Friday, 31 May 2013

Library issues

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

Unfortunately Jenny and I have had a bit of a falling out over certain issues to do with the library. You may remember that Mike Rowe persuaded me to take over the departmental library link role from Patrick Murray. Jenny has been trying to get me to sit down with her and sort out the journal subscriptions and book orders but what with exam and coursework marking, the Hothouse away day and other things we didn't get round to it until the day before yesterday.

Because of the rise in journal subscription prices we have to make some cutbacks. The budget has been increased a bit but not by enough to preserve all the current subscriptions, let alone to add in some others on our wishlist. The added problem is that quite a few of our journals are now ordered through an intermediary rather than directly from the publishers, and what you get is a bundle of journals. You get this too with the big publishers like Elsevier. So you can't just take one or two less useful journals out of the package and get the cost down. In the end it all you can do is to remove some independently published journals, which doesn't have a big impact on the budget but does make it harder for us to access some potential interesting papers.

One thing that occurred to me is that while we do wish to refer students to papers in quite a few journals, there are some others that are really only looked at by members of staff in their research. I wonder really whether these journals should be paid for out of our library budget which is really supposed to support our teaching. It is possible these days to find out who is looking at the various journals as they are now nearly all online, so it would be feasible to identify who is reading what and ask researchers to find the funds to support the more specialist ones. I will need to talk to Mike Rowe about that.

So, after trimming a few journals from the subscription list it means that the share of the library budget going to journals still has to rise, leaving less money for new books. Jenny did point out that we do now have a huge collection of ebooks available and that quite a few of these were free. Bookboon, for example, has quite a good economics and finance section, including a couple of econometrics texts.

The problem with Jenny arose when she said that I needed to take a look at the books that the library wants to withdraw from the collection. Apparently, due to some algorithm that contributes to the university league tables, the proportion of books in the library collection that is less than ten years old has a positive effect on the league table score. Ideally, of course, this ratio would be increased by buying new books. But where this can't be done the only way to make the ratio bigger is to "retire" old books. When I looked at the big pile of books that had been set aside I was horrified. There were some absolute classic texts in there like Samuelson's Foundations and Georgescu-Roegen's book on entropy and the economic process. Surely we shouldn't be getting rid of these books? However, Jenny pointed out to me that neither of these books has been borrowed from the library in the last five years. And the library also needs space for student work areas so that was another reason to clear away some of the bookshelves.

I wondered if these books couldn't be put into a separate departmental library so that we could at least retain access to them when we needed them (assuming that we could find some space for it in our Business School building). But Jenny said that would be impossible. The university had agreed that there could be no separate departmental or faculty libraries, only the central one.

So in the end I gathered up several boxes of old books, including old editions of some texts still currently being used (it is always interesting to see how authors have adapted their books in the different editions published). Both my office at work and my work room at home are now overflowing with books - lovely for me but I guess I must also offer them to colleagues who might want them. I will prepare a list for them to look at.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Email row

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

There has been a bit of a row here today after rumours started circulating that the Dean, Professor Paige Turner, had asked the IT section to search through the email accounts of some Business School staff and students. In a story that has echoes of what happened at Harvard University earlier in the year, reports had reached her that some staff were looking into accusations that final year students had helped some level two students with their coursework in return for money.

Of course all the students concerned denied that this was happening and the plagiarism detection software was unable to show any similarities between the second year students' work and that of any coursework produced by the third year students when they were second years. However it was rumored that Professor Turner was sufficiently concerned about this to request the Head of IT to examine student email accounts to see what email contact there was between level two and level three students. The Head of IT Services, Arthur Milner, said that his department would never look at any staff or student email correspondence, except perhaps if requested to by the police in connection with a criminal investigation. What some people noticed though was that, although this statement said that IT services wouldn't look inside an email message, it didn't rule out reporting information about who had been emailing whom, and what the subject line might suggest.

One or two third year students that I spoke to said that you couldn't rule out third students giving help and advice to second year students. Some had girlfriends in the year below them and they were sure to provide some assistance. But it would be unlikely that anyone offering more than this would leave an electronic trail that could be picked up. Did the Dean really think that they would be that stupid?

What we have noticed, though, is that this year's second year coursework marks are quite a bit better than last year's. Meanwhile the Dean has furiously denied the allegations that she did anything other than ask Heads of Department to look into the potential cheating problem. I wonder if she sent any emails about this?

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Miss USE

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

The university is all abuzz today after last night's local TV news story about the Miss USE beauty contest that the Students Union is running. The Vice Chancellor, Victor Crispin, said that of course he couldn't and wouldn't interfere with Student Union matters, but he urged the Student Union officers to remember the diverse backgrounds and cultures of USE students, with many students coming here from countries where the notion of young women parading about with little in the way of clothing was not just distasteful but abhorrent.

Professor Ruth Russell from the English Department was interviewed and she said that the young women who were taking part were betraying the Feminist Movement. She asked them to consider the struggle for women's rights that was still not over. But Pippa Johnston, who is one of the people involved in organising the Miss USE competition, said that the whole thing was empowering for women, not degrading. Johnston, who is apparently also quite well know internationally for her involvement with Femen, a worldwide movement against patriarchy, said that women's bodies were their own and that they were entitled to exploit their physical features as well as their intellectual ones. She said that she was proud that naked and semi-naked women were not just there on the cover of Playboy and similar magazines. "After all, she said, "it is not as if we are prostitutes".

Chatting with some of my students I got a slightly different take. One of them said that he had never seen the Student Union so full as it was on the night of the first elimination event from which the ten finalists were selected. And it would be even more packed next Thursday for the Final. The Student Union must be making a huge amount of money from the entrance fees and the bar profits. One of my female tutees said she had no problem with the event, although she wouldn't want to take part herself. She also said why couldn't there be a male equivalent event called perhaps Mister USE. There were some very fit young men at USE and it would be great to see them with their shirts off! Another added that most weekends you could see female students going along to the Carnage events with not much more clothing than the Miss USE contestants would be wearing.

