Category Archives: This week I read…

Recently Read: The Lingua controversy

This week’s ‘big story’ undoubtedly was the mass resignation of all the editorial board and the reviewers of Lingua, a prestigious journal published by Elsevier. For those of you who may have missed it, here are some highlights.

What happened?

Last July, the editors of Lingua asked Elsevier to renegotiate the way the journal worked. Like all academic journals, Lingua publishes articles written by researchers, whose salaries are paid by universities or research grants. These are submitted for free to the journal, and they are reviewed by unpaid volunteers. For their part, the publishers provide some services, such as proofreading and typesetting, often of somewhat uneven quality, and then they resell the content to university libraries through opaque deals, at what are arguably exorbitant prices. Alternatively, Elsevier might make individual articles publicly available under an Open Access model, in exchange for which they levy substantial Article Processing Charges, or APCs.

In a letter to Elsevier, the editors suggested the Lingua should become a fully Open Access journal with modest APCs. Here’s a relevant quote:

First of all, we would like Elsevier to transfer the journal to full Open Access status. We understand that the current Article Processing Charges (APCs) at Elsevier are in the amount of 1800 euros. We believe that this amount is too high under current market conditions, and would like to ask that the APCs be lowered to a maximum of 400 euros.

Predictably, Elsevier was reluctant to make such concessions, at which point all six editors and the 31 academics who made up the editorial board resigned their posts, and announced their plans to launch a new academic journal, called Glossa. Apparently, they already have a Twitter account:

Johan Rooryck, who has been editing the journal since 1998, made the following comments to International Higher Education:

By quitting his position, Rooryck will give up his current compensation from Elsevier, which he said is about 5,000 euros (about $5,500) a year. He said the pay is minimal for the two to three days a week he works on the journal. “I would be better off going to flip burgers in that time,” he said.

Rooryck expects to earn nothing when Glossa launches — and he’s fine with that. “I’m doing this for purely idealistic reasons. I’ve had it. I think you have to move forward and it might as well be linguistics” that does so. Rooryck said that while he is particularly bothered by Elsevier’s policies, the criticisms extend to other corporate publishers. He said that some of his colleagues are already talking to editors of other journals, and hope that they will follow the lead of Lingua and that “linguistics can be a model for other disciplines” in standing up to publishers.

The Empire Strikes Back

For their part, Elsevier have brushed off concerns. In a public statement that was issued on Wednesday, they pointed out that “they are are managing the activities of 80,000 editors for 2200 journals”, and that the small number of dissenters who handed in their notice will be replaced. They also presented their own account of events:

The editors of Lingua wanted for Elsevier to transfer ownership of the journal to the collective of editors at no cost. Elsevier cannot agree to this as we have invested considerable amount of time, money and other resources into making it a respected journal in its field. We founded Lingua 66 years ago.

There are many who might take issue with the last statement. Johan Rooryck, for instance, had the following comments to make:

It does not come down to what “we” means. It comes down to what “found” means. […] Elsevier seems to retroactively and transitively claim that North Holland, hence Elsevier, set up and established Lingua. Now please consult the introduction of the first volume of Lingua in 1949 […] North Holland is not even mentioned anywhere, it is simply the printer of the journal. So there is no way Elsevier can claim to have “founded” the journal 66 years ago. That claim is demonstrably false.

But the claim is also interesting, as it is revealing of the hubris of publishers today. Elsevier seems to believe that, because it has legal ownership of the title of the journal and the copyright of the articles, it can also claim intellectual ownership of the journal and of its articles. This is not so. Scientific results belong to their authors and to the public. Research is paid for with public money. Private companies should not make exaggerated profits on goods produced with public money.

What next?

It remains to be seen how successful Glossa becomes, both in terms of commercial sustainability, and in terms of academic reputation. I think it will do both. More importantly, it remains to be seen whether we are at the brink of a paradigm shift in academic publishing.

Patrick Dunleavy, writing in the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog, argued that unless there is a substantial reduction in APCs, universities could reclaim scholarly publishing for the academic community. Here’s his take on what an alternative model might look like.

Serious, big universities will be thinking, are already thinking – why don’t we publish digitally and open access ourselves?  All that academics at (for instance) Stanford, Harvard, Imperial or LSE get from being published in prestigious journals is the certification of peer review, itself an increasingly battered and replaceable currency. Yet top universities could organize their own conventional peer review processes economically and effectively, much as they do for PhD examining in the UK, using a system of mutual service and support. All the rest of the piece – getting articles publicized by twitter and blogs, providing a well-edited product, delivering the article to any PC, phablet or colour printer in the world – can be done easily and cheaply by universities themselves.

