Thursday Jul 30, 2009

Good British Universities

Why is the LSE not one of the top Universities in the world according to the Academic Ranking of World Universities? I scattered some thoughts on the UK Higher Education system in an article on my blog the other month and promised to look and see what Shanghai Jiao Tong University's methodology thought of, what I thought to be three highly competitive British Universities, i.e. LSE, Sussex and Warwick, which had failed to make the top 100 of their 2007 ranking. I have come to the conclusion that what seems to me an anomaly, illustrating either a flaw in the methodology, or a misuse by me as the ranking's design goal does not meet my needs. However the same criticisms I have discovered are also mentioned on Wikipedia in their article on ARWU as part of a discussion on University Ranking. On further study, I feel the breadth of the index is incredibly narrow. I also question the appropriateness of the individual scores for the purposes they claim. The use of the survey by the Economist and EU Commission and its eco-system really needs to be questioned. I have some more detailed comments about the index and the Guardian's scores if you Read More.

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Tuesday Jun 30, 2009

Does knowing Stuff help?

How important are Universities to the software industry productivity. One would hope fairly high. For various reasons, I have been considering this question and some collaborators pointed me at the Academic Ranking of World Universitiesis which is referenced at Wikipedia as well and I first referred to in this blog last November. This is produced by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, in China.

I know that a discussion on ranking methodology may not be very helpful when considering economic growth issues, but there are some quite interesting and surprising results. One of the things that pointed me there is the domination of the USA, which has over 50% of the top 100 places as it was quoted for this reason.

Best Universities by Region

Sadly I haven't kept in touch with this issue since I was asked to work on other things since Xmas. I am sure that basic research drives innovation and productivity; I think that research quality and output is part of an institution's organic capability and therefore its undergraduate body and its ability to attract top students is important. I have come to the conclusion that Joy's law

"Clever People work elsewhere"

applies to academia as well, and that a lot of innovation in, and production of, software happens, outside the research institutes and departments, and also outside the traditional software industry. This is one of the reasons why public policy makers need to look at their procurement policies as well as their subsidy policies.

The rest of this article looks at the 2007 results, specifically at the UK University positions and compares them with some data points from the Guardian's Guide to Universities 2007, together with some personal prejudice, some of it informed. BTW, I can't find reference to the 2007 Guide on the web, so you might like to use this link Guardian University Guide 2006, and the 2008 results are also available. If you're planning to apply to a UK University presumably for a 2010 entry, I'd recommend getting a copy of the next book, which should be published later in the year.

Shanghai Jiao Tong University have documented their methodology on their site, or at the Wikipedia page. It is based on Nobel prize winners and the publication record of alumni and staff. One thing from observation is that Universities with large medical faculties seem to do well. It seems to have been designed with a scientific bias and for the purpose of public policy planning. From my current research, I am not able to determine the role of ICT or Software Engineering in these results. It seems that this may be a piece of research yet to be done. i.e. the creation of a ranking table for ICT teaching.

The 2007 national results are published

I was surprised by the fact that the UK comes a good second to the USA. The UK has 11, which are

  • Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial, UCL, Manchester, Edinburgh, Bristol, Sheffield, Nottingham, Kings College London and Birmingham

Another view of UK University ranking comes from "Blackadder goes forth".

Blackadder:I then leapt on the opportunity to test you. I asked if he'd been to one of the great universities: Oxford, Cambridge, or Hull.
Nurse Fletcher-Brown:Well?
Blackadder:You failed to spot that only two of those are great universities!
Nurse Fletcher-Brown:You swine!
Melchett: That's right! Oxford's a complete dump! [elsewhere]

Looking at the Guardian University Guide 2007's Computer Sciences and IT page, gives a quite different view. One of the most important things to say is that the Guardian's ranking methodology is optimised for undergraduate choice and the relationship between undergraduate choice and the wealth creation activities of a university are not well understood, or at least not by me. The Guardian's score is based on assessing the staff's qualifications, what it takes to get in, spend, pupil/teacher ratios, a value add score, post graduate job prospects and inclusiveness. The methodology is discussed in the book, and in the newspaper. Their 2009 Methodology notes are on the Guardian web site. The 2007 Computer & IT top ten were,

  • Imperial, St. Andrews, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford, York, Surrey, Durham, Bristol, & Glasgow.

with Nottingham 11th. It interests me that the Guardian, doesn't (didn't) take the research grade of the departments into account, or maybe it does within the calculation of the teaching quality index. Its not easy to produce a Guardian fact based 'Best University' since the book is aimed at helping Undergraduates discover the best courses for themselves and the analysis is both institution and subject driven.

Personally I am surprised at how low KCL scores in the World Rankings compared with the other UK universities. It's also curious to me that the LSE, Warwick and Sussex are missing. (I may look into the numbers and see where they are and try and see why these are as they are it is likely to be methodology based, and tell us something about the methodology.) I am most curious as to where the LSE sits, which from its high numbers of overseas students, and its ability to ask for very high entry grades seems to be internationally and domestically very popular. I suppose that it might be a reflection of the science focus of the methodology, or the biases of potential students in the UK.

