Tag Archives: trends

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

Fair access to higher education

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

I just had the opportunity of presenting at the inaugural ‘World Congress on Access to Post-Secondary Education’ in Montreal. It was my first attempt at a synthesis of four projects that the Pearson Think Tank is involved in; on rising tuition fees, school-based careers guidance, university admissions and open education data. In different ways all of these projects explore the ‘wicked problem’ (complex, evolving and interdependent) of fair access to higher education.

The work highlights three of the common barriers that restrict fair access to higher education;
1) Information asymmetry
2) Unequal distribution of resources
3) Variable and sometimes unequal access

As well as three potential solutions that have been developed over the course of the projects:
1) Deliver truly personalised information and support
2) Develop sustainable local learning ecosystems
3) Make appropriate use of open data

This is an emerging strand of thinking so please do share your feedback.

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Filed under Future HE trends, HE in England

Presenting some ideas about employability

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

I recently had the pleasure of presenting at a conference about employability in higher education. I was the first speaker of the day, setting the scene and highlighting issues for consideration.

Below is the presentation I delivered, with some info about the context we’re in, different approaches to employability, related approaches and key questions to consider. Employability is a common theme for Blue Skies authors and is increasingly featured in institutional responses to recent developments. But is the sector being specific enough about how employability can support different missions?

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Filed under Future HE trends, 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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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.

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Filed under Future HE trends, HE in England, MOOCs

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)


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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Filed under Future HE trends, HE in England