Education for Innovation: South Africa’s Hope
October 2017: The World Bank, in the latest evaluation of South Africa’s economy published last month, sees enhanced innovation as the lever to break from a vicious cycle of low growth, diminishing productivity and investment, and rising unemployment and poverty. The report emphasises the potential of cities and the vital importance of digital communication. Knowledge transfer is the primary conduit in any innovation system; professional education will be the core process that opens the escape hatch to economic transformation.
The Elusive Search for Learning Gain
September 2017: Over the last five years, and after adjustment for inflation, tuition fees for public universities in the United States have risen by 9% (and by 13% for private institutions). Across the Atlantic, average graduate loan debt is £32 250. As an ever-increasing proportion of young adults enters the work force with a degree, the competitive advantage of having been to university diminishes. Employers increasingly question the value of Higher Education, and it is no longer self-apparent that that there is a significant return on investment in the cost of university in terms of lifetime earnings.
Given this, there is an increasing interest in measuring what people learn in higher education. This may seem strange; surely we know? Only partially. Universities often set their own examinations and, as I pointed out in an earlier post in this series, this means that grades can mean very different things in different places. Student success rates are important in competitive university rankings – league tables. This may encourage universities to inflate grades. For example, the proportions of students awarded first class or upper second class degrees in Britain have been increasing steadily over the past few years; last year, the University of Surrey awarded first class degrees to 41% of its graduates. First and upper second class passes are defined as “good degrees” and boost competitive ranking. It would be disingenuous to claim that such increases are just the outcome of better teaching, or that students are learning more, or that students are just smarter.
There’s nothing new about grade inflation. But when it is matched by significant increases in the cost of tuition and a decrease in the value of a degree in the labour market, questions become sharp and persistent. This is part of the reason why £4m of public funding for universities in Britain has been set aside for research into how best to understand and measure “learning gain”.
September 2017: Predicting the future of online education is difficult. While there is a well developed science of bringing together large and complex data sets to predict patterns of future growth, these models do not necessarily translate into what people actually do; something gets in the way. This “something” is a complex mix of history, culture and circumstances. What may seem natural and logical may not be natural and logical to others. Similarly, our assumed behaviours may not be at all “normal” from the perspective of another continent. How can we theorise and analyse the “something”?
There are a number of theoretical options, ranging from Psychology and Anthropology through to mathematical modelling. And the idea that markets are invariably rational is long gone as the dominant paradigm in Economics. One particularly interesting approach is the capabilities and functioning philosophy developed by Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen, and now widely applied across the world. Sen’s legacy came to Cape Town last week as as the annual conference of the Human Development and Capability Association.
Entrepreneurship: Taught or Learned?
September 2017: Can entrepreneurship be taught? Given the number of universities across the world that offer degrees in the subject, the answer may seem obvious. But entrepreneurship is a state of mind, a necessary precondition for the acquisition of skills and an appreciation of the value of theory. Is it rather that entrepreneurship is learned? If so, then the university’s role is not to instruct, but rather to create the optimal conditions for learning to happen, bringing together talented and experienced people and providing them with the resources that they need to succeed.
Student Success – Beyond the Tech
August 2017: Learning analytics, based on the ever-increasing capacities of new digital technologies, are opening up opportunities for predictive guidance that are based on the combination of machine learning from very large data sets and the individual attributes that are revealed every time we allow a fragment of ourselves to be recorded. Given the eye-watering inefficiency of Higher Education, there is hope for technologically enabled improvements. But how much will realizing aspirations for improvement rest on the tech, and how much on factors that have little to do with the digital?
Asparagus and the Future of South Korea
August 2017: Asparagus is a rhizome – a “mass of roots” that sends clusters of shoots up from beneath the ground. The rhizome was taken as a metaphor for a state of the world by cultural theorists Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in their “Capitalism and Schizophrenia” project some forty years ago. Now their work has been resurrected, rhizome-like, to inspire a vision for South Korea as the world’s first country to be run on the blockchain. What’s the connection between root vegetables, cultural theory and the next iteration of the Internet?
Is the Digital Native dead?
August 2017: Are you younger than 37? If so, you may have been biologically reassigned. Long considered a “digital native” – an organism whose brain is wired differently to that of older sapiens – you may actually think no differently to your parents. Should you be worried?
Newly published education research has shown that people do not behave differently simply because they have never known a world that is not digital, seeming to pull the rug from beneath a slew of education policies and practices and a substantial quantity of marketing collateral. This has been reported with grim pleasure; a lesson in “political whims, fads and untested assumptions”. But a credible opinion survey suggests that most millennials learn more from machines than they do from other people. What’s going on?
Scaling Up Digital Educators
July 2017: As the demand for education and training goes exponential, the ability to scale up provision becomes an ever-pressing issue. Scalability is an emerging research focus for digital learning and in April the Office of Digital Learning at MIT hosted the fourth annual Learning@Scale conference. One presentation, by David Joyner from the Design and Intelligence Lab at Georgia Tech, was an eye opener. Through two detailed case studies, David showed how scalability in online learning could be achieved without abandoning human support for learners. His conclusions leave open some intriguing hints of things to come.
Open Data and the Triple Bottom Line
July 2017: Companies that operate in the digital economy worry about the protection of their intellectual property. At the same time, it is widely accepted that digital transparency – open data – contributes to good governance. It is usually assumed that this is a private/public divide; that for-profit companies should protect their data and that governments should make data available for the public good. But is this so? What if it makes good business sense for a company to make data that it generates openly available? What if we were to make the data we generate about learners available as part of an open data initiative? Could this serve to dissolve some of the untested assumptions that burden public universities? What if making appropriate data sets open is now part of the Triple Bottom Line?
