Bloggfćrslur mánađarins, desember 2007

An Excellent Example from Canada


I recently became  aware of the Canada Research Chairs programme. That programme has been running since the year 2000, and aims at establishing 2000 research professorships—the so-called Canada Research Chairs—in universities across Canada by 2008. The Canada Research Chairs Program invests $300 million a year to attract and retain some of the world's most accomplished and promising minds.

I encourage the readers of this blog to have a look at the web site for the programme. There is a lot of interesting material there, and I cannot help but think that Iceland would be well served by setting up a similar programme to attract the best possible scientists in all disciplines to this country. Now, this is something well worth lobbying for in the coming year, isn't it?

If you do not have time to look at the web site I linked to above, here is my executive summary of the  programme.

  • Each eligible degree-granting institution in Canada receives an allocation of Chairs. For each Chair, a university nominates a researcher whose work complements its strategic research plan and who meets the program's high standards.

    Three members of a college of reviewers, composed of experts from around the world, assess each nomination and recommend whether to support it.

  • Universities are allocated Chairs in proportion to the amount of research grant funding they have received from the three federal granting agencies: NSERC, CIHR, and SSHRC in the three years prior to the year of the allocation.

  • There are two types of Canada Research Chair:

    Tier 1 Chairs, tenable for seven years and renewable, are for outstanding researchers acknowledged by their peers as world leaders in their fields. For each Tier 1 Chair, the university receives $200,000 annually for seven years.

    Tier 2 Chairs, tenable for five years and renewable once, are for exceptional emerging researchers, acknowledged by their peers as having the potential to lead in their field. For each Tier 2 Chair, the university receives $100,000 annually for five years.

  • Chairholders are also eligible for infrastructure support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) to help acquire state-of-the-art equipment essential to their work.

  • If an institution's performance decreases relative to other institutions to the extent that the next recalculation of Chair allocations results in that institution's allocation being reduced, the Chairs Secretariat will reclaim, as appropriate, one or more of its unoccupied Chairs. Should all of the institution's Chairs be occupied, the secretariat will negotiate with the university on how best to reclaim the lost Chair(s).

Of course, the success of a programme like this one should be measured by the quality of the people who take up the chairs. You look them up here. A quick browse through the names of the Canada Research chairholders in Information Technology and Mathematics makes me pretty sure that you'll find lots of outstanding people in your area of interest. 

Wouldn't it be great if we could convince the Icelandic ministry for education to set up an Icelandic Research Chairs programme along the Canadian lines? Let's see what the new year will bring, but I do not hold my breath. I am already doing so waiting for the result of the Rannis grant applications Smile.

I wish a happy and productive 2008 to all readers of this blog. 

The Dangerous Wealth of the Ivy League

I think that readers of this blog might find this interesting:

Quoting from the article:

"Meanwhile, the wealth gap between the Ivies and everyone else has never been wider. The $5.7 billion in investment gains generated by Harvard's endowment for the year that ended June 30 exceeded the total endowment assets of all but six U.S. universities, five of which were Ivy Plus: Yale, Stanford, Princeton, MIT, and Columbia. Ivy dominance extends to fund-raising. A mere 10 schools accounted for half the growth in donations to all U.S. colleges and universities last year. All of the top five on the list were Ivies, led by Stanford, which set a record for higher education in 2006, collecting $911 million in gifts."

"$5.7 billion in investment gains generated by Harvard's endowment" is an unbelievable amount of money.

Here is a gem from Harvard's new president:

"One thing we all must worry about — I certainly do — is the federal support for scientific research. And are we all going to be chasing increasingly scarce dollars?" says Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard's new president.

Not that Faust seems worried about Harvard or other top-tier research schools. "They're going to be—we hope, we trust, we assume—the survivors in this race," she says. As for the many lesser universities likely to lose market share, she adds, they would be wise "to really emphasize social science or humanities and have science endeavors that are not as ambitious" as those of Harvard and its peers.

Enjoy, and season greetings.


Some Comments on the CHE Ranking


In his comments on my previous popst on the CHE Ranking, Arnar Pálsson has already isolated some of the most noteworthy aspects in that report. Let me reiterate one that I find most important here (quoted from page 14 of the report). While reading the following text, bear in mind that "subject areas" refers to biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics, and not to a huge array of different disciplines. 

