I read with interest today the announcement relating to higher education funding cuts being proposed for Sept 2010 and the resounding outcry that accompanied it about standards dropping because the cuts will affect contact time. It’s an interesting debate and one that is not truthful on either side. Government policy pushes for 50% attendance at university to produce the knowledge workers that our economy relies upon and this latest cut seems to argue against this, along with announcements that universities will be fined for over subscription. This coupled with the lifting of the fee capping would seem that the proposed way of meeting the funding shortfall is to push the burden onto the student. This all works on the principle that whilst the funding requires restructuring, the model doesn’t change and this is where I think we’ve got it wrong.
There is without doubt likely to be a push towards private investment within HE, this year saw the first international venture capital conference for investment in HE, the UK clearly on the agenda for possibility. Both major parties point towards this as a way to bolster UK’s educational offering and enable the creation of the types of facilities and teaching required to provide the next generation with the competitive skills required for the knowledge age.
Is the traditional model of University confused/ redundant? Most educational research is pointing to the fact that we cannot rely purely on academia to provide the skills required for the future, that our educational models are too fixated on academic assessment and ignoring large swathes of human capability. In essence we need to change our view of intelligence/ brightness because the current system of education does not actually identify this. It actually breeds conforming to a set way of thinking to pass exams. Why is it, so many successful people we admire did not succeed at school if academic attainment is a sign of intelligence? With this in mind, when we say we want 50% at University, do we actually mean that? We acknowledge that in order to compete in the international economy, we need a vast array of knowledge workers with a higher education than school leaver age, but is it pure academic education they need?
We now see a vast amount of universities marketing their courses based on career prospects, but this is not what universities were devised for. Surely that is vocational education? Do we need to re-assess vocational education and academic education and clearly define them to applied (vocational) and theoretical (academic)? Additionally, do we need to nurture students to have better choices to fit with their abilities and talents?
With encouragement from politicians on both sides the student market is going to become even more discerning as a consumer and will the ROI be there for them on the existing models? Can it still be true that learning environments have to follow the lecture format/ contact time model that has pre-existed for so long when we know that learning is not so reliant upon those teaching models for higher education. Does a degree really have to be a 3 year course full time?
If it were true that universities are likely to undergo transformation to a new model of more courses with vocational focus, with strong potential of private investment to create the facilities required to create the concept of “edgeless university” and “personalised learning environments” as outlined in the BECTA Harnessing Technology 2008 e-strategy, then we might actually see a higher education system that can deliver the skills required for the knowledge age at an affordable price and flexible enough for the diversity of consumer needs within the student market. With this in mind I reflect upon the presentation I put together for my own organisation and wonder whether our own model for post-graduate education could easily be applied to a number of undergraduate courses successfully, food for thought in 2010 I think.