Signalling the Process of Learning
July 2017: Do grades mean anything? Do they measure what a person has learned during a programme of study, or are they a signal in the labour market? Now that all learning is – to varying degrees – digital, are there new opportunities for measuring what a person gets from a curriculum of study; the holy grail of “learning gain”?
I got to thinking about grades and grading after coming across an essay by Ashley Lamb-Sinclair in The Atlantic. In order to improve the quality of her high English students’ experience, Ashley put grading to one side for a few weeks and focused on the learning process itself. Everyone loved it. But then, as the end of the semester approached, anxiety levels about grading escalated. Ashley concluded that “the product of learning is often more comfortable and affirming than the process of it”; “the willingness to learn leads to achievement, but so often achievement is the only part that matters to others”.
Leadership in the Fault Lines
“Leadership in Uncertain Times”, Leadership Foundation for Higher Education
June 2017: Doris Salcedo’s installation at the Tate Modern – Shibboleth – is an emblem for the leadership of universities in uncertain times. This 167-metre fissure in the floor of the Turbine Hall is a fault line that “represents borders, the experience of immigrants, the experience of segregation, the experience of racial hatred. It is the experience of a Third World person coming into the heart of Europe”. Cut deep into the floor of the museum, the fault line is part of the building’s structure; while it requires attention it cannot be wished away or covered up with a coat of paint. The contradictions it represents are here to stay.
This powerful metaphor encapsulates the multiple threats to universities; for leadership in uncertain times. Faced with the fault lines that have come to define our world today, university leaders have a choice to make. They can fall back on well-tested responses to the cacophony at the gates, trusting that established forms of knowledge claims will be sufficient to absorb dissent into the modes of debate and reason. Or they can recognise that times have changed; that some of these fault lines have significant implications for universities; that continual change and uncertainty will be perpetual; that violence and violations of personhood are to be expected. And, most importantly, they can confront this violence and these violations as part of their leadership brief.
To stay in the game universities need to work with tech companies
May 2017: The world of higher and professional education is changing rapidly. Digitally-enabled learning, in all its forms, is here to stay. Over the last five years, massive open online courses (MOOCs) have enabled universities to share their expertise with millions across the world. This shows how rapidly developing digital technologies can make learning accessible.
These new technologies are shaking up traditional classrooms, too. And as the nature of work changes professionals are turning to high level, online courses to keep pace with new demands. But much of this new technology is the preserve of private sector companies. This means that universities have to work with them. Yet partnerships with for-profit companies still don’t feel right for many in the higher education sphere. Knowledge has long been seen as a public good, and education as a basic right. Many of today’s universities were shaped by the principles of public funding.
How to make an Internet of Intelligent Things work for Africa
March 2017: Late in 2016 Senegal’s Banque Regionale De Marches announced the launch of the eCFA Franc; a cryptocurrency for the countries of the West African Monetary Union – Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Togo and Guinea-Bissau. This and similar innovations mark the coming of age of a new generation of applications – an Internet of Intelligent Things – that could provide a new infrastructure for economic development across Africa.
The Internet of Things is a network of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items. They are equipped with electronics, software, sensors and network connectivity so they can collect and exchange data. There’s wide enthusiasm about spectacular innovations such as Intelligent refrigeratorsand driverless cars. But a quieter revolution is underway in everyday systems and facilities, such as financial services.
There are particular possibilities here for Africa. The potential for the continent’s economic growth is well established. There’s also an abundance of opportunity for digital innovation. This was clear from a recent continent wide entrepreneurship competition organised by the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business. More broadly, the new Internet of Things has the potential to compensate for Africa’s legacies of underdevelopment. The key here is the development of the blockchain from a fringe concept into a mainstream digital innovation.
Who owns a photograph? Goldblatt archive should remain in Cape Town
Times Higher Education World Insight
March 2017: David Goldblatt has been a witness to oppression since 1948 when, as an 18-year-old, he first started photographing the everydayness of racial segregation in South Africa. Now he has decided to move his archive of negatives and prints from the University of Cape Town to Yale University, as an act of protest.
While Goldblatt’s legal rights are clear, the political ethics are more complex. When a person’s reputation is built on capturing the denial of rights to others, is there not an obligation to the subject of the artist’s gaze; to their memory and legacy? Is the artist the sole owner of his work? What of his obligation to his subjects, to their rights in memory, and to their rights to have their photographs seen in the future?
Confronting slavery: turning Brown’s difficult past into future opportunities
Times Higher Education World Insight
December 2016: How should a university engage with the consequences of its own history? How can difficult and controversial pasts add to the quality and effectiveness of a university’s work in the present?
Ten years ago, Brown University published the Slavery and Justice report; reflections and recommendations following from revelations about its early benefactors’ involvement in the Rhode Island slave trade. Today, Brown is reprising these principles in considering how a university should respond to the deep and contentious divisions that have followed from the US elections.
The blockchain revolution: will universities use it, or abuse it?
Times Higher Education World Insight
November 2016: New digital systems – the emerging shape of Web 3.0 – could be the means for large numbers of people both to get access to affordable higher education and to use the skills they acquire to create wealth. This opportunity is particularly significant for countries in Africa, where systemic exclusion from financial services and traditional universities combine to form a poverty trap. But much depends on whether Web 3.0 develops as an open, peer-to-peer system of transactions, or whether it is captured – “permissioned” – by established interests.
