all want to charge the maximum £9K. HEFCW has now announced that none of them meet the standard needed to charge more than £4k. There’s still quite a bit of time for universities to amend their plans before the deadline of 11th July, so this is by no means the end of the story, but it has certainly set alarm bells ringing where I work!

The point is that the Welsh Assembly Government is heavily cutting the funds it allocates to Welsh Universities from 2012, so if institutions are not allowed to charge sufficiently high fees to recoup that loss then many departments are going to be in really big trouble, especially those teaching expensive subjects.

Education Minister Leighton Andrews is quoted as saying

I asked for Hefcw to be thorough and robust when scrutinising the fee plans submitted by our higher education and further education institutions. It is clear that they have been and I heartily endorse this.

There are a number of ways of reading the lie of the land here. One is that it’s actually a sensible process of consultation between individual institutions and HEFCW. Since this is uncharted territory for both there may well be things that need to be clarified on both sides, and HEFCW may therefore be engaging in a sensible process of consultation and iteration in order to help institutions produce acceptable plans. It could also represent an element brinkmanship, so the Minister and HEFCW can be seen to be flexing a bit of muscle, in contrast to the situation in England, where it appears the government has no power to prevent institutions charging higher fees. I always felt it was inevitable that Cardiff, as a Russell Group University, would want to charge £9K, but I can imagine Leighton Andrews being irritated by places like Glamorgan wanting to charge the same.

Whatever game is being played, it’s a very dangerous one and the stakes are very high. The Welsh Assembly Government has already indicated it will pay the fees of any Welsh domiciled students wherever they study in the UK. For the most part that will mean £9K per student per year for Welsh students wanting to study in England. If Welsh universities can only charge £4K per year for students coming from England to Wales then there will be a huge imbalance in funds flowing in and out of the higher education sector. In effect, the Welsh Assembly Government will be subsidising English universities at the expense of Welsh ones.

Currently the number of English students coming to Wales exceeds the number of Welsh students studying in England. The WAG’s plan relies on a net influx of funds to offset the cuts in central funding needed to pay student bursaries. However, English students do not come in equal numbers to all Welsh institutions. More come to Cardiff University than, say, Bangor. So how will this extra income from England benefit the Welsh HE sector generally? Is the proposal to cut HEFCW funds to Universities who succeed in attracting English cash cows students and redistribute the dosh among those institutions that don’t? That hardly seems equitable to me.

I’m certainly not in a panic about this news, although I may be on July 11th when we find out the final outcome. In the meantime, as a humble academic at the bottom of the ladder when it comes to such matters, I’ll get on with my teaching and research and pray that those in charge actually know what they’re doing…

That Old “Two Cultures” Thing…

Posted in Art, Biographical, Education with tags , , , , , on March 20, 2011 by telescoper

Just a very brief follow-up to a post earlier this week about the 2nd Bright Club Wales. First, for all of you who refuse to believe I actually did stand-up, here is a picture of me doing it, i.e. standing up. It’s a bit blurred, I’m afraid. The person taking the picture must either have been drunk or was laughing so hysterically that he couldn’t hold the camera still. You can also find a review of the evening here, which is where I got the picture from.

I mentioned in the comments on the earlier posts that one of the other “acts” that evening was a lecturer in Film Studies. In fact that was a chap called Daryl Perrins who works at the University of Glamorgan.

He started his 8 minutes with the comment “I hate science” and followed it up with a number of unfunny remarks that relied on crude stereotypes of what a scientist is. None of that endeared him very much to me, nor, judging by the stony silence did the rest of the audience appreciate it much. I wouldn’t have minded him taking the piss out of scientists at all had it been funny. After all, I do a fair bit of that on here..

Anti-science attitudes are far from unusual amongst the Arts & Humanities fraternity, which I think is a real shame. After all, you’ll have to work very hard to find a scientist who would be prepared to stand up in front of audience and proudly announce “I hate art”. Many of my scientific colleagues have deep passions for the performing arts (especially music and drama) as well as being very well read across a wide range of subjects.  Many also hold strong  (and often idiosyncratic) political opinions and are involved in a huge range of activities outside science.