Now I think of it I do remember coming across a bunch of half-dressed and fully drunk young students on the streets of the city when I was going home from the theatre and being really shocked at their behaviour. No wonder they couldn't get up in time to come to classes the next day.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Not this year

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

Oh well, Watford lost to Crystal Palace in the Championship Play Off Final yesterday. So it will be the Championship again for them next season. It has to be said that Ian Holloway got the tactics right yesterday and on balance Palace were the better team on the day. Too many Watford players were below par - Deeney, Cassetti and Chabolah in particular. Doyley was immense though and maybe if he had been marking Zaha from the start things would have been different. Gus texted me after the game to say that he was disappointed, not so much that Watford lost, but that they didn't really get into the game until it was too late. It was a clear penalty - no complaints about that either - and Almunia nearly got to it. He had a good game too, keeping the 'Orns in the match with several crisp saves. Gus says he might work from home today as he is exhausted from all the tension yesterday.

I watched the match in the pub with Jack, Richard and the others. There were a few Palace fans there too so it got a bit noisy at times. I wonder how Palace will get on in the Premier league. Without Zaha I can't see them making a big impression. I think Watford would probably have done better with their style of play but we will never know. Next season will be more difficult for them as expectations are high and other teams have had time to work out how to play them, as Crystal Palace have shown.

It is school half-term this week and hardly anyone is in the university today. I am sat here alone in the cafeteria, although Bubbles will be in at lunchtime so I can have another chat with her about the football. Maybe I will go home after that too, although it is raining so I won't be able to sit on the patio and read. At least I have got all my marking done now.

Monday, 27 May 2013


Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

Today Watford meet Crystal Palace at Wembley in the Championship Play-Off final to see which of those teams will be in the Premier League next season. My good friend and mentor, Gus Johns, is a fanatical Watford supporter and will be at Wembley cheering on the Hornets, or the 'Orns as he usually calls them. Everyone in the department will be hoping they can do it for him. Watford have been criticised, especially by Palace manager Ian Holloway, for their use of so many loan players from Udinese and Ganada, the two other clubs owned by the Pozzo family. But, apart from Middlesbrough, they have had more home grown players in their squad this season than any other Championship team. The Watford Academy has produced many excellent players over the years and that was one of the things that attracted the Pozzo family to the club. Anyway, along with Jenny, Richard, Bubbles and Lindsay, and Jack and Phoebe I shall be at the pub tomorrow to watch the game on Sky, cheering on the 'Orns.

Gus took his wife Heather to the Chelsea Flower Show on Friday. I know very little about flowers but I watched the programme about it on BBC2 on Saturday night in the hope that I might see Gus and Heather. Of course the chance of them being on screen was very small and I didn't spot them. Still, it was interesting and maybe Molly is right that I am getting more English by the day. I didn't go back to Greece for Easter like the other two Greeks in the department, I have an English girlfriend, I have become interested in gardening and cricket and going to the pub to watch football. I am even getting to like Fullers' beer - although I still love Mythos!

Enjoy the Bank Holiday!

Friday, 24 May 2013

Extremism on campus

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

All staff and students at USE had an email message yesterday from the Vice Chancellor, Victor Crispin, about religious and political extremism.

Crispin said that in the light of recent events such as the Boston bombing and the savage killing of a British soldier in Woolwich on Wednesday, it was important that we all consider how best to balance the right to freedom of speech (which was particularly important at a university) with the need to avoid all types of religious and political extremism on campus. He had held meetings with student union officers and representatives of the teaching unions to agree some guidelines that were now up on the university intranet.

In line with NUS policy some organisations are banned from the university campus, most notably the British National Party (BNP) and Hizbut-Tahrir (HuT), an extreme Islamic group. Some recent stories in the media had focused on alleged attempts by Islamic students to force gender segregation in lectures or other meetings on university campuses. UCL had banned the Islamic Education and Research Agency (iERA) after it had enforced gender segregation, with women made to sit at the back of the room, at an event in March called "Islam or Atheism: What makes more sense?". Crispin said that there was no evidence that enforced gender segregation had been attempted at any meetings at USE.

Crispin drew our attention to a new website that had been launched this week at a Universities UK conference in London. It could be found at The site provide information and a range of resources that could help with such issues as external speaker protocols, effective community and police engagement and interfaith relationships on campus. He also recommended a website belonging to the Information Network on Religious Movements at which had produced a leaflet for University Chaplains and student union officers.

Crispin went on to say that he wasn't asking staff or students to spy on other members of the university. However, if they had concerns that certain individuals might have been radicalised, or that groups or societies (not just Islamic ones) were fostering hatred against people on the grounds of religion or sexual orientation, they should let him know immediately. He reminded us that we have links with all three armed services at the university with some students sponsored for their studies and funded research activity that was supported by the MoD.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Not so hothouse research

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

From a Faculty perspective the Hothouse research day was not really a success. Only about twenty people turned up. There were just six from our department: me, Mike, Gus, Tony, Jack and Sian. Richard, along with many people from other departments, said that he had far too much marking still to do and he couldn't spare the time. Whoever thought that arranging such a research day in the middle of the exam period was obviously not doing any teaching. Similar complaints had been made from people in other departments. Others said that they just hadn't had time to get set up for the day with possible topics and collaborators for their research. Only one person from the accounting department came to the session. Gus told me afterwards that Mike was quite happy since he would be able to point this out to the Dean, stressing how engaged our department has been with her plans, compared with other parts of the faculty.

Geoff Baxter was there though, and so I was personally able to satisfy Mike, Tony and the Dean that I had found a potential research topic to work on with someone in another department. Geoff had been in touch with his contact at Waitrose and the initial response had been that the company might be willing to sponsor a study of English wine, provided they could also make use of it in their weekend magazine and their advertising. Geoff said that we would need to put together a formal proposal that would be considered by Head Office. It was likely that we would also be asked to produce a paper on a related topic, namely wine tourism. This would be the main source of material for Waitrose's marketing group. In many other wine producing countries wine tourism is big business. One only has to think of what happens in different parts of France, especially the Rhone valley. You can see it too in the Nappa Valley in the US or in the Western Cape in South Africa. That side of things was relatively undeveloped in the UK and Geoff wondered if we might bring someone in from the marketing subject group to help on that. He had found a paper on developing wine tourism in England in the 2008 Journal of Vacation Marketing but he reckoned there was now scope for an update, perhaps looking at some other countries for comparative purposes.

