Thursday, 29 December 2016

More Porter Vice Chancellor? (3)

We are all consumers.
We consume products.
We consume services.

Most products we buy can be returned for a refund if they do not suit us, the only proviso being that we have not used them.  If they break within a reasonable space of time we can get them replaced or repaired.
Services that do not come up to our expected standard can achieve compensation - but you cannot unenjoy a holiday, so there's a challenge here in estimating the compensation to pay.

Higher Education is a different matter.  For a start we have a problem defining who the "consumer" is:

  • The Student
  • The Parent
  • The Employer
  • Wider society
For the purposes of this blog we'll call the consumer SPEW (acronym of above).

So, Porters "powerful"  buyers have choices, ease of switching and the whole purchase is not a major part of their spending.  Powerful buyers can group together and bargain, they have plenty of information available to them to make optimal choices and they are incentivised not only by the benefits they gain but also the sensitivity they have to prices and the source of the funds.

This "heat-map" attempts to ilustrate the strength (red) or weakness (white) of buyer power in the UK HE undergraduate marketplace. In the HE market, the employers and wider society, represented by government, have the greatest power. Students have incentives but lack the ability to act together and lose choice and sensitivity once an offer is accepted.  Parents are bemused onlookers.

So, is it any surprise that Universities model their undergraduate offerings to satisfy the more powerful buyers?

Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Seven Pillocks of Teaching

The number seven is a mystical and magical number with many influential books using it to help their message resonate with as wide an audience as possible.
  • The Bible is littered with examples such as the creation of the world in Seven days.
  • TE Lawrence offered "Seven Pillars of Wisdom"
  • There are said to be Seven Deadly sins - there's also a number of less deadly but equally entertaining ones.

So here's my HE offering- Seven Pillocks of Teaching

1.    The pillock who thinks that reading aloud from PowerPoint slides is the same as teaching
2.    The pillock who thinks that student teaching is the same as student learning
3.    The pillock who thinks that being a good researcher automatically qualifies a person as a good teacher
4.    The pillock who thinks that exams are the only way to test achievement
5.    The pillock who mistakes good student feedback for good learning
6.    The pillock who thinks that the way to help students to develop writing skills is to set them an essay

7.    The pillock who is still using the same lecture slides as he/she did 5 years ago

Happy 2017.  Don't be a pillock.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Good King Progressless - a Christmas song

The School ADT looked out
At the students’ queuin’
At the end of every term
All the coursework’s due in.
Surely, thought the goodly bloke,
There’s a better process?
When a bright thought hit him hard
He’d sort out the whole mess!


"Hither, colleagues, stand by me
Here’s my thought in outline:
Yonder process, what the F***?
Why don’t we do it on-line?"
"Yes”, said many, straight away
Thinking of the savings
Off they went to plan the job and
Quell the AD’s ravings.


"Mark my guidance, good my friends
Use it very boldly
Thou shall find thy colleagues’ rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly."
In their mentors’ steps they trod
Feeling sometimes rebuffed
‘Til they met an awkward sod
And told him to get stuffed!


Therefore, Colleagues, all be sure
Quills or rank possessing
Ye, who now will use on-line

Shall yourselves find blessing.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

More Porter Vice Chancellor? (2)

Second in my series of compatition in Higher Education.  This time we look at challenger institutions and the ease (or not) of getting into the HE sector.

If it is relatively easy for new entrants to get into the industry and to compete with existing Universities then the "profitability" of incumbent players will diminish.  I use Porter's terminology here - as he considers the pressures on profitability in commercial environments - rather than the measures that Universities prefer to use.

Picture by jscreationzs at
Readers of my blog know that I often liken the challenges of the HE sector (and some of its actions) to that of the banking industry.  Here, there are many examples of "challenger" institutions, entering the market since 2008 whilst the attention of the big players was diverted through past wrondoing, mistakes, mismanagement and an overarching sense of superiority and incumbency.

Well - UKHE has its challengers too:
  • Niche institutions such as The London Institute of Banking and Finance (LIBF)
  • Alternatives to University such as apprenticeships (or even degree apprenticeships)
  • Global delivery systems (MOOCs, as the tip of an iceberg of on-line resources)
  • Commercial providers in mass market areas (BPP in Law, Accounting, Business...)
  • A lack of conviction that a UK degree is a passport to a job in China
Yes, it is difficult to swim through the mire of regulation, legislation, funding, establishing "academic" credentials, but it is not impossible.  Yes, it is a long term activity but then again, incumbent Universities did not appear overnight.  The message is that the current market can, and will, be challenged.

So, Vice Chancellor, INNOVATE OR DIE.  Don't be a bank.  Don't rely on incumbency and dubious legacy benefits.  Brand will tarnish if it is not constantly polished - and I don't mean changing the logo!

Next in the series will consider "Buyers" - just who buys Higher Education and how much influence do they have on the shape of it?

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Lecture is DEAD! Long live the Learning session!

So, the lecture is dead is it BBC?
Or, more to the point, it should have been euthenased a long time ago as MOOCs, digital provision, e-learning and on-line everything else took over the world.  Trouble is - nobody told the Universities or the students...

Exciting lecturer in full flow - courtesy of  Echo 360 Lecture Capture
The thing is that the lecture - and we're saddled with that name - is an integral part of the expectations of students, borne of parental experience, School guidance (by teachers who have been at University) and media portrayals where exciting revalations or drama happen in the last two minutes of a session (see Good Will Hunting (1997) for example).  Lectures also owe a lot to the estates designs of Universities where the bean-counting "stack 'em high" principle often overpowers the peadagogic quality judgement of small class teaching or workshops (and don't start me on the insistent voice of KIS - see my earlier blog where "contact time" bears no relationship to the quality of provision.)

Lectures also owe a lot to our history - after all, who becomes a lecturer today?  Typically those who have shown good academic skills in undergraduate or postgraduate study, have been funded to or enthusiastic enough to do a PhD from which they can publish.  When these folks consider what it is to prepare for a lecture they fall back on their own experience - having been taught by a series of "lecturers" with similar academic journeys to their own.

So, let lectures be more innovative, less anal, more entertaining, less rigid.  Let lecture sessions be PART of the overall learning in a subject - not ALL of it.  Let's embrace technology but not be guided by it.  Let's be enthusiastic about our subject and have that apparent in the way we teach and the energy we expend in explaining it to oiur students.

As one experienced colleague said to me recently:

"I can't stand listening to myself for more than about 10 minutes, so why should I expect anybody else to?"

We can start by reviewing Phil Race's FREE downloads which do need to be updated for technology but not the pedagogy behind the ideas.