måndag 29 september 2014

Financing of undergraduate education

The intention with this post is to describe different financial aspects that impacts undergraduate teaching. Everything written here is based from my experiences and collected information from various sources like reports and other teachers and then compiled by me. The main comparison will be between UC Berkeley and University of Borås but some discussion will also be made from a general Swedish perspective.

System at UC Berkeley
The university system was rather stable for a several decades regarding funding (for teaching), student number and faculty in Chemical engineering. The amount of money allocated from the state to each separate campus within the University of California system (totally 10 campuses) was previously calculated from Budget operations and Management using a somewhat non-transparent formula (tillväxtanalys 2012). It is important to note however that there seemed to be no correlation with the amount of students and the allocated funds. More recently, this has changed and it has been agreed upon that each student should have the same amount of state funding regardless of which campus the students belong to. From 2011, it was decided that the revenues to each separate campus (originating from student fees, patents etc.) will stay at that campus and this will thus separate the actual amount of money available for teaching at the different sites.
Somewhere around 2005, a change was started where more students were expected and at the same time budget constrains were made so that fewer faculty positions were available. Within this change also the student fees increased and these are now about $ 15,000 for California residents and $ 38,000 for other residents on a yearly basis.
Tuition fee at UC Berkeley 1994-2014 (data from Berkeley)
 One of the reasons for the change was a cut in state funding (a large reduction was in 2011-2012 and in inflation-adjusted dollars the amount of state financing has dropped with 60% between 1990-2012, Bienenstock et al, 2012) while at the same time an increased social responsibility was made (that means to give financial aid to students in specific groups such as low-income or first college student in family etc.) and therefore the university had to bring in more money. Looking at the numbers for student fees, it is more attractive to bring in students from outside the state of California. Due to the high interest in science and engineering from especially Southeast Asia, these faculties have increased their number of students while other departments have declining numbers. One of the success factors for UC Berkeley is its ability to attract money from different sources including; governmental funding, federal authorities, foundations and private donations.

Each year, the chair of the department negotiates about the revenues from undergraduate teaching. This does not necessarily reflect the amount of students in one particular year but should rather be seen as a projected average and possibility to manage the load. 

System at Swedish universities
The system used today was started with reform in 1993 and is based upon a specific resource that follows with every student. There is a limit of the number of students that are paid for in each educational area by the UKÄ (Swedish higher education authority) and the payment is done by the number of registered full time students and the actual achievements. Courses have different resource allocation depending on education area (Prop 2013/2014:1, Expense area 16); in humanities, social studies, law and theology the yearly allocation is 48,533 SEK in 2014 while media has an allocation of 531,660 SEK so the difference is dramatic and it is not very clear how to decide in which educational area a specific course belong. For the technical education area, the yearly allocation is 94,647 SEK ($ 13,145). Currently, a large evaluation is being performed where each educational program is included (it is a continuous process where different areas are considered every year). The outcome of this evaluation is that some programs might have problems and must show progress within one year otherwise they will be shut down. Another outcome is that programs that are evaluated as the highest grade will receive an extra allocation of funds from the government as a carrot to maintain and improve the good standard. The amount could be substantial for a whole university if they succeed to have many programs in the highest grade.

The general idea is that there are no tuition fees and the reason is to give the same opportunities to all students regardless of their economic status. Due to the fact that Sweden is a member of the European Union, this will therefore be applied to all its member states (including the European Economic Area and Switzerland).  It should be noted, that students from outside the EU are subjected to fees decided by each university and currently the yearly fee for an engineering master’s program is $ 18,100 at University of Borås and $19,400 at Chalmers.

Comparisons between the two systems
We have two totally different systems for the undergraduate level; one with tuition fee and one with full state financing.  For the Berkeley system, not the whole cost is associated with the fee, there are also other contributions where the state is an important part as a base but donations are also given from foundations and companies when for example new buildings are to be erected or new equipment (laboratory equipment or computer rooms) are needed. It is interesting to see however, that the amount of money from the tuition fee for the undergraduate level at UC Berkeley is higher than the amount of money allocated by the Swedish government ($15,000 for in-state students vs $13,000 for engineering education in Sweden) and that the state of California is giving additional funding. 

