Category Archives: MOOCs

I’m trying a few Mass Open Online Courses and will be posting my ‘homework’ as blogs here.

Trends in part-time and online provision

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

I was recently asked to present to both Linking London and the Association of Heads of University Administration about trends in higher education provision. In particular I focused on the issues of part-time learners and online delivery (I argue that MOOCs should just be called ‘courses’).

After painting a (pretty bleak) picture of the current context for UK HE, I explore alternatives to the typical Hogwarts university experience, focusing on both part-time and online. I  am particularly interested in how both can work together, taking an ‘evolution rather than revolution’ angle.


Leave a comment

Filed under Future HE trends, HE in England, MOOCs

Presenting the future (r)evolution in higher education? – for MOOC #CFHE12

I recently had the pleasure of travelling around South East Asia to launch the Asia-Pacific edition of Blue Skies and learn about the issues facing universities in that dynamic part of the world. I was presenting at a number of round-tables and conferences (QS-Apple and UNESCO then IES back in London) on future trends in higher education. Below is the evolving presentation I’m working on that attempts to explore future issues for the sector. The first half uses secondary data and charts to explore issues such as demography and development. The second half then looks at some responses by the sector with suggestions for considerations in the future. It is based on my experience with the Blue Skies project editing over 60 articles by leading authors from around the world – each sharing their vision of the future for HE. In future blogs I will try to share some of what I learned on my travels.

Please get in touch if you’d like to contribute as Blue Skies is an ongoing global project. Comments and shares both appreciated.


Leave a comment

Filed under #CFHE12, Blog themes, MOOCs

Global higher education issues – background for MOOC #CFHE12

(This blog was originally posted through my day-job in Sep 2012 but I am re-posting it here as background to the #CFHE12 MOOC course)

I had the pleasure of attending the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Institutional Management in Higher Education (IMHE) conference this week in Paris. A mouthful of acronyms I know (more on that later), but it was actually great. I was there to broaden my knowledge of higher education and to see what the diverse audience of 500 international delegates thought of the new Blue Skies edition.

One of the good things about such conferences is getting a sense of the common issues and challenges facing higher education around the world. For me there were six main themes that arose; concerns about declining public funding, the negative (if inevitable) impact of league tables, risks surrounding standardisation, how to create ‘T-shaped’ graduates, the challenges accompanying global English and finally how to respond to accelerating internationalisation.

However, as always at such conferences, the main sessions and common themes are only interesting to a point (and not just because I always struggle to sit and listen attentively for any great length of time). The really useful insights tend to come out of the conversations during the breaks, talking to other delegates and learning about the nitty-gritty details of the specific issues they are thinking about. Below is a whistle-stop tour of what I picked up about different areas of the world.

  • Southern Africa: student demand is high but there are challenges in securing long-term funding e.g. for technology investment
  • Singapore: taking a portfolio approach and developing a diverse HE system e.g. institutions specialising in technical skills, research or humanities
  • Hong Kong: massive growth in private tutoring, variable prices and quality, impact on fair access and long-term equity
  • Australia: patchy growth from mineral wealth (3/8 regions and just 8 individuals), mineral taxes probably won’t deliver investment in education on the ground, huge salaries for high-intesity fly-in/out low-skill jobs are attracting people away from HE in the short term, there is a focus (and more funding) in mining-relevant disciplines, some trickle down of benefits
  • Europe: much opposition to league tables, with a growing focus on internationalisation, English language and creating world class universities
  • Turkey:
  • Brazil: language a barrier to mobility and global standing, with plans to teach more in English
  • Canada: increasingly successful at recruiting international students
  • China: British HE still a strong attractive brand, huge graduate growth, likely to lead the world in citations soon, but variable quality with some globally competitive insitutions
  • England: another London Met -type affair could be truly damaging, UKBA seen as very heavy handed, talk of proportional ‘punishment’, and even failure…

There are no obvious solutions to these different issues, either global or national. But I do have three ideas that might help. I wonder how universities can be supported to collaborate with each other better (within and between countries), how they can do more with less, and how we might promote diversification (specialisation) in the sector without stratification (winners/losers).

Lastly, my time at the conference also convinced me that the higher education sector needs to learn to communicate in a far more engaging, coherent and persuasive way. Whether it’s competing with other spending priorities, defining it’s purpose and mission, or describing the impact it has – I wish it could tell a simpler and more compelling story.

