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January 16, 2014

Letter from the editor (17 January 2014): M’obesity, Mo’ problems

Writing about web page

We’ve published a series of articles on the Knowledge Centre this week on obesity, diabetes and how we all play a part in a society that is becoming more and more obese. I have always struggled with my weight. As a child, I would often be described as ‘big boned’, chubby or stout but the truth was I was fat and I did little about it. By the time I reached my late-20s I weighed over 24 stone, squeezed my legs into 44 inch waist trousers and pulled XXL t-shirts over my head. Needless to say, when it comes to my weight, I’ve got more baggage than Heathrow and these pieces brought back some uncomfortable memories of who I used to be, what I used to eat and how sedentary a life I used to lead.

At that size you have a choice. You can embrace what you’ve become, ignore the looks of disdain from passers-by as you waddle down the street and continue down a path to even more morbid obesity (but, as the kids would say, m’obesity, mo’ problems) and, if you have any ambition left, at best, you can hope to become Britain’s fattest man/woman or a contender on the Biggest Loser. Alternatively, you can try and pick yourself up – mentally as well as physically – and have the ambition to just be healthy. Choosing the latter isn’t easy but you’ll, hopefully, be glad to learn it’s the option I’ve been pursuing and one I heartily recommend.

The truth is, and I’m not sure all large people feel this way but it certainly was true for me, being obese is lonely. We might act like the jolly fat guy but a love of cake is nothing compared to the love of another human being. Pizza cannot hug you and waking up next to an empty box of doughnuts does not elicit the same feelings that you get when you’re in a relationship with a person and not food. Like I said; a lot of baggage!

There was a moment when I caught sight of my reflection in the kitchen glass door and it was the moment I knew my life had to change. I’d just pulled a batch of freshly baked brownies out of the oven and I couldn’t even wait for them to cool down before having “a little taste”. As I looked up I saw this huge guy, whose reflection took up most of the doorway, shovelling still steaming cake into his mouth. Who was this guy? In my mind’s eye this wasn’t what I looked like but this is what other people saw when they met me; this was the real me; overweight, unhappy and lonely.

Gareth Jenkins obese man

It’s been five years since the above picture was taken (not long before that reflective moment) and in that time I made an effort to turn my life around. I’ve kept a varied exercise regime to help change my life – rambling, gym sessions and using the large selection of exercise DVDs I'd bought years before. I even gave Zumba a go for a year. Now, I work out five times a week, walk the three miles to and from work each day and walk the family dog at weekends. I jumped on the scales this morning to see what I was down to. At 18 stone it’s still not where I’d like to be but I’d like to think I’ve got the direction of travel right. The memories of who I used to be might be uncomfortable but they’re also a great motivator to help me live a healthier and more enjoyable life.

Gareth Jenkins, Editor.

Ps. Here’s a more recent photo from this afternoon.


What I’m reading this week

Seeking Clues to Obesity in Rare Hunger Disorder
The New York Times
Lisa Tremblay still recalls in horror the time her daughter Kristin pulled a hot dog crawling with ants from the garbage at a cookout and prepared to swallow it.

The mega-city no one has heard of
Al Jazeera
Hanzhong, China - With four million people, Hanzhong's population is the rough equivalent of Los Angeles yet outside of China, almost no one has heard of it.

Even within the world's most populous country, the city is hardly well-known, its existence usually qualified with the sentence: "It's a few hours away from Xian."

Man Sues Toothpaste Maker Because He's Never Attracted A Woman Like Their Ads Promised
The headline says it all.

Costing secrecy
Vox, Professor Mark Harrison
“Democracy often seems bureaucratic with high ‘transaction costs’, while autocracies seem to get things done at lower cost. This column discusses historical research that refutes this. It finds empirical support from Soviet archives for a political security/usability trade-off. Regimes that are secure from public scrutiny tend to be more costly to operate.”

Mark’s written a follow up blog as well.

May 21, 2013

The Class Of 2038: Universities 25 Years Down The Road

Writing about web page

Image. Delorean - the Back to the future car/time machine.

A Q and A with Professor Mark Taylor, Dean of Warwick Business School (WBS).

What do you think is currently the most under-hyped, yet significant, change universities in the UK will undergo within the next decade?

