Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Trust or Trussed?

Regulation in an economic system is often used to protect consumers where market failure cannot be remedied through encouraging competition. Profit is often the measure of market failure as less competition motivates suppliers to maximise their market advantage.
At the root of these motivations is a profit motive.
Regulation in Higher Education also aims to protect "consumers" but from what?
Do Universities have a profit motive? Do they abuse the position of trust that society has bequeathed them? Are academics out for what they can get? ( well, perhaps some are).
Regulation ties Universities up in knots, requires them to comply with ever more detailed rules and regulations, and actually deflects them from their key purpose to educate, inform and to create knowledge.
So do we trust our institutions or do we truss them like the Christmas turkey in red tape, law, regulation and rules?

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Be a teacher - the holidays are brilliant!!

As we enter the festive season and contemplate a well earned Christmas break we need to recognise that the positioning of terms, academic years and vacations are a by-product of history, culture, climate and religion - almost nothing to do with education and learning.
But what would an academic year structure look like if we started from scratch?

  • Would we start in September?  at least this would give a reasonable term of 11 - 12 weeks before the winter / summer (depending on hemisphere)
  • Would we have such long holidays? Primary and Secondary School students can "forget" what has been taught but college and University students often need to work to afford higher education.
  • Would we break again at Easter (a moving feast - literally - from the Christian tradition) - other religions seem to be able to manage study during Ramadan, Eid, Festivals and significant birthdays of prophets.
But in many countries the needs of parents, employers, the economy,  and, in Universities, those focused on research rather than teaching, will prevail and nothing will change.

Happy Christmas.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Teaching Grandfather

In 1986 The Insolvency Act heralded an era of professionalism in the insolvency industry by requiring all holders of insolvency offices to hold a license.  Such a license could be withdrawn (but few have been) for breaches of regulations and guidelines and following receipt and investigation of complaints by disgruntled creditors and others.
So, on 31 December 1986, when the Act came into force, there was a risk that there would be a shortage of  Insolvency Practitioners.
As Regulatory Bodies, such as the Insolvency Practitioners Association, moved towards setting up career paths in insolvency, insolvency examinations and qualifications - a feat that would take years to manage and even longer to graduate its first qualified license holders - a stop-gap needed to be found.

The solution? Grandfathering.

Grandfathering is a UK legal concept based on the concept of legislation NOT being retrospective - whereby those who had acted as Liquidators, Receivers and Trustees in Bankruptcy in the past (and who were not obvious "cowboys") could receive a license on application.

The result - a smooth transition.

Jo Johnson's Teaching Excellence Framework highlights University academics and their qualifications.  Many, in the past 20 years, since the inception of the Higher Education Academy and its forerunners , have gained "teaching" qualifications.  However, many older and senior academics who already held tenure or at least jobs before the notion of qualifications arose have not.  Amongst them, brilliant teachers, enthusiastic and expertly informed communicators, leaders in their fields.  Are they to be less valued under the new TEF regime?

The solution? Grandfathering.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Market failure in HE

New and “alternative” providers of HE in the UK sector not only have financial, reputational  and resource barriers to overcome to be able to compete with established Universities but also legal ones that curtail access to systems and groupings built up by Universities over the years.  The Uk government's consultation paper on Teaching Excellence Framework wonders if the playing field should be levelled.
 New providers (Pearson / BPP in the business sector, for example) – enjoy the ability to invest in new technology without legacy costs and without the need or requirement to establish a research presence or suffer its expensive overhead.  But is PRICE the only component of the market?  How do traditional Univesities add value to teaching and learning?
The clear way for traditional Universities to compete with the “alternative” proposition is to ensure that the research undertaken actually adds considerable value to teaching.  In terms of “research” we must see the value of “scholarship” in its wider sense and not simply 4* papers appropriate for REF.
An alternative way to approach the “new” providers is to embrace them in mutually beneficial partnerships.  They are different bodies, not interested in becoming Universities per se but interested in exploiting the market opportunities available through traditional provider failure.

New providers threaten the “easy money” previously enjoyed by Universities -and it’s about time they stepped up to the plate and competed on grounds of quality.