There are already many signs that academic publishing is nearing a crisis point. Universities across the world are increasingly unwilling to pay extortionate prices for access to research [1, 2, 3], and many academics are wary of providing free labour to profit-making entities (e.g. the Cost of Knowledge campaign). I wouldn’t be surprised, or saddened, if the hard line adopted by Elsevier precipitates such a change.


Featured Image: University of Nottingham @ Flickr,  CC-BY-NC

Recently read: Sexist Peer Review; Non-replicable Science; and Flexible Job Searches

In case you missed them, here are some interesting academic news and posts from last week. Some topics I cover in this post include: (a) Can you get away with sexist remarks in peer review? (b) Is it really a problem if no-one can reproduce your research findings? and (c) what does it take to find a first academic job?

Is peer review sexist? Well, sometimes…

Articles sent to academic journals for publication are usually reviewed by academic experts, whose job it is to decide whether the article makes a useful contribution to the literature, and to suggest how it may be improved. However, not all recommendations are particularly helpful, as Fiona Ingelby found out last week. Dr Ingelby, who is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Sussex, co-authored an article discussing gender effects on the professional development of scientists in her field. One of the reviewers of the article was, apparently, not impressed, and suggested that:

It would probably also be beneficial to find one or two male biologists to work with (or at least obtain internal peer review from, but better yet as active co-authors), in order to serve as a possible check against interpretations that may sometimes be drifting too far away from empirical evidence into ideologically based assumptions.

Retraction Watch has more details on the story, including the information that the journal will no longer request the expertise of the reviewer in question. Writing on the same topic, Neurosceptic raises the question of editorial responsibility, and remarks that:

Yes, this peer reviewer, whoever they are, wrote a terrible review. But they didn’t send this review to Ingleby and [her co-author] Head. Reviewers don’t communicate with authors directly. The reviewer sent it to the editor who was handling the paper, and then he or she sent it to the authors. Quite simply the editor should have refused to accept this review, and should not have passed it on, commissioning another reviewer if necessary to make up the numbers.

It is unclear to me why the reviewers had knowledge of the author’s identity. Commonly, reviews like this are conducted under a double-blind system, meaning that manuscripts are given to reviewers anonymously, and reviewers are not required to sign their reviews.

In a formal apology issued by Damian Pattinson, the Editorial Director of PLOS ONE, which owns the journal in question, it is suggested that the solution to such problems is increased transparency in reviewing:

[W]e are working on new features to make the review process more open and transparent, since evidence suggests that review is more constructive and civil when the reviewers’ identities are known to the authors.

Whether that solves the problem of bias, in addition to the problem of civility, is something that remains to be seen.

More to read: Erik Schneiderhan, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, notes that traditional peer review tends to be unnecessarily mean. A balanced discussion of the question of anonymity can be found in this article by David Pontille and Didier Torny, which also looks into the history and variants of the peer review system.

Replicating research findings

Ideally, when a study is published in an academic journal, the methods and results should be described in such clarity as to allow other scientists to replicate the results. However, it is one of the dirty little secrets of science that not all the works published in the literature pass the replicability test. This is not always due to fraud, poor research design or unclear writing: some findings are unique to their context, and that is perfectly fine. On other occasions, however, especially controlled experimental studies, poor replicability is harder to explain.

Embed from Getty Images

According to a report recently published in Nature, a study that attempted to replicate the findings in 100 published psychology papers only managed to do so in 39 cases. Here’s an extract:

The results should convince everyone that psychology has a replicability problem, says Hal Pashler, a cognitive psychologist at the University of California, San Diego, and an author of one of the papers whose findings were successfully repeated.  “A lot of working scientists assume that if it’s published, it’s right,” he says. “This makes it hard to dismiss that there are still a lot of false positives in the literature.”

There are, I think, two main implications, if the findings of the study are to be taken at face value. The first one is that it is increasingly hard to be confident about any finding, if it’s published in a single paper. This is something perhaps worth remembering when engaging with reports in the press about the latest “ground-breaking” discovery.

