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.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

The Doctor will see you now...

A recent survey in Times Higher Education (THE) threw some doubt on the self-serving wisdom of top Universities that reasons that research focused academics make excellent teachers.  Well, sometimes they do, but it's nothing about their researching at the cutting edge of their subject (few could leverage that level of sophistication into the average undergraduate module), it's about their passion for the subject coupled with a (rare) ability to communicate to mere mortals.

Such super-human academics who boast REF returnability years before the deadline, teaching satisfaction scores consistently above average and good citizenship in abundance are few and far between.  Most academics, sadly, are stressed and lonely individuals, frustrated by the pace of change and the demands of "consumers" and creeping "managerialism" from their institution and only want to find a darkened room in which to engage with their favourite subject.

And this is the same individual to whom undergraduate students are allocated as "personal tutees".  The Doctor will see you now when he/she feels like it and probably at a time when you are in class and so cannot make it.  If by some bizarre twist of fate, however, you actually get an appointment at a time you can make it, as a student, the academic is likely to be a signpost for additional help if you are:
  • Pregnant, so you missed some exams...
  • Wondering if you chose the right course...
  • Suffering with (choose illness) and so cannot attend lectures...
  • Accused of Plagation? Plagueism? Plagology? and need advice...
So, for all of those TEF gold institutions that pride themselves on personalised academic support, we need to ask just how compatible that is with REF gold (or equivalent)? Especially if they are stellar researchers and brilliant teachers and caring humans - all rolled into in one.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Gamify your degree course

Now, we all like a good game - Bridge with friends, Chess with a colleague (that should appeal to my academic reader) or Zombie Apocolypse V on XBox in front of the widescreen telly with virtual "friends" around the world.

Why do we like playing so much with, for most of us little reward other than satisfaction, oh, and a large chest full of virtual dubloons?

It responds to ourselves as humans to be competitive, to crave achievement and notice and, if Twitter and Facebook, LinkedIn and Tripadvisor are anything to go by, the need to be "Liked".

So why not tap into that human spirit and make your whole degree programme a game?

Entry Level
Points scored on other, lower level games can be used to purchase advanced status at different game venues.  Points can be transferred from games in different languages and from different software providers.
Those game venues resembling medieval buildings are seen to be the most prestigious whilst those covered in plate glass often have more transparent routes to future levels.

Beginners curse
This game level sorts the wheat from the chaff.  It rarely “counts” in the final levels of the game but players need to achieve a certain level of skill.  This level is not easy, however, and has many distractions for the unwary player such as:
·         The pub of doom
·         The complexity of the IT tools
·         The wit and wisdom of the Professors of confusion
·         The mire of self-doubt and
·         The forest of eternal uncertainty

Intermediate doldrums
This is a necessary but very boring level of the game.  It is more difficult than the beginners level and has greater challenges.  In this level the reality of financial budgeting takes a grip and those unprepared for the decisions about overdrafts, loans and credit cards may lose out.
Achievements at this level, however, will build up stores of ammunition for the final level – where two games continue in parallel:
·         The Final Destiny game and
·         The Life after the game game

Final destiny
This is the game’s highest level and one, where it is rumoured, that most players will get a “good” outcome.  Just how a 70% score is the highest the game awards, however, escapes most numerate folks.
At the awards ceremony, after the game is finished there are additional opportunities to earn virtual points by parting with real (not virtual) money.  Points like “Alumni” status or even “Selfie with the Grand Game Master”.
Then, players move on to a new game that has fewer rules, more opportunities, less rigour but more (real) reward.
All in the hope that the degree game has prepared you fully for it.

Oh? You're already doing that?

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

The answer isn’t 42 - it’s VR

In the best traditions of business and HE I have been excited by a new technology and now desperately seek a use for it.
Virtual Reality.  It's what I've been looking for to immerse my students in the "real world" (ironic eh?), to give them the confidence to make mistakes and to learn by doing.

I have a huge catalogue of business problems and issues, numerous case studies that do not have defined outcomes, discussion points that interaction with artifacts and people provide the best way to practice and learn.

What I don't have is the €100,000 to develop a single scenario fully, the years it will take me to persuade institutional powers and students that this is really learning and the encouragement of colleagues to try it out.

Back to the virtual drawing board, I fear...