Why we’re investing in Modern Foreign Languages

This week I was lucky enough to take part in the launch of the newly refurbished Modern Languages Resource Centre at King’s. I was invited to say a few words – and as a lover (and learner) of languages I couldn’t have been more delighted. 

Here’s what I said: 

It’s great to be here at the Modern Languages Centre today celebrating King’s contribution to making sure that languages – and the intercultural skills linked to learning a language – are right at the heart of what we do here at King’s. Before joining King’s I worked at the British Council where one of our big campaigns was to encourage our ‘tongue-tied nation’ to join the global conversation – in more than just English!

 A report I worked on back then, showed that the vast majority of British people feel unable hold a conversation in any of the languages the UK most needs for its future – especially Asian and Middle Eastern languages. Even the languages taught in UK schools are only confidently spoken by a fraction of the population.

This means, as we all know, that the UK is missing out on great opportunities for educational exchange, research ties, cultural relations, trade, development and advancing international understanding. All of these are getting lost in translation every single day.

As I always said at the British Council, if we could harness and grow the UK’s linguistic wealth, we would improve international prosperity and security, as well as social inclusion and intercultural understanding here at home.

Fingers crossed we’ll get there one day!

So back to King’s – well here at the MLC we’re certainly doing our bit! 

  • We have over 100 experienced language teachers; native speakers who teach up to 30 languages.
  • We have 8,000 students enrolled each year
  • We run up to 400 seminars per term
  • This newly refurbished Language Resource Centre is the ‘beating heart’ of the department – with 5,000 visits per year!
  • And our students love their studies, with over 90% approval ratings on student questionnaires.

Many of these students are on assessed modules with around 1,500 students studying 12 languages: Arabic, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. And, given my British Council cultural relations background, I’m delighted we also have an assessed module in Intercultural Learning.

Then there are well over 2000 students per term taking evening classes: over 6,000 registrations each academic year, in 23 languages from Arabic to Urdu; that’s 250 to 300 classes each term across The Strand, Waterloo and Guy’s – including now on Saturdays at Lunch times. We have just added British Sign Language and we have Language and Culture Workshops to further broaden the offer and student’s minds.

Here in the Language Resources Centre, students can practice one-to-one speaking practice and take module inductions, plus we can host training and intercultural workshops for staff as well as and students. And as you can see we can now proudly host language and cultural events, in very high quality surroundings.

Just a word from the sponsors… King’s has in the past year spent over £1m on refurbishing the facilities now available to the MLC. And as our wonderful Director Ana de Mediaros tells me, that very tangible support has transformed the department in ways that go far beyond the physical spaces.

But I need very little persuading.

Languages are an investment for all ages, with increasing evidence that learning languages improves cognition – and even helps ward off dementia. Everyone, at every age, is a winner if they get learning languages… I’m steadily adding Italian to my French at the moment!

But the last word I give to Nelson Mandela – and I read this on a wall in a Beijing University: ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language; that goes to his heart’.

We all know in our hearts that’s true. And we know we in this room can make a big difference to helping more people to do just that. 

 

Employability and the ‘B word’

 

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Interesting to read in the Times Higher what top university for employability Stanford’s careers experts say:

“It is important for students entering today’s workplace to connect with many different people, from a range of professions, in order to discover potential areas of interest and opportunities in fields that they may not have initially considered,” he says.

“A broad-based curriculum is certainly beneficial in helping students develop the combination of leadership skills, critical thinking skills and technical expertise needed to successfully navigate workplace and societal challenges and opportunities – while enabling them to find success not only in their careers, but in life more generally.”

Not many people would argue with that – I heard it at five top US Business Schools I met with last month.

Great of course to see King’s so well placed – number four in the UK; behind Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial, and one slot above Manchester at number 23 in the whole wide world. Can’t argue with that.

Bush House

Of course that’s built on nearly a century and a half of tradition; great research, great teaching, great minds – and lots of astute investment and management too. but…

Let’s not forget another magic ingredient – we have an amazing brand. I know from my time at the British Council promoting UK culture, that the words “King’s” (Royalty) and “London” (consistently second only to New York as the world’s top city) are two of the most evocative and iconic words you can use in the same breath; talking to people in pretty much any country anywhere in the world.

And as the THE points out:

The paradox is that while employers in principle recognise that a degree from a top university is not necessarily indicative that a graduate has the “essential skills” for a professional environment (and conversely that a graduate who might prove a perfect fit for a job role will not necessarily have studied at a prestigious institution), many recruiters feel compelled to defer to university reputation or rank in the first instance as a way to select from large numbers of applicants.

One explanation for this is increasing international mobility. In 2014, for instance, there were more than 5 million internationally mobile students around the world, up from just over 2 million in 2000. As employers receive more international applications, it becomes ever more important for ambitious students to graduate from a university that has a “global brand”.

Brands matter; and we have a great one.

Who do Undergrads want to work for?

microsoft

Painful though it is for an Apple lover… the best rated UK employer of undergraduates according to the Times Higher is Microsoft.

