Post High School Roadblock? The UK’s Great University Gamble

Equinox Summit: Learning 2030 focuses on the future of high school education, a future that will be influenced by the wider landscape of education issues; from informal to formal education, primary to post-secondary. In this Learning 2030 Blog entry, explore the post-graduation roadblocks encountered by high school students in the UK as their opportunities in higher education change, rapidly.  by Andrew McGettigan, Learning 2030 Blog Contributor In 2010, the general election in the United Kingdom brought together the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats in a coalition government.  At that point, I had already become concerned about changes in the way money was moving around the English higher education system. The reforms proposed by this new government soon changed those circuits radically. Could you pay three times more tuition? One such reform would see the maximum tuition fee for an EU student increased from £3400 per year to £9000 per year for undergraduate study at English universities, starting in 2012.  Education is a ‘devolved’ issue in the UK, meaning that it is controlled by regional administrations. Thus, the maximum tuition policy differs in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland (where there are still no tuition fees for Scottish students). This headline-making transformation garnered the attention and drove the protests that culminated with the Parliamentary vote taken in December 2010, but the more significant move was that the higher fees were designed to replace massive cuts to the direct grants universities and colleges received from the government. (Image © Matt_Baldry)                                                                     The new model So, for those starting university since 2012 who choose to study arts, humanities, social sciences, law, business, etc. (i.e. ‘classroom subjects’), student fees are the only income the host institution receives. The chief effect of this move was to create a ‘level playing field’ for new ‘market entrants’: commercial providers who cannot receive public grants.  This market reform was explained by David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science, in February 2011: “Currently, one of the main barriers to alternative providers is the teaching grant we pay to publicly-funded HEIs [higher education institutions]. This enables HEIs to charge fees at a level that private providers could not match, and so gives publicly-funded HEIs a significant advantage. Our funding reforms will remove this barrier, because all HEIs will – in future – receive most of their income from students via fees. This reform, of itself, opens up the system.” Students as consumers Now, new competitive pressures are combining with the promotion of students as consumers to create a new culture of higher education: one that is meant to reform teaching.  Quality is now meant to be determined by the vector: consumer-university manager-regulator/ombudsman… This demand-led dynamic replaces the ‘vested producer interests’ of academics. Can they survive? I’m now attempting to monitor what happens to established universities when faced with this new terrain and how they are emulating the private providers.  I’m also attempting to outline what privatization might mean when we are discussing institutions such as universities, which are already independent charities, rather than state-owned entities.  This includes transformations in borrowing, off-balance sheet activity and investment strategies. In particular, recent moves on the capital markets as English universities take the first steps into public bond issuance for several years.  (Image © martie1swart)   What this might mean for other countries… From an international perspective, what may be of most interest are the income contingent repayment loans used to finance undergraduate study in the UK.  These have been touted as the solution to the graduate debt crisis in the US – ‘smart loans’ – since monthly repayments are determined by earnings not by the amount borrowed.  One of the things I continue to look at and hope to examine in greater depth is why these loans are not the technocratic dream solution that many envision. Andrew McGettigan ( has taught at Middlesex University and the University of Westminster. He is the author of 'The Great University Gamble: Money, Markets and the Future of Higher Education' (Pluto, April 2013) and writes frequently on higher education for The Guardian.  