The educational system at Berkeley do not directly reflect the number of students in the class; as a professor you have the same time allocated regardless if there are 15, 150 or 500 students in the class.  What differs is the amount of extra help provided in terms of GSI’s and student graders. This is highly apparent when lecturers are hired for a single course and the offered amount of money does not reflect the size of the class, it only reflects the number of lectures you have and the amount of office hours.

From what I have seen, there is not something obvious from educational point of view that motivates this higher cost at UC Berkeley. The teachers are not paid significantly higher salaries and the lectures halls are not more technically advanced nor have a higher standard regarding interior (black boards, furnishing etc.).  So why is there a difference in cost for the two systems? One possibility is that there is a substantial overhead cost in order to take care of the whole campus area; there are many buildings (not only for education but there are for example  a number of sport arenas) and a large campus. These need money to look after (utility, repairs, janitors, gardeners etc.). The other possibility for the cost is the possibility for the university to direct money into supporting systems (financial aid). This helps high-performance students from low-income families to manage university education. 

The system in Sweden is more transparent; each university gets a commission to educate a certain number of students in various areas and this is assigned with a predetermined amount of money. It is, however, up to each and every of the universities to decide the internal allocation, which could be quite different from the achieved money, as long as they fulfill their commission. This means that there is a possibility to transfer money from one area to another area on a short or long term basis depending on the interest of that university; it could for example be to promote a special education or to make short term initiatives.

What can we learn from this?
Is teaching outcome (meaning student progress and performance) depending on number of students in the class? For sure, it will be a more intimate relation between teacher and student if the numbers are low. It can with some validity be said that it is more likely that you can push (help) students in the lower end better if they are just a few leading to higher percentage of the class passing the course. This would of course be positive for the outcome but the real question is if you really have helped the students in the long run. They have a great responsibility for their own learning and they have to show the ability of learning new things. In Sweden, we often use the ratio of teacher versus student as an objective number to decide if the teaching is good or not (it is more so a direct measure when you apply for a new program or new degree rights that the ratio must be high enough).  It is my firm belief that a more targeted teaching can be done if the groups are small and that you can tailor-made the lectures based upon the unique set of students and that this will help these individuals to perform better not only for the course but also in the long run. However, it is not rationale to do a one-to-one teaching (there is simply not enough money or people in the system for this) and the student learns a lot when they discuss among themselves.

A system where the university or the student decides the enrollment can be difficult to master for the single department (course giver) and demand some sort of negotiation to decide boundaries etc. This is especially true for courses involving practical laboratory work; these are often time consuming and the student needs hands-on experience to really understand and learn (in some parts it is a crafts work). Larger classes without proper allocation of new funds (especially equipment) and teachers this will lower the impact of this specific element. 

One has to see the driving forces beyond the economic structure and the picture the scenarios, both good and bad. Starting with the Swedish system; the system makes it highly transparent to follow the cost for the education and connects the cost not only to enrollment but also to completed courses. It is dependent on a higher national structure (government and the minister of education) to decide the allotment of students in each area for each university. This division is crucial for each university and is based upon previous performance and attractiveness (number of applicants). A fear would of course be to have an examiner for a course directly responsible for the money coming in to that specific course and therefore tend to pass more students (the money is not depending on how good the students pass the course, i.e. what grade they have, but only if they pass or not). However, to my knowledge there is no such structure at any university and instead the money is directed through the system by schools or departments and often handled by a director of studies (at Chalmers there is even a trading system regarding courses) and there are always a quality insurance program run by the univeristy. What we can see however is a willingness of letting the students be enrolled in the system until they have passed the course which would prolong their time of studies but that they finalize the course (program). 

In the beginning when the whole amount of money was given on student enrollment it was possible for universities to have base courses offered as distant learning courses with more than 200 students enrolled but only 20-30 were active. This led to a modification of the system so that about half of the money is given after passing the course. Even so this has been attractive. However, new ranking scores better emphasize of the ratio of enrolled students and completed course works which leads to modifications in especially the distant learning programs where the number of enrolled student is not reported until they have finished the first home works.

