Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Learning for life

We interact daily with professionals who could make a significant positive or negative differences to our lives through commission or omission, negligence or momentary lapses. Of course, we have our own responsibility for our health, finances and safety but we do rely on:

Airline pilots
School Teachers, and
Financial Advisors

(amongst others) to help us make the right decisions for ourselves.
What each of these professions has is a minimum entry requirement - often a degree or professional qualification. Professional examining bodies, keen to retain the exclusivity of the calling and the risk of removal of professional status (££) also demand Continuing Professional Development.  A license to practice and insurance cover removal for those not keeping "up to date" ensures that repeat fees flow into the coffers through registers of CPD activity.

Contrast this with the profession of University teaching.  Just as much reliance is placed on the professionalism shown, advice given and guidance offered but it might alarm some to learn that this is a profession with no formal entry qualification and no requirement for CPD.

So, who would I trust to fly me on my next air trip?  The qualified and up to date pilot or the keen amateur who has had a couple of goes in a simulator?

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Externally verified - so that's OK then...

I have participated in many examination boards over the years as Chair, academic, internal advisor, personal tutor and as external examiner.  My role, at the time, colours my view of how effective such a gathering is.
UK Higher Education prides itself on its robust, internally and externally verified assessment process but just how safe is that claim?

Sitting on the Board is, perhaps, the most frustrating, least transparent part of the process as names, marks, mitigating circumstances, system errors, incomplete datasets and missing academics lead to a host of "Chairs' actions" which will be generally reported upon up to a year later.

And, just how are external examiners recruited?  Are there minimum standards?  Is it the first person willing to accept such a paltry sum for so much work? And just how much of the students' work do the externals see?

Having said that, many externals can, honestly, say that the institution they are reviewing matches the standards at their own!!

If the sector is not willing to police itself effectively then it deserves what it gets.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Of course I can ride a horse, I went to the lecture!

What does University actually equip the graduate to do?

Photo by Kirsten LaChance on Unsplash
The discussion in Higher Education about "outcomes" and "employability" (note that this is different from "graduate employment") takes on greater focus when such things are measured in a way that can inform quality ratings.
One problem arises, however, when skills development is not embedded in the curriculum but is seen as optional or voluntary (and less valued as a consequence).  And, what are the skills that should be developed, about which evidence should be garnered to support CV claims about, and armed with which, graduates assault the world of work?
Ha! so many institutions claim, that's why we have "professional placements" or Work Based Learning - to ensure that key skills are embedded.
But what if, I hear you say, what if the students opt out of those options or spend their "year out" studying in a partner institution or hiding in their room or they did not do a "year out"?
Then we can rely on a handy translation device like this:

CV speak
Managed a focused team in a pressured, customer facing environment.

Flipped burgers for McDonald's
Organised a group visit to a foreign location, arranged cultural tours and negotiated return travel for an injured colleague.

Nearly got into the Sagrada Família in Barcelona and persuaded Ryanair to let Tom board, even though he was badly hungover.
Established an on-line support group for homesick students.

Put my Mum on Whatsapp.
Achieved 100% attendance record at lectures and seminars for 3 years.

Hacked the mobile app the Uni uses for monitoring.
References on Request
I haven’t found anyone willing to give me a positive reference yet.

Ethnicity: Prefer not to divulge


Thursday, 27 September 2018

Sorry- the education you ordered is out of stock

By 2050 the world's population will have (slightly) more 18-year-olds than it does today (UN data).  The problem for many Univeristies is that the proportion of those young people in wealthy and developed countries is decreasing whilst, in poorer and less developed regions is increasing.
Why is this a problem for Universities?  Well, money, obviously, or, to be more precise, the lack of it.

So can Universities make their offerings more accessible, affordable and of equal or better quality than the unscalable business model they currently run?

Scalability is a key business problem.  What does it take to up-scale - and how swiftly and efficiently can that be achieved?  In many developed nations that have good quality Universities, mainly for domestic students, the issue will be - how can we down-scale??