Geoff thought there might also be scope for a paper on the development of the online wine business, both through supermarkets and from other suppliers such as Laithwaites and the Naked Wine company. A number of newspapers, such as the Times, the Telegraph and the Guardian also had reader offers for cases of wine. Another development which we might look at is the growing influence of China in wine production, consumption and vineyard ownership. Geoff said that China is now the fourth largest export market for burgundy behind Japan, Britain and the US.He had also seen a report that in 2011 Chinese buyers had bought 21 vineyards and 23 Chateaux in Bordeaux alone.

I have also been looking at recent contributions to the literature on hedonic price models. One issue which we would need to take on board would be the potential simultaneous equation bias of any single equation models that include jointly dependent variables such as quality and reputation. Recent papers have used Two Stage Least Squares rather than simple single equation Ordinary Least Squares to estimate the models.

So, we spent the rest of the time at the hothouse session putting together a bid for Waitrose to look at, confining ourselves now to wine tourism and hedonic price models. This research could be a lot of fun!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013


Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

As we have the Hothouse Research Day today and various people have suggested that I might be able to do some joint work with Geoff Baxter from the Hospitality Management subject group I went looking for him yesterday lunchtime. What a really nice guy he is. As well as talking about potential research work together we got to talking about wine.

Finding I was Greek, he asked me if I had tried the Tsantali organic red wine from Halkidiki. Apparently Waitrose is now stocking it. Indeed I have. It is an ideal partner to a nice bit of roast lamb. I asked him if there were any other red wines that he particularly recommended. He said that his favourite wines were French - the Chateuneuf-du-Pape from the vineyard at Chateua de Beaucastel is hard to beat, but he also recommended the Reserve des Hospitalliers Cotes du Rhone.

He also suggested that I try a few South African reds, especially the Rustenberg Peter Barlow, although this one costs nearly £30 a bottle. A little cheaper is the Boschendal Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon. There are some good value wines from Chile and Argentina too, according to Geoff. And he likes an Australian wine called The Hedonist Shiraz.

Suddenly this reminded me of an Economic Journal article back in the 1990s which had used regression analysis to estimate a hedonic model of French wine prices. Gus had been at conference where the French authors of the paper had presented their results. The models incorporated both objective characteristics, such as the type of grape and the specific gravity (alcohol content) of the wine, but also some more subjective measurements based on the judgments of professional wine tasters. They assessed the look and the taste of the wines in blind tastings. Gus remembered that the authors had been asked whether any of the wines in the sample were "corked". The answer had been that there were a few such bottles, but the researchers had taken the precaution of asking for two bottles of each of the over 500 wines used in the study. When asked what had happened to the unused "spare" bottles of wine, the authors had smiled and replied "researchers' privilege!".

When I got back to my desk after lunch I used Google Scholar to track down the paper. Here are the details in case you want to read the paper; Combris, Pierre, S├ębastien Lecocq, and Michael Visser. "Estimation of a hedonic price equation for Bordeaux wine: does quality matter?." The Economic Journal 107.441 (1997): 390-402. I also looked for more recent wine price hedonic studies as it occurred to me that with Geoff's knowledge of wine and my econometric skills we might be able to work together on project of this type. We might be able to look at a sector that had so far not been studied (perhaps we could look at English wine, for example). Or maybe we could come up with some kind of new twist to the analysis. Geoff had said that one of his ex-students had a senior position at Waitrose and might be able to help with wine samples and other information. This sounds promising!

Geoff also wondered if it was time to revive the Faculty wine tasting social. A few years ago, together with the then Professor of Accounting (now retired), at the end of the summer term he had organised a wine tasting event for staff. There were wines from various countries together with some cheese and biscuits to eat with the wine. I said this was a great idea and that I would be willing to help in any way that I could. I'm looking forward to it already!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013


Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

Gus invited me for lunch last Sunday, which was very enjoyable. After lunch he suggested that we watch the cricket on the television. It was what turned out to be the dramatic end of the First Test of the summer between England and New Zealand. The two top England fast bowlers, Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson, destroyed the New Zealand batting line up to win the game. Gus had earlier told me that Test cricket can sometimes be a bit slow; after all the game can take up to five days to complete. He explained that this is quite different to Twenty-Twenty cricket where, as the name suggests, each side has just twenty overs to bat.

The reason he asked me to watch the cricket with him is because he wants me to play for the staff team in the annual Staff-Student cricket match next month. In the last few years as British born members of staff have retired or moved on to other universities they have mostly been replaced by people from non-cricket playing countries like Greece. To raise a team of eleven people at least one of the Greeks will need to play - and he thinks I am the most likely to be able to take part as I am generally fit and seemed to have good hand-eye coordination when he saw me playing table tennis.

Gus explained to me that the Staff-Student game would be a twenty overs each match and that everyone except the wicket keeper would have to bowl two overs of six balls. After the England match was over he showed me a recording of a Twenty-Twenty match so I could see that you don't have to bowl as fast as Anderson and Broad. I reckon I can cope OK with the batting but I am not sure about the bowling. Gus said we would have a practice session sometime next week. If it turned out that I just couldn't bowl I was not to worry as Tony Steel, who is the wicket keeper, could bowl a couple of overs with someone else going behind the stumps for those two overs.

Gus then started to confuse me a bit by talking about fielding positions where the names slip, cover, square leg, third man and silly point came up. What funny names these are. Gus asked me if I could throw a ball a long way or if I thought I might be good at catching. He then gave me a cricket ball to look at. It surprised me how hard it is. I am not keen of having a ball like that flying towards me!

Well it is true that I am reasonably athletic. I have played soccer and basketball so I will give it a go. I will let you know later how I get on!

