Category Archives: Global HE

Learning as we teach: e-books, an overview

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

I recently had the pleasure of presenting at a Pearson conference on e-books about the opportunities and challenges this emergent technology represents.

This presentation covers seven key areas.
1. A little context
2. Caution – emergent technology
3. What are e-books anyway?
4. pro’s & con’s (according to the evidence)
5. e-book features
6. Teaching and learning (new pedagogies)
7. What can you do?
8. What does the future hold for e-books?

Please share your views using the comments function or by getting in touch.


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Filed under Future HE trends, Global HE, HE in England

Higher education in Asia-Pacific

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


Its common knowledge that overall this region is seeing high economic growth, driven by large populations of young people and rapidly developing economies. But it is not always clear what’s happening ‘under the bonnet’ when it come to higher education. In this final post based on reflections from visiting the region for the Asia-Pacific edition of Blue Skies, I want to draw out a few themes that I spotted.

Economic growth is driving demand from employers in the region for higher-level skills and although provision is rapidly increasing, there is still more to do with both capacity and quality. The latter is seen as critical to ensuring that these rising nations are both efficient and competitive. Higher education investment is seen as one key strategy for fuelling economic development and growth. However, relative to primary and secondary education it is accepted that learners increasingly have both the means and motivation to contribute to their costs, with a rise in cost-sharing and partnerships for long-term financial sustainability. There has also been particular growth of private sector provision across the region, often filling gaps and responding to new areas of demand. The HE sector is also beginning to diversify and specialise although this process has a long way to go in most cases. In addition to economic objectives higher education is also seen as crucial to achieving social development, with the rising middle class demanding inclusive and equitable access to higher education opportunities.

One major trend across these countries that has implications for HE is the rise in regional integration. Organisations such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) are driving closer cooperation, cross-border collaboration and partnerships in the HE sector. For example they are working to harmonise qualifications and support the mobility of both students and workers. The European Union is a good example of what can be achieved with such supra-national groupings. This also aligns with the global rise in internationalisation and mobility of students, academics and university brands. Together these trends will intensify competition, create opportunities for deeper global partnerships, and open access to both student and academic talent. More and more students will be studying at rapidly improving institutions within the region, rather than relatively expensive developed-world institutions. Another organisation driving this agenda in the region is made up of the ten countries now within the geo-political and economic alliance of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). First founded in 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, membership has subsequently expanded to include Brunei, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Within this grouping 26 member institutions make up the ASEAN University Network (AUN), pro-actively focusing on exchanges, sharing expertise, and increasing mobility.

The internationalisation agenda is also playing into this environment, with more and more universities beginning to teach and publish research in English, competing on the world stage. The exception to this trend is Japan which is still experiencing economic challenges and an often insular culture.

In some cases booming economies can offer relatively high salaries without the need for a degree, as is the case for mining in some parts of Australia and call centre work in the Philippines (now with a bigger Business Processing Outsourcing [BPO] industry than India). It remains to be seen if such trends can be sustained with most jobs requiring ever-higher levels of skill and fuelling the growing demand for higher education in this region. It is clear that South East Asian higher education has come a long way but still had plenty of scope to grow and improve further.

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Higher education in the Kingdom of Thailand


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

This next blog in the Blue Skies SEAsia series looks at Thailand. Ruled since 1946 by King Rama IX, the world’s longest-serving head of state, it has been a constitutional monarchy since 1932. It is the only South East Asian nation never to be colonised by the West although it did lose some territories to the French and the British. During the Second World War Thailand signed an armistice with the Japanese and declared war on the Allies, but there was a strong resistance movement throughout and the nation emerged as a key ally to the USA during the Cold War. Today it has a population of about 67m people, most of whom are practicing Buddhists. As one of the ‘newly industrialising countries’ (NICs – beloved of my A-Level Geography teachers) Thailand experienced rapid economic growth during the late eighties and early nineties, including the world’s highest growth rate of 12.4% p.a. 1985-1996. However it was also at the heart of the Asian financial crisis, experiencing a sudden 10.8% contraction of GPD in 1998 and a long, slow recovery. It remains an export-led economy, a popular tourism destination and the world’s biggest producer of rice.

Today Thailand is a relatively prosperous and developed middle-income nation compared to its neighbours, for example the capital Bangkok feels about 20 years ahead of Jakarta in Indonesia. It has high literacy levels and a well-established education system, featuring a significant private sector. Thais are also relatively computer-literate, with a recent election pledge to implement an ambitious $96m USD one (Android) tablet per child policy. Education is compulsory up to 14 years and publically funded up to 17 years. However at all levels teaching is rarely learner-centric and education, especially the curriculum, seems subject to constant government-led change and short-termism.