The second implication is that many research findings appear to be bound to a specific context, and that subtle changes in the parameters of the study might alter the findings entirely. Here’s an example, from the same report:

One non-replicate was an Israeli study about factors that promote personal reconciliation. The original study posed a scenario involving a colleague who had to miss work because of maternity leave or military duty. But vignettes prepared for a replication study in the United States involved a wedding and a honeymoon.

To me at least, this seems to suggest a need to move away from unconvincing and misleading claims to generalisability, and to focus instead on understanding the particularities of specific contexts.

More to read: It has been suggested that the problem of replicability is symptomatic of a broader crisis in science. Perhaps disturbingly, belief in certain findings seem to persist even after repeated failed attempts to replicate them, argue Kimmo Eriksson and Brent Simpson.

Finding your first job

Changing the topic – here’s a timely article I came across as I was procrastinating preparing my application portfolio. Nick Hopwood, whose blog is a treasure trove of sound advice on research and academic life, reminds prospective job applicants of the need to be flexible as they look for their first academic job:

It’s probably safest to assume the following: the academic job closely related to your doctoral work almost certainly doesn’t exist, at least not on your continent, and if it does, someone else will probably get it anyway. […] It will help if you are flexible. […] You might have to be ready to move away from where you did your doctoral studies – geographically. Not only are some funders very keen on post-doctoral movement between institutions, some are rather wary of a narrowness that might result from staying put for too long. […] You might have to be ready to move away from your topic. The number of jobs with the title you’d give your ideal postdoc is probably zero. The number of jobs you could do is considerably larger. […] You might have to be ready to teach almost anything. Including stuff you really don’t know.

And on that note, I think it’s time I went back to preparing my job applications. After this latest post of mine, I think it’s a safe bet that I needn’t bother sending one to the University of Athens…


Image Credit: The Leaf Project @ Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0 

Recently Read: The IATEFL edition

During IATEFL, I made extensive notes about the sessions that I attended, as I had planned to write up summaries for this blog. It seems, however, that there’s already quite a lot of material available online, including video recordings of selected sessions and interviews, and – I am ashamed to say – my recollections of, and reactions to, many sessions have become weaker in the weeks that interceded. However, it seems there are many brilliant blog posts that report and reflect on aspects of the conference, and they are much better than what I would have written anyway. So in this week’s round-up of interesting and noteworthy content, I will focus on some of them.

Two Plenaries

Throughout the conference, Sandy Millin tirelessly live-tweeted about the sessions she attended. She has also written excellent summaries of the first two plenaries, by Donald Freeman and Joy Egbert, which you can read in her blog. To be honest, I was somewhat relieved to read the introduction to her post, as it made me feel less guilty for falling behind with my writing:

Before IATEFL 2015 I said I’d try to publish at the end of each day of the conference. I should have learnt by now that there’s no way that will ever happen because I don’t have time to think, much less blog during the conference! Instead I decided to group my posts by themes I found in the talks I chose to see. The first two plenaries didn’t really fit any of these, hence this post. The other posts will hopefully appear over the next few days…

I think that I speak on behalf of more than myself in saying that we are all looking forward to the next posts as well.

He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!

In my very subjective opinion, one of the most thought-provoking talks of the conference was delivered by Russ Mayne and Nicola Prentis. Steve Brown has written a rather creatively titled summary in his blog, and this is how it begins:

Russell Mayne and Nicola Prentis gave an interesting presentation entitled “Where are the women in ELT?” According to their research (which, they freely admit, may not follow the most robust methodology) the split between men and women working in the ELT industry is something like 60-40 in favour of women. Yet, when it comes to the “big names” in ELT (writers of influential books, keynote speakers at conferences etc.) the ratio is overwhelmingly biased towards men. They received over 500 responses to the question “Who would you say are the ‘big names’ in ELT”, and, from the responses they received, only one woman made the top 10, and only three made the top 20.

P is for Power

Scott Thornbury also wrote about Mayne and Prentis’s talk, which he used as a prompt for problematising, more broadly, issues of power that run through ELT. In his latest blog post, he begins by discussing the question of gender inequality, and then moves on to talk about the native-speaker privilege. Here’s an extract:

Ironically, these colonizing forces are particularly conspicuous at conferences in the so-called periphery itself, where the alpha (NS) males – myself included – really dominate. […] As I’ve found, it’s very hard to persuade the head of a teachers’ organization in, say, Bangladesh or Armenia, that I have nothing of value to add to what the locals already know.

