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Thought experiment on post-COVID Cambridge suggests that for universities, blending is a new beginning

3 hours 4 min ago

The finding comes from a study which began when the UK first went into lockdown in March 2020, forcing universities to move some teaching online. Ten months on, it suggests that academics and students would favour more ‘blended’ learning – a balance between virtual and face-to-face education – even when the pandemic is over.

Many are concerned, however, that some universities will be tempted to take courses fully online – a move they worry would kill off the traditional student experience of living and learning away from home. During the study, participants were asked to describe the most dystopian near-future for university teaching that they could imagine. In terms that sometimes read like a lost script from the science fiction series Black Mirror, they responded with visions of students ‘attending’ Cambridge through VR headsets, while courses are cut up and sold off in highly-marketable, bite-sized components.

Despite this, the research found that many staff and students regard the rapid adoption of new, online learning methods during the pandemic as an opportunity: to make universities more accessible, affordable, and to strengthen their relationships within wider society.

The study was carried out by Simone Eringfeld, a graduate student at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. She said: “The project deliberately asked people to speculate about what might happen to university education, basing their answers on trends that we are already seeing in the sector today. At a time when universities are having to change very quickly, an exercise like this can give us a clearer picture of the kind of university we want to emerge from that transformation, as well as what we don’t want.”

Eringfeld began the study when a planned research project in refugee camps in Uganda was cancelled due to COVID-related travel restrictions. Confined to Cambridge, she decided to research the ‘post-coronial’ future of universities instead. This emerging field of academic enquiry is examining how the changes prompted by COVID-19 might offer an opportunity to re-evaluate what universities are for, to whom they belong and how they can become more inclusive.

She devised an action-research project built around a podcast, Cambridge Quaranchats, in which she interviewed academics, students and other staff, about life and work in Cambridge during the pandemic. She then carried out detailed, private interviews with another 10 staff and students. These participants were asked to listen to clips from the podcast and to imagine how online teaching might transform post-coronial higher education – for better, or worse.

Their biggest fear was that institutions might decide to move all teaching online. Some envisaged that universities might then seek to increase revenues by breaking up these online courses and selling individual lectures or classes to mass audiences in ‘bite-sized’ form. At its most bleak, the research suggests, online learning threatens to turn universities into ‘placeless’ institutions, where students no longer enjoy social activities, or encounter a healthy mix of people, cultures and ideas.

Asked to describe his not-too-distant dystopian vision, one student said: “Imagine virtual reality has gotten better and better. We can now host the entire experience online, so you wake up in the morning, put your headset on and go to lectures. You sort of simulate life. I think that’s the worst-case scenario… the University of Cambridge would be like a network or file. It wouldn’t even be a place anymore.”

Perhaps surprisingly after months of remote learning, however, all of the interviewees saw opportunities in moving at least some university education online. Many felt this would give academics and students greater flexibility in their working lives, reduce stress, and provide them with more time to explore other interests.

The study also suggests that this could conceivably help to make university more affordable. Institutions could, for instance, repackage courses so that students are not necessarily obliged to live on campus for as much of the year, thus reducing living costs.

A number of staff and students also viewed the wider availability of online learning as an opportunity to remodel university education in other, fundamental ways. Many, for example, favour making some streamed lectures widely available for free. And because online learning removes some infrastructural limitations of physical campuses, such as departmental divisions, participants also saw the potential to design new interdisciplinary courses; or to blend academic courses with vocational training by joining forces with further education colleges and other training bodies.

For some students, this represents an opportunity to ensure that higher education produces not just academically-accomplished graduates, but rounded citizens. “It’s not that I hope that we produce fewer Nobel Prize-winners,” one undergraduate told Eringfeld, “but I would hope that we would be more concerned with producing people… I would hope that the process of education makes people more human.”

Whether or not such ideas are realised, Eringfeld concludes that post-coronial universities will need to devise ways to combine virtual and face-to-face teaching safely and flexibly.

“Neither a fully online university, nor a complete return to face-to-face higher education, will be desirable in the post-COVID era,” she said. “People genuinely fear the possibility that we will lose the more embodied, communal aspects of being at university. At the same time, they realise that online teaching makes it more accessible. The challenge for post-coronial universities will be to encourage new forms of ‘belonging’ so that even with more blended learning, higher education remains a connected and meaningful experience.”

The research is published in Studies in Higher Education.

A research project which asked University of Cambridge staff and students to describe their biggest hopes – and darkest fears – for post-pandemic higher education has found that many would support a permanent, but partial, shift to online learning.