The system at UC Berkeley with decision by the university campus about the number of students and their major allows for a higher autonomous of the university at the highest level but lower degrees of freedom further down in the system. The departments have little influence and are totally in the hand of the board/leaders. The system are not emphasizing the students as individuals but rather as a group and for the large classes there is very little time for interaction between each student and the teacher. 

The tuition fee is a mean of attractive more money to the university which in principle is used to maintain a high standard for the education. At the same time it becomes a burden for the students and the student’s family which has to pay for this. In a way, one can say that using this system with financial aid means that students paying the full fee are supporting the students who come from households with low-income. Nobel and altruistic idea. Problem is who is excluded. If the selection of student purely based on merits then it might be so but there are more to this because it is encouragement of having underrepresented groups included (often low-income but it could be race dependent etc.). On a larger scale, this might still have a good and justifiable impact as it would level out the differences between the groups in society and thereby minimize friction and spread the wealth. On the individual level, this means that possible students with good grades are sorted out and must apply for universities outside their state to become the wanted group (out of state students yield more tuition).

As a conclusion, both systems have its merits and flaws. However, it is apparent that the financial structure adds a lock-in effect and has freedom at different levels. The UC Berkeley system allows for a higher degree of freedom at university level, but a complication could be how this relates to actual needs in the society (for chemical engineering there has been a decline in available jobs but an increase in number of students). The Swedish system gives the government a high power when it decides the allocation of funds. It is important to stress that the universities are free to educate more students than the given number but in that case they will not be funded for these. However, apart from the overall allocation, the university is free to decide how it will divide the funds. Each course will have its own budget that is to a large extent dependent on the number of students but also on what type of course it is and what elements that are included. For the UC system, the governmental funding is only a part of the total revenues for the undergraduate teaching and it will therefore mean less than in the Swedish system (especially so nowadays when the funds have been dramatically reduced).

I am fully aware of that I only have skimmed the surface regarding financing of undergraduate education and that I sometimes made assumptions but there is a substantial difference in how the financing system looks like and what implications this might have for the whole system.

Bienenstock, A., Schwaag Serger, A., Benner, M. and Lidgard, A., “Combining excellence in education, research and impact: inspiration from Stanford and Berkeley and implications for Swedish universities”, SNS (Centre for business and policy studies), 2014

Prop 2013/2014:1, Expense area 16 p 220 http://www.regeringen.se/sb/d/17776

Tillväxtanalys  “Hur fördelas statsanslag till forskning och utbildning – en omvärldsanalys”, Dnr 2011/315, 2012

fredag 26 september 2014

Educational system and course curriculum

The intention with this post is to describe the main structure for chemical engineering students at UC Berkeley, University of Borås and Chalmers University of Technology with emphasis on the course curriculum and how this could impact the studies and the outcome. These are the universities where I have the most experience from and they represent different categories. UC Berkeley is American university which is covering many disciplines including both humanities and science. By number, it has the highest amount of PhD graduates in the US. Located in Sweden, University of Borås has a high focus in undergraduate education in many disciplines but with presence of higher level education as well.  Finally, Chalmers University of Technology (in Sweden) is a technical (engineering), research oriented university with education in both undergraduate and graduate levels. 

System at UC Berkeley
The department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering runs one undergraduate program in chemical engineering (there is also one 1-year master program called Professional development program, PDP). All courses given by the department are connected to the program. Some courses are mandatory (9 courses of the bachelor program are mandatory within chemical engineering and additional 9 are mandatory within chemistry, physics and mathematics) and some are electives. Normal pace is to take courses corresponding to 30 units every year; given that the courses are mostly between 3 and 4 units this means 4 courses in parallel each semester. The system is very flexible and the student has a high degree of freedom to choose among the broad spectrum of courses offered at UC Berkeley but each course has a set of course requirements that must be fulfilled before entering. There are additional constraints, making 19 units to be breadth electives (especially emphasis is made on American history and culture) and the student has to manage the right amount of units within engineering, chemistry and chemical engineering in the end to get the degree (apart from the mandatory courses).
 Roughly, there are 140 students pursuing a major in chemical engineering. It is possible to choose the major in the second year but regarding chemistry related majors there are some requirements already in the first year.