And more…

  • Nicola Prentis blogged about her experience of attending IATEFL with a newborn child.
  • Lizzie Pinard has written detailed summaries of several sessions, which can be found in this impressive index.
  • FabEnglishTeacher has written summaries of sessions she attended during the Young Learner SIG Pre-Conference Event and the first day of conference (including a kind mention of our panel)
  • Laura Patsko’s presentations (How to identify pronunciation priorities in the multilingual classroom, and ‘The ear of the beholder’: helping learners understand different accents) and lots of related resources are available in ELF Pronunciation.
  • Joanna Malefaki has written summaries of the plenary sessions by Donald Freeman and Joy Egbert.
  • Jennifer MacDonald has written a post with brief summaries of the sessions she attended.
  • Finally, you can read a more critical view of IATEFL by Geoff Jordan, who had argued that the conference prioritised PR over “critical examination of important issues”. Geoff argues that he’d like to see interviews that probe deeper into the important issues facing the profession, and also appears rather sceptical of what was said about testing.

This is, of course, a very partial list – both in the sense that it is incomplete, and in the sense that it features people whom I happen to follow and like. So, if you happen to come across any other online resource with useful information about IATEFL, which I have missed, I’d very much appreciate an email about it, or alternatively you may prefer to write about it in the comments section.


Featured Image by David DixonCC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Recently read: Are there limits to what one can talk about?

Much of my online reading this week focused on the question of freedom of speech, and whether there should be qualifications to this right. This was prompted by the Counter-Terrorism and Security bill, which attempts to regulate speech at universities (You can read more about this in the first section of this post). But as I read, I became aware that there were more restrictions in place and not just in higher education (see the last section for an example from ELT). It also became clear that these issues can have important, real-life consequences: the Marquette University controversy (in the third section) is a great case study for testing one’s views on whether academic freedom can be completely unrestricted.

The Counter-terrorism and Security bill

UK-based readers will probably know of the Counter-Terrorism and Security bill that is in the process of being legislated (if you’re not, here’s an overview; you can track its progress here). Of interest to Higher Education is the requirement that universities tackle what is described as non-violent extremism on campus. To quote from the bill, universities “must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. According to University World News, to do so, universities might be expected to take the following measures:

…giving at least two weeks’ notice of the booking of public speakers and events to allow for checks to be made; advance notice of the content of the event, and sight of any presentations or footage to be broadcast; establishing a system for assessing the risks of any event and any required mitigating action such as guaranteeing an opposing viewpoint or having someone in the audience monitor the event; and establishing a mechanism for managing incidents or instances where off-campus events of concern are promoted on campus.

While a last-minute revision to the bill acknowledges that universities should pay particular regard to their duty to secure freedom of speech, the home secretary is also empowered to legally compel universities to fulfill their anti-extremism responsibilities if they are perceived as failing to do so.

The view taken by many people in the academic community is that such the act is inimical to the principle of academic freedom. In a letter signed by 520 academics, which was published in the Guardian, the bill is described as “unlawful and unenforceable”. Here’s the conclusion of the letter:

The best response to acts of terror against UK civilians is to maintain and defend an open, democratic society in which discriminatory behaviour of any kind is effectively challenged. Ensuring colleges and universities can continue to debate difficult and unpopular issues is a vital part of this. Draconian crackdowns on the rights of academics and students will not achieve the ends the government says it seeks.

More to read: You can read more objections to the bill in this article by Steve Hewitt (University of Birmingham) in the Conversation. The full text of the bill can be accessed here.

Safe spaces: at what cost?

While the threat to academic freedom by anti-terrorist legislation is quite obvious, it seems that it is not the only way in which the principle of free speech is compromised. Many attempts by universities to create ‘safe space’ for all communities on campus may also have unintended consequences. The principle of ‘safe space’ involves restricting discourse that vulnerable groups might find threatening. At its most uncontroversial form, it means that universities provide no platform for the dissemination of hate speech. Sometimes, however, it can be taken to extremes, as the following extract from the Guardian demonstrates:

The row comes amid a growing sense of crisis around debate in British universities. In recent months, Oxford University cancelled a debate on abortion because protesters objected to the fact it was being held between two men; the Cambridge Union was asked (but refused) to withdraw its speaking invitation to Germaine Greer because of her views on transgender issues; officials at London Southbank took down a “flying spaghetti monster” poster because it might cause religious offence; UCL banned the Nietzsche Club after it put up posters saying “equality is a false God”, and Dundee banned the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children from their freshers’ fair. The Sun is banned on dozens of campuses because of Page 3. Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines song has also been banned by many student unions.