Neither a fully online university, nor a complete return to face-to-face higher education, will be desirable in the post-COVID eraSimone EringfeldStudent in Cambridge University Library


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Inequality in medieval Cambridge was ‘recorded on the bones’ of its residents

Tue, 26/01/2021 - 08:05

Evidence of “skeletal trauma” among over 300 individuals from three cemeteries has revealed different levels of hardship across the social spectrum of Cambridge between the 10th and 14th century. 

Low-carbon policies can be ‘balanced’ to benefit small firms and average households – study

Mon, 18/01/2021 - 14:51

Some of the low-carbon policy options currently used by governments may be detrimental to households and small businesses less able to manage added short-term costs from energy price hikes, according to a new study.

However, it also suggests that this menu of decarbonising policies, from quotas to feed-in tariffs, can be designed and balanced to benefit local firms and lower-income families – vital for achieving ‘Net Zero’ carbon and a green recovery.

University of Cambridge researchers combed through thousands of studies to create the most comprehensive analysis to date of widely used types of low-carbon policy, and compared how they perform in areas such as cost and competitiveness.

The findings are published today in the journal Nature Climate Change. The researchers also poured all their data into an interactive online tool that allows users to explore evidence around carbon-reduction policies from across the globe.

“Preventing climate change cannot be the only goal of decarbonisation policies,” said study lead author Dr Cristina Peñasco, a public policy expert from the University of Cambridge.

“Unless low-carbon policies are fair, affordable and economically competitive, they will struggle to secure public support – and further delays in decarbonisation could be disastrous for the planet.”

Around 7,000 published studies were whittled down to over 700 individual findings. These results were coded to allow comparison – with over half the studies analysed “blind” by different researchers to avoid bias. 

The ten policy “instruments” covered in the study include forms of investment – targeted R&D funding, for example – as well as financial incentives including different kinds of subsidies, taxes, and the auctioning of energy contracts.

The policies also include market interventions – e.g. emissions permits; tradable certificates for clean or saved energy – and efficiency standards, such as those for buildings.

Researchers looked at whether each policy type had a positive or negative effect in various environmental, industrial and socio-economic areas.  

When it came to “distributional consequences” – the fairness with which the costs and benefits are spread – the mass of evidence suggests that the impact of five of the ten policy types are far more negative than positive.

“Small firms and average households have less capacity to absorb increases in energy costs,” said co-author Laura Diaz Anadon, Professor of Climate Change Policy.

“Some of the investment and regulatory policies made it harder for small and medium-size firms to participate in new opportunities or adjust to changes.

“If policies are not well designed and vulnerable households and businesses experience them negatively, it could increase public resistance to change – a major obstacle in reaching net zero carbon,” said Anadon.

For example, feed-in tariffs pay renewable electricity producers above market rates. But these costs may bump energy prices for all if they get passed on to households – leaving the less well-off spending a larger portion of their income on energy.

Renewable electricity traded as ‘green certificates’ can redistribute wealth from consumers to energy companies – with 83% of the available evidence suggesting they have a “negative impact”, along with 63% of the evidence for energy taxes, which can disproportionately affect rural areas.

However, the vast tranche of data assembled by the researchers reveals how many of these policies can be designed and aligned to complement each other, boost innovation, and pave the way for a fairer transition to zero carbon.

For example, tailoring feed-in tariffs (FiTs) to be “predictable yet adjustable” can benefit smaller and more dispersed clean energy projects – improving market competitiveness and helping to mitigate local NIMBY-ism.

Moreover, revenues from environmental taxes could go towards social benefits or tax credits e.g. reducing corporate tax for small firms and lowering income taxes, providing what researchers call a “double dividend”: stimulating economies while reducing emissions.

The researchers argue that creating a “balance” of well-designed and complementary policies can benefit different renewable energy producers and “clean” technologies at various stages.

Government funding for research and development (R&D) that targets small firms can help attract other funding streams – boosting both eco-innovation and competitiveness. When combined with R&D tax credits, it predominantly supports innovation in startups rather than corporations.

Government procurement, using tiered contracts and bidding, can also improve innovation and market access for smaller businesses in “economically stressed” areas. This could aid the “levelling up” between richer and poorer regions as part of any green recovery.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution,” said Peñasco. “Policymakers should deploy incentives for innovation, such as targeted R&D funding, while also adapting tariffs and quotas to benefit those across income distributions.

“We need to spur the development of green technology at the same time as achieving public buy-in for the energy transition that must start now to prevent catastrophic global heating,” she said.