Monday, 20 May 2013

Eurovision party

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

What a great party it was at Bubbles' place on Saturday night. The whole thing was built around the Eurovision Song Contest which was on TV. Bubbles put on a spread of food and drink from many of the countries taking part. There was wine from France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Greece and Romania. We had cheese from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK. From Ireland there was soda bread and Guinness, pork pies from the UK, crackers and meatballs from Sweden, beer and pate from Belgium and dolmades (stuffed vine leaves) from Greece. And Maltesers - not exactly from Malta, but a nice idea. And several other items I am sure that I have forgotten.

All the guests at the party were given one of the countries taking part to support (drawn at random). I was hoping for Greece but got Ireland. Jack had Azerbaijan, his girlfriend Phoebe had Denmark. Gus had Romania and his wife Heather had Finland. One of Bubbles' friends from the Psychology department had the UK and Bonnie Tyler.

I haven't watched the Eurovision Song Contest before so the whole razzmatazz of it was new to me. It started as if it was the Olympics with all the countries parading behind their flags. The songs themselves ranged from boring to bizarre, from insipid to shocking. With twenty-six of them to get through it was as well that we were enjoying the food and drink and the party chat along the way. One thing was clear though - for most acts the staging and backing singers and dancers were as important as the song itself, with wind machines and strobe lighting used a lot. The Denmark song sung by Emmelie de Forest stood out as the clear leader for most of us with a folky penny-whistle introduction and a catchy tune. The song from Finland, “Marry Me” with the girl in her wedding dress was pretty cheesy and ended with the singer kissing one of the (girl) backing singers. What was that all about? We all wondered what on earth Cezar from Romania was up to with his alarming falsetto vampire performance and the near naked dancers in tight lycra. The singer from Iceland looked a bit like Rick Wakeman and someone commented that the keyboard player for Armenia would turn up one day on an identity parade in Never Mind the Buzzcocks! I actually enjoyed the Greek entry with the old guy playing his mini-bazouki and the young ones bouncing around like Madness in their kilts.

Eventually the last song was finished and it was time for the voting. A few party goers voted but I didn’t bother. Gus told me that Bonnie Tyler didn’t stand a chance as hardly anyone voted for the UK any more, and a lot of the voting would be by geographical and cultural groupings. The announcement of the votes seemed to take forever with the contacts in the various voting centres taking an age to announce their results. I felt sorry for the lady in Germany who made a mistake in giving the German votes. In the end Denmark was the clear winner, although Azerbaijan did surprisingly well. The Finland entry did very badly, which surprised me, and poor old Ireland finished last. Bonnie Tyler did OK to finish in nineteenth place.

When it was all over Bubbles said it was time for the presentations. Phoebe was presented with a bottle of champagne for Denmark’s win, and I got a wooden spoon as the backer of Ireland.

It was a really fun evening and even though the whole thing was a bit of a circus it was enjoyable in a funny kind of a way. For me the clear winner was the Swedish lady called Petra who was hosting the event. In her Jean Paul Gaultier designed frock she didn’t put a foot wrong and her English and French seemed faultless. She was good in the Swedish smorgasbord song as well.

Friday, 17 May 2013


Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

When checking the odds for the Eurovision Song Contest entries I noticed that bookmakers are also offering bets on the name of Kate and Wills' soon to be born baby. The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall haven't yet revealed what gender the baby will be but looking at the betting odds it seems that other people are expecting it to be a girl.

Unsurprisingly high up the list of anticipated names are Elizabeth (5-1) and Diana (11-2), although Alexandra (7-4) is the current favourite (William Hill odds).

The most backed boy's names are George, Charles and Phillip. Amusingly you can get odds on some very unlikely names; Wayne (250-1), Chardonnay (250-1) and Elvis (500-1).

You can also bet on the day of the birth (it is expected to be 31st May), the method of delivery (natural or caesarian) and the colour of the baby's hair.

All this reminds me of a chapter in the Freakonomics book that looked at the extent to which the choice of a child's name appeared to affect the child's opportunities later in life. However I don't suppose it really matters for a Royal.

In Greece of course you tend to be called after your father or maybe grandfather if you are a boy, and there are fewer names that people choose from. Giorgos is the most popular boys name (about 11% of males according to this website). And the most popular name for a girl is Maria. Kostantinos (or Kostas in its shortened version) comes in just outside the top ten male names.

Gus has told me that you can see fashions in names as the cohorts of students come through. Harry and Jack are top of the list for boy's names in 2012 with Amelia and Lily at the top of the girls names list. But in our current group of students who were born about twenty years ago we seem to have a lot of Michaels, Christophers and Matthews, Sarahs, Emilys and Graces. Some of this seems to check out with the information here

PS Greece was one of the survivors in the second Eurovision Song Contest semi-final last night and so will be there in tomorrow night's final. The song has the intriguing title "Alcohol is Free".

PPS Readers of my blog have been sending in further examples of exam bloopers. One I particularly like is where a student, wishing to refer to gilt-edged securities, talked about "guilts"!

Thursday, 16 May 2013


Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

I saw Richard and Bubbles in the cafeteria yesterday lunchtime and they invited me and Jenny to a Eurovision party on Saturday night. Jack and his girlfriend Phoebe will be there too, as well as Gus and Heather, some people from the Psychology department and some of the other women who work in the cafeteria.

The idea is that we will each draw two countries at random and there will be a prize for the first and last placed country on the night. Bubbles plans to serve food or drink associated with each country as the night goes on. Easy enough for France, Italy and Germany I think, but it may involve a bit of research and then specialist shopping to track down food from some of the other countries involved.

To get into the spirit of things I went online to check out the official Eurovision website. Apparently there was the first of two semi-finals on Tuesday night. Sixteen countries took part but only ten went through to Saturday night’s final. It seems that Cyprus was one of the countries that got eliminated. The second semi-final is tonight so we don’t yet know which ten countries will go through from that group – but it includes Greece, so I hope they go through or we will get no Greek food on Saturday night!

Six countries are seeded for the final: Sweden (the hosts as the event takes place in Malmo), the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. The UK is represented by Bonnie Tyler with the song “Believe in Me”.