The foundation for these new digital systems is a method for making secure, online transactions called the blockchain. “A blockchain is a publicly shared immutable ledger – an append only log of transactions which uses crypto-currency techniques to minimise any security risk,” explains John Domingue, the director of the Open University’s Knowledge Media Institute.
South Africa’s student protests: on stage and on the streets
Times Higher Education World Insight
October 2016: It’s difficult to reflect in the midst of an insurrection. The Fall, a play that narrates South Africa’s student uprisings and has run at the University of Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre Centre throughout October, offers a chance to do just that.
Here’s the cast’s account of their project: “For The Fall, we were inspired by the success of our 2015 student production of Black Dog/Inj’Emnyama. We thought that if Barney Simon and cast could so eloquently tell the stories of the student protests of 1976, why can’t we do the same with our own experiences of the protest movements of 2016? Our objective in creating this piece is to share what it is like to be people of colour at Cape Town; to show the internal processes of both the movements and individuals in the movement, and open up the issues that have provoked some of the protests such as #RhodesMustFall, #FeesMustFall and #PatriarchyMustFall. Overall, we hope to grow dialogue and understanding between the student movements and the general public.”
South Africa’s universities on the edge
Times Higher Education World Insight
August 2016: Universities in South Africa are in an impasse. Following widespread student protests last year, their fee levels are frozen. Even with the freeze, a large majority of South African families cannot afford university education, but the government’s commission to explore new ways of funding students will now only report in 2017. Meanwhile, inflation is at a brisk 6.3 per cent and many universities are headed for substantial deficits. Universities are pushing to increase their fees; student organisations are planning widespread protests, intended to force campuses to close.
The vocational alternative: a definitive opportunity for universities?
Times Higher Education World Insight
July 2016: The announcement, in early July, of a radical new plan for skills development across the UK was lost in the fallout from Brexit. If implemented, the government’s response to the Sainsbury review of further and vocational education will restructure pathways into skilled work at all levels. Seen on a broader canvas, the Sainsbury proposals are in tune with a far wider realignment of expertise with economic requirements, offering many universities a set of opportunities that could be definitive.
How do you encourage innovation across a continent of a billion people?
Times Higher Education World Insight
June 2016: How do you foster innovation across a continent of 54 countries, where more than 2,000 languages are spoken by a billion people? Well, you put together a partnership between a leading business school and an unusual telecommunications company. Then run a competition for the best new business idea using digital technology, and bring the finalists together at a reclaimed industrial site in a township outside Cape Town. The result is a cluster of new ideas that promise to have significant impact. The continuing question is how to turn this into a sustainable innovation funnel that connects the work of the university with beneficial outcomes.
Times Higher Education World Insight
May 2016: Universities often have complicated pasts that shape choices in the present and opportunities for the future. Reconciliation requires acknowledgement of past injustice; reparation requires beneficial action. A little-remarked initiative by Stellenbosch University provides reparation for the consequences of South Africa’s notorious Group Areas Act. Acknowledgement of a shameful event in Georgetown University’s past may result in reparation for the descendants of a group of slaves sold in 1838. Will initiatives like these push universities to do more than say sorry?
Higher education for refugees trapped in transit
Times Higher Education World Insight
April 2016: Europe’s continuing refugee crisis has prompted a range of responses to ease the transition of displaced students into higher education. German universities will admit more than 50,000 Syrian students once they have been granted rights of asylum; the Institute for International Education (IIE) is building a network of universities that will offer places to refugees settling in North America; and similar initiatives are planned elsewhere. But what of those who are not able to resettle in a host country? The United Nations estimates that the average time in an emergency camp is 17 years; older camps already have a university-aged generation who were born there and who have never left. Now that more than 50 million people across the world are displaced by conflict and violence, a condition of permanent transit will become common, requiring in turn new approaches to transnational education.
South Africa’s student protests have lessons for all universities
March 2016: Violence at South Africa’s universities has escalated from damage to statues and artworks and confrontations with security staff and police, to the burning of buildings and brutal clashes between student factions. It’s the second year of conflict over tuition fees, shortages of student accommodation, low-paid staff and the language of instruction. Underlying youth anger are the legacies of racial discrimination and colonialism, high levels of unemployment and pronounced and increasing income inequality. While the form of campus protests is specific to South Africa, these fault lines have parallels in other higher education systems, including those of Britain and the US. We see global concern about the low-paid and immigrant workers who provide essential campus services and the effects of inequality on participation in higher education. US campuses are riven by racial tensions, while Europe is witnessing a surge of xenophobia in the face of the refugee crisis.
The global potential of learning analytics
Times Higher Education World Insight
March 2016: Digital footprints provide an ever more accurate trace of what we do, how we behave and what we think. Learning is part of this. In one way or another, most students are digital. There’s opportunity here, as well as things to worry about. This is the focus of the new field of learning analytics, now coming of age as a community of practice across all forms of education, on a worldwide basis. We are beginning to see how the careful and ethical use of digital data can improve learning and student opportunity. Comparisons based on large amounts of information, across different national higher education systems, can provide the quasi-experimental situations that are needed to find meaningful cause-and-effect relationships. If developed and used with care, and with an eye always on sound education principles, the next generation of learning analytics promises a closer alignment with students’ needs and aspirations.
Why are South African students so angry?