Peñasco and Anadon contributed to the recent report from Cambridge Zero – the University’s climate change initiative. In it, they argue for piloting a UK government research programme akin to ARPA in the US, but focused on new net-zero technologies.

Prof Laura Diaz Anadon is Director of Cambridge’s Centre for Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Governance (C-EENRG). The review was also co-authored by Prof Elena Verdolini from the RFF-CMCC European institute on Economics and the Environments (EIEE) and the Euro-Mediterranean Centre on Climate Change and University of Brescia. Anadon and Verdolini lead part of the EU project INNOPATHS that funded the research.

A review of ten types of policy used to reduce carbon suggests that some costs fall on those less able to bear them – but it also shows these policies can form the bedrock of a ‘green recovery’ if specifically designed and used in tandem.

Unless low-carbon policies are fair, affordable and economically competitive, they will struggle to secure public supportCristina PeñascoThomas RichterWind turbines


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Tales from the edge of modern fertilities

Tue, 15/12/2020 - 14:21

A major research project sees sociologists situated at emerging hot spots of reproductive change, investigating the new ‘haves and have-nots’ in our fertility futures.       

Green recovery must end the reign of GDP, argue Cambridge and UN economists

Tue, 15/12/2020 - 09:09

The University helps the United Nations launch a new “Ecosystem Accounting” framework: allowing governments to better include and reflect nature in their post-pandemic economic recovery.

Cambridge researchers awarded European Research Council funding

Wed, 09/12/2020 - 17:14

Three hundred and twenty-seven mid-career researchers were today awarded Consolidator Grants by the ERC, totalling €655 million. The UK has 50 grantees in this year’s funding round. The funding is part of the EU’s current research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020.

The ERC Consolidator Grants are awarded to outstanding researchers of any nationality and age, with at least seven and up to 12 years of experience after PhD, and a scientific track record showing great promise.

The research projects proposed by the new grantees cover a wide range of topics in physical sciences and engineering, life sciences, as well as social sciences and humanities. 

From the University of Cambridge, the following researchers were named as grantees:

 

Vasco Carvalho, Professor of Macroeconomics and Director of Cambridge-INET

Project title: Micro Structure and Macro Outcomes.

 

Professor Tuomas Knowles of the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry

Project title: Digital Protein Biophysics of Aggregation.

 

Dr Neel Krishnaswami of the Computer Laboratory

Project title: Foundations of Type Inference for Modern Programming Languages.

 

Dr Kaisey Mandel of the Institute of Astronomy and the Statistical Laboratory of the Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics.

Project title: Next-Generation Data-Driven Probabilistic Modelling of Type Ia Supernova SEDs in the Optical to Near-Infrared for Robust Cosmological Inference.

 

Professor Silvia Vignolini of the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry

Project title: Sym-Bionic Matter: developing symbiotic relationships for light-matter interaction.

Five researchers at the University of Cambridge have won consolidator grants from the European Research Council (ERC), Europe’s premiere funding organisation for frontier research.


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In Ethiopia, schools still lack basic means to contain COVID-19, as pupils return after months of interrupted learning

Mon, 07/12/2020 - 11:24

The two new research and policy reports, compiled by academics at the University of Cambridge in collaboration with partners in Ethiopia, draw attention to the combined educational and practical challenges facing the country’s schools as pupils return. The authors suggest that these converging problems, while more severe than those affecting schools in wealthy countries such as the UK, are typical of those confronting millions of parents and teachers across sub-Saharan Africa as the pandemic continues to exact a far less-visible toll on their lives and communities.

The findings are based on telephone interviews with more than 900 teachers and caregivers which were carried out in August. Schools in Ethiopia are currently reopening on a staggered basis for the first time since March, with priority given to schools in rural areas. Since the study was completed, many of the issues it documents will have been compounded by the crisis in Tigray.

Overall, the researchers found that, despite significant efforts by the Ethiopian government to support remote learning, many pupils are likely to have had little or no education during the closure period. Disadvantaged groups – such as poorer children, those in remote areas, and girls – are likely to need specific attention having missed out the most.

But while it is therefore vital that schools reopen, the reports also highlight the huge challenges of making schools COVID-safe at a time when access to a vaccine is still, in all likelihood, months away for many teachers and pupils. They point to cases where schools lack soap and running water, for example, and to concerns about the practicalities of social-distancing in overcrowded classrooms.

The surveys were undertaken by members of the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, in partnership with colleagues at Addis Ababa University and the Ethiopian Policy Studies Institute, as part of the RISE Ethiopia and Early Learning Partnership projects.