Such qualifications to the principle of free speech have made at least some academics question the scope, motivation and effectiveness of attempts to regulate academic discourse. Inside Higher Education presents some skeptical views (but read the comments as well, for some corrections to the factual accuracy of their story). Here’s a typical view:

The idea of putting things beyond debate, particularly in the name of safety and emotional protection, says that some things are [too] dangerous to be discussed. I think university should be the place where students do confront all different kinds of ideas and engage with these discussions and don’t have discussions closed down,” Williams, senior lecturer in higher education and academic practice at the University of Kent, said. “The real world doesn’t have a ‘safe-space policy’ — students are going to be confronted by UKIP [a far-right party] MPs and The Sun newspaper, and the danger of creating university as a safe place is that students don’t learn how to deal with these things.

More to read: Attempts to find a workable compromise between the universities’ duty to provide safe space to their students and the mandate to secure free speech go back a long time: here’s a view from 1996 and a few more recent ones: 12. For more attempts to regulate student behaviour, including a ban on sobreros and “buffoonery”, you may want to read this article.

The Marquette Controversy

The question of academic freedom is not just an abstract debate on the relative importance of principles; it affects every aspect of the day-to-day operations of universities. One incident that has drawn some attention on the media involves the controversy in Marquette University, a Jesuit university in the US, over the rights of tutors to regulate discourse in their classrooms and the rights of faculty to criticize the actions of their colleagues online.

From what I have been able to piece together, a graduate student was delivering a course on ethics, and was asking for examples of how Rawls’s Equal Liberty principle can be applied to contemporary social issues. In addition to various uncontroversial answers such as the requirement to wear seatbelts when driving, one student suggested that gay couples should not be allowed to marry, and that comment seems to have escalated into a row over the right of free speech and the principle of tolerance. This was encapsulated in the tutor’s view that “There are opinions that are not appropriate [in the context of the class], that are harmful, such as racist opinions, sexist opinions“, and the student’s view that it was his “right as an American citizen” to challenge views with which he disagreed. (You can read the student’s account of the story in her personal blog.)

Subsequently, a tenured professor at the same university reported on the row in his blog, naming and shaming the graduate student involved and providing what is said to have been a selective account of the event. The student, it appears, has decided to continue her academic career elsewhere, in part due to an onslaught of abusive comments that the professor’s post triggered, and the professor is now facing disciplinary charges, which may lead to his loss of tenure and dismissal. The following extract is from the university dean’s letter to the professor:

Tenure and academic freedom carry not only great privileges but also vital responsibilities and obligations. In order to endure, a scholar-teacher’s academic freedom must be grounded on competence and integrity, including accuracy “at all times,” a respect for others’ opinions, and the exercise of appropriate restraint. Without adherence to these standards, those such as yourself invested with tenure’s power can carelessly and arrogantly intimidate and silence the less-powerful and then raise the shields of academic freedom and free expression against all attempts to stop such abuse.

Update: Shortly after writing this post, I came across an excellent discussion of the Marquette controversy in the Acedeme Blog. You can find it here.

And what about ELT?

Moving from higher education to the more comfortable world of English Language Teaching, it seems that the profession is also facing similar questions, even though they are not as readily acknowledged. In an interesting post in Compelling Conversations the question is raised “why so many EFL and ESL textbooks are bland, boring, and heavily censored”. Here’s an answer:

As I heard explained at two fascinating TESOL workshops for EFL material writers at the 2011 conference in New Orleans, the current practice for EFL publishers is to simply collect all the possible objections, adopt the “red lines” of all countries, and uniformly impose these taboos around the world. The default advice for EFL material writers includes prohibiting not only politics, alcohol religion, sex, and nudity (predictable), but also mention of luck, negative emotions, Israel, gender roles, and pork.

Whether this observation means that teachers should try to include more controversial topics in their syllabuses, or follow the publishers example, I do not know.


Featured Image by Dan Dzurisin @ Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Recently read: UK lecturers in the Greek government; open peer review; and Harry Potter marketing

This week’s collection of stories, articles and blog posts about higher education, looks into topics ranging from the influence of British universities on Greek politics to the influence of Harry Potter novels on higher education marketing. Some of the topics raised include:

  • What has been the role of UK-educated economists in shaping the policies of the current Greek government?
  • Can a higher education system thrive when western values, such as freedom of thought, are repressed?
  • Should reviewers sign their reviews?
  • Why is there little mention of education in the university ‘brands’, and what do they showcase instead?