I think one aspect is the impact of the e-learning agenda and how that will change the way we think about universities. Already with the advent of MOOCs we are seeing an ‘unbundling’ of what universities offer. Universities offer knowledge production, knowledge dissemination, and a qualification and student experience; singularly if you like. Top universities offer all four of those. A MOOC offers you what? It doesn’t offer you knowledge production, doesn’t really offer you a qualification after completion; it doesn’t offer you a student experience. So it is just taking out all of those aspects. Its main purpose is knowledge dissemination. We may see the development of universities, over the next twenty-five years, that offer one or more but not all of those aspects of university life. So that may lead to a richness in university education. It may even lead to the development of different areas and niches within the higher education sector. People often like to refer to the ‘Napster moment’ in music, where people thought it would be the end of the universe. What the impact led to was an enrichment of the music industry because it forced the music industry to orientate itself more towards live performances for example, so it actually increased the quality of the provision of the music industry. In the same way I’d have thought e-learning, distance learning and the MOOC agenda will influence universities in a positive way over the next twenty-five years.

Another aspect that is interesting is so called ‘big data’; huge and complex data sets where, for years now, people have been bombarded with huge amounts of information and we are only just getting to grips with how we can actually analyse these data sets in meaningful ways. I think analysing those within institutions seeing how we can improve how we provide some of those elements universities provide like knowledge production, knowledge dissemination and student experience will be very important.

How can university business schools ‘bridge the valley of death’ between academia and industry?

A business school that doesn’t reach out and interact with business is just a school. So it is central to what a business school does and we have a central mission in the Business School. Our mission is to produce world class research, which is capable of influencing the way organisations operate and the way business is conducted. We are here to produce world class business leaders and managers; we are here to provide a return in investment for our students for our alumni during their entire careers as they go out into industry. So we are thinking of ourselves as always trying to integrate within the business industry. Already in the way the government assesses research, in the forthcoming Research Excellence Framework in 2014, is an important impact element which will measure the significance of research done in business schools and in universities in general, on society and the environment, as well as in business schools and business industry.

I think that will be an increasingly important element of the metrics of higher education going forward; it’s not good enough just to publish a paper in a top rate academic journal, there has to be the impact that flows from that. I for one welcome the metrics. The use of metrics in the past twenty or thirty years often had a distorting effect. I think that in this case, it will have a positive impact. At Warwick Business School, there are a number of initiatives we have undertaken in order to interface with business; we are, for example, appointing Professors of Practice. So we now have several professors within the school of the rank of professor who are not academics, who have spent their career within industry and business and achieved a very high level of distinction and been very successful. We have hired them and given them the rank of professor to teach on our MBA programme. They want to impart some of that knowledge, some of that experience to our MBA students and to our researchers as well.

If you could get one commitment from the G8 summit of world leaders, related to higher education, that would benefit the global sector, what would that be?

Quite simply it would be a commitment from world leaders to utilise the knowledge and skills within universities. Universities will generally provide a politically independent source of advice from a range of ideas. Going back to a previous question on how we bridge the gap between academia and industry, I think it’s also important how we bridge the gaps between academia and governments and policy. So really just utilising the skills, and experience and knowledge that exist within universities will go a long way towards benefiting the global economy and global society.

This blog is part of a regular series on the Knowledge Centre looking at issues in higher education ahead of the Global University Summit (May 28-30 2013), hosted by the University of Warwick in Whitehall, London. As part of the Summit, a declaration of commitment and policy recommendations will be drawn up for the G8 summit of world leaders, taking place in Northern Ireland in June.

Image: Model Delorean. Source: Flickr.

Image. Professor Mark Talylor University of Warwick Business SchoolProfessor Mark P Taylor is Dean of Warwick Business School (WBS). Professor Taylor has outstanding credentials both in academia and in the business and policy worlds. He has held a professorship in international finance at Warwick since 1999. From 2006, on partial leave, he worked as a managing director at BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, where he led the European arm of the Global Market Strategies Group, a large global macro investment fund.

Professor Taylor's research on exchange rates and international financial markets has been published extensively in many of the leading academic and practitioner journals and he is one of the most highly cited researchers in finance and economics in the world.

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