School closures are widely understood to have deepened a long-term ‘learning crisis’ in low- and middle-income countries in which many of the least-advantaged children already struggle to attain basic levels of literacy and numeracy. Professor Pauline Rose, Director of the REAL Centre, said: “These reports describe the situation in Ethiopia, but highlight interlocking problems that apply much more widely.”

“In many parts of the world, COVID-19 has not just made it harder to keep children learning: it also makes it harder to keep them in school. There are multiple constraints affecting low- and middle-income countries which mean that the very poorest and most marginalised children are even greater risk of dropping out of the system altogether than they already were.”

Professor Tassew Woldehanna, President at Addis Ababa University, said: “With schools reopening it is essential that policy-makers have access to the sort of clear, robust evidence presented here. It is critical to targeting those pupils who need the most support, and limiting the effects of lost learning for millions of children.”

The team interviewed 443 primary school teachers and principals and 480 parents and caregivers. They also co-ordinated with surveys by the Oxford-based Young Lives programme, who spoke to a further 64 principals.

Their results show that while many teachers have been quick to adapt to remote teaching and learning, students’ access to education has clearly been uneven. In some rural regions, for example, none of the teachers interviewed had internet access and only around half of households had electricity. The researchers estimate that around two-thirds of the teachers they surveyed had reached fewer than half of their students during the closures.

The uneven provision that this implies is likely to have affected disadvantaged groups, such as poorer children, those in rural areas, and girls (whose education is often considered lower-priority than that of boys), most severely. Many teachers fear that, because these groups’ parents often have low literacy, low regard for education, and recruit their children to support the generation of family income; such children are especially at risk of dropping out of school, or of never returning.

The research also draws attention to COVID-19’s impact on pre-primary education in Ethiopia: a sector which has been neglected by many governments during the pandemic. Only 53% of parents or caregivers with young children had been able to engage in learning activities with pre-primary children during school closures. Just 10% reported any contact with pre-primary teachers.

At the same time, however, the reports highlight significant infrastructure and resource challenges within schools themselves. 38% of parents said that their children’s schools were only ‘somewhat equipped’ with handwashing facilities; 22% said that they were ‘not equipped at all’. About 15% said that they did not have facemasks for their children to wear at school, and 46% could not provide their children with hand sanitiser. A majority of teachers and principals, especially those in rural areas, expressed similar concerns about both hygiene, and a lack of adequate classroom space to maintain social distancing.

The researchers stress that despite the efforts made by the government so far, ongoing interventions will therefore be needed to help all children benefit as schools reopen. Their main recommendations are:

  • A targeted, national campaign by government, school management committees and local authorities to keep children in school.
  • Extra support (and, if viable, time in school) for students who need to recover lost learning.
  • The construction of new classrooms or sheltered areas where possible, as well as the targeted supply of extra hygiene resources such as sanitisers, facemasks and handwashing facilities to those most in need.
  • Additional investment in resources and strategies to support remote learning, particularly in the context of further possible outbreaks in schools before the effective delivery of a vaccine.

Both reports are available from the REAL Centre website.

Many schools in Ethiopia lack the hygiene facilities and infrastructure to control COVID-19 effectively, as they reopen for the first time after months of disrupted learning, new research indicates.

COVID-19 has not just made it harder to keep children learning: it also makes it harder to keep them in schoolPauline RoseUNICEF EthiopiaAn empty classroom in Haro Huba school, in Oromia region, central Ethiopia.


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No country ‘immune’ to COVID-19 economic shock, but Asian nations will bounce back faster

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 10:25

Global GDP will drop three percent below pre-pandemic estimates by the end of 2021, with many Western nations seeing “deeper and longer-lasting” effects compared to China and other Asian economies, a study suggests.  

Moreover, nations that adopted less stringent lockdowns – Sweden, for example – will not be shielded from the economic losses of COVID-19 either, owing to spillovers from other countries.

Published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the macroeconomic study captures the economic volatility caused by the last forty years of “rare events”. It uses this historical data to forecast the longer term effects of the pandemic on individual economies.  

The research suggests that economic growth will be stymied in at least 80% of the world’s advanced nations and many emerging market economies due to “excess global uncertainty”.   

Two Cambridge economists conducted the study with an international team of researchers. They argue that the pandemic will lead to a “significant fall in world output” – the consequences of which could last much of the dawning decade.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a global shock like no other, involving simultaneous disruptions to both supply and demand in an interconnected world economy,” said co-author Dr Kamiar Mohaddes, a Cambridge Judge Business School economist.

