Thursday, 23 February 2017

Yes, No, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant....

Worried about your TEF submission?
Another Strategy meeting looming?
That promotion beckoning?
Preparing for external accreditors?
Want to make your keynote stand out?


The  Generator Of Jargon for University Management Purposes  (GO_JUMP) is here!

Just select one word from each column to generate a thought provoking phrase that will have your audience mystified and your Management team stupefied but will not burden your presentation with unnecessary meaning.


This simple matrix provides 512 separate and different phrases, making the risk of accidental plagiarism from a Donald Trump speech very unlikely.

Complete satisfaction or your monkey back.

Friday, 17 February 2017

The plagiarism iceberg

Plagiarism is becoming very commonplace in today's Higher Education. The plagiarism that is detected and punished represents tip of an enormous iceberg.  It is relatively easy to detect passages copied from published sources through text matching software and sooner or later  the use of essay mills is discovered.

But there is much below the waterline of the iceberg that still needs attention:

Collusion: between students and between tutors and students.  How far can we rely on the innate honesty of "consumer" students hourly paid teaching staff and the collusion that emanates from a "teaching to the test" mentality as this gets good feedback marks?

Lazy assessment: how many times are the same, tired, old, essays trotted out as coursework assignments?  Surely examiners can be more imaginative and authentic in designing assessments?  Problem based learning, case studies, presentations and artefacts are all capable of being moulded into the HE syllabus.

Better Organisation: very little discovered plagiarism is actually due to a desire to cheat or gain unfair advantage.  Examiners, however, can never devine the student's intent, they only see the product.  Being better organised, having a training in paraphrasing and in appropriate referencing ae often the prescription if this crime is to be erradicated.

So, let's focus on prevention rather than punishment and sink the icebarg once and for all.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Learning Gain

When I was very little I knew absolutely nothing.
When I was six I had learned not put my finger in a plug socket.
By ten I had learned that most children were quite smelly.
By eleven I had learned that nobody likes a swot.
At sixteen I had learned other things I cannot put here.
At twenty one I learned that being six was a blissful state that I wanted to return to.

What did HE learn?

We live our lives learning - even though we go through an education system that pides itself on helping us to learn - the fact is that we learn anyway.  Trying to measure learning is fraught with methodological and measurement difficulties, lack of appropriate control benchmarks and influenced by environmental variables.  So why do we bother?

Ah, well.  Those in receipt of public money and who are accountable to "society" for their efforts, such as Doctors, Nurses, Policemen, Firemen, Teachers and Lecturers need a way to be shown to be doing their jobs.  Measuring them in ways that can be measured is the brilliant response that our political leaders grope for.

So, that's alright then.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

What BREXIT means

Learning mnemonics are very useful tools in providing memorable frameworks to analyse key issues.

PESTLE is a good framework for reviewing the external environment of business or markets, for example.

SWOT and TOWS provide similar frameworks for review.

BREXIT is no different.  Theresa May says that "BREXIT means BREXIT" and, of course she is absolutely correct - BREXIT is a mnemonic that outlines a clear framework within which parties affected by the UK removing itself from the EU.

We can consider the case of Higher Education as an example:

B - Bums on Seats - will EU students avoid us even if they can still enjoy our product at home prices?  Will International student visas prove to be just too much of a barrier?
R - Research funding - will EU researchers eschew inclusion of UK boffins for fear that Brussels will not favour their bid?
E - Enterprise - actually nobody in HE knows what this is and so let's not tax ourselves.
X - Cross fertilisation of ideas -See B and R above.
I - Internationalisation -will EU academics avoid risk by remaining within the EU bubble?
T - Teaching - Teaching is always a winner as the world crumbles or rises, as crises come and go.  Good teaching reduces uncertainty in the minds of its students and awards them skills to cope with the constancy of change.

So, that's alright then.....

Thursday, 26 January 2017

More Porter Vice Chancellor - Final post

In my final exploration of Michael Porter's 5 forces model as it applies to competition in the UK HE marketplace I turn to industry rivalry.  Typically this relates to the features of the competitors such as their size and number (the more Universities there are the greater the competition).  So no fears there then for the status quo - new providers are thin on the ground.  The model also considers features such as:

Differentiation / Switching costs - try as they might, governments cannot make Universities uniform.  Each institution is unique and strengthens its own particular brand, ironically helped by government metrics and league tables designed for making comparison easier but actually enabling all institutions to be in the "top 5" for something.   University groupings such as the Russell Group do aid differentiation for those who do not fully understand the entry criteria.
If it is easy to switch, however, there might be more competition.  The fact is, however, that students typically stick with one instiution and find it difficult to switch mid way through a programme due to the unique nature of each offering.  Maintaining Universities as their own examining bodies is a clear barrier to switching.

