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”?

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.

Commented out

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 3, 2009 by telescoper

Interesting. Very interesting.

You may recall that a few days ago, the Times Higher closed the comments section on their story about Mark Brake, the University of Glamorgan Professor who falsely represented his credentials on a grant application in 2006 by claiming to have a PhD. This is an ongoing story on this blog – see previous posts here, here and here – and I had been logging the comments for future reference. I was worried that the comments might be lost when the Times Higher closed them so I posted them on this blog. I took them offline a bit later because I was worried about possible copyright infringement, but also made several copies which I have lodged in various places for safekeeping.

When I got back home yesterday I spent a bit of time catching up on blog administration and found that the page of Times Higher comments (which was still on my wordpress space, but not available to the public) had been marked “DO NOT REPOST – CONTACT SUPPORT”. I did so, and it was explained to me that they had received a complaint containing the following

.. this post is actually a repost of an entire conversation held on the Times Higher Education Supplement website, which was removed earlier today after the editor there decided that the contents had become too abusive, and was in breach of not only their own sites rules against defamation and liable, but also in breach of several telecommunications acts here in the UK as well as consituting an invasion of privacy into the lives of several people.

Since the Times Higher hadn’t given a reason for deleting the comments thread on its own site, I asked them whether these indeed were the reasons they had removed them and whether they had made this complaint. I suspected not, as for one thing I was sure that employees of  said organ would be able to spell “libel” correctly. Had they – or anyone else – approached me directly with a  good reason I would have been happy to remove them. As it happens nobody contacted me personally about this, and I was a bit annoyed at the underhand way that it was done. Not the only underhand thing that has happened recently in connection with this story.

I received a reply from Phil Baty, one of the editors of the THES, who confirmed that they had decided to close the thread after “complaints” but had not made any approach about my use of the THES comments on this site. He also  stated that

the decision to close the thread should not be taken as any judgement on our part on the behaviour of any individual who posted.

The anonymous complainant thus seems to have deliberately misrepresented the situation to WordPress in order to suppress the contents of my blog page. Sneaky.

Neither WordPress nor the Times Higher would reveal the identity of the complainant, but I can guess. I surmise this was done by an individual anxious to hush up this story and to conceal his identity. I wonder who that might be?

Anyway, the main point of this post is to reassure those at the University of Glamorgan responsible for disciplinary matters that the abusive comments posted on the THES  have not been lost so there’s no reason to give up their investigation into the ongoing serious misconduct of its employees. I’d be delighted to hand over the information if they request it as part of their no doubt strenuous efforts to root out those responsible for bringing their name into disrepute.

I’m sure the University of Glamorgan would have been very upset if  such important evidence of ongoing wrongdoing had been lost so I am happy to be able to allay their fears.

Perhaps the University of Glamorgan might also like to establish whether any of its employees used a deliberate falsehood to persuade WordPress to suppress this evidence? Shouldn’t be too difficult.

PS. I note the recent news that the University of Glamorgan is to get a new Vice-chancellor.

Brake Thread

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 26, 2009 by telescoper

Following my post yesterday, the thread of comments relating to the Mark Brake/University of Glamorgan fraud scandal has been removed from the Times Higher story. However, I was logging the thread until very near the end (in fact, until my own  last comment this morning shortly before the comments were closed). I have posted them on a permanent page here to preserve them, but the page is currently offline pending clarification of copyright issues.

I have no idea why the comments were deleted, but I hope it is a sign that the University of Glamorgan is finally investigating this matter. If they are, I expect this matter to reach a speedy conclusion. If not, I will keep you posted on further developments with this and other matters in due course.

I’ve decided to reduce the amout of blogging I do over the next few days to catch up on paper-writing and a few other things, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing if story stays at the top of the page for now.

The Mark Brake Story

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 25, 2009 by telescoper

I’m quite surprized to find myself posting yet another item about this story over a month after I originally mentioned it, but after the events of the last few days I really don’t feel like letting it drop.

In case you missed the story first time, Professor Mark Brake (he of the absurdly glowing wikipedia page) falsely represented his qualifications when applying for a research grant in 2006. For some reason, his employer – the University of Glamorgan – did not take the appropriate action of dismissing him for gross misconduct, but instead sacked the person responsible for drawing it to their attention. These are the facts as reported in the Times Higher Education Supplement which I commented on in my second post on this saga a few weeks ago.

The reason for posting about it again is that the Times Higher article is attracting a truly phenomenal number of comments (nearly 600 at the last count). These, roughly speaking, divide into two camps. The first set (including 4 comments by myself under my own name) comprises comments from people dismayed by the fact that Professor Brake’s misconduct appears not to have been investigated properly by the UoG and suggestions that this episode will reflect badly on academia generally unless  it can be sorted out promptly.

The second camp appears to consist of a small number of individuals posting abusively mocking comments under a variety of silly pseudonyms who are clearly attempting to draw attention away from the allegations against Professor Brake. It seems to me to be a very high probability that the culprit himself is behind many of the more absurd comments on the thread. I have been informed by someone working for the University of Glamorgan that Brake has been expressly forbidden to comment on this story, but that the UoG has taken no steps whatsoever to investigate whether he is doing so. In the meantime, contrary to promises made by their press contact to the THES, the UoG  have not yet made any attempt investigate the original misconduct. To quote from a comment I put on the thread myself:

I wish I shared the confidence of some other posters in the willingness of the UoG to treat this matter with appropriate seriousness. I think it is more likely that their “investigation” involves keeping their eyes firmly closed and not opening them unless and until a third party drops a load of direct evidence on their head. The longer they continue to ignore the ongoing misconduct of their own employees, including their abusive posts on this thread, the further the reputation of the University of Glamorgan is tarnished.

Since I revealed that I  that passed the Wales Online story onto the Times Higher, a number of things have happened which I can’t comment on for legal reasons. These events have left me very doubtful that the University of Glamorgan intends to investigate this matter at all and wishes instead that it will all blow over.

Of course readers of this blog can form their own opinions about the importance of this case and/or my interpretation of the facts but, based on what I know, I have drawn the conclusion that it is very important that this matter is not allowed to fade away. For one thing, the professorial salary of this individual is funded by the taxpayer….

I therefore intend to keep posting comments on the THES in support of academic standards and against academic misconduct until something is done. I invite any readers that agree with me to post their comments on the THES thread.

If representatives of the University of Glamorgan or any individual or organization feels I have misrepresented any aspect of this case or if you disagree with me for any other reason, or simply wish to comment, please feel free to express your thoughts through the box below.

STOP PRESS: The Times Higher appears to have closed the thread on this story for reasons not explained. You may still comment here of course.