“Infections reduce labour supply and productivity, while lockdowns, business closures, and social distancing also cause supply disruptions. On the demand side, redundancy and the loss of income from death, quarantines, and unemployment plus worsened economic prospects reduce household consumption and firms’ investment.”

The study from Mohaddes, a Fellow of King’s College at Cambridge, and colleagues, including M. Hashem Pesaran, Fellow of Trinity College, uses the IMF’s GDP growth forecast revisions between January and April 2020 to identify the COVID-19 economic shock.

The research team created a model of 33 countries covering 90% of the global economy, using data from 1979 onwards – in particular the rare economic shocks – to predict the range of GDP loss likely to be suffered by each nation and region as a result of the pandemic. The study accounts for the “nonlinear” effects of global economic volatility.

“The techniques developed in this study are intended to capture the effects of rare events such as COVID-19, and account for interconnections and spillovers between countries and markets,” said Mohaddes, who worked with colleagues from the International Monetary Fund, Johns Hopkins University and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.  

The study suggests that the US and the UK are likely to experience deeper and longer-lasting effects, while China has more than a 50% chance of its economy improving far quicker than its major western counterparts. The odds for the Euro area are “skewed negatively”, but it’s likely to experience a speedier and sturdier recovery than the US by the end of 2021.

“Pulled by China, most of the emerging economies in Asia have a higher chance of performing better than the global average,” said Mohaddes. He argues that China and others in the region may fare better globally thanks to their manufacturing bases.

Economies with strong service industries have proved resilient in the past as manufacturing was more exposed to market fluctuations, but COVID-19 and the digital age have turned this on its head: services suffer as people stay at home en masse while goods are still traded through online platforms.

“Non-Asian emerging markets stand out for their vulnerability, and will suffer from a significant output collapse in 2020, with a less than 30% chance of not experiencing an output loss by the end of 2021. Turkey, South Africa, and Saudi Arabia will almost certainly see at least eight quarters of severely depressed economic activity,” Mohaddes said.  

The study pays close attention to Mohaddes’ home nation of Sweden, where the government took a markedly different approach, with little in the way of the mandatory social distancing and lockdowns adopted by most countries.

“The Swedish economy will also see a large fall in GDP, very similar to other European economies,” he said. “Our estimates for Sweden illustrate that no country is immune to the economic fallout of the pandemic, because of interconnections and the global nature of the shock.”

The study predicts lower interest rates in core advanced economies – about 100 basis points or 1 percentage point below pre-COVID rates. “The crisis raises precautionary savings and dampens investment demand,” said Mohaddes.

However, he warns that the same cannot be said with certainty about emerging market economies in regions such as Latin America, where borrowing rates can increase rapidly, with implications for “debt servicing”.    

The study’s calculations involve both the “temporal and cross-sectional dimensions” of data that take into account real and financial drivers of economic activity, as well as common factors such as oil prices and global volatility. Country-specific models include output growth, the real exchange rate, as well as real equity prices and long-term interest rates when available.

Added Mohaddes: “Given its unprecedented nature, any analysis of COVID-19 has to go beyond identifying the economic shock and account for its non-linear effects and cross-country spillovers, as well as the uncertainty surrounding forecasts. This is what we address with our econometric model.”

Study uses forty years of quarterly data to forecast a lengthy global recession resulting from coronavirus, with the manufacturing bases of China and East Asia predicted to fare better than most Western economies.  

Any analysis of COVID-19 has to go beyond identifying the economic shock and account for its non-linear effects and cross-country spilloversKamiar MohaddesGary ButterfieldA lone walker in a shopping district of Leeds, UK, during lockdown.


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Beyond the pandemic: overhaul back-to-work policies to protect mental health

Wed, 25/11/2020 - 13:18

Dr Adam Coutts, an expert in labour market interventions, discusses three policy options for responding to the unemployment crisis caused by the pandemic.    

"Reproduction matters to us all": introducing the latest Horizons magazine

Fri, 20/11/2020 - 11:26

Professor Kathy Niakan talks about why it’s vital to take a multidisciplined approach to understanding the urgent challenges posed by reproduction today – and introduces our Spotlight on some of this work, highlighted in the latest issue of Cambridge's Horizons magazine.

‘Spill-over’ effects show hidden value of prioritising education of poorest children and marginalised girls

Fri, 20/11/2020 - 10:11

The newly-reported study, by academics at the University of Cambridge, is one of the first to measure the complete value that interventions targeting poor and marginalised children also have for many of their peers, principally through ‘spill-over’ effects which improve the wider education system.