March 2016: South Africa’s universities have faced protests and disruption, linked by a strong common thread. A place at a public university is now unaffordable for a large majority of potential students. Last year saw a temporary fix and the government’s budget, tabled in Parliament in February, will extend these stop-gap measures. But until the financial causes are addressed, the crisis will continue to escalate, with significant long-term consequences.
Discomfort is part of an international curriculum
Times Higher Education World Insight
February 2016: Transnational education is now commonplace. But what is a transnational curriculum and what are its outcomes? Is it an agenda for a universal consensus above and beyond national politics and the dissonances of race, gender and ethnicity? Or is it something more uneasy, complex, unruly and creative? Last month provided an opportunity to test answers to some of these questions. Each January, the Centre for Higher Education Development at the University of Cape Town hosts an intense 10-day residential as part of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, or MMUF. Sixty senior undergraduates – all MMUF fellows – came together in a hotel underneath Table Mountain. The summer wind was incessant, temperature was in the mid-30s, the conference room hot with impressions and ideas, the aircon no more than a symbol.
Researchers must take their work beyond the developed world
Times Higher Education World Insight
January 2016: It is well known that educational opportunities are shaped by a child’s experiences in infancy. This extends through to higher education. Studies in the UK, for example, have consistently shown that where a person is born and spends their early years shapes the full reach of their journey through education. Across the world, poor people have to work far harder than those who may have lesser innate abilities but who are born into privilege. Given the persistence of income inequality, along with associated economic and political factors, research-based studies are important, and particularly so when they underpin practical, affordable and effective interventions. One such study – a partnership between the University of Reading in England and Stellenbosch University in South Africa – has shown how book-sharing between an infant and a caregiver can be used by those living in poverty to advance the cognitive development of their children.
South Africa’s student uprising
Times Higher Education World Insight
December 2015: In South Africa, a schoolteacher earns too little to pay the fees for a son or daughter at a public university, but too much to qualify for a government-provided loan. For those families who are entitled to a loan, the state’s funding agency has insufficient to go around and can only meet about half of its obligations. But for better-off families, many of which will earn more than ten times the average household income and who can gain admission to South Africa’s highest ranked universities, an internationally-recognised degree costs a quarter of the equivalent qualification at a similarly ranked British universities. These consequences of severe economic inequality, combined with the slow pace of change away from the apartheid years, have resulted in a sustained and continuing crisis across almost all university campuses in South Africa.
South Africa’s student protests
October 2015: University campuses across South Africa have been simmering through much of this academic year. Through October, discontent crystallised into a nationwide protest against proposed tuition fee increases, leading to unprecedented campus closures and the disruption of exams. While the government has made major concessions for 2016, the real challenge is for 2017 and beyond….
More here …..
September 2015: David Cameron’s decision to authorize the extra-judicial execution of Reyaad Khan raises some immediate issues. Beyond these, though, are conceptual questions about remote warfare using advanced technologies. These questions need to be considered because the ways in which we respond to them will shape future conflicts.
Sri Lanka: heritage as conflict
August 2015: The results of this month’s elections in Sri Lanka may prove decisive for reconciliation, following the end of a long and deadly civil war that ended six years ago. The divisions between Sinhalese and Tamil that shaped almost three decades of violent conflict are shaped and defined by cultural heritage, both through an extraordinary archive of texts and in the art and architecture on the landscape. Sri Lanka’s elections coincided with the bombing of the Erawan shrine in Bangkok, which killed 22 people and the beheading of Khaled Asaad, and 82-year-old Syrian antiquities expert, who was executed by the IS at the World Heritage site of Palmyra. There is little credibility left in the old argument that heritage, art and antiquities are somehow “above” politics. People’s claims on the past are, more than ever, shaping politics across the spectrum, from the legitimate to extrajudicial violence.
UNESCO is at the heart of this storm. Here, the case of Sri Lanka reveals how the concept of world heritage was misappropriated and used to buttress the mechanisms of a violent and repressive state. Today’s heritage organizations can learn from this example, in re-conceptualizing their approaches to controversial sites that are entangled in contemporary, intractable, conflicts.
July 2015:The Commission of Enquiry report on the violent confrontation between the South African police and striking workers at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in 2012 has now been published. Long awaited, the Commission’s report has been extensively criticized for exonerating prominent politicians, passing too lightly over evident failings by Lonmin’s senior management and for failing to find anyone directly culpable for the violent deaths of 44 people as the Marikana tragedy unfolded between August 9th and August 16th.
Most reactions to the report have been shaped around particular aspects of this complex web of labour relations, trade union rivalries, police competence and political allegiances. Marikana unravelled against a broad canvas of South Africa’s history and circumstances: migrant labour; miners working deep underground for unconscionable pay; widening inequality. And Marikana was the worst police shooting of its kind since the Sharpville killings of 1960, making it a symbolic event that will punctuate this country’s historical narrative.
But there’s another way of reading the Commission’s report. This is from beginning to end, like a screenplay framed by legal conventions of precedent and evidence and bound by specific rules of logic. This is particularly apt here because of the forensic value of the film archive from these eight days, and because the Commission’s report has been anticipated by Rehad Desai’s extraordinary documentary Miners Shot Down, now freely available online.
The destruction of Higher Education in Syria
June 2015: Before the current war in Syria erupted in 2012, Lebanon had a population of about 4 million. Since then, a further one million Syrians have crossed into Lebanon, with large numbers of refugees in Turkey and Jordan as well. Many of these refugees are students. Now, we have the benefit of a series of significant studies carried out for the Institute for International Education and the University of California Davis Human Rights Initiative. “The War Follows Them” is an in-depth look at Syrian university students and scholars currently in Lebanon. It concludes with a set of specific recommendations that can serve as a map for universities, elsewhere, in engaging with this humanitarian crisis, given that they have the expertise and the ability to act, and the opportunity of finding innovative ways to resource effective solutions.