"Another interesting finding is the fact that most institutions (33) are selected in only one subject area, 15 in two subject areas, 4 in three and also only 4 in all subject areas. If, even in the relatively closely connected academic fields of the natural sciences and mathematics, only 14% of the very top institutions in one geographic region are featuring three or all four subject areas, this can indeed be taken as an argument against institutionwide rankings."

Even though I enjoy reading the results of university-wide rankings, I believe that what should concern students choosing where to pursue their studies and funding agencies determining where to invest their research funds in specific disciplines is not the overall ranking of a university, but rather its excellence in the specific topic of interest. For this reason, I agree with the finding that subject-specific rankings are much more informative than institution-wide ones.

Of course, in general, a university that scores highly  institution-wide won't have any very weak department. However, ther may be, and indeed there are, universities that have peaks of true excellence in specific areas, even though they may not be world-beaters in many areas. If I were a prospective PhD student, I would prefer going to study in a department which is known to be top-class in the specific area of my interest rather than going to university X just because it has a globally good reputation. Quoting from the report:

"Prospective doctoral students are possibly less interested in the general performance of a faculty or department than in a specific research group. They usually have very clear ideas about the specialised topic on which they are focusing. Thus, it might be of some value for a student searching for a biology doctoral programme specialising in insects to know that the faculty at University A is excellent in its research output in this domain. However, it might be much more interesting for this individual to
learn that he could delve into honeybee studies in Würzburg's bee group. Or, a student in astrophysics might be attracted less by the overall performance of the Physics Department at the University of Copenhagen than by its research group focusing on dark matter and cosmology."

So my first conclusion is: 

Conclusion 1. Our business as academic institutions is reputation. It is better to be known in a few selected areas than to  be unknown in many. Icelandic universities should prioritize and place more resources in those areas where they can maintain or build a strong reputation internationally. The competition is growing stronger by the day; nobody stands still and we will need many more resources in the future just to maintain our present standing where we have one. 

The second point that Arnar picks out from the report is the minimum entry requirement for even entering the evaluation. The 3000 ISI publications from a institution over the evaluation period are indeed a very tall order for any Icelandic institution at this moment in time. Sometimes we pat ourselves on the shoulders and tell each other how well we are doing, and for very good reasons. However, we should never lose sight of the "big picture". A very good practice for any scientist is to remain humble, to know that there is a lot one does not know, and to  keep in  mind that there are very many strong scientists and departments out there.

As Socrates famously put it, "A wise man is one who knows he does not know." In this setting, I would translate this statement into something like this:

Conclusion 2. A wise rector/dean/head of department is one who knows that her university/faculty/department will need to improve its research quality and output considerably just to maintain its present status, no matter what its present strength is. The only way to do so is to hire the best possible researchers, to give them the best possible working enviroment and the freedom to follow their research interests. Research output will need to be considered when distributing research money to ensure that the most funding goes where the highest "interests" (read "quality publications in internationally recognized outlets") will be generated.

Two of the indicators considered by the CHE Ranking are

  • the percentage of international and female staff within the group of staff with a doctorate and
  • the percentage of female and international doctoral and master's students.

I am afraid that, despite our snow queens, we score badly on both of these fronts. Ranking measurements aside, it is of paramount importance for science in Iceland to nurture female talent and to seek actively to hire the best available female applicants. Mind you, I am against hiring female applicants just because of their gender. What I am saying is that our departments should have search committees who actively nurture connections with the best possible female applicants for positions and that oustanding female applicants should be given precedence when they are at least as good as the competition. Here the ministry could also chip in with some financial incentives to universities to hire outstanding female applicants.  (I won't turn this into a conclusion though Smile)

Of course you will wonder whether some research groups from Icelandic universities can make it into the big league. The answer to this natural question that emerges from the CHE report is, I believe, positive.  Look at the bottom of page 12 in the report. There you will read:

"Looking at table 2, the United Kingdom not only attains the largest number of gold medals but also the largest number of medals in total within the excellence group. Switzerland, with only three universities in this group, is in third place concerning gold medals and holds the largest relative percentage of gold medals: 16 out of 22 medals in the whole."