The team tested their model by analysing a programme by CAMFED (the Campaign for Female Education) in Tanzania, which supports the education of disadvantaged girls. They took into account its impact not just on those girls, but on other children at schools where their programme operates. Strikingly, for every $100 spent per girl, per year, the programme resulted in learning gains equivalent to an additional two years of education for all girls and boys at those schools.

The study was carried out by members of the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge.

Professor Ricardo Sabates, the co-lead researcher, said: “Helping the most marginalised children inevitably costs more, and most cost-effectiveness measures only consider that expense against the impact on those specific pupils. But programmes like CAMFED’s also have spill-over benefits and critically are keeping girls in school who would otherwise have dropped out. We can, and should, factor in those considerations when assessing cost-effectiveness.”

Professor Pauline Rose, Director of the REAL Centre, added: “While it may cost more to reach the most marginalised pupils, the impact of those efforts is far more impressive than we tend to imagine. This research explains why system reforms should focus on those who need the most support. Education systems that function for the most marginalised children function for everyone.”

CAMFED is a non-governmental organisation which improves the education of marginalised girls in Africa and was recently awarded the 2020 Yidan Prize for Education Development. In Tanzania, its bursaries enable thousands of girls to attend secondary school, in tandem with interventions aimed at improving participation and learning among all children in partner schools.

Because most cost-effectiveness analyses only measure the impact of a programme on its direct beneficiaries (in this case marginalised girls), interventions such as CAMFED’s often seem to have limited reach while at the same time appearing more expensive than those targeting a broader demographic. The Cambridge study examined how best to measure the wider impact of CAMFED’s work in Tanzania, and then used this to refine the cost-effectiveness analysis.

The researchers analysed data from CAMFED’s programme over two years. To calculate per-head costs, they distinguished between the different components of the intervention and their assorted beneficiaries. For example, the cost of bursaries was divided by the number of marginalised girls who received them, but the cost of delivering extra-curricular courses in CAMFED-supported schools was divided by the number of all participating students. This provided a basis for identifying average annual unit costs for individual categories of beneficiaries.

Impact was calculated by comparing the English test scores of children from 81 randomly-selected CAMFED-supported schools with children from 60 control schools that received no support. Scores were collected at the start and end of the two years, and the team used data about the children’s socio-economic background to make direct comparisons between pupils from similar settings.

They also compared the dropout rates at both groups of schools, and used this to weight the final cost-effectiveness analysis. This reflected the fact that CAMFED’s programme not only improves learning, but also supports girls who might otherwise have dropped out of school, or never attended at all.

The cost of the programme, when only the most marginalised girls targeted by the bursaries were considered, was apparently steep: at $130.41 per year for each girl receiving financial support. However, the researchers also found that the per-head cost for other boys and girls at the same schools was just $15.40, demonstrating far greater value for money overall. The additional cost of the bursaries was also found to be vital for enabling the most disadvantaged girls to stay in school.

Pupils attending CAMFED-supported schools made significant academic improvements compared with their peers. The improvement in English test scores among girls receiving financial support was about 35% better than comparable girls in the control group. But other girls also performed similarly, while the boys did about 25% better. Girls who received financial support were 25% less likely to drop out of school than those in the control group.

The researchers then calculated the learning gains of pupils on the CAMFED programme per unit cost. When this measure was converted into equivalent years of learning, they found that for every $100 spent on each of the marginalised girls targeted, English learning outcomes improved by the equivalent of an extra 1.45 years of schooling for all pupils. When the increased proportion of marginalised girls remaining in school was factored in, the improvement in both access and learning for all girls and boys across the CAMFED schools was actually equivalent to an additional two years of schooling per $100.

While it is difficult to compare these results with other programmes, the study suggests that the cost-effectiveness of CAMFED’s work in Tanzania is at least commensurate with similar interventions in sub-Saharan Africa that do not target marginalised groups. But the findings may also be conservative. For example, CAMFED’s programme may also have further benefits outside the school system, for example among the siblings and communities of the young women it supports.

“Even though we probably underestimated its impact, this intervention is still extremely cost-effective,” Sabates added. “It shows real improvements in learning are best enabled when we invest in the children at greatest risk of being left behind.”

The research is published in the Journal of Development Effectiveness.

International development projects that target the education of the world’s very poorest children and marginalised girls also significantly improve other young people’s attainment, according to new research that suggests such initiatives should become a priority for international aid.