Microsoft moved up five places from last year, receiving reviews averaging 9.11 out of 10 from students who have taken placements or internships with the company. More than 7,000 student reviews were used to compile the UK’s top 100 undergraduate employers by RateMyPlacement.co.uk.

In previous years, the top spots have been dominated by financial services firms, but Microsoft’s number one spot marks a shift in favour of a number of different industries, including recruitment, professional services and law. Nonetheless, big banks and financial services companies continue to fill many places in the top ten.

Lucy Saunders, university recruitment manager at Microsoft, said: “Being number one is both humbling and an honour for our UK intern programme at Microsoft.  It means a lot to us that our very own, superb interns have benefited from a meaningful and impactful experience at Microsoft.

“Internally, our interns are extremely well regarded, and they never fail to make huge, positive impact to our UK business and beyond. Integral and core to our intern programme is the belief that our interns should be given as much opportunity as possible to make great impact during their time with us.”

Almost makes me want to go work at Microsoft myself… But only if they’d let me keep my iPhone!

 

It pays to go to University

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It’s not everything, and for many it’s far from the main thing; but more evidence today that it pays to go to university…

The Times Higher published some bestCourse4me data yesterday that reveals by the age of 45, graduates are earning 82 per cent more on average than non-graduates – £38,415 compared with £21,095.

Graduates from Russell Group universities earn almost £7,000 a year more on average than UK graduates in general at the age of 40.

According to the analysis, graduates from the Russell Group’s 24 universities earn £43,745 at the age of 40 on average – 18 per cent more (£6,720) than the £37,025 median salary of all UK graduates at the same age.

Stern: Nuanced and Fair

Parli Whitehall

Lord Stern’s review of the Research Excellence Framework – Building on Success and Learning from Experience has been widely welcomed as balanced, nuanced and fair.

The proposals include:

  • to count all research active staff in the REF but varying the number of pieces they might submit – currently higher education (HE) institutions select the staff that will be included and this innovation will ease pressure and encourage academics to research new areas or on a longer time-scale
  • widening and deepening the notion of research “impact” to include influence on public engagement, culture and on teaching, avoiding distortions of research choices and careers
  • introducing a new institutional level assessment to foster greater cohesiveness between academics and reward collaboration on interdisciplinary activities

Good to see diversity and inclusion high on the list of benefits sought, as well as broader social impact on the public, wider culture and teaching. King’s prides itself on being ‘in service to society'; universities must be.

Unpredictable meets Squishy

Interesting stuff (as ever) from McKinsey here on where machines could most readily replace humans…

In a nutshell it comes down to this:

SVGZ-Sector-Automation-ex1

And this:

SVGZ-Sector-Automation-ex2

But we’re nothing if not tenacious at King’s, so we’re pushing the boundaries with this:

Stiff-Flop

And this:

Meta Hand

Find out more here - if anyone can build a robot which can deal with the tricky challenges of the unpredictable and the squishy (i.e. working safely with humans and animals) it’ll be King’s NMS with our ‘soft robots’…

And even if we don’t crack it for a while, the good news for Universities is McKinsey conclude:

“Of all the sectors we have examined, the technical feasibility of automation is lowest in education, at least for now. To be sure, digital technology is transforming the field, as can be seen from the myriad classes and learning vehicles available online. Yet the essence of teaching is deep expertise and complex interactions with other people. Together, those two categories—the least automatable of the seven identified in the first exhibit—account for about one-half of the activities in the education sector.”

 Just don’t tell Kinba our King’s Robot Receptionist…

Kinba

An Uncertain World

Credit Ratings

In an uncertain world, one thing you can rely on is WonkHE’s Monday summary of HE policy impacts. As per many commentators it’s not pretty reading… UK Universities need to dig deep to hang on to our hard won reputation for excellence; and face up to new realities with optimism and self-confidence.

Here’s what WonkHE has to say:

Economic fallout widens

“We have now had over a week to assess at least a small portion of the effect that Brexit will have on universities and the wider country. Past the initial market shock, the underlying economic impact is beginning to be projected. Brexiteers have pointed to the revival of the FTSE to pre-referendum levels as a sign that all will be well, but more thorough analyses suggest a less rosy picture.”

“The Economist Intelligence Unit projects that investment will decline by 8% and consumption by 3% in the next year, leading to an overall GDP contraction of 1% in 2017. More generous forecasters still believe that economic growth will stall at or around 0.2% in 2017. Either scenario will lead to a decline in tax revenues and an increase in government borrowing, torpedoing the government’s hopes to continue cutting the deficit and run a surplus by 2020/21. It was therefore not much of a surprise to see George Osborne and several Conservative leadership candidates announce that the UK’s previous fiscal targets will be abandoned. If the government continued at its present rate of spending cuts, it would fail to make a dent in overall borrowing.”

“Monetary policy will also have to adjust. The Economist forecasts the pound will continue to fall and level-off at $1.24, a 16% reduction from pre-referendum levels. Mark Carney announced on Thursday that the Bank of England’s response to all this would be a cut, rather than a hike, in interest rates. This will come as some relief to borrowers, including universities, but the Bank is fast running out of stimulus levers. Debt is about to become very cheap. Government bond yields are also falling sharply despite the UK’s downgraded credit rating as volatility and the likely rate cut make fixed-return assets appealing. The Bank and other forecasters appear confident that inflation will not spike despite the massive fall in the value of the pound.”