Fixing a Learning Disconnect in the Digital Age

by Dr. Kristiina Kumpulainen, Learning 2030 Blog Contributor The relationship between in-school and out-of-school learning has been the source of robust scholarship since the early 20th century. One conclusion that has been drawn from many of the studies of formal and informal learning is that school curriculum and pedagogy should learn from the ways in which learning takes place out-of school. Several researchers have argued that bridges should be made with informal learning practices and learners funds of knowledge with formal education as a way to promote authentic and meaningful engagement that can support identity development. A growing disconnect with digital learning Concerns about the growing disconnect between the digital learner and the school have revitalized public conversations and academic research on the mismatch between in-school and out-of-school learning. Today, there are varied and conflicting views about young people's use of technology, ranging from grave concerns about lack of socialization and poor interaction skills, Internet addiction and cyber bullying, to idealizations of a new generation of highly motivated, highly technologized learners. (Image ©hackerNY used under Creative Commons License) Can we make schools relevant to 2030 and beyond? Efforts motivated by the need to make schools relevant for 21st century learners and — on the other hand — to make learners ready for the 21st century, have resulted in explorations of the ways in which to meaningfully and powerfully bridge between cultures, literacies and social practices of "digital natives." The techno-enthusiast voices of "smart schooling" describe a vision of future school as a fluid, self-fashioning digital learning arena that is increasingly network-based, spanning boundaries between school and out-of-school sites and formal and informal spaces. Here, individuals’ interests guide the learning activity towards educational, vocational and civic goals. At the other end of these optimistic views, there are voices that seriously question whether digital technologies and youth media cultures can legitimately enrich the key tasks of the school, envisioning scenarios in which digital media might hinder, distort or even destroy what the school is and should be about. Media overload? No matter where you stand on these debates, it's clear that the growing diversity and fragmentation of today's media ecology means that young people have a greater range of and choices in media and communications. What is also clear is that (currently, at least) it is generally educationally-privileged youth with productive learning supports at home who are able to take full advantage of the new learning opportunities that the digital world has to offer and to translate these opportunities to academic and/or career successes for themselves. A divisive distinction In my own research work, I am interested in contributing to ongoing discourse, debates and research between the encounters of informal and formal learning in the digital age. My research goal is to offer a conceptual framework via which separations between formal and informal learning (and between the digital learner and the school) could be re-framed so as to overcome the traditional divisive distinction between the two.   Cross-context learning for 2030 Students have always engaged and learned within and across contexts, operating in different spaces and places via different tools. However, creating hybrid spaces of learning that authentically harness the funds of knowledge embedded in the life worlds of digital learners is a key challenge for research on learning and education in the 21st century. In my view, the role and position of the school in the digital age should not be seen as opposing youth culture nor as digital enrichment of traditional schooling, but rather conceptualizing school as an important part of a network of contexts of learning. A hybrid ecosystem for today's learners Together with other learning contexts, a hybrid learning ecosystem can optimally support engagement and identity-building for today's diverse learners. I am suggesting the creation of spaces in which formal and informal meet, creating a third hybrid space for authentic and transformative practices in school and out. Here, formal and informal learning with digital technologies would reciprocally transform one another. Dr. Kristiina Kumpulainen is a Professor in the Department of Teacher Education at the University of Helsinki and former Director of CICERO Learning She will serve as a member of the expert Quorum for the Waterloo Global Science Initiative (WGSI)'s upcoming  Equinox Summit Learning 2030 from Sept 29 -Oct 3, 2013 Selected Publications: Kumpulainen, K., Mikkola, A., & Jaatinen, A-M. (2013). The choronotopes of technology-mediated creative learning practices in an elementary school community. Learning, Media and Technology. DOI: 10.1080/17439884.2012.752383 Kumpulainen, K., Krokfors, L., Lipponen, L., Tissari, V., Hilppö, J. & Rajala, A. (2011). Learning Bridges – Toward Participatory Learning Environments. Helsinki: CICERO Learning, University of Helsinki. ISBN 978-952-10-6046-5 (paperback). 

Are Private Schools the Developing World’s Learning Solution?

by Dr. Pauline Dixon, Learning 2030 Advisor For more than a decade, I’ve been meeting illiterate parents living in states of poverty you couldn’t imagine unless you’ve experienced it. All of them have something in common.  No, it isn’t their inability to read (even in their own language) and it isn’t that they feel sorry for themselves because they live in the poorest conditions... It’s the fact that they want the best for their children. These parents want their children to gain an education so they can pull themselves out of the situation they find themselves in. Education, for them, provides a route out of poverty. Succeeding privately 'where government has failed' In the slums and shantytowns of Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, India, South Sudan, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, there has been market success where governments have failed to provide an adequate schooling system for the poor. Our research from Newcastle University shows that parents have voted with their feet away from government schools to a demand – and even supply – driven private school sector. Typically in a slum area or in low income zones of cities in Africa and India, between 60-70% of school children now go to low-cost private schools. (In rural areas of India, the number is about 40%.) Surprisingly doable Charging monthly fees of around $4-$5 per-month (affordable by parents on minimum wage) and to orphans through school-provided scholarships, low-cost private schools are providing the education that parents crave. These schools outperform government ones, and at a fraction of the teacher cost. They are more effective and more efficient. Teaching at these schools is typically by rote, which is what currently works best to allow the children to tackle the private school system’s fill-in-the-blanks exams. Room for improvement We can help raise quality of schools in these parts of the world, through market-led initiatives around inputs that are shown by research to improve student outcomes. We can certainly improve access for the poorest, and it looks like education-targeted vouchers are working to help with this, according to our research with ARK in India, using randomized control trials to analyze their impact.  Evidence should drive policy initiatives, not philosophical baggage. A model to build on There is much emphasis on improving government schools here; and many are still on that track. But in my view, helping those who have been ignored and let-down for so long is the order of the day. The market in low cost private schools is working. However, nurturing it little by little to help improve it will provide choice to those who still can’t afford it and improve quality so the children can flourish and grow in a way they couldn’t even imagine. Dr. Pauline Dixon is a Senior Lecturer on International Development and Education at Newcastle University, UK and the author of "International Aid and Private Schools for the Poor: Smiles, Miracles and Markets."  She will serve as an advisor for Waterloo Global Science Initiative (WGSI)'s upcoming  Equinox Summit: Learning 2030. Watch Pauline’s TEDx talk on this blog’s subject on WGSI's YouTube channel.