Category Archives: Future HE trends

Higher education in Indonesia

(a version of this blog first appeared through my day-job in Jan 2013)

Bali-Indonesia-copy

Indonesia is the second country I visited while promoting the Asia Pacific edition of Blue Skies, with stops in Bali and Jakarta. It is an incredibly big, ambitious and diverse place, comprising an archipelago of over 17,500 islands. It is the fourth most populous country in the world with nearly 250m people, 87% of whom are Muslim (the largest Muslim population in the world). Despite being badly hit by the Asian Financial Crisis of the late 1990’s Indonesia recovered well and today has a strong and vibrant economy, maintaining a growth rate of about 6% throughout the recent global recession. Together these factors help make it a rising regional power, a part of the G20 and a founding member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

There are a staggering number and variety of universities in Indonesia, with estimates of about 3,000 different providers, including both public and private institutions. The sector varies massively, with some globally competitive centres of excellence and at the other end some quite dubious bearers of the university name. There are also many vocational and technical institutions focused on a particular industry such as agriculture, fisheries or shipping. Public universities are state-funded and increasingly self-governing, with recent moves by the government to grant them more autonomy and improve their governance. These public institutions are also more prestigious than their private counterparts, getting first pick of applicants based on their performance in competitive final high school national examinations. Private universities are a diverse group but include many religious institutions. Most university courses are fee-paying and relatively expensive, with students usually needing to leave home.

It seems that HE provision is often still quite traditional across Indonesia, with lecturer-centred approaches that focus on knowledge and exams. There is a sense that university does not prepare many learners sufficiently for future careers, with graduate unemployment at about 10%, among the highest in the region. Many employers need to train their recent hires to make them work-ready and graduates often end up working in areas outside their subject of study. There are moves to teach English and employability skills but so far these are rarely integrated across courses or focus upon ‘21st Century skills’. There are some moves to support entrepreneurship (by staff and learners) and community outreach but again these seem sporadic. If Indonesia is to fulfil its massive potential then it seems more important than ever that all of its universities emulate the best practice found nationally, regionally and internationally.

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What does the future hold for £9k students and the English HE system?

(a version of this blog first appeared as a London School of Economics British Politics and Policy blog in Nov 2012 and through my day-job in Jan 2013)

Legacy

The excitement of freshers week should now be firmly behind the first cohort of students in England paying as much as £9k a year in tuition fees as they embark on the painful second term. But will this group, facing higher average debt levels than their American peers, be dealing with a very different kind of hang-over in the future? And what about their lecturers, the courses they are taking, the institutions they are attending or the national system of higher education as a whole? Will they all be in a stronger position after recent reforms, or will our universities go the same way as some of our traditional industries and our football team?

In summary it’s still too early to tell. Education is always a long-term business, and one that rarely fits conveniently with the timescales of politicians, CEO’s or news editors. But what should we be looking out for, what are the KPI’s for those five important aspects of higher education? I’ll attempt a quick run-through of my thoughts on each.

For learners the first issue to watch out for is access; are enough people still applying compared to previous years, especially from disadvantaged or non-standard backgrounds. So far the results have been better than expected, with limited drops overall and for disadvantaged applicants, although the figures for mature learners are more worrying. The next consideration is the success rate of those applicants, are as many offers being made? After that one might consider completion rates and other outcomes. How many learners are finishing their course and going into employment or further study? Graduate unemployment rates are persistently high with under-employment (people working in jobs they are over-qualified for) an additional concern. It’s hard to untangle these reforms from a wider economic malaise but there is data, such as on graduate starting salaries (holding up well so far), wellbeing scores and satisfaction measures that can be tracked, weighted and compared.

Many university lecturers have opposed the changes, already feeling pressured to perform by the time-consuming Research Excellence Framework (REF), a five-yearly measure of ‘research impact’. It could be argued that by tying funding more closely to the student, the new system helps re-balance the role of an academic some of the way back towards teaching. I’ve not seen much evidence so far of staff welcoming that, with many resenting the uncertainty caused by such major changes happening in so short a space of time. To determine the long-term success we should keep an eye on the supply of new applicants, retention and retirement levels, and satisfaction scores.