This is an outstanding, and not unexpected, perfomance of Swiss institutions. In fact, ETH Zurich is one of only four universities with gold medals in all of the subjects in the excellence group (the others being Imperial College, the University of Cambridge and the University of Utrecht)! How can Switzerland achieve this outstanding level of academic achievement? Rather than trying to answer  this question myself, I will rely on higher authority and freely quote  a few excerpts from an interview to the Italian mathematician Alfio Quarteroni (professor at the Ecole Federale Polytechnique de Lausanne and at the Politecnico di Milano) published in this book.

  • Switzerland has only two federal universities (ETH and EFPL).
  • These are two truly international institutions.  To wit,  about 70% of their professors are foreigners, and so are about 65% of the PhD students and about  33% of their undergraduates.
  • Each of the few and carefully chosen full professors in those  institutions has the financial resources to build her own research team. For instance, Quarteroni's team has about 20 members. (As a curiousity, they helped build Alinghi, the boat that has won the last two installments of the Amrica's cup.)
  • Quarteroni roughly says: "EFPL offers outstanding environmental and quality conditions that I have not found elsewhere. I have worked at the University of Minnesota, at Paris VI and, for shorter periods, in about 50 universities and research centres throughout the world, including NASA at Langley; well, on the basis of my personal experience, Lausanne is the place where I have been able to realize my goals in the simplest, fastest and most efficient way."

Conclusion 3. I let you draw your own conclusions as to what we need to do here in Iceland in order to approach the lofty heights that those Swiss institutions as well as several universities in Finland, The Netherlands, and Sweden have managed to attain. The above opinins of Quarteroni's raise many questions which you may want to ask. Please do so by posting on this blog!

As usual, I'd like to hear your comments. Thanks a lot to Arnar for providing his. 





Jákvćđa horniđ á allt

Viđ verđum ađ geta tekiđ hrósi, og einnig skilgreint ţađ sem betur má fara.

Sem starfsmađur Háskóla Íslands finnst mér Kristín Ingólfsdóttir hafa stađiđ sig vel sem rektor. Eins má fćra rök fyrir ţví ađ Svava Grönfeld og Guđfinna Bjarnadóttir hafi einnig gert vel sem stjórnendur viđ Háskóla Reykjavíkur (ţótt reyndar hafi Guđfinna grafiđ undan orđstír sínum međ atkvćđi um sköpunarstefnu og vísindi hjá Evrópuráđinu).

Mér finnst sem sagt gott ef leiđtogar ćđri menntastofnanna á Íslandi geta veriđ vindur í segl jafnréttisbaráttunnar, bćđi hérlendis og ytra.

En, ţađ er annađ horn sem augljóslega skín í gegn í greininni í the Guardian , ađ enginn býst viđ miklu af Íslandi á visindasviđinu. Greinin hefst á ţessum orđum:

"With a population of 300,000 and nine universities, Iceland is hardly a heavyweight in international higher education. Nor has it been held up as an exemplary Nordic model, in the way British politicians have recently done with Sweden's education system."

Viđ ţurfum náttúrulega ađ bćta okkar vísindastarf til ađ geta blásiđ á svona athugasemdir, en höfum ţví miđur ekki efni á ţví núna. Sérstađa háskólanna vanmetin?
Tilkynna um óviđeigandi tengingu viđ frétt

Snow queens

At Reykjavik University, 95% of staff are happy at work and each year the finances get healthier. Could that be because of all the women in top jobs? Anthea Lipsett reports

Tuesday December 11, 2007

With a population of 300,000 and nine universities, Iceland is hardly a heavyweight in international higher education. Nor has it been held up as an exemplary Nordic model, in the way British politicians have recently done with Sweden's education system.

Perhaps it should be. When it comes to making higher education more equal for women, it has valuable lessons to offer.

Svafa Gronfeldt is one of the many women in key positions in Icelandic academia. The rector of Reykjavik University arrived a year ago from a large pharmaceutical company and has since made strategic changes, not least, introducing equal pay for men and women.

Her management team has spent the past year going through salary levels and eliminating any unexplained differences between men and women's pay. "That was a challenge," she says. Iceland has the same sort of built-in gender bias as other western countries.

While women are scarce in Icelandic boardrooms, Gronfeldt says the company she worked for was "lucky enough to have a chief executive who didn't see any difference between men and women".

She has brought that gender-blind approach to the university. The mixture of men and women on her board helps to make university decisions more balanced, she feels. "With a management team that's both men and women, you get different dialogue and perspectives," she says. "The solutions [women] come up with are often surprising and different."