Industry growth / life cycle - have we yet reached capacity in HE? probably NOT as the brand is strong internationally and on-line provision is not well embedded in many places.  However, the increased capacity of the traditional student body of the last 15 years has probably peaked.  So the areas of contestability are in innovative teaching and appeal to new audiences such as degree apprentices in the short-run.

Fixed costs / Perishablity - Universities are burdened with high fixed costs and extreme perishability of  the service provided.  This ensures constant renewal and a drive to liquidity as salaries form a large part of the fixed costs.  The logic here is that Universities will fight tooth and nail to maintain independence.

Units of incremental capacity change -is an inteersting feature.  Research teams, departments and Faculties can move from one institution to another.  On a unit scale top Researchers can also do this and so capacity change can be at the level oof the individual.  This makes individual institution growth easier and the need to compete "head on" with rivals very distant.

Exit barriers (ease and costs of exit) - these are pretty high as decommissioning of the workforce and repurposing of buildings and land would be a huge feat.  HE institutions would also have the burden of continuing students who did not want to transfer to one of the vulture institutions hovering over the sickly University

Corporate stake - just how much financial and intellectual capital is tied up in the provision of HE? - virtually 100% in most cases unless we count the odd catering or conference facility provision or the huge endowments enjoyed by a small number of HE institutions.

So, to summarise.

Higher Education is not a "market" where retail style competition can flourish.  How short-sighted and ill informed are those who think that everything is a profit making business,,,

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Helpful translations for new HE staff

As we start a new year and new teaching term there will inevitably be a number of colleagues new to academe that require guidance on some of the arcane and less arcane terminology that academics use to mystify the "outside world" and to confirm (in their own minds at least) how complex and difficult a job they do.
The basic challenge for many academics is to appear to pay full attention to teaching, innovate in pedagogy, entertain and provide high student satisfaction whilst at the same time maximising the opportunities for reward and promotion through research.  Despite the protestations of many "Research led" and "Research Informed" Universities the key factors affecting Teaching and Research are almost totally dichotomised.
So, here are some helpful definitions and explanations:

Thursday, 12 January 2017

More Porter Vice Chancellor? (4)

In this fourth look at Porter's model I consider the power of suppliers. Again, that's Porter terminology for those relied upon by the industry to supply its raw materials and other resources.
In the case of undergraduate Higher Education that's:

  • Breweries
  • Accommodation
  • Support staff
  • Teaching staff
  • Alumni
  • Researchers
  • Debt funders
  • Schools / Colleges (remember students are raw materials in the HE process - involved, engaged and not mere consumers).

Picture of Bar Steward by vectorolie at

Like Porter's buyers we look at things that give suppliers power to impact competition such as:
Control over their own prices; ability to group together; uniqueness of product supplied; generation  of high switching costs; credibility of forward integration; importance of product to the HE market (in this case) and importance to the supplier of the HE market.

Rather than try to devise a matrix as in my last post on Porter I'll just lok at Teaching staff and Researchers to try to estimate the level of power they hold:

Researchers exercise some mild power, not by virtue of any benefit they bring to undergraduates but by virtue of their ability to win funding bids (in some disciplines).  They can influence prices by REF transferability (soon to end) but derive most power from the fact that Universities crave the acolades that they can bring.  The constant threat from Researchers in many STEM fields is that industry not only craves but also rewards their innovative output too.

Oh.... and research begets Professorial status - and, of course, Professors can do anything, including running Universities, managing staff, walking on water, teaching (well some can).

Teaching staff (lecturers if you like) have absolutely no power at all.  they accept the "going rate" and either regret or avoid joining a Union.  They are viewed by HE providers as interchangable with other Teachers / On-line education and with Research staff and their ability to market themselves to private industry is very limited.  Teaching is, however, important to the HE sector, but this must not be confused with Teachers, themselves.

The outcome?  Dico quod si quæritis circumspice*.

In the final Porter review I try to sum all of this up and consider "rivalry" within the market, wondering if it should simply be confined to the Boat Race.

* if you seek evidence of what I say look around you (Google Translate)