Leave a comment

Filed under #CFHE12, Blog themes, MOOCs

The five big trends shaping higher education – background for MOOC #CFHE12

(This blog was originally posted through my day-job in May 2012 but I am re-posting it here as background to the #CFHE12 MOOC course)

Now and again it can be useful to lift your gaze from the latest news story, burning policy issue or regulatory change that is occupying your attention. If you set your focus to the widest possible angle, then you will start to see some of the bigger and longer-term changes to higher education take shape. In my opinion, there are five big factors changing the way we ought to think about HE: demography, globalisation, technology, sustainability and funding. These represent a complex and overlapping cluster of issues with the potential to have huge positive or negative impact on higher education. When considering them it is worth remembering that higher education is always both a product and a source of such change.

1. Shifts in demography and macro-economics

The single biggest change of our era is the global shift as formerly ‘developing’ nations start to equal and in some cases surpass their ‘developed’ brethren, not only in terms of demography but also in economic might. Rising numbers of young people, especially in the poorest nations, are helping to drive ever-higher school enrolment rates, creating a massive potential market for higher education. By 2020 it is estimated that India, China, the US and Indonesia will account for over 50% of the world’s 18-22 year old population. However many populations are set to age rapidly too, including Russia, Germany and China. Meanwhile India, the US and Brazil will maintain a steady growth in numbers among this key age group between now and 2020.

The university age (18-22 years) population by 2020

The university age (18-22 years) population over time

Demand for higher education has remained at a record high in recent years, both in the UK and internationally. The number of UK 25-64 year-olds who completed a first degree rose from 25% in 1999 to 37% in 2009, a growth rate of 4%. That compares well with the OECD average over the same period, which saw a rise from 21% to 30% at a growth rate of 3.7%. The final UK figures from UCAS for 2010 show 487,329 acceptances from 697,351 applicants, a 9% increase in applicants on 2009. Based on current patterns of graduation, it is estimated that an average of 46% of today’s women and 31% of today’s men in OECD countries will complete higher education at some point in their lives. Only 39% of women and 25% of men will do so before the age of 30, highlighting the growing proportion of mature students (with the UK probably bucking that trend under the new fee regime). Globally, the largest numbers of people currently enrolling in higher education are in Brazil, India, USA, Indonesia and China – with the latter seeing some of the fastest growth. This high demand for higher education comes from a variety of sources: students and their families see the potential private gains to their incomes, future opportunities and status; employers need a skilled and innovative workforce able to compete on a global stage; and Governments see the benefits to the economy, political stability and wider social returns.

However, the global average increase in HE enrolments is predicted to fall to 1.4% p.a. by 2020 compared to annual average growth of over 5% in the past two decades. This is due to many populations, such as China’s, passing their peak in terms of young people, as well as ‘maturing’ economies making enrolment gains less quickly after initially rapid increases. Although many nations are yet to reach their higher education potential, one might argue that the global peak may have already passed.

The key question for UK institutions as they look at this enormous potential global market is how big is the potential pool of students that might come to the UK to study? Growing capacity within developing countries, especially China, India, Brazil and Indonesia will mean that many students end up studying in their own countries. Globally the biggest number of students studying overseas will be from India, with UK providers expecting the highest growth in numbers to come from India (up 16%), Nigeria (42%), Malaysia (22%), Pakistan (26%), Saudi Arabia (15%) and Sri Lanka (18%). There is still plenty of scope for UK institutions to capitalise further on that growth, despite recent visa restrictions.

There is also potential for further growth in female enrolment which, although it exceeds that of men on a global basis, still remains largely untapped in many places. Approximately 60% of nations will miss the Millennium Development Goal of gender parity in primary and secondary education enrolment, a goal set for 2005 at both the World Education Forum and the 2000 Millennium Summit. The proportion of illiterate women has not changed in twenty years, still representing two-thirds of the world’s 759 million illiterate people in 2008. In nearly all countries HE course choices still tend to be heavily gendered, for example with women choosing education and health-related disciplines, while men choose engineering and physics.