Since the question I am looking at is how do or can Universities add to the value of the software industry, I wonder if under-graduate students are the raw material of universities. It seems reasonable to assume that good researchers and teachers want to work at renowned (& rich) Universities, and that a University's social agenda is harder to sustain in the UK than in the primary or secondary sector. My theory is that as students and their families take more financial responsibility for their education, an assessment of life-time earnings comes into the decision framework and traditional economic criteria such as returns on investment and payback horizons are consider in more or less formal terms.

In my regional chart above, Europe includes Russia & Israel, and the obvious non EU countries (Norway & Switzerland), otherwise they're EU member states, with the UK contributing 11.

Both Canada and Sweden are punching above their weight in terms of population and even GNP, although Sweden is the host nation for the Nobel panel, which may have some relevance.

The Wikipedia page, Academic Ranking of World Universities has a sort button so you can see the institutions in order of excellence, and now has the 2008 figures, and there are other ranking methodologies and publishers.

This was been written over a number of months, and the UK fact finding over a number of years as I helped and hindered my family choose their university courses. The article was originally planned to be about the value of research to industry, but has evolved into some thoughts about the UK higher education system. I hope its useful to someone.


Tuesday Apr 21, 2009

The Third Wave of Adoption

I spoke next, the slides I used, based on Simon Phipps, current pitch are posted on my page at Sun's mediacaster. (I say based, this is a derived work, and I was pleased to be able to use his presentation). I covered how we have got to where we are, the Pioneers, the four freedoms, the geek community and the arrival of the enterprise. We then look at the compelling value of peer production, and the role of licenses in the community, and how to defend against trolls and vultures. One slide, developed by Simon and articulated in Sun's Free and Open Source Licensing White Paper posted at, classes the open source licences into Open, file based and project based licences. The slide I used is posted below

Three Classes of License Slide

. It is clear there are some who think that only the GPL counts as Open Source, but despite its undoubted popularity, there are a number of people and organisations who think that its duty to publish is not always desirable, and the Apache licence. These are not restricted to organisations that pursue a rights based business model. The presentations and white paper talk about community roles and present a model of these roles. The presentation re-inforces the fact that Sun is the largest publisher of Open Source in the world and has a range of produicts and partners to allow open source adopters to what they want.

The slide above is available as a full size .jpg if you prefer it.


Implementing Opensource

Alisdair Mangham, the head of IS & Development for the LB of Camden argued from experience, as he presented a case study, that you need to own software development expertise to adopt open source and this became a theme for the rest of the day. Alisdair argied for an adoption led deployment, I was interested how yet again, he as do many others argue that Finance is a mission critical function. Its not always true, and becoming less so. Businesses compete on price or by differentiation. Its very hard, or illegal to innovate your finance processes, and price advantage is gained by efficient processes not innovative finance. Today, it should be at the front of the queue for outsourcing. Another GEM from Alisdair is that licence terms are not important to an End-User site and he knows, he's read a few. The point he makes is that unless you are looking to do business as a software house, the liabilities you incur through licence is not important. I wonder if he's considered aquiring indemnity.


The importance of Open Source

John Pugh MP opened the conference, with a review of the state of software procurement in the UK public sector. He suggested that ubiquity should be the trigger point at which charging for right to use becomes undesirable. I see no justification in this, although the behaviour of the drugs companies and their monopsony buyers is an interesting example of what might happen. I think his own references to Kant, and testing it as a natural law shows that its can't be done. When does something become so ubiquitous that it should be free to use. He also looked at a new tripartite demand for software, the civil servant, the consultant and the provider and wondered how open source providers and their ecosystem could get to the table. He also pointed out the lack of domain expertise often held by the civil servants, which is what causes the need for consultants. It reminds me of projects I have been on when assessing bid/no-bid decisions as to whether we had the expertise to manage the project's profitability. The project managers are easy to find, its people who understand what's going on that are harder.


Monday Feb 02, 2009

And then it snowed, a lot! (Picture Blog)

On Monday, I woke up to the heaviest snow fall I'd seen in years. I live in the south of the country and we don't often see snow at all, and even less frequently in the cities. I tried to take some pictures which I have posted at flickr.

Snowing in the morning  Snow 2009  Snow 2009  Trees  Snowy Roofs

Fortunately, Sun's work from home policy means I didn't have to travel; since the bus and trains were both severely disrupted, travelling by car would have been horrible.

tags: General

Friday Mar 21, 2008

Public Data should be free

A government study has concluded that it would best to stop charging for public data, reported in the Guardian yesterday. In the 80's the UK Government established 'trading funds' for a number of its statistical and data management bodies including the ordnance survey (Maps), DVLA (Road Vehicles and Users), Companies House, the Land Registry, Met Office and Hydrographic Office, and required them to charge for access to data that had either been payed for by the taxpayer, or it was mandatory to provide to government.

This research, conducted by a team from Cambridge University, discovered that freeing the information creates greater value in the economy than would be lost through charge income.