System at University of Borås
At university of Borås, a bachelor program in Chemical engineering with specialization in applied biotechnology is offered. It is a three-year program and all courses are compulsory. The reason for the mandatory courses is partly that this program is rather small (with a maximum intake of about 30 students)  and this is the only program related to chemistry and partly that the bachelor degree is given in three years and a number of requirements  must be fulfilled. The idea is that the program is niched and therefore there is no need for further choices.  Typically, the courses are 7.5 credits and each semester is divided in two quarters where the total amount of credits for a semester is 30. This means that two courses are taken in parallel. The program is finalized with a 15 credit independently work (bachelor thesis). One of the courses is given as a breadth course; products, processes and the sustainable society. The university strives to include sustainable development integrated into the regular courses. Two master programs in Resource recovery, one directed towards industrial biotechnology and one directed towards sustainable engineering are offered and can be an extension to the bachelor program.

System at Chalmers University of Technology
Chalmers offer two kinds of undergraduate education in chemical engineering. One program is the professional oriented bachelor program and one is a candidate program. The bachelor program is limited to 25 students and the candidate program is limited to 55 students. In this evaluation mainly the courses involved in the candidate program is considered. Additional to the pure chemical engineering program there is a program in chemical engineering with engineering physics with 35 students and one program in biotechnology with 60 students. The students on the candidate program are intended to pursue a master’s program for two years after the candidate program. This is part of the Bologna process that has been implemented for about 10 years.
The courses different in size but all should make up at least 60 credits each year. The course year is divided in quarters with about 3-4 courses in parallel each quarter (the courses are usually between 3 and 7.5 credits). The program ends with a 15 credit project work that is performed in groups of 3-4 students but individually graded. Special emphasis is made on environment and sustainable development, where at least 7.5 credits should be devoted into this area and the intention is to integrate the subject with chemical engineering. There is not so much flexibility in the candidate or the bachelor program. For the candidate program, 15 credits in the last semester are available for free selection. However, 7.5 of these should be within the MTS block (standing for human, technology and society). In addition to these 15 credits, 7.5 credits are free to choose as a specialization in either chemistry or mathematical modeling. There are 10 different master’s programs available at Chalmers after the candidate degree in chemical engineering (these master’s programs are directly associated with the candidate program) but this is also an opportunity, according to the Bologna process, to move to another university in Sweden or in Europe. The students who have taken the bachelor degree are expected to work in industry but can, after some additional courses, transfer to some of the master’s programs.

Comparisons between the systems
It is clear, that the three universities have different approaches to the structure of programs. This is a reflection of how fast the specialization should be made, what kind of free choices there are for the students, other constraints (such as national constraints) and also about student availability (that is how many students that the university can handle and what kind of educational assignment agreed upon and how many students that are applying and registered at the programs).  The system at UC Berkeley involves the largest degree of freedom for the student at the cost of one extra year. However, if the students are to undertake graduate studies as PhD, this is the common starting level. In Sweden, it is mainly desired that you have a master’s degree before starting research in engineering. It is important to stress, that learning is not something you only do at the university. This is something you can do all the time but what the educational system provides is a methodology and structure how to do this and also to provide a sounds basis as starting point for further explorations.

Flexibility vs specialization
What is the meaning of the education? Who is the receiver of the education or with other words who will benefit from the education? Is that strictly the student, the coming employer, the university or the country as a whole and should they be considered equally important. With flexibility, it is at first glance the student that will benefit due to a larger variety of choices and a possibility of exploring areas of different interests. Most likely this will be following the student all the life and therefore also benefit in all subsequent steps, however the benefit might not be so obvious for the early phase of an industrial case. Specialization, on the other hand, means that the student is more attractive by an employer (it is easier to know what to expect from the newly graduated) but with the drawback of becoming narrower and therefor have a lesser match with random employers (this can be handled by a larger number of programs and good information). The following figure represents schematically how the depth and breadth are progressing in each of the chemical engineering programs (in the graph the following weight factors have been used for each subject; science course 1.4:1.4, breadth course 2:0, Engineering course 0.9:1.8 and, finally, Chemical Engineering course 0:2 where the numbers represent breadth:depth and the course credits are divided by the total number of course credits each year). The line represents equal emphasis on breadth and depth and is only there for visual aid.

