4 September 2012

London Metropolitan University: the real question

We recently read in the news that London Metropolitan University has had its right to sponsor students from outside the EU revoked, and will no longer be allowed to authorise visas.

Why?

The UK Border Agency found that some students did not fulfill the residence requirements, that some did not speak proper English and some did not attend classes.

Having worked in the UK, at Heriot-Watt University, I'm all too familiar with the situation: universities (now in Sweden too) would like to attract as many non-EU students as possible, because they bring real income.

Of course, the problems identified by the UKBA may very well be significant. However, the real question, is: are the students qualified to study the field they choose? My experience from Heriot-Watt University is  that many of the students admitted there were not qualified. Obviously, they could pay the tuition, and, most likely, they did have the proper visas. Moreover, they did attend classes because they were asking us, teachers, to monitor attendance (last time I saw this happening was in high school). So, even when all formalities (visa, language, attendance) are satisfied, why is it that nobody asks the real question: do the students qualify? And when I say "qualify" I am using the verb with its proper meaning. Do they have the background (and abilities, of course) to study a particular field in a university?

Once, in Austin, TX, someone had phoned me and told me he wanted to do PhD with me. I asked him to apply. He said he could pay his way through because he had a million dollars. So what? A million, or a billion, dollars should not be a sufficient condition for getting a PhD. He was not happy with what I told him and somewhat threatened me. I told him to go elsewhere.

Obvious question should be, obviously, asked. But I don't see this happening.

The question should be asked by the admitted students themselves: "Did they admit me because I paid a hefty fee, or because I actually am able to study and have the requirements?" At the minimum, it should be asked by those students who both want to get a degree (i.e., a piece of paper) and learn. (The two, unfortunately, seem not to be entirely equivalent.)

The ex-minister of Economics and Technology of Germany, Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg, paid someone to write (parts of) his PhD thesis. When that was found out, he had to resign. 

It's not nice to go ahead by paying only. Money should correspond to something real too and this is a contract between the University and the student: the former is obliged to provide the latter a proper education, and the latter must have the intellectual abilities and/or skills in order to attend the course of studies proposed by the former. They should both agree on checking those abilities and skills as a vital part of the contract.

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T H E B O T T O M L I N E

What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
(Our hours are minutes when we wait to learn and centuries when we know what is to be learnt.) --António Machado

Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
(Those who do not know geometry may not enter.) --Plato

Sapere Aude! Habe Muth, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!
(Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!) --Kant