From UK academia to left-wing politics

The author of this blog will refrain from commenting on the recent regime change in Greece, which brought into power the anti-austerity Syriza party (along with an anti-semitic, homophobic junior coalition partner). That said, it is interesting to note that, in addition to the hoi polloi who form Syriza’s power base, and the new prime minister, who notoriously uses light years to measure time, the party includes a sizeable nomenclature bred in the UK academe. The Guardian reports:

[Stathis] Kouvelakis [of King’s College London] said Syriza’s cadre of British-based academics had also developed a distinctive political outlook within the party – perhaps reflecting the UK’s political atmosphere. “What is I think distinctive, at least of Syriza London or Britain-based academics and intellectuals, is that we have a more critical attitude of the EU than others,” said Kouvelakis. Kouvelakis suggested academics based in a non-eurozone country such as the UK were likely to be more sceptical than their peers on the continent when it came to pro-mainstream European ideas about issues such as the single currency.

An interesting question, which I will not attempt to answer, is why the Greek higher education system does not appear to have had a similar influence on political thought.

Banning western values

Elsewhere in the world, the Chinese government does not seem inclined to allow similar incursions of foreign values. According to a news report, the Chinese education minister has banned higher education textbooks that are tainted by ‘western values’. More specifically:

“Never let textbooks promoting Western values appear in our classes,” Minister Yuan Guiren said, according to a report late on Thursday by China’s official Xinhua news agency. “Remarks that slander the leadership of the Communist Party of China” and “smear socialism” must never appear in college classrooms, he was quoted as saying.

One presumes that such western values include freedom of speech and critical thought. Whether or not Chinese science and scholarship can advance absent these values is a question that remains to be answered. What is clearer, to me at least, is that the scope of international collaboration with higher education institutions that operate under such a regime is very limited.

Peer review: blind vs. open

Traditionally, peer review has tended to be anonymous, and there are several good reasons for this. The Grumpy Geophysicist (GG), however, makes a strong argument for signing one’s peer reviews. This, argues GG, would help to make the process less confrontational and will ultimately help scientific collaboration. Doing so is not without risks, GG concedes, especially for ECRs and non-tenured faculty, but they are outweighed by the benefits:

The usual reason presented for protection by anonymity is to prevent retaliation.  For tenured professors, this is ridiculous; the only position where realistically somebody can cause you serious damage (provided they aren’t homicidal maniacs) is if they are a government grants officer (e.g., NSF program manager). Even if somebody really hates you and writes evil reviews on all your proposals, you know what? The panels or program officers evaluating those reviews will learn very quickly to discount them. Admittedly there is a greater risk for junior faculty and students, but there is also a greater upside that usually gets overlooked.  A careful and thorough review reflects a careful and thorough scientist; if your review is well done and persuasive, the author is apt to note who you are in a good way.

More to read: Open and blind reviews are compared in this journal article, which also narrates the history of the peer review process. Anonymous peer reviews can be quite devastating: Etienne Benson discusses the origins and provile of savage reviews, and PhD2Published offers advice on how to review more professionally.

Rebranding dos and don’ts

A while ago, this blog reported on a bold, expensive, incomprehensible, and fortunately aborted plan by King’s College London to drop the word ‘college’ from their name. Times Higher Education now carry a story that look into this, and other, rebranding moves, and try to derive some lessons learnt. Some notable strategies include the tendency to associate with London, and to stress connections with the royal tradition (*cough*King’sLondon*cough*). A more unusual trend has been to imitate Hogwarts:

In the past decade, it seems, modern universities have gone out of fashion. Winston Kwon, chancellor’s fellow in strategy in the University of Edinburgh’s business school, suggests that the popularity of the Harry Potter books has played a part in the shift, with J. K. Rowling’s work offering a fantasy-world remix of the Oxbridge aesthetic. Dining halls with vaulted ceilings impress applicants looking for a “traditional” education, which tends to correlate well with strong performance in the league tables. Adopting a traditional coat of arms, a Latin motto, and if possible a castle will surely make those applications come flying in… by owl, of course.

One notes the conspicuous absence, in the marketing advice, of any mention to the quality and scope of education in the universities’ brand.


Featured Image: Stockholm Public Library, Image Credit: Wikipedia