Go to the top of the class . . .

I read a great article by Professor Michael Merrifield, Head of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Nottingham. He was debating the merit of university league tables – a contentious issue in the world of higher education UK-wide.

In offering an idea about how a potential student might find out where the best place to study really is, he had this to say:

“… the best way to find out where is a good place to study physics is… by asking other physics departments. Each will, of course, tell you that they are the best in the country (in the case of the University of Nottingham, it is even true!), but when you visit on a university open day or contact their admissions tutor by email, ask them where the other good places are. We work together a lot, share expertise, exchange external examiners to oversee each other’s degree programmes, recruit PhD students from other physics departments, and spend a lot of time nosing into each other’s programmes to see if there is anything good that we could “borrow” for our own provision, so we really do all have a pretty good overview of the landscape of physics in the UK. Of course, just giving you the names of a few other universities faces the same problem as the league tables in reducing the question to a single variable, but spend a little time engaging with us, and we should be able to give a much more nuanced and individual recommendation than any newspaper league table could ever manage.”

Of course, this is a story about universities and higher education and league tables … but also so much more. It’s about notions of sharing and co-creation and professionalism. It’s about being curious and being willing to learn from others. And it’s about being so confident and happy in your own skill and talent that you can be generous to others. People who do that? Top of any league, definitely.

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