Changes to the way the university is run and structured are not all to do with its gender dynamics, but they certainly help, Gronfeldt adds. "What we see here is that innovation in teaching is different. The way we approach student services is different. And decisions around strategy and what we should emphasise are totally different."

Academic silos are being broken down and work is more inter-disciplinary. The university is building a new campus based around the ideologies of interactive working and communication - generally seen as more "feminine" approaches to learning.

Gronfeldt believes having women in positions of power reaps not only intellectual rewards, but also economic ones. "The result turns out to be better profit. Every single year, the bottom line of the university is up - and I attribute that to this team."

A study of 353 Fortune 500 companies - the top US public corporations measured by gross revenue - shows that women in leadership positions provide higher long-term financial return. The survey, done in January this year by the research company Catalyst, shows that having three or more women board members produces an increase in profits of up to 35%.

According to research by Barclays and the Economist, women own 48% of savings in the UK, and 60% of billionaires are expected to be women by 2025. The Goldman Sachs Women 30 Index measures which companies will turn the highest profits by benefiting from women's increased financial strength. Over the past 10 years, it has increased at three times the rate of the world stock markets.

The culture of Reykjavik University also benefi ts from having more women around. Dr Margret Jonsdottir, its director of international affairs, says having women in senior higher education positions has become the norm in Iceland, and it makes for a less stuffy system. "We have created this fabulous dynamic culture. It has been voted the best place to work in Iceland twice over the last five years," she says. This year, an independent staff satisfaction survey showed 95% were happy in their jobs.

"Communication is open and transparent. Authority and responsibility go together, and that's so important," says Jonsdottir. "Men and women work wonderfully well here as a united group and there's no division. Lots of people praise the culture and atmosphere."

Are women better at creating this kind of culture? Jonsdottir hesitates to say so. "The rector is a specialist in strategy and happens to be great at this, but it's dangerous to generalise. But it is a different mindset."

According to Jonsdottir, things are changing in Iceland generally, "although there's still a pay gap. And you would normally still see men selected to represent institutions." She says women in positions of authority are often asked if they got their jobs because they were women. "They have to say: 'No, I'm just very competent."Jonsdottir stresses: "Reykjavik is a university where both men and women have the same opportunity for promotion."

After years of effort to change the dynamics in UK higher education, the number of women in senior positions in universities is creeping up. There are now 19 female vice-chancellors. But the Higher Education Statistics Agency reported this summer that though the number of women lecturers and researchers is rising, few are breaking through to senior and professorial posts.

Academic staff numbers increased by 2.6% in 2005-6, with a total of 164,875 academic staff employed, up from 160,655 in 2004-5. At the grade of "senior lecturers and researchers", women ma ke up 30.8% of full-time staff , but only 16.5% of professors, fewer than one in six, are female.

The Higher Education Council for England is about to release more up-to-date figures for England that will show improvement. But those holding rank in British academia's higher echelons are still, for the most part, men.

And men are still paid more than women in UK higher education. Figures released by the Office for National Statistics last month put women lecturers' average gross weekly pay at Ł150 per week behind that of their male colleagues. Female full-time teaching professionals' pay is 17.2% less than that of male colleagues in higher education, and 11.1% in further education.

In contrast, both Reykjavik University and the older, larger University of Iceland, pay all staff equally. The majority of Iceland University's deans and governing council members are women.

Its rector, Kristin Ingolfsdottir, says: "The healthiest situation is an equal mix, and it's very important for women to put themselves forward, for them as individuals and for the students who look to them as role models." Women make up the majority of the student population in Iceland, as in the UK.

"It's remarkable that we have so many female deans, because women professors make up only 20% of the professors in the university. But they are trusted and elected by their peers."

However, outside of universities, there is still a large pool of talented women who aren't reaching the top, Ingolfsdottir warns - even though the education minister, Thorgerdur Katrin Gunnarsdottir, has helped in terms of being a good role model for women and reforming Iceland's education system to improve quality.

Legislation that allows women and men to share nine months' leave after the birth of a child and good quality, free childcare make it much easier for Icelandic women to return to work. Gronfeldt sees that as the "single most important legislative intervention", and one that makes hiring staff a much fairer process in Iceland. "We don't have to think 'she might go off and have a baby'. It doesn't matter, because men are going on paternity leave, too."