Going Global 2015 – Connected Learning for New Futures
June 2015: How can effective digital learning communities be set up to bring together people from widely separate locations and divergent political and cultural backgrounds? How can we ensure that such common and synchronous spaces are effectively and appropriately mediated, using the combination of the virtual and natural worlds? How can we design learning processes that contribute to the broader objectives of education as a combination of personal benefit and public good?
May 2015: We learn in different ways. Some of us skim read, jump in an out of books, and extract bits and pieces that are useful. Some of us read carefully and sequentially, building our understanding of one text on another. Prior experience, good and bad, will affect how we tackle a new task. Some of us find numbers easy; others dread them. There are solitary learners and gregarious communicators. Good teachers understand these differences of style, often intuitively, through empathy. Think hard enough, and we can always remember a particular teacher, hopefully for the good they did, but all to often for the bad.
Times Higher Education – Rhodes’ Statue Falls, But Toxic Legacies Linger
April 2015: Cecil John Rhodes was controversial in life and death. Over the past weeks the future of his statue at the University of Cape Town has split opinion in a rush of words that has become countrywide. On 8 April, UCT’s Council agreed to remove the statue in a victory for the Rhodes Must Fall student movement. The issues behind the protests are more substantial than the commemoration of a long-dead imperial dreamer. They comprise three intertwined sets of challenges: the university’s admissions policy; the student experience; and the demographic profile of the academic staff.
BBC – A symbolic statue that divides a university
March 2015: “A statue of a person dead for 113 years does not often overwhelm a leading university and dominate national headlines. But earlier this month, politics student Chumani Maxwele emptied a bucket of excrement over the statue of Cecil John Rhodes at the centre of the University of Cape Town’s campus in South Africa. Mr Maxwele’s protest has electrified longstanding resentments about the ways in which the past is remembered and celebrated. It has also crystallised deep and entrenched disagreements about student admissions, the university curriculum and academic appointments”.
BBC – Silicon Valley entrepreneur course comes to London
March 2015: “Stanford University, one of the world’s great institutions for turning hi-tech ideas into huge businesses, is going to start teaching in London from the autumn. The Californian university, where Google began as a PhD project, is going to offer its ‘Stanford Ignite’ entrepreneurship course in London for the first time from September.
Universities around the world have been experimenting in ways to teach students beyond their own campuses. There have been much-hyped attempts to provide courses online, in the wave of massive open online courses, or so-called Moocs. And other universities have opened branch campuses in other countries, almost like mini-versions of the parent institution. But the approach adopted by Stanford Graduate School of Business is to take the course and the staff on a global tour, like a rock band or maybe a prestigious theatre company taking its production to new audiences”.
Britain’s Digital Brain
February 2015: Britain is the only country with a fully integrated digital network that connects all its universities and colleges. But the future of this digital brain is now uncertain. This is not so much from government funding cuts, although cuts have indeed been severe. It is rather because of a paradox central to its way of working; the more successful this brain is, the less visible it becomes, making what it does seem unnecessary.
Universities must not become part of the security apparatus
January 2015: Imagine this. You’re teaching a course on current affairs and decide to have your class debate the merits and demerits of fracking. The debate is passionate and gets out of hand, with students on both sides getting personal. You calm them down and the session ends. But you’ve noticed that one of your students, who you know to be a passionate environmentalist, is sullen and withdrawn, not engaging with others in the class, and obviously anxious. You are under a standing instruction from your Dean to report all such symptoms to the Faculty Administrator. Next week, the student is absent. You find out that, based on your report, she is now under the supervision of your university’s local authority, with a support plan to help correct her radical tendencies.
Now consider this. The Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, under consideration by Britain’s parliament, proposes that all university governing bodies have a statutory duty to implement measures that prevent radicalization that could lead to acts of terrorism. In addition to preventing radical advocates from speaking on campuses, the new law will require every local authority to set up a panel to which the police can refer “identified individuals” who are considered to be vulnerable to radicalization. All universities are identified as “partners” with their local authorities in this process of referral.
December 2014: Take a symphony orchestra. Put the strings in Edinburgh, the percussion in Cardiff and the brass in London. Link them to the conductor in Newcastle and enjoy the music. This is now feasible, using the Jisc network and new, low latency solutions, or LoLa. Latency is better known as the hourglass effect – that infuriating wait while the computer appears to be thinking, or just sulking. A few years ago, we tolerated the hourglass because we were still in awe of the whole idea of being connected. Not anymore; if our innumerable packets of digital data don’t assemble themselves near-instantaneously, we are likely to move on or – perhaps – throw the phone out of the window….
Social media and new ways learning
December 2014: China’s 1500-year-old Shaolin Temple has been advertising for a social media director. Deep in the mountains of China’s Henan province, Abbot Shi Yongxin wants an executive who can promote Buddhist asceticism away from fast-paced urban life. But if social media are engulfing even these outposts, what hope is there for ensuring quality and substance in reflection and learning, the essence of education? Much less than a lifetime ago, education was the gateway to rare and scarce information. Now, we are swamped by digital data: perhaps valuable, often misleading, frequently irrelevant. But there are new and emerging possibilities in the combination of trusted, open access content and the dynamism and flexibility of social media. Together, these can enable virtual classrooms that change the ways in which we learn and think.
