Wednesday, June 28, 2017

new idea for TEF

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) attempts to measure teaching quality by looking at a collection of metrics obtained from universities, and universities recently received (provisional) gold/silver/bronze ratings. Metrics include NSS scores, dropout rates, and employment destinations. An article in the Times Higher on “what makes a gold university”, notes that TEF scores correlate poorly with REF scores but well with NSS scores. An article in the Guardian noted “critics argue that none of the indicators directly measure teaching quality”. Here, I suggest as a new metric, the salaries of people doing the teaching.

I thought of this metric from reading the Guardian article, which quotes Universities minister Jo Johnson as saying that TEF is supposed to give teaching the same status as research. Salary is a good measure of status. As a measure of quality, the general principle (of judging the value of something in terms of what you put in rather than what you get out) is widespread elsewhere: institutions measure research in terms of research funding received, and similarly, buildings, other infrastructure projects, and company bosses are commonly described in terms of their cost (treating cost as a proxy for value, or quality).

Specifically, I recommend using the median salary of members of staff involved with teaching. (Note, I suggest the median, not the mean.) Concerning what it should mean to be involved with teaching, there are various options, since the median is fairly robust to tampering with the data. One option is to just let every member of staff assess the extent of his/her own level of teaching as a fraction of their work.

Overall, the effect of this metric would be to encourage universities to save money on central administration and other expenses. Talking of which, this Guardian article on the high profit margins in academic publishing is well worth reading. It does a good job of explaining the historic background to the problem, and the bad incentives that cause so much to be spent on academic journals.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Brexit and Rubinstein’s bargaining model

A Google search for Brexit and game theory finds a number of web pages that discuss models of the negotiation process, constructing payoff matrices in which the parties to the negotiation choose to cooperate (or not) over issues such as free movement of people; these models aim to predict the outcome of the negotiations. The models are rather simplistic, but are probably more realistic than the efforts by certain members of government to treat Brexit as a game of poker.

Rubinstein’s classic paper Perfect Equilibrium in a Bargaining Model (wikipedia page) models a negotiation between 2 players who have to share a pie; there is no limit on the number of rounds, but there’s a cost of delaying, which in one version consists of a player’s discounting factor, which is the rate at which the value of (a share of) the pie goes to zero, each time a round of bargaining takes place without agreement. It could possibly be taken to represent a situation following the March 2019 deadline, supposing that no agreement has been reached, and both sides suffer ongoing economic costs while an agreement is being constructed. The “pie” would consist of the collection of (many) issues that have to be resolved in favour of one side or the other.

Suppose player 1 (the UK) has a discounting factor δ1 and player 2 (the EU) has discounting factor δ2. (δi denotes the fraction of value of remaining after a round, not the fraction lost.) According to the model, the UK’s share of the pie should be (1-δ2)/(1-δ1δ2). It just remains for us to decide the values of these discounting factors, and we’re in good shape to figure out what share of the pie the UK should accept before the deadline expires.

According to this page, Britain depends on the EU for half of its exports, while Britain accounts for only one-sixth of Europe’s. If we give the UK a discounting factor of 1/2 and the EU a discounting factor of 5/6, we get that the UK should receive 2/7 of the pie — so, not the lion’s share. Still, those discounting factors may look harsh; there’s more to life than exports to our geographical neighbours. Let’s average them with 1, and use δ1=3/4 and δ2=11/12. In that case, the UK’s share of the pie unfortunately goes down to 4/15, and I don’t think it gets any better when you adjust them further! To conclude, the UK should cave in on most of the issues that need to be resolved in a Brexit settlement. As the above-mentioned web page notes (based on a different model): The EU has an incentive to offer a bad deal, and the UK has an incentive to take it.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

EATCS Fellows 2017 - Call for Nominations

The official call for nominations is at this URL at the European Association for Theoretical Computer Science (EATCS), below is a copy:
Deadline: December 31, 2016
  • VERY IMPORTANT: all nominees and nominators must be EATCS Members
  • Proposals for Fellow consideration in 2017 should be submitted by DECEMBER 31st, 2016 by email to the EATCS Secretary (secretary "at" eatcs "dot" org). The subject line of the email should read "EATCS Fellow Nomination - <surname of candidate>".
The EATCS Fellows Program is established by the Association to recognize outstanding EATCS Members for their scientific achievements in the field of Theoretical Computer Science. The Fellow status is conferred by the EATCS Fellows- Selection Committee upon a person having a track record of intellectual and organizational leadership within the EATCS community. Fellows are expected to be "model citizens" of the TCS community, helping to develop the standing of TCS beyond the frontiers of the community.

In order to be considered by the EATCS Fellows-Selection Committee, candidates must be nominated by at least four EATCS Members. Please verify your membership at

The EATCS Fellows-Selection Committee consists of
  • Rocco De Nicola (IMT Lucca, Italy)
  • Paul Goldberg (Oxford, UK, chair)
  • Anca Muscholl (Bordeaux, France)
  • Dorothea Wagner (Karlsruhe, Germany)
  • Roger Wattenhofer (ETH Zurich, Switzerland)

INSTRUCTIONS: A nomination should consist of details on the items below. It can be co-signed by several EATCS members. At least two nomination letters per candidate are recommended. If you are supporting the nomination from within the candidate’s field of expertise, it is expected that you will be specific about the individual’s technical contributions.

