Praise and censure


in Oxford, Rants

In a bewildering move, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has actually praised the quantitative methods training offered by the Department of Politics and International Relations. This is the same training that 27 of the 28 people in my program formally protested the poor quality of, in a letter to the department. I think the predominant view of the statistics portion of the M.Phil, among those taking it, is that it’s the primary evidence that just because something is taught at Oxford, that doesn’t mean that it’s taught well. It’s the black mark within an otherwise excellent program. A great deal of dissatisfaction with the course was also expressed to me by several members of the faculty, as well as the program director.

Hopefully, the ESRC was looking at one of the other statistics courses being offered by the department, rather than the one given to people doing M.Phils in International Relations. Ours managed to please nobody: neither those already experienced with statistics nor neophytes, neither those who see a lot of value in quantitative methods nor those who prefer other methodologies.

To any fellow M.Phils reading the blog: would you not agree that the quantitative methods training we received was not deserving of praise of this kind?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben April 7, 2006 at 8:09 pm

I never had any stats training, but it’s my general impression that research methods courses are all provided more for funding bodies than the students’ needs.

Anonymous April 7, 2006 at 9:57 pm


Without identifying myself, I can share my conviction that the course was very badly organized and taught, indeed. As far as I could tell, this was the sense of everyone in the program, as well as most of the professors affiliated with it.

Hopefully, this won’t allow Tilley et al to argue that they did a good job, when the next round of condemnation arrives next year.

Lee April 7, 2006 at 10:32 pm

I have to say I am flabberghasted by this. It is like something from 1984 – the scene from the canteen where the party is announcing record output rates in shoes and other consumables, and everyone cheers, while at the same time everyone knows they have holes in their boots and they can’t find razorblades for love nor money.

There is NOTHING to praise about the quantative methods programme whatsoever. It has been subject to sustained critique from faculty for a number of years and outright revolt from the student body for two years now. The department has even admitted the profound inadequacy of its provision.

This judgement tells you nothing about the stats training at Oxford and everything about the ESRC.

Lee April 7, 2006 at 11:02 pm

I was so cross about this I wrote an extended rant.

Milan April 7, 2006 at 11:07 pm


I am glad someone else is angry about this. I don’t want them to be able to use it as cover next year.

Milan April 7, 2006 at 11:08 pm

My letter of complaint about stats (PDF)

Does anyone have the text of the group letter on hand?

Anonymous April 7, 2006 at 11:18 pm

Some discussion of the group letter took place in the now defunct M.Phil in IR forum.

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