2. Rapid technological advances

Although it may not feel like it sometimes, the impact of changing information and communication technologies is only just beginning to be felt in higher education, with far more change on the way. Both teaching staff and students are becoming better connected than ever before, making both learning and researching an increasingly social enterprise, taking place far beyond traditional lecture halls and labs. A key outcome of these developments will be a huge increase in the volume, variety and velocity of data produced by higher education, in ever more open and accessible formats. This will include linked data about research, learning resources, the curriculum taught, assessment, achievement and performance. Although we are currently data rich and analysis poor this situation will begin to change, as new technologies, systems and training help us capitalise on this wealth of data in ways we cannot yet imagine. Learning will become more personalised and achieve better outcomes than ever before – as hinted at by some of the early studies into the ‘flipped classroom’ open resource initiatives taking place at Harvard, MIT, Stanford and others. There is also going to be a boom in ‘virtual campuses’, as we become more accustomed to learning together virtually, not just in-person. These changes will not only have an impact on accountability by informing policy and practice with better evidence, but will allow for real progress in terms of efficiency and innovation. This has the potential to dramatically improve access and equity, offering high quality higher education for all, in a cost-effective way.

3. An increasingly globalised knowledge economy

Technology-fuelled globalisation is making the world more interconnected than ever, from global to local and back again. As higher education increasingly becomes international it also becomes more varied – giving new experiences and possibilities to both students and educators. There is ongoing growth in trans-national education programmes and partnerships, with institutions reaching out to each other on a variety of fronts, from simple exchange programmes to complex multi-institution courses that include terms on different continents. Research is also becoming more and more international with those papers that feature international partnerships achieving higher levels of citation impact. The USA, UK and other established players still dominate the field but China and others are catching up very quickly. In this environment the continued importance of global higher education brands is reinforced, but there are opportunities for other players to carve out their own distinctive niches. Newer, smaller and more specialised UK providers can also benefit from international collaborations if they pick the right partners. Lastly, although they are often contested and uncomfortable to read, a key outcome of all the global benchmarking and league table work done by OECD, UNESCO, the British Council and others, is to help improve standards and raise quality.

4. Greater focus on sustainability

Given the looming environmental, economic and social risks threatening to engulf us in the long-term, an ongoing commitment to more sustainable practices has to be near the top of every HE leaders’ to-do list. But how many can honestly say that is currently the case? Whether it is practicing what they preach with their own organisational activities, picking research priorities or changing the content and style of teaching, higher education institutions must be on the front line in tackling these big long-term challenges. All around the world institutions are exploring new ways to address these issues: offering students a truly well-rounded education, covering ‘21st century’ employability skills, focusing on better wellbeing outcomes, building personal resilience and adaptability, or developing authentic community links. This area is often hard to quantify and doesn’t easily fit within a language of pound signs or academic grades, but in the long-run these issues may well be more important.

5. A funding mix in flux

In all nations the cost-sharing mix for higher education is changing, with the burden tending to shift from governments to parents and students (and to some extent businesses and donors). The UK has just seen one of the biggest such shifts, despite already spending considerably less as a proportion of GDP than the OECD average, with levels of public expenditure only higher than one other OECD country, Indonesia. Overall, global expenditure on higher education has increased significantly in recent years. From 2000 to 2008, expenditure per student by OECD tertiary educational institutions increased by 14 percentage points on average, after having remained stable between 1995 and 2000. The UK is currently spending slightly more than that average at c. £9,800 pa and that figure has grown quicker than the OECD average over the last decade. It is unclear if this will continue given the ongoing economic woes of many developed nations.

A range of different factors explain these funding trends but the main issue is the differential growth rates between the developing and developed nations, with many of the latter choosing austerity as the route out of a steep recession. However there is also a backdrop of increasingly market-friendly liberal (or neo-liberal) economic policies, allowing for the blurring of public and private models, non- and for- profit. There has been significant growth in partnerships with the private sector – both with multinationals and niche, high-value SMEs.

Hopefully, discussion of the above five trends helps to broaden perspectives and place changes to UK higher education within a wider context of major change. British HEIs have the good fortune to be far more in control of their own destinies now than ever before, thanks to funding changes alongside blossoming international and technological opportunities. Those that seize control and take into account the above key factors will grow even further as places of excellence with international reputations for innovation in learning. Those who stand still may find themselves left behind.


Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators, OECD, 2011

The shape of things to come: Higher education global trends and emerging opportunities to 2020, The British Council, 2012

Comparing Education Statistics Across the World, UNESCO Institute of Statistics, 2010

International trends in the public and private financing of higher education, Bikas Sanyal and Bruce Johnstone, UNESCO-IBE, Prospects, 2011

University just got flipped: how online video is opening up knowledge to the world, Steven Leckhart and Tom Cheshire, Wired Magazine, 2012

1 Comment

Filed under #CFHE12, Blog themes, MOOCs

The EdStartUp pain test – what problem does Work&Teach help solve?

My EdStartUp idea, Work&Teach, helps bridge the gap between compulsory education and the workplace, to the benefit of both. After conducting numerous research projects and speaking to hundreds of people about this issue I believe that ‘gap’ is a problem that causes serious pain to many learners, educators and employees (as well as to schools, colleges and employers).

Learners experience this pain in several ways; for instance they may not see the point of learning, struggling to find what is taught, how it is taught and why it is taught to be relevant, engaging or useful. For many students the pressure to acquire academic knowledge, achieve better grades and succeed in exams are short term pains for no apparent gain. This is especially true of those lacking supportive networks, stable home lives or working role models (1.8m UK children live in households where nobody works). The result is that too many young people fail to successfully make the transition from the world of education to the world of work. They find that their education did not prepare them for challenges such as passing a job interview or starting their own business.

Educators also experience the pain caused by this gap. They lack opportunities to learn about the latest workplace practices, to see what skills are in demand or how their subject is relevant to tackling problems. As a result they can struggle to really engage learners, especially those who are more motivated by real-world challenges than learning for learning’s sake. Growing demands on their time mean educators lack the support to really address these issues.

Lastly, employees also feel the pain caused by the gap between education and work. Assuming they have successfully secured a job they often find that they don’t have the knowledge or skills required to make satisfactory progress in their careers. On the one hand their technical and subject knowledge doesn’t seem relevant to the latest challenges and tasks they face, on the other they haven’t developed the skills or competencies needed, for example to solve complex problems in diverse teams. Even if they do manage to both get a job and feel content in their career progression, their engagement and satisfaction with work can ebb, questioning the value they bring and the difference they make.

What causes this gap between the worlds of education and work and has it always been a problem? Sir Ken Robinson famously argues that our education system is a 19th Century ‘sausage factory’ developed to produce good factory workers for a Fordist, industrial economy. I have some sympathy for that view but think the key cause is simply that the nature of work is changing faster than the education system. Technology is speeding the world around us up in many ways and our established institutions (from public services to well-known companies) sometimes struggle to adapt and change. In particular there are limited opportunities for employers and educators to interact, leaving them to work through a complex and increasingly out-dated system of subjects, assessments and qualifications that neither engages nor prepares some learners for the transition to the workplace.

I’m still exploring if I’ve understood this ‘pain’ accurately and would welcome feedback from others as I develop my vision for one small solution.

Leave a comment

Filed under #EdStartUp 101, Blog themes, MOOCs

Starting MOOC ‘CFHE12’ on the future of higher education

I was really pleased to come across the wealth of info within a blog by Dr George Siemens of Athabasca University and to learn about the forthcoming online course ‘Current/Future State of Higher Education 2012’ (#CFHE12). I’ve had a few of my own attempts at tackling this big and complex topic (see Blue Skies and my blog) so I’m looking forward to learning and sharing with others. I particularly like the emphasis on education as a complex system with five functional areas. It seems that the conclusion reached is that the sector really is facing unprecedented change.

I did wonder though if the analysis felt a little too pessimistic at times about the capacity of educators to innovate and use new digital tools. I think there is already a lot of progress at the grass-roots, though it’s clearly patchy and requires careful nurturing. And although there seem to be some unrealistic claims and investments taking place in silicon valley, I think we should take a more collaborative approach than us/them. For example both learners and educators are increasingly using ‘apps’ in their daily lives and I hope both can work ever-closer with developers to make sure the educational ones keep getting better.

I also wonder how much blame can really be placed at the door of HE management for not helping their staff through this period of change. Again I think the picture is more varied than that, with some individuals and institutions leading the changes we see around us, let alone responding to them. It’s not as if other sectors, such as business, have all got this right either. Some big names are failing and nearly all are looking to external expertise as they build their own organisational capacity. The argument remains a good one though and if a burning bridge (and an online course) is required to increase the pace of progress, then so be it.

I’m looking forward to getting involved.

Leave a comment

Filed under #CFHE12, Blog themes, MOOCs