I thought I would have a look to see what the betting was for the different acts. It seems that Denmark is the favourite with Norway, Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan all also heavily backed. The UK is a little way down the list in fifteenth place so I guess they won’t be winning again this year!

There have been some interesting papers written about the voting patterns in the Eurovision Song Contest; various regional clusters seem to vote for each other and the UK doesn’t seem to have many friends that regularly support her.

I was also interested to see a paper by Fleisher and Felsenstein in the 2002 issue of the Journal of Cultural Economics which was a cost-benefit study of the Eurovision Song Contest held in Israel in 1999. The paper adopted a methodology which attempted to identify and measure three kinds of potential surpluses, the producer surplus (private sector incremental profits), consumer surplus (consumers’ incremental willingness to pay for the event) and government surplus (promotional advertising net benefits). Although there were difficulties in measuring some intangible benefits, the authors concluded that there was an overall net benefit to the country from hosting the event despite the $3 million that it cost the Israeli Broadcasting Authority to put it on (some costs were also covered from private sponsorship).

The Eurovision Song Contest has been going since 1956 and it is reckoned that over 125 million viewers now tune in to watch the programme. The UK has tended to have a bit of a jokey attitude to the event – partly because of the voting set up, partly because some of the songs are very strange, but also because of the attitude that Terry Wogan took in his commentary on the night. But of course it was the Eurovision Song Contest that brought Abba to the notice of the world. Let’s hope that there is one song as good as any of theirs to enjoy. Anyway, I am sure we will have a great party with Bubbles and Richard. I wonder if I can draw Denmark or Russia?

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Exam marking

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

So now it is time to mark exam papers. Not my favourite part of the job, especially as there are now so many students in the class.

The worst thing is the unreadable writing. Some students write in such small letters that they are pretty much indecipherable. Or the scrawl looks like some kind of spider's web squashed onto the paper. I suppose these days they are not used to writing. But they don't take my advice and practise these skills. Because if I can't read it I am not going to give the student the benefit of the doubt. You can see some students trying to hedge their bets when they are not sure whether the correct answer is, for example, elastic or inelastic. What they write could be either word.

Another annoying thing is when the students don't answer the question as it is posed, but instead trot out the answer to the question that they wanted to see. Sometimes there is enough overlap for marks to be given but on other occasions a failing mark is all that can be awarded. Or maybe the elements of an answer are there but it is just so badly structured that it doesn't really do the job.

Then there are simple confusion errors, for example mixing up diminishing marginal returns with decreasing returns to scale, or autocorrelation with multicollinearity. What is annoying is when you have provided feedback on errors like this that have been made in previous years only to find them showing up again.

Then there are spelling mistakes. Caines instead of Keynes, or Durban instead of Durbin. You can understand students having a problem with words like heteroskedasticity but often these spelling errors are indicative of the lack of reading. They have heard the words or names but not seen them in print, or even on the computer screen.

Another problem is the inclusion of diagrams that have been memorised without understanding and so have errors in them. Or maybe the diagram is there but there is no attempt to explain what it is about in the text. It has just been dumped on the page in the hope that it may be relevant. Bob Bunn tells the wonderful story of the student who he saw after an exam. When Bob asked him how he thought he had got on he said "Great. I made sure I had the LX diagram." Bob realised that the L must refer to the axes and the X was probably the demand and supply curves, but guessed that the student just drawn this without any understanding of what it was about.

There are also unintentional funnies. Gus told me that when he was teaching a course on Environmental Economics a student had talked about recycling toilet paper which created some unfortunate images in his mind.

Despite all of this there have been some excellent exam scripts over the years. I am hoping that will be the case this year. The better they are the easier they are to mark.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Exam invigilation

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

I'm off in a minute to my first invigilation session for the current round of examinations. It is not my favourite task in this job. It wouldn't be so bad if some other invigilators, support staff and students weren't so annoying at these times. I'll give you a few examples.

First, there are the staff who don't turn up at all for their invigilation session. It means that with fewer invigilators in the room than there ought to be you end up rushing about more than you should have to. And there are certain people who seem always to fail to turn up. When you see their names next to yours on the invigilation list your heart sinks as you know they won't turn up.

Then there are staff who turn up but don't really pull their weight. They just sit there reading or sometimes even marking, not responding to student requests for more paper or other questions that they might have. And then they maybe rush off at the end, not helping to clear up the room after the exam has finished.

Worse still are the staff who have set an exam paper that has an error in it, and then they are not there at the beginning of the exam or even available at the end of a phone to help sort out the mistake.

Support staff are generally OK but on one occasion I did get the wrong exam paper delivered to the room. Sometimes there are not enough exam papers or scripts to go round which causes a delay to the exam. We also have a number of "professional" invigilators who can on occasions be a bit authoritarian. It is true that part of their duties may be to read out the exam regulations and to warn students about potential exam offences for which they will be punished. But sometimes the tone is such that even I get unsettled. A calmer and more sympathetic voice would help put students at their ease at what is inevitably a nervous time.

Mind you the students too can be annoying. There will be those that just don't turn up, or turn up late saying they got the wrong time or their alarm didn't go off. Some just come in for the minimum time and leave the exam having hardly answered any of the paper. They have just arrived to register a technical attendance. It is annoying to have to set and mark so many resit papers. In the old days when there were fewer students we would chase up non-attenders at their homes to try to get them to the exam but we just can't think about that any more.

These days so many students seem to need to go to the toilet during the exam. I think the accounting students are the worst. It makes me wonder if some of them are cheating as you can't follow them into the toilet cubicles and they could be texting or using their mobile phones to get help.

Then there are the students who won't stop writing at the end of the exam. They really push you to the limits of your patience because of course if they go on too long you should be noting this down as an exam offence. Of course you also do get the occasional student that you catch cheating. This will then involve you with a lot of paperwork. I wouldn't mind that if the university authorities would back this up with suitably draconian punishments but all too often the risk of being caught is small and the penalty imposed is rather light.

Then there are the mobile phones that go off in the bags that the students have left at the front of the room. You have asked them to switch off all mobile phones but there always seems to be one who has forgotten. Or maybe it just a time alarm that they have set. Either way it usually takes a few minutes to identify the phone and get it switched off.