Equality Challenge Unit: the rationale for equality and diversity
November 2014: The Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) and seven other partners brought together in a summit commissioned this research to better understand the motivation and drivers of senior leaders in HE that led them to champion equality and diversity, the evidence for these and the outcomes that are being achieved. This report describes what is working best for leaders and sets out examples of good practice. It is supported by 12 case studies drawing out why each participating vice-chancellor or principal believes it is important to tackle equality and diversity, what they have done to lead change, what the institution describes as their key drivers, and what impact this is having both on their general performance and/or on some specific equality and diversity outcomes…
October 2014: The hooded detainee in Abu Ghraib is an iconic image of our times. In its representation, this record of torture marks the end of the idea of justice as a process of rights in law and of punishment as set of detached and clinical procedures. In this, it marks the end of the institutional processes of discipline that Foucault long ago showed were a definitive aspect of modernity. The image shows the focus and instrumentality of violence to be again on the human body itself in all its frailty; a fall from grace, Paradise lost. In standing for a regime of punishment and violence directed at the vulnerable body and in the public gaze, Abu Ghraib is a return to the eighteenth century when punishment was publicly inflicted.Contemporary Historical Archaeology in South Africa – my focus here – is founded in these earlier regimes of pain. From the very start, Europe’s colonization of Southern Africa was grounded in extreme violence, both against those whose land and rights were taken from them, and by the Dutch East India Company against its own servants….
It’s not the App, it’s the Application
October 2014: In a newly-rented office suite off Deansgate in the centre of Manchester, Jamil Khalil is building a new virtual space. Jamil is one of our graduates – although his lecturers in Aeronautical Engineering would not have foreseen his launching a new social media app and neither would his contemporaries at Airbus, his first career. But Jamil is a concentrate of energy and enterprise and his invention – wakelet.com – offers a personalized assembly of hyperlinks that brings together a user’s chosen social media channels and favorite virtual places – a Garden of Online Delights….
Minding the gap
October 2014: Britain is now one of the most unequal countries in the developing world and the gap between rich and poor continues to increase. In his recent Salford Lecture Alan Milburn, Chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, set out five policy levers to reverse this trend. Several of his proposals require action by universities. What, then, should we be doing….
In Brazil, the future of education is alive but uncertain
October 2014: In the run up to this year’s World Cup, some banners read “teachers are more important than footballers”. For Brazil, this is saying something. And when Brazilians go to the polls for the first round of the presidential elections on October 5, one of the main issues they will be concerned about is education….
All change at Jisc
September 2014: Jisc has been around, in one form or another, since the earliest days of the Internet, providing network services for British universities. Now Jisc is undergoing a transformation. As bandwidth becomes a standard utility, Jisc is moving its emphasis to advanced digital solutions with widening fields of applicability. To be relevant, these solutions need to be based on co-design, always looking to the future….
Why the Minister isn’t saying anything
September 2014: Why is Greg Clark using a lot of words without saying anything? He has, as he told his audience at the annual Vice-Chancellors’ conference last week, a PhD from the London School of Economics. But by the time he sat down, most of his listeners’ notebooks were tabula rasa. The answer is not in Leeds, where the Minister was speaking, but in Birmingham at the end of the month, where the Tory manifesto for next year’s general election will take shape. Like the LibDems, it seems that the Conservative Party neither has, nor wants, any new initiatives for universities. But in between is next week’s Labour Party conference in Manchester. This may expose Clark’s empty rhetoric as an expensive miscalculation…..
Why 2014 feels like 2009
August 2014: Back in August 2009, everyone knew that the dream of limitless economic growth was over. But it wasn’t at all clear what this would mean for universities, and for students (although, of course, the LibDems had pledged not to increase fees). Clarity emerged a year or so later, after the May 2010 election, with the abolition of teaching subsidies and the shift of the full cost of teaching to students, with all that has followed. Now, five Augusts later, another dream is over; rather than resulting in a free market in Higher Education qualifications, in which varying quality produces differential pricing and lower costs, the student loan book is unaffordable and the steely-eyed gatekeepers in the Treasury are demanding that something is done. But we’ll have to wait until after next year’s election to find out just what….
August 2014: Gatumba is a small town about ten miles from Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, and close to the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is an unexceptional place in a vast reach of grasslands and marshes at the northern end of Lake Tanganyika. There are military and police camps and, ten years ago, a refugee camp housing about 500 Burundians, recently repatriated after a period of exile in Congo, and some 825 Congolese refugees, almost all from the southern Lake Kivu area, on the border with Rwanda. In the night of August 13th 2004 an armed militia group crossed the marshes from the direction of the border with Congo and attacked the Gatumba refugee camp. 164 people were killed, almost all of whom were Banyamulenge, a Kinyarwanda-speaking people who live largely in the high plateaus of South Kivu. A further 106 were wounded. Most victims were women and children….
July 2014: The Rio Times’ mission is to provide English speakers with local information, to “improve their understanding of the Cidade Maravilhosa and Brazil”. Its front page has three routes to follow: the World Cup (that ended with the final at the Maracană Stadium on July 13), the Olympic Games (which will open in Rio on August 5 2016) and, between, them, current news. And foregrounding the news is an editorial on education….