It's a breakthrough, she says, that has meant Icelandic women have fewer barriers to professional success. The top-level management at Reykjavik University is testament to that. © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

Ranking of Excellent European Graduate Programmes in Natural Sciences


This report of the  Centre for Higher Education Development (CHE), which was released yesterday, will be of interest to readers of this blog. The CHE is a think tank for higher education. Based on international comparisons, they develop models for the modernisation of higher education systems and institutions.

Their report develops a Ranking of Excellent European Graduate Programmes in Natural Sciences (viz. biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics),  which is intended as an orientation guide for undergraduates, helping them find their way around European Higher Education while at the same time helping them to choose a suitable university for their graduate studies: Master’s and PhD.

At first sight, the report looks very well done. I will read it with some interest, and will try to report on this blog. Comments are, of course, most welcome!

I'd like to see a similar analysis carried out for programmes in computer science. 

P.S. In case you are wondering, a search through the PDF file indicates that no programme in Iceland is mentioned in the document.


á sandi byggđi heimskur mađur hús

Vissulega er margt sem ađ ţarf ađ bćta í háskólum landsins, en ţađ er mikiđ áhyggjuefni ef ađ fólk er ađ skila sér inni í framhaldskólanna og jafnvel ţađan út, inni í háskólakerfi ţar sem ađ allir hafa "rétt" til náms, en međ sub standard menntun. Hver svo sem ástćđan er. Ég held ađ ţađ ţurfi ađ fara yfir alla námsskrá grunnskólans af óháđri nefnd. PISA-könnun vonbrigđi
Tilkynna um óviđeigandi tengingu viđ frétt

Náttúrufrćđikennslu ábótavant

Ný könnun á vegum OECD bar saman menntakerfi ţjóđa. Ţessi svokallađa PISA könnun beindist ađallega ađ náttúrufrćđikennslu ađ ţessu sinni. Niđurstađan er sú ađ Ísland fellur niđur listann og er nú fyrir neđan miđju.

Náttúrufrćđi og vísindakennslu er ábótavant hérlendis, bćđi á neđri og efri skólastigum, og augljóst ađ margt ţarf betur ađ fara. Laun og menntun kennara ţarf augljóslega ađ bćta. Ţađ er ekki endilega ađ ţađ ţurfi flókinn búnađ eđa kennslustofur fyrir lćgri skólastig eđa framhaldsskóla. Hina vísindalegu ađferđ og gagnrýnin vinnubrögđ má kenna međ blađi og blýanti. Grunnatriđum raungreina er hćgt ađ koma til leiđar međ einföldum fyrirlestrum (reyndar hjálpar ađ hafa góđar kennslubćkur), sem ćtti ađ gera ungt fólk fćrt í flestann sjó.

Viđ ţurfum ekki ađ miđa menntunina ađ ţví ađ framleiđa kjarneđlisfrćđinga í breiđum bunum, en ţađ er nauđsynlegt ađ klárir krakkar fái hvatningu og örvandi kennslu. En almennt viljum viđ líka ađ ćska landsins skilji lögmál veraldarinnar (ţyngdarlögmáliđ, ţróunarlögmáliđ) og hagnýtar stađreyndir t.d. stćrfrćđi (ađ minnsta kosti prósentureikning) eđa lífeđlisfrćđi (blóđţrýsting, hormóna og ćxlun). Slík grunnţekking auk gagnrýninnar hugsunar er efni í ágćtis ţjóđfélag.

Ţađ var eftirtektarvert ađ í umfjöllun um könnunina (allavega í fréttablađinu) kom fram gagnrýni á vinnubrögđin, en minna var gert úr niđurstöđunum. Ekki man ég eftir álíka rýni í ţessa nýju könnun sem sagđi ađ Ísland vćri besti stađur í heimi til ađ búa á. Erum viđ Íslendingar ţađ sjálfhverfir ađ viđ ţurfum ađ beita lélegum "stjórnmálamannabrellum" ţegar stađreyndirnar eru ekki okkur ađ skapi. PISA-könnun vonbrigđi
Tilkynna um óviđeigandi tengingu viđ frétt


Ath. Vinsamlegast kveikiđ á Javascript til ađ hefja innskráningu.

Hafđu samband