Right. That has got a few things off my chest. Let's hope today's exam has none of these annoyances!

Monday, 13 May 2013

Misuse of statistics

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

I suppose it has to be expected from politicians, but it really annoys me when they start throwing around erroneous statistics to support their prejudiced policies. A case in point is Iain Duncan Smith and his attempt to justify benefit caps in terms of getting people back into work. He recently claimed "already we've seen 8,000 people who would have been affected by the cap move into jobs. This clearly demonstrates that the cap is having the desired impact".

Fortunately Andrew Dilnot, the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, has pointed out to Duncan Smith that his comments were "unsupported by the official statistics published by the department". In an open letter he noted that the figures used by the Minister were "not intended to show the additional numbers entering work as a direct result of the contact". You can see a report of this story in the Guardian, which also has a link to the letter that was sent to Duncan Smith.

The problem is, however, that this correction will not have been seen by many voters who will just remember the original comments by the Minister and probably be unaware that it has been challenged.

Another example is Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has suggested that many immigrants come to Britain in order to obtain to claim benefits and obtain free treatment from the National Health Service. As Jonathan Portes, Director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research has pointed out, there is no evidence for this assertion and immigrants from the new EU member states actually pay almost a third more in taxes than they cost in benefits and services.

What we often seem to get from government ministers these days is not so much evidence based policies as policy based evidence, where unsupported “facts” are used to justify dogmatically based policies.

Turning to a completely different matter, Gus is absolutely buzzing this morning. As a long time Watford supporter he is still on cloud nine after the Hornets astonishing last minute win over Leicester yesterday in the Championship Play Off Semi-Final Second leg. In a dramatic end to the match Leicester had a penalty saved and then Watford broke away for Troy Deeney to score the winner. Come on You 'Orns! Next stop Wembley!

Friday, 10 May 2013

Keynes and our grandchildren

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

I noticed in yesterday's Guardian that Professor John Adams of UCL had a letter published about Niall Ferguson's recent comments about Keynes. Ferguson had suggested that because Keynes was gay and had no children or grandchildren he didn't care about what happened in the long run. This, of course, is as ridiculous as saying that when you are ill and are focusing on trying to get better you don't look forward to the time when you are well again. When the economy is in a prolonged recession the priority is to get out of it and restore some growth. Indeed, as Adams pointed out, Keynes was far from uninterested about what would happen well into the future. In his essay "Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren", written in 1930 and published as part of his book "Essays in Persuasion" (1931) (which is available online) Keynes wrote "My purpose in this essay, however, is not to examine the present or the near future, but to disembarrass myself of short views and take wings into the future. What can we reasonably expect the level of our economic life to be a hundred years hence? What are the economic possibilities for our grandchildren?"

Because of the growth of capital and technological progress we would be able to look forward to times of great prosperity in the future. "All this means in the long run that mankind is solving its economic problem." However in 1930 the priority was to deal with what he referred to as technological unemployment, which needed to be only a "temporary phase of maladjustment". After that problem had been suitably addressed "I would predict that the standard of life in progressive countries one hundred years hence will be between four and eight times as high as it is to-day. There would be nothing surprising in this even in the light of our present knowledge. It would not be foolish to contemplate the possibility of a far greater progress still."

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Meeting in Waitrose

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

Last night, on the way home from work, I went shopping in Waitrose. Just as I had placed two very nice pieces of haddock in my trolley at the fish counter I turned around to see Gus and Heather coming towards me.

"That looks like some very nice fish" said Heather. "Enough for two if I am not mistaken! Are you having someone round for supper tonight?" Before I could answer there was another surprise in store for me (pun intended!) for who should we see approaching than Richard, together with Bubbles and a young girl who I took to be her daughter.

Richard looked a little embarrassed but did the introductions. "I think you have seen Bubbles in the cafeteria" he said, looking at Gus and me, "and this is her daughter Lindsay."

"How is the PhD going?" asked Gus. "Oh, it is still quite early days" said Bubbles. "I have established the broad area and general title for my topic but I am still engaged in a thorough literature review before I get properly started on my own work." "Well, good luck with it anyway" said Gus "It must be quite difficult juggling the PhD work, the classes that I hear you are doing in the psychology department, the cafeteria work and looking after young Lindsay here".

"Yes" said Bubbles. "And now I have got Richard to fit in as well!" Richard blushed. "Well, I think we had better be going" he said. "Nice to see you all. Have a good evening."

"Well" said Gus. "It looks like progress is being made on several fronts" (as he looked down again at the fish in my trolley).

Perhaps I had better go to Sainsbury's next time.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013


Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

People keep asking me about how I am getting on with Jenny. The answer is "Great" thanks - but I am not going to be posting about her on my blog.

I am also being asked if I have any news about how Richard got on with Bubbles. We know that he went back to her place for tea after they watched the football together at the Ship pub the weekend before last. Well on Friday we finally got to hear from him what happened. It turns out that Bubbles is divorced and has a daughter called Lindsay who lives with her. Every other weekend her ex-husband has custody and it was his turn to have the girl that weekend. But he had to return her to Bubbles at six o'clock. Bubbles was quite happy to have someone else with her when that happened. So Richard was there when young Lindsay was returned. The ex-husband was surprised to find Richard there and he wanted to hang around to find out more about him. But, says Richard, Bubbles was quite assertive and said that it was none of his business. The husband countered by saying that it was important to him to know who was around his young daughter. Richard said that he understood that, but he had only just met Bubbles and they didn't even know yet whether they would be seeing each other again. This seemed to satisfy the ex-husband and he left. However Richard said that he would be seeing Bubbles again over the Bank Holiday weekend. If the weather was nice Richard, Bubbles and Lindsay would be going out somewhere with a picnic.

Richard also said that before the ex-husband turned up he and Bubbles had had an interesting discussion about the overlapping research area in psychology and economics relating to studies of happiness. Happiness was indeed the research topic for Bubbles PhD where she was following up one of the points raised by the American psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and the question of why some people are happier than others.