Visualization of breadth vs depth at three chemical engineering programs

As can be seen in the figure, the three educations are rather similar in the first year where Chalmers is showing more breadth due to its integrated courses between specialized subject chemical engineering and the more holistic perspectives from environmental and sustainability. This is something that can be seen throughout the program. It is also noteworthy, that the smaller university with fewer choices shows the highest amount of specialization (even though the difference is rather small). Looking at UC Berkeley, it is clear that the extra year gives the student a more depth as well as a better breadth.  As a comparison, Chalmers and Borås are also listed after completion of their master’s program. It can be seen the amount of specialization during these (higher slope) but also that the ending position is quite different. The small university has even more pronounced specialization and the larger university shows high numbers in both depth and breadth.

3 or 4 year program
Four years program provides longer time to educate the student and to foster him or her into critical thinking and judgment and also to show ability to understand new concepts. The benefit with the shorter program is that the student doesn’t have to spend longer time than necessary before he or her will become available for the work market and thus become productive. It is beyond no doubts that students are able to nourish their interests (apart from chemical engineering or what subject they might take) on the time between classes or after they finished the education and by that complete the whole person. The crucial point is to have enough time to let critical thinking appear because this can be implemented in almost all occasions and areas. It is not what particular parts you remember that counts it is what you have knowledge in and how to handle knowledge that is important.

It is also a matter of choice and when to make the choice. Is the choice made before the university studies or are they made after you have started? Students, who are clear about in what field they want to work, are more focused on the actual core subjects than students that have not made up their mind at the start. It is therefore likely that the system which allows for a later choice can benefit students who have not decided their career path early but do so at the expense of an extra year at the university.  

Long or short courses
Different strategies regarding the length of each course is employed by the universities where Sweden aim at having shorter courses (each semester is divided into two quarters) but when needed it is possible to prolong a course so it last for two quarters. The shorter courses gives a higher flexibility but is more demanding on the students because the subject changes more often and you need to understand the demands from each new course. However, changing subjects after 8-10 weeks can also be refreshing, giving an opportunity for a new start. No obvious advantage of either system can be seen and this tends to be more of an overall administrative question for the university.

Courses with different amount of credits
In general, this is seen for most universities and reflects the origin of each course and its content. The main problem with different amount of credits is that the course with low amount is tended to be more overlooked and not prioritized especially by the students. It became clear that courses selected outside the main areas (core courses or courses within the major) the tendency is that the teachers on the core subject are diminishing the other course if there are any collision (two classes at the same time) which puts the student in a delicate situation (on one hand the core courses are within the major and therefore of most importance but on the other hand all course requirement must be fulfilled in order to get a degree and hence it is possible to argue that they should be equally important).

What can we learn from this?
On planning the course curriculum, it is necessary to fulfill the national requirements and to follow the standards expected from society (such as length of education etc.). Both systems have its advantages and disadvantages when regarding the students and the outcome of the education.

One of the key elements in the educational system at UC Berkeley is the wish of educating the whole human which would lead to a broader wisdom and better problem solving skills. There is a delicate balance of the overall education for more knowledge and the usefulness of the student after graduation. We see a trend toward more industrial elements in the courses and for one of the courses (Process design, CBE160) it is even spoken out that it should be taught by industrial experienced teachers.

It is important to stress that the university programs are not intended to be the end of learning but rather should be seen as the formation of a sound base from with further insights in various areas can be gained and incorporated. We want to make sure that the student has such ability after the graduation and the educational systems are made to educate and evaluate this ability. At the same time, it is the duty of the university to provide the different sectors (academia, community and trade and industry in this particular case) with the necessary skills to be useful (the sooner the better). 

Regardless of system used, it is crucial for the universities to motivate and engage the students for their coming challenges. They represent a huge asset not only today but mainly for the future.