To be considered, nominations for 2016 must be received by December 31, 2016.

1. Name of candidate, Candidate’s current affiliation and position, Candidate’s email address, postal address and phone number, Nominator(s) relationship to the candidate

2. Short summary of candidate’s accomplishments (citation – 25 words or less)

3. Candidate’s accomplishments: Identify the most important contributions that qualify the candidate for the rank of EATCS Fellow according to the following two categories:

A) Technical achievements

B) Outstanding service to the TCS community. Please limit your comments to at most three pages.

4. Nominator(s): Name(s) Affiliation(s), email and postal address(es), phone number(s)

Please note: all nominees and nominators must be EATCS Members

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Graduate wage premium

I liked the Guardian article ‘Value for money’ can’t be the only measure of university, one reason being that it calls attention to Michael Oakshott’s 1950 essay The Idea of a University, which I now reckon should be read by every university student, or prospective student. No so much due to it being likely that they would buy into “the gift of an interval” as just that it presents a radically alternative viewpoint on the question of why people go to university; alternative, that is, to the current conventional wisdom that it’s about buying a ticket to a higher-paid job.

Graduates still benefit from a “wage premium”, despite increases in the proportion of people who go to university (article in FT, article in Guardian). This was found to be the case in a new report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (link to press release) arguing that the continued wage premium is due to structural changes in organisations, or maybe due to increased demand (for graduates) increasing to meet the increased supply. The Guardian article notes that the IFS reckon that further increases in university take-up may reduce the graduate premium. I came up with the following observation (which doesn’t seem to have been suggested in the comments attached to the articles linked-to above). Suppose 99% of us went to university, then it seems likely that a “healthy” graduate premium would continue to exist. (The remaining 1% would be at risk of being seen to be missing some capability that nearly everyone has, and one would expect their average pay to be lower.) The point of that observation is to challenge the idea that we should care about the graduate premium.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Note on the EU referendum, ex post

The EU referendum has been interpreted as showing a nation divided by age (older people more likely to have voted Brexit), or possibly affluence, or alternatively geography (as in: Scotland and London more likely to have voted Remain). But plenty of older people voted Remain, likewise there was no clear consensus either way in any geographical region. Maybe we’re actually a nation divided by social networks: people seem to have voted the same way that “everyone” they knew voted. We all exist in social micro-environments, and in the case of academia, they are further subdivided into what might be called nano-environments. I may be biased towards the social-networks story, having dabbled in the associated theoretical problems that have been considered in the Computer Science theory literature. Perhaps the UK’s social network has not one, but two, giant components. If so, that has implications for social mobility. It may be felt that one of them is more effective than the other, when it comes to creating career opportunities for its members.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Notes on the EU referendum

The June 2016 issue of the Oxfordshire Observer, a newsletter from the local Liberal Democrats, had the headline “Remain for prosperity”, and from the article: “Thousands of jobs in the county have been created or supported by EU funding. Oxfordshire receives millions of pounds of investment in innovation and research from the EU.” This helps to explain why most members of the academic community, myself included, intend to to vote to remain in the EU. I worry that the article is Oxford-centric and that all this “investment” is at the expense of other places. Now that council leaders of the main northern English cities have also come out in favour of remaining in the EU, that concern is alleviated.

Concerning Europe’s research funding, I have some sympathy with remarks made in Andre Geim’s Nobel Prize lecture, Random Walk to Graphene, which (as suggested by the title) is worth reading in full as a heartening reminder of the hit-and-miss nature of scientific advances. On pages 77 and 92, EPSRC’s responsive mode comes in for high praise while the EU Frameworks programme “can only be praised by Europhobes”.

EU membership is convenient when it comes to offering jobs and student places to other EU nationals. A downside is that we maybe don’t do enough in UK academia to nurture home-grown talent. According to these HESA figures, about 35-40% of UK-based academics and researchers in science and engineering are not UK nationals. It’s entertaining to imagine what would happen in the UK academic community (at least, some parts of it) if we were suddenly disallowed to appoint foreign candidates to academic posts. It might help the UCU’s claim that “Universities need to answer some hard questions about how they will continue to attract and retain the best talent when pay is being held down…”

Another argument for remaining in the EU is that the job market mobility may, over time, exert pressure to reverse the UK’s debt-based approach to student funding. That is, if it’s easy for someone to get a degree here and then go elsewhere to live and work, then the debt (repayable via UK taxes) doesn’t get repaid, and an incentive is in place for productive people to study in the UK but to move elsewhere.

For balance, here is the best article I have seen so far in support of voting to leave.

I wrote the above before finding this blog post of Tim Gowers in support of remaining, in which he compares leaving the EU to defecting in the Prisoner's Dilemma. It surely deserves a mention/link.