Back to the Curriculum
July 2014: How do we defend access and continuing education in the emerging, “post-crash” settlement? Before things went wrong in 2008, Higher Education in Britain was awash with cash, steering towards an overall participation target of 50%. Five years later, as the economic recovery gains momentum, there is little talk of going back to these objectives. Instead, there is inexorable motion towards a new binary divide, whether from the left or the right of the political centre. And binary divides tend to squeeze access to appropriate opportunity, whether to correct economic inequality or to enable continuing education…..
The Price of Reading
July 2014: The South African Archaeological Bulletin in a venerable academic journal but is not on everyone’s reading list. So I think it’s a safe bet that few (anyone?) reading this will have seen my review of the Oxford Handbook of African Archaeology. I have a particular reason for drawing attention to the “Handbook Phenomenon”. The richness of African archaeology is in the heritage of some of the poorest countries in the world. Academics in these countries will have to pay £120 for the 1080 pages of this handbook. For this price – already unattainable – they will receive content that will have about one fortieth of the academic value of the online version of the same book. And the online version is only available at an annual subscription that is almost ten times the price as the printed book. These are the challenges of the current state of academic publishing and, of course, of many aspects of the world economy…..
June 2014: Eddie is dead. It’s not quite clear how or why, but the gangsters who hang about the street corners in this part of Ancoats seem implicated and ready to do it again if they’re crossed. The chic woman who met the eight of us in the Square for a bargain renovation opportunity has gone. And I’m being questioned by a hyped-up thug with his stubbly face six inches from mine. We duck in through a door and up some narrow stairs. Now I’m left in a disheveled bedroom with a girl in a red dress who believes she has seen the devil, with the head of a pig and drinking bleach. I don’t know what to say so she grabs my wrist and I’m downstairs in the pub with someone determined to teach me snooker. There are some others from our group led who were duped in the Square here, and one has decided to stare out our unanticipated companions, expressionless. This seems like a good tactic to me, but Eddie’s girl pulls me onto the gents and opens up her handbag. She wants me to touch up her lipstick. Why I am I doing this?….
Democratic Innovation and the University
June 2014: Northern Ireland today, says Stephen Farry, is a case study of “peace as pursuit of war by other means”. Farry, who is Minister for Employment and Learning in the Northern Ireland Executive, sees a central role for universities in moving beyond a society divided by religious sectarianism and to a new form of responsible politics. Majoritarianism, he says, must be balanced against minority interests and human rights if there is to be reconciliation…..
Lets Talk about Prejudice
June 2014: The latest British Social Attitudes Survey shows that the proportion of people who describe themselves as prejudiced against those of other races has risen, rather than declined, over the last decade. In contrast, tolerance for other aspects of social change, such as same-sex relationships, has increased. In 1987, 38% of Britons admitted to racial prejudice. This declined to an all-time low of 25% in 2001, after which the level of prejudice steadily increased until it reached 38% again in 2011. After a sharp improvement in 2012 – probably due to the achievements of Black British stars in the Olympics – the dreary trend has been restored. Over almost thirty years, then, people have become generally more tolerant about diversity. The exception is race, and between three and four of every ten people in Britain are explicitly and knowingly racist…..
Academic or Vocational?
June 2014: Back in 1962, Mrs Berry’s purpose in life was to get as many of us as possible through the Eleven Plus. She told us, with a frown, that there was a golden road ahead for those of us who would pass; Grammar School, academic delights and even, perhaps, university. Those who failed could be reassured that they would be useful, with vocational and technological opportunities that would match their inherent abilities. History comes around, aided by amnesia. The Deputy Prime Minister advocates tough new tests for five year olds as well as at age 11; UKIP wants a Grammar School in every town. The fork in the road – selection for an “academic” or a “vocational” education – is back with us again. But before falling back on the assumptions made in legislation seventy years ago, it’s worth looking more critically of some of the key implications…..
The Manchester Curriculum Revolt
May 2014: It may not be Peterloo or Bexley Square, but the noise from Economics students down the road at the University of Manchester is shaking the foundations of the academic establishment. Manchester has a great legacy of leadership in Economics. In this spirit, a group of undergraduates, dissatisfied with the existing curriculum, founded the Post-Crash Economics Society in 2012…..
Street to Stage
April 2014: Theatre is a creative force that refuses to die. Despite the massive decline in funding and the predictable concentration of remaining resources in London, regional theatre is alive, well and refusing to give up. “The Queen is Dead”, premiered with three performances at The Lowry’s Studio Theatre, showed why this genre is so important. Sarah McDonald Hughes script is built around Zac Challinor and his mother Yvonne Foster and the story of their lives. Zac is now in prison, convicted for torching a vehicle during a spree of rioting, and determined to build a relationship with his young son during his home visits. The script spirals around this core of close personal relationships…..
March 2014: It’s South Africa’s current destiny to be the society of the spectacle, the country of extremes, from Nelson Mandela’s long death and funeral to Oscar Pistorius’ trial for murder. Behind the headlines, though, is a depth of engagement that is often remarkable and frequently of far wider significance. One of these areas is twenty years of dealing with HIV, AIDS and their consequences…..
Why Open Access?
February 2014: Today, universities are digital machines. But many of the decisions that have to be made as a result of these disruptive innovations are not technical at all; they are about the nature of research and its public benefits, how learning and teaching takes place, and difficult ethical issues. While bandwidth is now as basic a need as electricity and parking, there are critical choices ahead. Central to these is “openness” – the extent to which those working and studying within the university and college system can get access to any digitally-based information they need without encountering a virtual gateway; a password, subscription requirement or payment…..