In short, scientists don’t just sit in their labs and offices torturing small animals. We live in the real world and have as much contact with wider society as anyone else. Imagination, creativity and free thinking can be found in scientists, just as they can in the arts.  Scientists both contribute to and participate in our society’s cultural heritage.Scientists are human beings. Culture belongs to us too.

Coincidentally this week there was an article in the Times Higher with the title “Life depends on science but the arts make it worth living“. I agree with a lot of what is written in the piece, in fact, although it does seem also to contain numerous examples of non sequitur and I think it’s both poorly argued and highly exaggerated. The arts are undoubtedly among the things that make  life worth living, but there are others, such as “ordinary” human relationships and the “simple” enjoyment of the natural world, which academics of all persuasions all too frequently neglect. I am a scientist, however, and I do think that the government should be spending more on science, but I certainly don’t think it should be robbing the arts and humanities which is what its current policies are doing.

You probably think I’m going to go off on a rant about the famous Two Cultures thesis advanced  by C.P. Snow, but I’m not. I think Snow’s analysis is only marginally relevant. I do think that there are “two cultures”, but these are not “science” and “the arts”. One is a creative, thinking culture that encompasses arts, the humanities and science. The other is its antithesis, a “culture” that sees the sole function of education as being to train people  to take their place on the never-ending treadmill of production and consumption.

The way we are heading, it’s not “two cultures” that we should be worried about. It’s no culture at all.


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Wales set for university mergers

Posted in Education, Finance with tags , , , , , , on December 22, 2010 by telescoper

Just another quick post to pass on the news just out that the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) has announced that the number of universities in Wales must reduce by a half over the next two years.

I’ve argued already on this blog that there are too many small separate higher education institutions in Wales and that’s a view which is probably held by many across the sector. Mergers and/or closures have seemed to me to be inevitable for some time given the general climate of austerity and the consequent chill winds blowing through the groves of academe. According to HEFCW, the plan is that by 2013 no “region” of Wales will have any more than two universities although I’m not sure what counts as a region.

Until recently there were four different “universities” with campuses in Cardiff: Cardiff University (where I work); the University of Glamorgan (which has a presence in Cardiff, but which has its main campus in Pontypridd); the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD); and the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC).

In fact RWCMD was absorbed by the University of Glamorgan a short time ago, but still uses its old name as part of the merged institution.
Apparently one more merger will be necessary to satisfy HEFCW’s requirement, which I guess will involve UWIC also being absorbed by the University of Glamorgan. If that does happen, I hope HEFCW will keep a close eye on matters of governance. The UoG doesn’t seem to me to have a very strong track-record with respect to resafeguarding standards of academic practice.

Depending on how “region” is interpreted, there might even be pressure to include the University of Wales, Newport in an even bigger new South East Wales institution presumably headed by the University of Glamorgan.

Elsewhere in Wales the merger process is already underway. Last week, Swansea Metropolitan and the University of Wales Trinity St David announced plans to create a united institution. Going back one stage, the University of Wales Trinity St David was itself formed through the merger earlier this year of Wales’ oldest education institutions, Trinity University College, Carmarthen and the University of Wales Lampeter. Although these have merged it appears they will carry on using their existing names, which may cause some confusion but we’ll have to see how it goes.

It’s important to note that universities are officially independent bodies, so HEFCW (through which public funding is channeled to them) can’t really just tell them to merge. However, many of the smaller institutions are so dependent on state funding that they basically have to do what HEFCW tells them or face financial oblivion. Of course it will require Vice-chancellors to agree, and since presumably half of them will cease to be VCs, there will be some reluctance. Turkeys tend not to vote for Christmas. However, HEFCW has promised that “core funding will be deployed in ways which lend force to the achievement of that target”. In other words, they’ll be calling on the odd VC to make them an offer they can’t refuse…


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Brake Out

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 7, 2010 by telescoper

You may recall that I’ve posted a few times about Mark Brake, the professor at the University of Glamorgan who falsely claimed to have a PhD on a grant application written in 2006 (see, for example,  here, here, and here). The UoG purportedly held an  “investigation” into this matter, but took no disciplinary action against Brake. When the story resurfaced again last year, first in the Western Mail and then in the Times Higher, the University of Glamorgan kept very quiet about why it hadn’t taken this case more seriously in the first place, but promised a further investigation into the actions taken at the time.

