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All the stuff I work on around the digital world

Friday, 16 May 2014

Open Knowledge Foundation and open education data in development. What chance of a change of business model ?

Today I was speaking at Making it Matter: Supporting education in the developing
world through open and linked data
part of the linkedup programme Slides are on slideshare here:

The discussion session around "what problems need solving" in development world education gave so wide a focus that we all had to think not about specific initiatives, but rather what single cross-cutting interventions might have impact across multiple fields.

Hope, meetings, and change of business model came up as the candidates. We sit on reams of courses, armies of teachers, desks full of policies from Governments - and they often hamper improvements.

The change of business model is worth a look.

It was the key to the single biggest change in the quality of womens' lives in Africa: the business model for getting water used to be the woman standing in the queue. The advent of the cheap chinese bucket changed it: put the container in the queue.

In classrooms, the current business model is waiting or sitting while an unpaid Government-appointed teacher does not arrive, or teaches a poor lesson when they do arrive. Getting the setting to provide something (book ? access to self-guided learning supported by peers or older cohorts ?) might be a candidate. Allowing families to invest to solve the problem might be another solution.

A colleague raised the possibility of Art. It's not a bad idea. It reminded me of the huge impact we got in Mbollet-ba from proposing creative activity in the nursery classes. When we arrived, they were simply sitting and banging bottles on the table. Given the permission to be creative, they thrived. The materials were debris from the school yard.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Thinktank adds to pressure to take students out of net migration figures | News | Times Higher Education

Thinktank adds to pressure to take students out of net migration figures | News | Times Higher Education David Willetts' Conservative think tank Bright Blue is pushing back against mainstream Tory anti-immigration policies, by arguing that immigration quotas should disregard overseas student arrivals in the UK.

One interpretation is that the Universities have got their act together to lobby, as any business would, for policy changes that are in their interests, and have spoken to their Minister. He's got his think tank to fly a kite where other members of the Government will have to see it. (Why didn't he just stand up and say it ? Ah, sorry, that would only work in a functional government.)

For several years the Unis have presented consistent and compelling evidence that their fee income, and international stature, are under threat. Their nemesis is the Theresa May tendency in the Tory party - which would classify overseas students along with every other kind of foreign threat - in deference to immigration anxieties on the Right Wing of the party, and in parties like UKIP beyond them.

Arguments and evidence on student immigration are well rehearsed. An independent consultancy has assembled the policy case for boosting overseas student visits for the NUS. Oxford's Migration Observatory has done the numbers. Applications and entries from overseas learners are entering free fall - which terrifies the universities.

The other (less flattering) interpretation is that the Coalition will need to be able to present a tough story on immigration numbers at the election. Since politicians consistently overstate the reductions they will achieve, and then fail to meet their targets, they are expediently looking around for a justifiable fudge on the numbers. Excluding students from the count does the job.

What's being left out of this argument is the impact of international student flows on the learners themselves. Global classrooms are placing stresses on home students, and visiting students. The value, and the costs, of this approach to education are not being scrutinised.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Has the student voice been tamed? | Features | Times Higher Education

Has the student voice been tamed? | Features | Times Higher Education

McQuillan, Dean at Kingston, makes an analysis from inside the academy, with a bold and unusual impartiality, pointing out the divergence between real student confusion, distress and anger, and the managerial massaging of confectioned student opinion through survey and feedback instruments. An unnamed academic in The Guardian made similar points - "Student feedback is a waste of time". Interesting that they felt unable to name their institution.

This can go two ways.

Either the Unis will get sophisticated at customer response. They will handle it with a mixture of concession, real measures, and PR, and get out of the corner they are in.

Or the Unis will go for repression, denial, and false data. If so, I think there could be some real anger out there waiting to boil over. Many students will pay £100,000 after interest for their three years at Uni and that will not make them a pushover.

What's clear is that the current reliance on opinion management is not going to be sustainable. I think McQuillan's diagnosis is spot on:

when students are in occupation, voluntarily distracting themselves from their primary purpose of study, something has gone badly wrong. If, since 2010, there has been a marked increase in occupation and protest this is because something is very wrong indeed in our universities. We live in a moment of crisis in higher education in which, under the guise of austerity measures, pedagogical interaction between students and their teachers is being redesigned as a consumer relationship and the student experience is giving way to graduate indenture. At the sharp end of the reform of higher education in England, critical student voices are aware of this and are astute enough to recognise it as the active disinvestment by the state in higher education, facilitating the intrusion of private finance into the post-Robbins dispensation of access-for-all within a public university system.