The Thai higher education system is a mix of public and private institutions, the former including about 92 universities, colleges and institutes, including the oldest in Thailand, Chulalongkorn University, established in 1917. Although recent reforms have made public providers more independent of government (some were formerly called government universities) and their staff to no longer count as civil servants, they are still primarily government funded. Admission to the bigger and more prestigious public institutions is by a yearly country-wide competition, with some direct application too. There are also about 72 private higher education institutions which tend to compete through specialisation and innovation, in the face of more-established public providers getting the first pick of applicants. For example one private university provides compulsory 4 month semester-long internships which are flexibly designed to suit employers. Given an intake of 6 thousand students a year that requires a lot of outreach to build relationships with potential hosts but the benefits to both parties are clear. Some of the senior private university staff we met in Bangkok often felt stifled by restrictive government regulations that stifled such experimentation.

One major issue for Thai higher education is relatively poor levels of English, with the nation ranked 54th out of 56 South East Asian nations and 116th out of 163 countries worldwide. There is currently a debate about whether English or Mandarin should be taught in schools, with the former the current lingua franca for higher education.

Lastly, some of the university staff we met felt there was a general sense of complacency in the country, also reflected in the HE sector, that includes learners, lecturers and institutions. Rapidly developing neighbours such as Vietnam and Indonesia seem to be out-competing Thai universities, appearing “hungrier” for success and more attuned to the “twin poles of power, China and the USA”. So far there has been virtually no impact from international league tables, though this was raised as one possible stimulus for action. The other big issue on the horizon is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), but more of that in the next post…

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Higher education in Indonesia

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


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.


Filed under Future HE trends, Global HE

Higher education down under

(This blog was originally posted through my day-job in Dec 2012 but I am re-posting it here)

Australia was the first place I visited as part of my tour of SEAsia to promote the Asia Pacific edition of Blue Skies. I wondered what higher education would look like in a country with such low population density (c.23m people at 3 people per square mile vs c. 62m people at 256 people per square mile in the UK) and what this might mean for online distance learning, with some institutions pursuing just such a strategy. It’s a highly successful but relatively smaller sector, with only 40 universities (37 public and 3 private not-for-profits) versus c. 140 in the UK. There are also fewer students, with a total of c. 1.2m compared to c. 2.5m in the UK. As is found here there are a range of institutions with the well-known and research-intensive ‘Group of Eight’ at one end of the spectrum and a handful of less-reputable and sometimes struggling universities at the other. The TAFE (Technical and Further Education) sector of colleges tends not to actually teach higher education, as is increasingly the case in the UK but is well regarded and ambitious, often recruiting internationally. Three things in particular struck me during my short stay; the apparent appetite for marketisation, the ability to capitalise on the UK’s recent immigration woes and a lack of positive education outcomes from recent mineral wealth.


I presented in Melbourne on future trends in HE at a roundtable of senior university leaders, concluding that the sector needs a coherent narrative that persuades both government and the public to invest more. One of the attendees, who is number two at a Group of Eight university, immediately disagreed – explaining that their institution was increasingly indifferent to public funding. Their business school currently only draws 7% of its income from the government and more and more this is not seen to be ‘worth the hassle’. Others around the table agreed, apparently keen for market freedoms free of government involvement. Similarly, when I highlighted recent grass-roots movements in the UK such as the Campaign for a Public University and the Council for the Defence of British Universities delegates shook their heads, saying nothing was being lost by recent changes. Now obviously this wasn’t a representative sample of Australian academics or university leaders but I was still surprised at the unanimity.

Competing for international students

It already seems clear that Canada and Australia are two of the most ambitious and strategic recruiters of international students, making up about 22% of the Australian student body. This was borne out when I asked about perceptions of recent incidents in the UK with the Border Agency and violence towards foreign students. Everybody around the table seemed to smile and exchange glances while one explained that they are ‘very well positioned’ to gain from such news. Worrying stuff given recent rumours of another English university being made an example of.

Mineral wealth

Although not everybody concurs I have now heard from a few senior Australians, both in government and universities that by some measures, the public finance benefits from their astronomic mineral wealth have already been spent. Whether this is true or not I wonder if more could be done to invest in education that turns all that financial capital into improved human capital, something many Middle Eastern nations are actively pursuing. Apparently just eight individuals will benefit from the bulk of this wealth to become the richest men (and they are of course all men) in the world. I wondered if at least a few of them couldn’t be persuaded to set up educational foundations akin to the efforts by Gates, Buffet and Clinton – helping to carve their names in history. In fact the situation might get worse as the high wages offered for some manual mining jobs are encouraging many young people to skip university all together and opt to start their career with a ‘fly-in fly-out’ role driving a truck or operating heavy machinery, not a challenge the UK sector has to face.


Filed under Blog themes, Global HE