Richard says that he has just read an interesting paper by the Nobel prize winning economist Daniel McFadden called "The New Science of Pleasure. Consumer Choice Behavior and the Measurement of Well-Being". One of Richard's research topics has been consumption functions so maybe there is something that they could work on together. So a shared academic interest and a shared interest in football. So maybe this relationship has legs, especially if Richard is not put off by Bubbles having a young daughter. We shall see.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013


Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

I had an email today from Molly with a spreadsheet attached showing the times and places that I would have to invigilate exams that are due to start next week. To my surprise I saw that I was down to take four sessions, not just the two that I was expecting. I immediately phoned Molly to ask why.

"Well", she said, "we've got three members of staff unavailable so I'm afraid hat the rest of you will just have to do more sessions. When I enquired who it was that is unavailable I was told that Patrick Murray has now been signed off with health problems. He had been made to go to see the doctor in Occupational Health who had diagnosed stress. I just about suppressed a snorted laugh. "And who else is off?" I asked. "Your two fellow Greeks, Petros Petropoulos and Dimitris Samaras. They are both on paternity leave as their wives are both about to have babies. They are back in Greece with them until the end of the month."

"Wow" They timed that well. I hope they will be back in time to mark their exam papers. I don't fancy having to cover for them on that as well."

"Timing is everything" said Molly. "Don't forget that this means that they were both conceived during last summer's holiday period. See, if only you were married you could have done the same!"

I wasn't going to get into a discussion with Molly about my love life so I thanked her for the explanation and put down the phone

Babies. No, I might be happy to have a girlfriend but I am definitely not ready for babies yet. All those disturbed nights and nappies to change!

Monday, 6 May 2013

Dancing in lectures

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

It is just going to be a short blog post today as it is a Bank Holiday and I am not going in to the University.

Did you see that story in the Times Higher about students at Robert Gordon University being encouraged to dance to their own music choices every twenty minutes in lectures? Apparently it is part of university's "Fit for the Future" initiative. It is being tried in an attempt to make students less sedentary while learning.

Could this be why Jack has taken up dancing classes? Perhaps he is going to try out the dancing idea in his lectures?

This also reminds me of something Gus told me a little while ago. He remembers a lecturer some years ago who tried out a variant of musical chairs in seminars. When the music stopped the person without a chair had to answer a question. It was on Red Nose day and was clearly just a one-off bit of fun but the students had really enjoyed it. Maybe there is something in this kind of thing?

Friday, 3 May 2013


Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

When I arrived in the cafeteria this morning Gus Johns and Bob Bunn were engaged in animated conversation. It seems that one of our ex-students, Simon Smart, had contacted Gus asking if he could recommend any final year students, soon to graduate, who would be able to explain economics and business ideas clearly and simply as he is looking to recruit a few people for a new online business venture. Simon is one of our graduates from a few years back and he is now a really successful businessman, worth millions. He first set up an online company called Smart4phones selling recycled smart phones, later adding to his Smart Systems range, amongst others, Smart4Dates, Smart4Loans and Smart4Travel. Now he is planning Smart4Business. Gus recalled how Simon had shown entrepreneurial flair even as an undergraduate at USE, earning money as a web page designer after taking Gus’s option “The Economics of the Internet and the Digital Economy”.

Bob said that the VC, the Dean, Mike Rowe (our Head of Department) and the USE Alumni Office will all be delighted about this when they hear the news. We could also ask Simon to come and talk to our students as part of the Careers Module that we now run. Perhaps he could also contribute to our Public Lecture programme. Bob said Mike would probably see if Simon could endow a new Chair in the department – “The Smart Professor of Economics” had a nice ring about it! Gus said that reminded him of the time when the Computing Department were try to get DEC to sponsor the “Dec Chair in Computing!

They both agreed that one of the joys of the job was seeing how students were getting on after graduation, not just in their careers but also in their family lives. Gus said that he was in touch with quite a few alumni via Facebook. Some had stayed in academic life or were working as business economists or forecasters; some were working in the public sector as teachers or in the government economic service. There was a policeman and a fireman too! Several put up pictures of their wedding day and later their young children. Bob said that he had been invited to a wedding later in the summer by two ex-students who had met each other when they sat next to each other in his microeconomics seminar class. They didn’t need to use Simon’s Smart4Dates system!

Gus said that he had recently tried to calculate how many students he had taught over the years at USE and it must be well over 4000. Bob asked if he could remember them all. Gus said, unfortunately not, although he had quite a good memory of the very first cohort back in the early seventies. He could also look at his index card system if he got a request for a reference from a student who graduated more than three years ago as the university now archived student files after three years and it took quite a while to get hold of them. I asked Gus what his index card system was. He said that whenever he had a new group of students he gave them all a small index card and asked them to write, in very large letters on one side of the card, their first name or nickname (or how the wanted to be addressed). On the other side off the card they should write their full names, the name of their Personal Tutor, and three interesting things about themselves – where they came from (country/town/city), which football team they supported if that mattered to them and any hobby or keen interest that they had. Gus said that for the next few classes, until he got to know the students’ names, he would place the cards on his desk at the front in positions corresponding to where the students were sitting. He would also add additional comments as the term went on to help him remember who was who. Although the university did provide a sheet of photographs of students to help with this they usually didn’t arrive for a few weeks and in any case, some of the student photos seemed to bear little resemblance to the actual faces!

Gus said that some students seemed to find it quite difficult to work out what to write so he usually started by saying what he would put if he was filling in the card. 1 I’m from Watford and I support Watford FC 2 I like travelling, especially to Greece. 3 I play the guitar. This sometimes led to a discussion if someone in the group said they supported Manchester United but they came from Guildford, or worse still if they said they supported Luton Town! There would also often be further discussion about who played musical instruments, during which Gus would reveal that he had briefly been in a band called the Unobservables during his second year at Warwick. As you might guess the band was made up of four people from the econometrics group he was in. He had written a song called “The Unobservables” for the group which had the chorus “We are the unobservables, you can’t see us but you know we are here”. The group was short-lived just doing a couple of support act gigs at the university before it had split up and Gus had concentrated on his solo act at the Folk Club.