Real improvements in learning are best enabled when we invest in the children at greatest risk of being left behindRicardo SabatesCAMFED/Eliza PowellSophia (right), a CAMFED Learner Guide, with secondary student Hanipha, who she supports at school in Morogoro, Tanzania


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Ethnic minorities at much higher risk of homicide in England and Wales

Tue, 17/11/2020 - 12:10

New research analysing racial disparities among murder victims across most of Britain over the last two decades shows that people of Asian ethnicity are on average twice as likely as White British people to be killed.

For Black people, however, the risk of homicide has been over five and a half times (5.6) higher than for White British people – on average – during the current century, and this disparity has been on the rise since 2015.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology were surprised to find that official UK data did not include relative risk statistics by ethnicity, as is common in countries such as the US and Australia.

They argue that the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) should publish “relevant denominators with raw numerators” to help with public understanding of crime risk and police resourcing. The work is published as a research note in the Cambridge Journal of Evidence-Based Policing.

“Through a series of straightforward calculations, we found substantial racial inequality in the risks of being murdered in England and Wales,” said co-author Professor Lawrence Sherman of the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology.

“The pandemic has given the public a crash course in statistics. It provides an opportunity to present all kinds of data in ways that have more meaning for the population as well as those on the front line of prevention,” Sherman said. 

Billy Gazard, a crime statistician for the ONS, said: “We have outlined our plans for improving crime statistics for England and Wales in our July 2020 progress update. Within this update we committed to better addressing inequalities in victimisation and highlighting those groups in society that are at most risk of experiencing crime. We plan to carry out further analysis over the coming year, which will include looking at homicide victimisation rates by ethnicity.”

Cambridge criminologists went back over the last 20 years of annual figures using an approach now familiar to many through coronavirus statistics: rates of cases per 100,000 people. This provided a risk ratio for homicide rates by ethnicity in England and Wales.

The researchers say that, to the best of their knowledge, theirs is the first comparison of ethnic group trends in UK homicide victimisation rates per 100,000 to be published in recent decades, if ever.

They found that homicide risk for White and Asian people has stayed relatively consistent since the turn of the millennium – around one in 100,000 for White people and a little over two in 100,000 for Asian people, consisting primarily of persons of South Asian descent. For Black people, however, risks have fluctuated dramatically over the last 20 years.

The homicide victimisation rate for Black people was highest in the early noughties: almost 10 in 100,000 in 2001. It dropped by 69% between 2001 and 2012 to a low of 3 in 100,000 around 2013. Rates then began to climb again, rising seven times faster than for White people to reach over 5 in 100,000 last year.

When accounting for age, the disparity is starker still: for those aged 16 to 24, the 21st century average puts young Black people over ten and a half times (10.6) more likely than White people to be victims of homicide in England and Wales. 

In fact, researchers point out that – per 100,000 people – the most recent data from 2018-19 puts the murder risk of young Black people 24 times higher than that of young White people.  

The criminologists found no correlation between changes in homicide risk for different ethnicities. As an example, they point to the last three years of data: the homicide rate for White people aged between 16-24 dropped by 57%, while for young Black people it increased by 31%.

“Policing requires reliable evidence, and changing levels of risk are a vital part of preventative policing,” said Sherman. “Our initial findings reveal risk inequalities at a national level, but they may be far greater or lower in local areas. We would encourage police forces to produce their own calculations of murder rates per 100,000.”

Sherman has long advocated for a more “meaningful” approach to crime data. He has led on the development of the Cambridge Crime Harm Index: a classification system weighted by the impact of an offence on victims, rather than just counting crime numbers. 

“Simple statistics show us that the risks of becoming a murder victim are far from equal,” added Sherman. “We need more data analysis of this nature to inform police resource allocation, and promote a more fact-informed dialogue with communities across the country.”  

Calculations now familiar from coronavirus coverage – cases per 100,000 people – applied to ethnicity and homicide victimisation in the UK for the first time. 

We need more data analysis of this nature to inform police resource allocation, and promote a more fact-informed dialogue with communities across the countryLawrence ShermanrudlavibizonMet Police sign in South London


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Faith in democracy: millennials are the most disillusioned generation ‘in living memory’

Tue, 20/10/2020 - 08:41

Young people’s faith in democratic politics is lower than any other age group, and millennials across the world are more disillusioned with democracy than Generation X or baby boomers were at the same stage of life.

Cambridge academics recognised in Queen’s Birthday Honours

Sat, 10/10/2020 - 00:22

The Honours were originally meant to be announced in June, but were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following approval from Her Majesty the Queen, hundreds of additional people were added to the 2020 Queen’s Birthday Honours list for their contributions tackling the virus on the frontline and in their communities.