“All this will have a major impact on universities. A revision of fiscal policy by a new chancellor will spark a review of the size and shape of the student loan book, research grant funding, and staffing levels at BIS and its associated agencies. If the new Chancellor wishes to keep the promises made by the Vote Leave campaign, the SMF estimate they would need to find an extra £25.8 billion to cover commitments to the NHS, cutting VAT on fuel, and maintaining agricultural subsidies and research spending. Only £14 billion will be saved from the end of the UK’s EU contributions. It is more likely that some of these commitments will be rowed back, which should make research funding a top priority for sector lobbyists, who will have to argue why they should be seen as more important than motorists, farmers and the regions.”

“The government wasn’t alone in having its credit rating downgraded last week. The ratings agency Moody’s downgraded six universities’ status as a result of the “potential loss of EU funding for research as well as any immigration curbs affecting student demand and staffing” and said that the ratings followed that of the central government because of the close financial links between the government and universities. They are De Montfort, Cardiff, Keele, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester. However, the University of Cambridge retained its Aaa rating for the time being as a result of its “extraordinarily strong market position, higher revenue diversification, significant liquid assets, strong governance structure and low debt levels.”

“In Whitehall, BIS has had one of the worst deals of any department from previous rounds of cuts but will now become a key player in Brexit negotiations. Were spending on the NHS and schools to continue to be protected, BIS and the Treasury might find themselves with some very difficult budget decisions indeed. The UK currently has only 40 trade negotiators compared to the EU’s 550. Employing more will eat into resources required for other government business, perhaps including higher education reform.”

“Philanthropy may also be negatively affected although fundraising from overseas donors could see a boost as their money will go further due to the weak pound. The further volatility in the equity markets and low gilt returns may also negatively impact on the sector’s pension schemes.”

“We are about to undergo a comprehensive economic and fiscal realignment, and it’s difficult to predict how the pieces could settle. Old rules may not apply.”

“Beyond the economy, universities are beginning to get a sense of the real impact of Brexit for research, collaboration and student recruitment. Jo Johnson attempted to calm nerves with a speech to the Wellcome Trust on Thursday, arguing that “it is business as usual for Horizon 2020” and that he is “in close touch with Commissioner [Carlos] Moedas on these issues”. But leading sector figures are far less optimistic. Sir Paul Nurse has pleaded with the government to preserve free movement of labour to maintain research collaboration. As with so many things, doing so will depend on the terms of negotiation with the EU, which might not even start for months or years. In the meantime, uncertainty reigns.”

Satisfaction

Source: wikipedia


The annual HEPI-HEA Survey of over 15,000 full-time undergraduates is out

This year, the findings that caught my eye are:

The majority of students are satisfied with their course (85%). 

There is strong evidence that students equate contact hours with good value: 58% of students taking Medicine or Dentistry think they are getting good value for money compared to only 30% of students taking Technology, Social Sciences, Mass Communications and Documentation or European Languages. 

On average, full-time undergraduate students work for 33 hours a week, split between 12 contact hours, 15 hours of independent study and 6 hours undertaking off-campus course-related work (such as a placement).

57% of students say it is ‘very important’ for staff to have received training in how to teach but only 21% think their lecturers demonstrate this ‘a lot’. 

Conversely, while 26% of students think it is ‘very important’ for those who teach them to be active researchers, 38% think this is demonstrated ‘a lot’.

Plenty to ponder there for any growing research-intensive university.

Wise Words

BIS logo

One of the key provisions in King’s Royal Charter is this one:

“Staff employed by the College who are directly engaged in teaching and research shall have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges.”

And what is important for individual academics is also important for institutions, and the UK university sector as a whole.

So well done Jo Johnson, for the good news from HEFCE and BIS yesterday: that the freedom to communicate research findings to the public, Parliament and government will not be curbed by the new clause in government grants announced in February.

As HEFCE commented yesterday:

“We welcome the announcement by the Minister today, which made clear that English higher education institutions in receipt of HEFCE funding are not intended to be covered by the new clause in government grants announced in February.

“This is good news for researchers in England who will be able to continue to communicate their findings to the public, Parliament and government and to provide advice on evidence and implications of research to inform policy, legislation and regulatory action.”

And as Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson MP himself said:

“Our world-class research base is a source of great pride for this country, which is why the government is continuing to protect the science budget to the end of the decade.

The new clause in government grants is about ensuring that taxpayers’ money is properly spent on what was intended in the grant agreements. I am very aware of questions that have been raised about what this could mean for our research base and the principle of academic autonomy that is such a critical part of its strength.

I have been talking to the research community and working hard with colleagues in government to determine what clarification may be necessary to ensure that research is not adversely affected in any way.

I am happy to confirm that it is not our intention for the Research Councils, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) or the National Academies to be covered by the clause. We are continuing to talk to the research community and will outline more detail by 1 May, when this clause takes effect.”

Wise words all.