Gus recalled that in the early years before the Internet he had asked students to keep in touch by sending a postcard if they were travelling round the world and that he still had some of those. One person had regularly sent cards with just a short message to show that their time learning economics had not been forgotten. He remembered particularly Profit max if MC=MR, alpha + beta = 1 <=> CRS, and a statement of the Heckscher-Ohlin theorem sent from Sweden.

Going back to a discussion of former students he said that he reckoned that if, instead of his salary, he was paid just one per cent of the salary of every student he had taught he would be a lot better off. Bob said one per cent of Simon Smarts’s income would make a very good start! Gus said he thought that there were quite a few highly paid bankers out there too, although he said he half feared turning the radio on one morning and hearing that one of our ex-students was implicated in a banking scandal!

When I left them still talking they had returned to a musical theme. Bob said why didn’t they try to set up a band in the department. He though that Tony Steel also played the guitar, Chaz played base, Sian was a very good singer and surely they could find someone to play the drums? What could they call themselves. The Users? No, that sounded too much like a bunch of drug takers which wouldn’t go down very well. The Usefuls? The Economusicians? No. They were still trying out names when I left. If this band does ever get off the ground you can be sure that you will hear about it in a later blog post!

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Hothouse research day

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

I had an email yesterday from Tony Steel asking me what research topic I shall be working on at next Wednesday's "Hothouse Research Day". Apparently the Dean wants all research active Business School staff to spend the day together at the conference centre at Marwell Zoo where we can "make substantial progress towards a future round of top class publications". When I spoke to Gus about it this morning I said that surely it was too late for any new ideas to get translated into papers in time for publication that could be included in the REF. He said that the Dean was well aware of that, but the point of the exercise was to keep the pressure up for research beyond the current REF horizon. Russell Group universities would prefer all research money to go to them and there were some in the Department for Education and HEFCE who would like universities like ours to be just teaching institutions. It was imperative for us to keep up our research profile in the face of these threats.

Whilst I did not dispute that, I said that I didn't really see how we can do much in a single day, all together in the same space. I work better on my own or with just one joint author. How would it help to be stuck in a room with people from Marketing, Accounting and Hospitality Management? Gus said that the Hothouse idea was the latest one to spread around Business Schools and occasionally it did put people in touch with colleagues in other fields who might be able to do productive work together. For example, I might be able to work on my labour market discrimination topic within the area of hospitality management with a view to getting a joint publication in a journal in that area. Whilst it might not be much help to me it would be a welcome boost to a colleague in that subject group who might currently have a bit of a thin research record. I conceded that this could be so, but I still felt I could make better use of my time working on the topics that I had already agreed were my priority in my staff appraisal meeting. Gus said that there was no point in arguing about it. The Dean was determined to push ahead with the Hothouse plan, and if we economists looked as if we were dragging our feet on it then she would probably hold it against us at some point in the future when we needed her support. He advised me to take a look on Google Scholar to see if anyone had looked specifically at discrimination in the hospitality industry. To my surprise I found that there have been quite a few studies about the existence of a glass ceiling for women in the hospitality sector, although not much published in the last few years. Maybe there was something in this after all. So next I must see which colleagues in the hospitality management subject group might be best to team up with. Gus said they were always good to know because you could get in with them for some nice meals at the training restaurant. Perhaps the Dean is right after all and we do tend to stick too much to our narrow subject areas. And I do think it is funny that the Hothouse Day will be held at the zoo. There are meerkats there I believe. Simples!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

League tables

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

The latest set of university league tables are out and the University of the South of England (USE) has climbed up over ten places to quite a respectable position. The Marketing Department is naturally very pleased about this, particularly as we have leap-frogged a couple of our regional rivals. The Vice Chancellor, Victor Crispin, has already appeared on local TV and radio news programmes. He has stressed the point that for students who live in the south of England and who want to attend a local university (as many more students do these days) USE should be the place that they choose.

There are subject based tables out too and Mike Rowe, our Head of Department, is very pleased that our Economics department has climbed a number of places up the table since the last tables were issued. We now rank above several highly regarded departments in the region.

The overall scores are based on a number of factors: the National Student Survey (NSS) score, a Graduate Prospects score (an indicator of employability in a graduate status job), an entry standard score (based on the average UCAS tariff for the courses in the department) and a Research Assessment score. Mike was particularly pleased that our NSS score matched that of Warwick University, which was the overall top ranking economics department. Taking into account the problems that we have had with a certain member of staff, Mike says that our students have shown considerable maturity in focusing on the over-riding attention that we give to the student experience.

For insiders like us the league tables are in many ways rather suspect. There are problems with the measurement of the individual contributing variables and also the formula that is used to weight them to arrive at the overall score. The relevance of the Research Assessment score is doubtful. Whilst it is undoubtedly stimulating for a student to be taught by someone who is at the cutting edge of his or her field, who can include references to current path breaking research, this can sometimes be tempered by the fact that the best researchers are not always the best teachers. And, as we have seen even in our own department, sometimes these researchers end up not doing very much teaching as they use their research money to buy out their teaching time. So students find themselves in classes taught by PhD students or other part-time lecturers.

So, while league tables can provide some useful information to help prospective students (and their parents) to decide where to study, there are other things to consider too.

Gus says that he has been having an ongoing discussion with one of his neighbours whose son will be going to university to study economics this autumn. The young man has yet to decide whether to go to Edinburgh or Cardiff. His mother wants him to go to Edinburgh, mainly because of the better employment prospects score for that department. The young man wants to go to Cardiff because some of his friends from school also want to go there. He is also thinking about how difficult it would be to get home from Edinburgh compared with the straightforward train connection that links the south of England to South Wales.

The student experience is about more than the chosen course of study. Some students like to be close to home, others see university as an opportunity to break free. Some students like a campus environment, others prefer a university in the heart of a city.

Some students choose a university because it has a good reputation for certain sports such as rowing or rugby. Or maybe they have an excellent orchestra or choir that the student would like to join. And Gus told me that one of our previous External Examiners told him that he chose Manchester University as the place to study because he was a Manchester United supporter!