The campaigners for free information argue, firstly that consumers have payed already for the information through their tax payments, and secondly that the government is often in a monopoly position as the only body capable of collecting some of the data through its power of compulsion. The state monopoly makes it very hard to determine a market price, particularly as the marginal cost to supply is zero. The report also denies the argument that participation in a market encourages innovation in the supply chain, because of both the lack of regulation, and the monopoly position of the government. It should be noted that some of the government's "income" is paid with taxation, since the government agencies cross charge each other.

The release of this public information would in all probability lead to innovation in the use cases as more people seek to add value to it, with different approaches and use cases, and its this innovation that will crete real economic value. This is a very real case showing that welfare optisation occurs when information and knowledge is charged at marginal cost, which for digital information is zero or virtually zero.

We'll have to see what the Treasury does.

You might also want to see the Guardian's Campaign Page, Free our Data and the Open Knowledge Foundation's web site.


Tuesday Oct 23, 2007

The right to be wrong in public

Reading the New Statesman, over the last few days, and they state that in the UK, journalists can defend themselves against the allegation of inaccuracy. Judges will test them on how hard they worked to verify the quality/accuracy of the information, was there an urgent need to publish, did the journalist/publisher present it as fact or with caveats and was the other side of the story presented. (I hope the permalink is "Truth, Lies & Fools".)


Thursday Aug 16, 2007

Hot Stuff

Over the weekend, I went to the West Dean "Chilli Festival". I had no idea what a big industry chilli growing was in this country.


Pots of Chilli


West Dean is one of the top horticultural colleges in the UK and we were able to walk round their nurseries. There was a huge number of stalls many selling all kinds of food. So we had a great chilli con carne and less great burrito! (Hey, you promised not to do receipes in this blog!)

I bought one chilli plant home, to see if I can avoid killing it.


Sunday Jul 01, 2007

Ruling the Waves

Hooray, I can now charter a yacht! As readers of my Plazes RSS stream know, I have been travelling around the south coast on a Yacht where I have been studying for my Day Skipper ticket, and I passed the exams yesterday.

We, (I and my co-students) sailed from Poole in Dorsetshire across Poole and Christcurch bay and then up the solent to the capital of sailing in the UK, Cowes, on the Isle of Wight where we moored up at the Folly Inn on the Medina and finished the day with Fish Pie and an Australian Cabernet/Shiraz. The trip across the bay was pretty rough but the Folly Inn is a great pub and has ample moorings. The following day we travelled onto Itchenor Reach in Chichester Harbour.


Sunset at Itchenor Reach, Chichester Harbour


The following day travelled back west to Portsmouth, home of the Royal Navy and then back in a 10 hour trip to Poole. We had some pretty stiff winds throughout the trip which was good, as it prepares us all for the worst

Our trusty boat was the Yacht Enigma, and I have posted my pictures within my flickr set “South Coast Sailing” and have both text tagged & geotagged them, plotted the journey at Google Maps.

If you want to do this yourself, see also this article entitled RYA Day Skipper, hosted on my bliki, or press the Read More link below.


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Saturday Jun 23, 2007


Down to Poole in Dorset very early this morning. I have finally got my act together to take the RYA Day Skipper course and spent the day learning to navigate using charts, pencil and paper. The maths reminds me of the boys' A-Level homework and although despite being geeky enough to look up the cosine rule, drawing scale models of the "triangles of velocity" is probably quicker :).

The weather was very changable, I wonder what the week will bring.


Wednesday Jun 06, 2007

More Holiday ideas?

What a busy week, but I have a day at home writing up today. So the first job is to throw away the weekend's papers! The Guardian's Travel section did an article on Britain's top beaches and I was interested to see that I have been to several of them including Shoreham, Shell Beach, Purbeck, Charmouth and Woolacombe. That still leaves plenty more to visit.  I also found while looking up these links a previously published 10 Coastal Walks article. I'll have to see what we can manage this summer.

I have put some of the other links into my list, which can be viewed at there or in the sidebar at this site.


Monday Mar 12, 2007

The Embankment

It was a nice walk across Jubillee Gardens, and one of the protest groups has hung a banner from one of the cranes by the parliament building.


The Embankment & Paliament, London



Fantastic Day

OpenSolaris: Innovation Matters I'm just setting off to Sun Live, and I'll be dropping in to the London Open Solaris User Group (losug) at about 6:30 pm at the Westminster Central Hall.

Sun Live, is tag lined as "Evolution + Innovation = Revolution" and the revolution starts here. I always thought is was Electrification + Soviet Power; but we live and learn.

I publish on San Francisco time, the event is taking place on Tuesday 13th. 


Sunday Sep 24, 2006

Reasons to ... return to Bradford

On the way over, I looked at the Independant, the travel pages of which covered Bradford, famous for many things, but expecting to act as the host for the International Indian Film Awards next year. This may or may not be as a result of Braford being the home town for the National Museum of Photography, but these organisations run an annual bollywood film festival in the UK, called "Bite the Mango" . Its running now, so if I want to go, it'll have to be next year.

The article couldn't help but mention curries, and I have bookmarked their references in my This article was written later, and back dated to near the time of occurrence.





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