Things have been very quiet on this front for quite some time now, but I recently heard from a reliable source that Mark Brake has been made redundant by the University of Glamorgan (as of March 31st 2010).  If this is a result of an investigation into past wrongdoings then  clearly the UoG have decided to let Brake go quietly rather than make any of the evidence public. I have no information about the redundancy settlement but, whatever it is, it is largely funded by the taxpayer, as his salary has been for the past three years, since the original investigation exonerated him. Of course, if the UoG did uncover evidence that was overlooked in 2007 then it would be extremely embarrassing to have to admit it three years later…

The UoG remains quiet about the affair which – at least to me – casts grave doubts on its system of governance. They seem to want this case to disappear quietly, but I don’t think it is in the public interest to let the circumstances of Brake’s departure remain secret. At the very least I hope they make an official announcement confirming that he has left the organisation, otherwise his famous wikipedia page will  forever state that he is an employee of the UoG.

The University of Glamorgan website doesn’t say anything about the Mark Brake affair. However, there is an announcement about the new Wales Fraud Forum which will meet there for the first time later this month. Who said irony was dead?

Truth, Lies and Wikipedia

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 19, 2010 by telescoper

I think it’s time to post a brief update on the story of Mark Brake, a Professor at the University of Glamorgan who falsely claimed to have a PhD from Cardiff University when applying for a grant in 2006. After this came to light through a story in the Western Mail, it was covered in the Times Higher, and I also blogged about it here.

There’s relatively little I can say about what’s been going more recently on in connection with this story, for reasons of confidentiality. However, one thing I am allowed say in public that Professor Mark Brake is no longer a Fellow of the Institute of Physics, a status he acquired in 2008.  I’m not allowed to discuss the events leading up to, or the reasons behind, his decision to resign from the IOP, but he did so in January 2010.

That little bit of news hardly merits an entire blog post, but what’s interesting is the subsequent behaviour of the wikipedia editors. Mark Brake’s wikipedia page currently states:

He was elected as a Fellow of the Institute of Physics in 2008[1] and is presently Director of the Science Communication Research Unit at Glamorgan.

As soon as Brake creased to be a FInstP, the IOP Director of Membership and Business, John Brindley, edited the page to make it clear that he no longer held the Fellowship. Bizarrely, however, a wikipedia editor overruled the change and the text reverted to the above form. The editor says that this “leaves open the possibility that this may no longer be the case”.

Well, it may leave open that possibility but the implication of the above form is definitely that Brake remains a Fellow. As John Brindley himself wrote on the corresponding wikipedia discussion page

there is a well established and understood convention that memebrships of professional institutions is considered as continuous from the date of election unless or untl a date of resignation or removal is given.

However, the editor has refused to budge on the grounds that

Other than your comments here, which unfortunately can’t be considered to be a reliable source according to wikipedia rules, I can find nothing to indicate that he has, in fact, resigned.

Short of putting an announcement on their webpages that Brake has resigned his Fellowship – something that is contrary to their usual practice – there doesn’t seem to be anything the IOP can do to convince wikipedia to amend this page so it says the whole truth, rather than just a partial and potentially misleading version.

And while I’m on the subject of potentially misleading statements, it is perhaps worth going back to the original grant application that started this whole affair off. I showed part of this in a previous post, but here is the whole page showing the false claim of a PhD:

Under Professional Qualifications you will see Brake lists professional connections with the Royal Society of Chemistry as well as a Fellowship of the Royal Astronomical Society. This was written in 2006. In fact Brake disappeared from the membership register for the Royal Society of Chemistry in 1993 and ceased to be a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1994. Hmmm…

You might argue – as the editor seems to be doing in the case of the wikipedia page – that these aren’t factually incorrect in that they give the year of election but say nothing about whether his tenure may or may not have ended.  I think most academics would agree with John Brindley, however, that the convention is to give a date of termination if the qualification no longer applies, otherwise the implication is that the status is unchanged.

Seeing further pieces of misleading information on the grant application doesn’t really surprise me, but I find it strange that somebody seems to want wikipedia’s pages  to misrepresent the truth in a similar fashion.