When it comes to courses there is a real concern for those arts and humanities disciplines without an immediate or direct appearance of economic relevance. The higher fees sharpen the minds of would-be applicants and their families, prompting interest in the information now held on each course within the Key Information Set (KIS) – such as employment rates and average starting salaries. Many institutions have already responded to the reforms by rationalising their courses, dropping those that are less economically viable. Some might consider this a necessary and overdue process of efficiency, while others may see it as the unwelcome result of an instrumentalist trend that prioritises economic values over all others. Perhaps the key success measures to watch are the range of choices available to future applicants, whether any disciplines at put at risk, and if the domestic supply of work-ready graduates or post-graduate students is harmed.

As for institutions themselves, there is widespread worry for the ‘squeezed middle’; middle-ranking universities that lack the reputations of their esteemed peers, but cannot compete at a lower price point with new entrants and nimbler competitors. The jury is out on whether a failing institution would constitute damning evidence of the reforms or merely signify a healthy market. A growing reliance on international students and a few notable examples where that has not been managed so well, could perhaps also signify the impact of these reforms.

When it comes to the performance of the English HE sector as a whole, there is plenty of comparative data out there from institutions such as the OECD, UNESCO and the British Council. By many measures England continues to punch above its weight, to use a well-worn phrase. Our research citation count, global brand and league-table ranking are all admirable. However it is unlikely that we can rest on those laurels for much longer, with emerging economies, especially China and Singapore, investing far more than us in their universities and already seeing the results. Recent OECD data indicates that 24 out of 31 OECD nations have increased their investment in higher education during the recent economic downturn, highlighting why the UK might need to increase its own investment. Other key measures to watch out for include the amount invested as a proportion of GDP (already very low for England), the total cost of HE (and the proportion that is publicly funded) and the proportion of the population that obtains a high-quality degree (Blair’s 50% target may be gone but what should we be aiming for instead?).

And of course, this all misses those things that can’t be measured (or managed Mr McKinsey) and which some believe matter the most. Will we ever really know how many would-be applicants opted for a job that puts money in their pockets, how many lecturers decided to retire early, which new courses were never developed, what else could have been done with all the Vice Chancellor’s time or how England’s brand is really faring in the global HE marketplace? We’ll probably never know the answers to these questions but there is one last success measure we can keep an eye on – the savings to the Treasury (and the principal motivation for these changes). According to the latest research from think tank HEPI the savings may be negligible, if at all apparent. But as this largely depends on how well this years’ freshers repay their debts once they are earning, we’ll have to wait to find that out too.

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Cracking higher education policy – my New Year wish list

(a version of this blog first appeared as a Westminster Briefing feature and through my day-job in Dec 2012)

clocktower

With the holiday season upon us, is it time to lend a helping hand to those less fortunate than ourselves, students starting university next year. Here are the higher education policy ideas I’d like to see unwrapped in 2013.

Wish one – If we can’t reduce the costs of university then we should at least make them easier to understand. The Key Information Sets (KIS) are an important and largely positive move, providing detailed information on courses (such as starting salaries) and even includes an open Application Programming Interface (API) so others can build useable apps based on the data. However, the information within it is still very patchy and as some research suggests, providing information alone is insufficient. The students and families that already possess so many advantages are also relatively better-positioned to make use of such sources, whereas more disadvantaged applicants, who might have equal ability or potential, tend to lack such support – leading to unequal opportunities and an education system that can increase inequality. With the student funding system having become a lot more complicated recently, it is vital that both institutions and the government work on improving clarity next year.

Wish two – Invest in the National Careers Service (NCS) to create a universal and effective public service. The move to create an all-age careers service with a single website and helpline is to be applauded, but without proper funding it won’t achieve its potential. In particular there is growing evidence of a drop in provision, especially advice delivered face-to-face and to young people. There are both economic and social costs from people making poor decisions at critical points as they progress through life. Too many people are unaware of the options available to them and end up in inappropriate courses or jobs. Universities need to massively increase their outreach activities to support better choices, rather than funding more merit-based scholarships that have been proved to harm social mobility.

Wish three – It is time to explicitly support teaching values, as well as knowledge and skills. One of the growing trends through this period of austerity is a focus on employment as the key outcome of higher education. Prospective applicants are more focussed on employment rates and starting salaries than ever before and institutions are increasingly building ‘employability skills’ into their provision. I wouldn’t argue with that but I think we need to go further, by helping students to develop the values that they need and expect in the long-term. This is about social enterprise, sustainability, volunteering and emotional intelligence – with a focus on good jobs and lives rather than just salaries. I’d love to see government and HEFCE start to talk more about these softer and harder to measure outcomes.

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