Professor Julia Gog from the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics is one of the many individuals recognised for their work on the COVID-19 pandemic. Professor Gog, who is a Fellow of Queens’ College, has been made OBE for services to academia and the COVID-19 response.

In 2018, Julia and her team were behind the UK’s largest citizen science experiment in collaboration with the BBC, using location data from mobile phones to map how pandemic influenza might spread across the UK. The massive dataset that resulted from the experiment, the largest and most detailed of its kind, has been used in the response to COVID-19.

Since the start of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, Julia has provided expert advice on infectious disease modelling and COVID-19 to SAGE and its sub-groups - particularly SPI-M-O and the Children’s Task and Finish working group (TFC).

As the lead modelling representative and co-deputy chair of the SAGE’s TFC, Julia has shaped and co-ordinated the modelling advice on options for re-opening schools, a key government priority. Her input has been pivotal to the development of DfE’s response and in developing principles for future interventions.

Through her role on the steering committee of the Royal Society’s Rapid Assistance in Modelling the Pandemic (RAMP) initiative and involvement with other groups (such as the Isaac Newton Institute and Virtual Forum for Knowledge Exchange in Mathematical Sciences), Julia has established working relationships between SAGE and the wider scientific community.

She said: “It’s hugely rewarding to see so many scientists recognised in this way. While I am of course thankful for this personal honour, science is a team pursuit, and I am grateful to so many colleagues for their work and support particularly during this year. While there are still many challenges ahead, we will continue to do all we can to help bring this pandemic to an end.”

Dr Giles Yeo, Principal Research Associate at the Metabolic Research Laboratories and MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit, has been made MBE for services to research and communication and engagement.

Dr Yeo, a Fellow of Wolfson College, is a geneticist interested in studying the brain's control of food intake and body weight, and how these might be dysregulated in obesity. He is from San Francisco, receiving his bachelor’s degree in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California, Berkeley. He came to Cambridge in 1994 for his PhD studies. In 1998 he began his postdoctoral training with Professor Sir Stephen O’Rahilly in the Department of Clinical Biochemistry, working on the genetics of severe human obesity.

Giles was the first to report that mutations in the melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R) and in the neurotrophic receptor TRKB resulted in severe human obesity. In 2007, he became Scientific Director of the core Genomics/Transcriptomics facilities and a group leader at the University of Cambridge Metabolic Research Labs. He is also the current President of the British Society for Neuroendocrinology.

He said: “I can assure you that this was entirely unexpected. Because it was in times of COVID, the notification, instead of being on expensive official stationery, came via email, and I initially thought it was a phishing scam! Anyway, it wasn’t, and I’m deeply honoured to be recognised for my contributions to communicating and engagement in research. I am grateful to be working at an Institution which has allowed me to breathe and to follow my passion.”

Professor Sarah Worthington, from the Faculty of Law and Trinity College, is made DBE for services to English Private Law. She is one of the most prolific, original and influential academics working in the broad field of private law. Since 2011 she has been Downing Professor of the Laws of England at the University of Cambridge, and is currently also a Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University; in 2012 she helped found, and is Director of, the Cambridge Private Law Centre, which promotes informed debate across all branches of private law including obligations, property, family and private international law.

She said: “I feel surprised, delighted and overwhelmed by the honour. It’s wonderful to see legal research recognised in this way, especially research in private law. But research endeavours are never solo projects. I’ve been immensely fortunate to have met and worked with a lot of very warm and clever people who have helped me in all sorts of ways. Thank you to all of them, as I continue to learn from their example.”

Professor Stefan Reif, Fellow of St John’s College and Founder of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit at the University of Cambridge, has been made OBE for services to Scholarship. Under his directorship, the Cambridge Genizah Collection was transformed from an overlooked, under-used and only partially available resource to a major literary treasure that is now widely exploited by scholars, and that has revolutionised the understanding of medieval Jewish life. He has contributed significantly to international developments in the historical study of Jewish liturgy, especially clarifying the evolution of Jewish prayer texts in the eastern Mediterranean in Crusader times.

Mark Enzer, CTO at Mott MacDonald and Digital Director at the Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB), is made OBE for services to the National Infrastructure. Mark is a keen champion of innovation in the context of collaborative delivery models and he is particularly interested in transformational change in the infrastructure industry. As Mott MacDonald’s Chief Technical Officer, he is accountable to the Executive Board for technical excellence across the Group.  As the Chair of CDBB’s Digital Framework Task Group, Mark is contributing to the leadership of the National Digital Twin Programme.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge have been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, which were announced on Saturday.

Photo of Julia Gog: Lionel D'SouzaL: Julia Gog R: Giles Yeo


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