Unless, of course, those brilliant minds, planning the strategies of their universities over the next 30 years can think of a way, develop it as a core part of their business model and transform themselves, whilst retaining their brand identity? (see, that Marketing stuff was not wasted on me).

...and whilst I am a great fan and supporter of on-line education I'm not so naive to consider it a panacea.  But the fact remains that tomorrow's students want accessible, flexible, good quality delivery of worthwhile qualifications but very few Universities are prepared to meet those demands.

Oh, but 2050 is years away....


Thursday, 20 September 2018

Of stars, cows and dogs?

As Universities become more "corporate" there will be a clear recognition of "profitability", "strategic drivers" and other such jargon.  Gone, the Newmanesque ideal of University in favour of the Higher Education business model.
Let's look at the typical Business School in the typical University through the lens of a key business model - the Boston Matrix.  This model suggests that investment should be in stars and cash cows - to sustain earnings in the future and divestment of dogs and some question marks (cash drains and unlikely to provide a profit.)

Reproduced from unknown authors under Creative Commons License and "Boy" by your author.
Stars are in areas of high market growth, where providers have a good market presence and share.  Degrees with "Finance" in the title or the even more mysterious terms "Management" or "Marketing"  are typical of Stars. Stars can become Cows over time as market growth slows or competition increases.  Dogs, on the other hand, are the poor relations.  They are small players in back-water and neglected disciplines, enjoying words such as "Operations Research" or "Banking" in their titles.
Some Question marks become stars if they are given the right investment and nurture.

Follow this logic to a natural conclusion and we'll see that all providers end up with the same bland offerings in major areas with specialisms relegated to "pathways" or "options" or, even worse, de-listed.

If only Business Schools went on to read Chapter 2 of the strategy textbook and recognised that in a fixed price environment it is differentiation that will win in the longer-term.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Rainbows in Higher Education?

My absolute favourite part of being at Primary School was Friday afternoons.  Not because of the proximity to the weekend but the timetabled "Art" session that allowed Miss Broad to put her feet up for a while and us, 5 and 6-year-olds, to model with Plasticine.
At the start of term, our personal stash of Plasticine would be renewed and the rainbow colours were chosen.  By the end of a few weeks, after different works of art had been created, displayed, disassembled and returned to the personal stash, we were left with a large amount of brown Plasticine.  As little boys do, this was swiftly modelled into different styles of stool, much to Miss Broad's horror.

Now, at the tail end of my Educational journey, I reminisce about the rainbow that so certainly turned brown and wonder if there is a useful metaphor there?

Probably not, as I consider the marvelous diversity, innovation, and differentiation available in our Universities as all race for:
  • More bums on seats, amid dwindling numbers of domestic undergraduate students;
  • Greater diversity, amid costly and competitive access to international students;
  • Compliance with accreditation / regulatory / benchmark standards, amid an environment suffering regulation fatigue;
  • That one "blockbuster" prizewinning marketing campaign, amid so many others;
  • NSS scores just a wafer-thin margin above the already high average;
  • More and better resources, amid financial constraints on resource building on anything as unexciting as social space, teaching space or IT capacity (unless it is for STEM subjects).
The problem is that the only evidence I can find supports the opposite view, that degrees are all looking the same.

No more Rainbow colours - just brown (and an unappealing shade of brown at best).

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

... and what is it that you do?

Pity the poor academic, in full gown on a sweltering day, standing in line and waiting for the Royal motorcade to arrive.  Then, the moment to be remembered for life, The Queen (God bless her) holds out her hand and asks the perspiring lecturer ".......and what is it that you do?"

Shades of  Her Majesty's  2008 LSE question about the financial crisis?
Any advice on a sensible answer gratefully received.  After 32 years in the Higher Education arena (not counting my own first degree) I still seek a clear definition.