February 2014: In 1996, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o gave the Clarendon Lectures at Oxford University, insisting on art as an ever-present performance space in counterpoint to established power and authority. The defence of this public realm is in defiance of privatization for profit, gated communities and patrolled malls, facades and gentrification. In the more specific domain of the civic university, it’s the insistence on maintaining programmes in art, performance, graphic design, music, film making and creative writing; on resisting the mechanical advance of marketization and the reduction of education to a return on a financial investment; on insisting that these creative areas are arm’s length from government and under the auspices of independent organizations…..
January 2014: There are different ways of looking at the city. As an archaeologist, I privilege the materiality of the urban environment, the palimpsests through which the traces of earlier structures and ways of living are evident, and the contradictions – faultlines – that give all contemporary cities their creativity, vibrancy, uncertainty and senses of danger. This view of the city is one of perpetual dissonance. Faultlines in the city show the tension between hygiene, ranging from waste management to narrative heritage, and transgression, whether the insistence on different readings of heritage, rebellion, or riot…..
January 2014: Statistics recently released across all British universities show that, over the past decade, the proportion of students gaining a first class degree has nearly doubled, from 11% in 2005 to 19% last year. The proportion of students attaining a 2.1 has also increased. Research at Lancaster University’s School of Management argues that this simply reflects the rising quality of A-level students. Others have suggested that this may be evidence of “dishonesty”, as universities chase league table recognition. Who is right?….
December 2013: What more can be written about Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, world icon? His political longevity embraced the entire span of formal apartheid, from before the election of the National Party in 1948 and to the end of the first term of South Africa’s democratically elected parliament in 1999. His political transitions were from trained guerilla fighter and founder of Umkhonto we Sizwe to elected President and Nobel Peace Prize winner. As the conditions of his twenty-seven years in prison were steadily relaxed in the 1980s he could walk in the Cape Town suburbs with no-one recognizing him. Within a few months, and for the rest of his 95 years, his was perhaps the best-known face in the world, with every detail of his life in the public gaze.
Getting it Right in South Wales
August 2013: Merthyr Tydfil, once the largest town in Wales, was at the heart of the iron and coal industries in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and at the centre of the Heads of the Valleys – the districts of Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Torfaen. As with Salford, the long period of de-industrialization has been extremely difficult. In 2006, when the Welsh Assembly Government launched a regeneration strategy for the region, it was reported that nearly a quarter of the population had no qualifications (compared with 17% for Wales as a whole). The response to this has been the Universities Heads of the Valleys Institute (UHOVI). Created in 2009, UHOVI is a partnership between the University of South Wales, local Further Education Colleges, local authorities, businesses and the Welsh Government. Four years on, UHOVI has met or exceeded all its key targets. By the end of this last academic year, 3305 people had enrolled for more than 125000 course credits through UHOVI. Of these, just under 3000 were part-time learners. 57% of UHOVI learners were over the age of 30…..
August 2013: Thomas Docherty is one of our most thoughtful commentators on universities today, engaging with key issues as a scholar and as a public intellectual. In a recent essay he questions what he calls “structural impatience”, an obsession with speed and change that masquerades as efficiency. This is part of a wider interrogation of the direction, intentions and effects of the reforms to British Higher Education that started with the report of the Browne Review in October 2010. Docherty reaches back to Hannah Arendt, Eisenhower’s reflections on universities and research, and the university-centred opposition to the Vietnam war that shaped the political perceptions of a generation. This sense of history and critical thought provides a provocative view of the future that many have assumed is progressive and emancipatory…..
July 2013: In developing policy around the concept of a market, the Government has advocated competitive pricing, freedom for universities to innovate and market-driven student choice. This policy direction also assumes that a market in higher education qualifications will create efficiencies by driving down costs. This is, in essence, the re-assertion of the radical agenda of the 1980s and the deregulation of rail services and key utilities such as water and electricity. Along with Higher Education, the same approach is being adopted for schools, health services, prisons, local authority services and, most recently, for Royal Mail. Irrespective of political and ideological views on deregulation and marketization, the problem for Higher Education is that what is presented as a market for universities, isn’t.
Rubbing Minds Together
June 2013: Daphne Koller, co-founder of Cousera, sees the future of on-line learning as hinging on two complementary forms of interaction – of students with the content of courses, and of students with one another. Koller’s comments were in response to William G Bowen’s Tanner Lectures on Human Values, given at Stanford University, where Coursera was founded. Bowen’s question – and a longstanding theme in his work as an eminent educational theorist and economist – is whether or not on-line innovations such as Coursera can reduce the costs of education while at least maintaining the quality of provision. If this were to be possible, then there should be a cure for the cost disease that is making education ever more expensive, unaffordable and elitist…..
Universities and Extremism
June 2013: I was recently invited to debate the role of universities in countering radicalization on their campuses with Lord Alex Carlile, until 2011 the Government’s independent reviewer of anti-terrorist legislation. Universities, Carlile claimed, are not doing enough to counter extremism, should ban radical Islamic preachers from campuses and should not admit as students people with known and extreme Islamist views. Lord Carlile’s argument is made in the broader context of the Woolwich murder last month, the new Cabinet Taskforce – TERFOR – announced on 3 June and the continuing controversy of the effectiveness and consequences of the Home Office’s Prevent strategy, which Teresa May has now announced that she wishes to strengthen. Contrary to the suggestion that universities are not taking this seriously enough, I know that these issues will be on the agenda for the leadership of every university in the country. I can’t speak for the sector, and wouldn’t want to. But I can speak for our university, and the approach we’re taking in Salford. In a word, we must engage…..