Cambridge University and computer science

The University of Cambridge Computer Laborator...
The University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory in West Cambridge, south of the Madingley Road. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cambridge University has a stellar reputation for Computer Science in the UK.

The Computer Laboratory can trace its history back over more than 75 years (to a time when ‘computers’ where humans making calculations), while the wider University can claim Alan Turing for one of its own. And Sinclair Research, ARM, the Cambridge Ring – the list of companies and technical innovations associated with the University is a long one: they even had what was possibly the world’s first webcam.

But, according to today’s Guardian, they might need to work a bit harder with their undergraduates – the Guardian’s 2014 University Guide rates Cambridge as the best University in Britain overall but slots it in only at 8th in computer science and conspicuously gives it the worst rating (1/10) for “value added” – namely the improvement from entry to degree for students.

Now, possibly this is because it is the toughest computer science course in the country to get a place in – the average student needs more than 3 A* grades at A level (and 3 As at AS) to get a place, compared to Imperial, the next place down where 3 A*s would probably set you right – but there has to be more to it than that. It is even harder to get into biosciences at Cambridge and yet they are rated 8/10 in the value added score.

Don’t get me wrong – I am sure Cambridge is fantastic at teaching computer science, but it is also given a lot of money on the basis that it is an elite institution and so it seems reasonable to ask for an explanation (from the Guardian too of course!)

(Incidentally, it seems that Oxford teaches so few undergraduates computer science it cannot be rated at all.)

The tyranny of the arts graduates continues

Michael Gove speaking at the Conservative Part...
Image via Wikipedia

I imagine in Michael Gove‘s world, this has been a good week. The UK’s secretary of state for education has been in the news a lot this week, and that seems to be the key metric for him – after all his qualifications for the job essentially seem to be that he was once a journalist (and a militant and active trade unionist – a friend who worked with him at the BBC once told me he was deployed to ensure that “the Tories all came out” during disputes at the Corporation in 1994.)

The two equal pinnacles of Mr Gove’s week would appear to be his writing a preface (!) to the Bible that he is sending to all schools (he doesn’t seem to understand that Catholic schools – of which there are rather a lot – will not use the text he is sending them, never mind the questions of what the state-maintained Jewish and Muslim schools will think) and a speech he gave to Cambridge University earlier in the week where he waxed lyrical about high literature but seemed to have nothing or next-to-nothing to say about engineering, maths and science.

Matt Pearson puts it so much better than I ever could:

Gove rarely talks of skills which can be used in the modern economy, he does not mention collaboration and teamwork, communication skills and the ability to use a range of technologies to get a job done. He does not talk of creativity and entrepreneurship, of engaging with the information society and introducing young people to the rigours of engineering or computer programming. Presumably as his own education did not cover these elements, and Jane Austen wrote very little in JavaScript, these disciplines have not entered his purview.