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)

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Happy 2017

On the cusp of the New Year it may be sensible to review the changes that the globe has seen in 2016 and ponder on their influence on Higher Education in the UK as the bright new year of 2017 emerges.

MAY - May as Home Secretary can be said to have decimated the policies of HE Institutions to rely on a constant flow of overseas students to prop up their aspirations and accounts.  May, as PM, has other fish to fry and Universities can go back to their "stack 'em high" principles and focus relentlessly on the emerging South Esat Asian middle classes.

BREXIT - If Brexit means confusion, uncertainty and risk 2017 will see a continuation of this as HE leaders fail to trust the negotiations and focus relentlessly on the emerging South Esat Asian middle classes.

TRUMP - UK HE institutions may benefit from  an exodous of affluent US students seeking to undertake their studies in the UK but this will be marginal.  Better to focus relentlessly on the emerging South Esat Asian middle classes - who, after all, may see the slightly less barmy UK a safer haven than the absolutely ranting US.

So, less 2017 and more 2016 #2!!

Thursday, 29 December 2016

More Porter Vice Chancellor? (3)

We are all consumers.
We consume products.
We consume services.

Most products we buy can be returned for a refund if they do not suit us, the only proviso being that we have not used them.  If they break within a reasonable space of time we can get them replaced or repaired.
Services that do not come up to our expected standard can achieve compensation - but you cannot unenjoy a holiday, so there's a challenge here in estimating the compensation to pay.

Higher Education is a different matter.  For a start we have a problem defining who the "consumer" is:

  • The Student
  • The Parent
  • The Employer
  • Wider society
For the purposes of this blog we'll call the consumer SPEW (acronym of above).

So, Porters "powerful"  buyers have choices, ease of switching and the whole purchase is not a major part of their spending.  Powerful buyers can group together and bargain, they have plenty of information available to them to make optimal choices and they are incentivised not only by the benefits they gain but also the sensitivity they have to prices and the source of the funds.

This "heat-map" attempts to ilustrate the strength (red) or weakness (white) of buyer power in the UK HE undergraduate marketplace. In the HE market, the employers and wider society, represented by government, have the greatest power. Students have incentives but lack the ability to act together and lose choice and sensitivity once an offer is accepted.  Parents are bemused onlookers.

So, is it any surprise that Universities model their undergraduate offerings to satisfy the more powerful buyers?

Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Seven Pillocks of Teaching

The number seven is a mystical and magical number with many influential books using it to help their message resonate with as wide an audience as possible.
  • The Bible is littered with examples such as the creation of the world in Seven days.
  • TE Lawrence offered "Seven Pillars of Wisdom"
  • There are said to be Seven Deadly sins - there's also a number of less deadly but equally entertaining ones.

So here's my HE offering- Seven Pillocks of Teaching

1.    The pillock who thinks that reading aloud from PowerPoint slides is the same as teaching
2.    The pillock who thinks that student teaching is the same as student learning
3.    The pillock who thinks that being a good researcher automatically qualifies a person as a good teacher
4.    The pillock who thinks that exams are the only way to test achievement
5.    The pillock who mistakes good student feedback for good learning
6.    The pillock who thinks that the way to help students to develop writing skills is to set them an essay

7.    The pillock who is still using the same lecture slides as he/she did 5 years ago

Happy 2017.  Don't be a pillock.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Good King Progressless - a Christmas song

The School ADT looked out
At the students’ queuin’
At the end of every term
All the coursework’s due in.
Surely, thought the goodly bloke,
There’s a better process?
When a bright thought hit him hard
He’d sort out the whole mess!


"Hither, colleagues, stand by me
Here’s my thought in outline:
Yonder process, what the F***?
Why don’t we do it on-line?"
"Yes”, said many, straight away
Thinking of the savings
Off they went to plan the job and
Quell the AD’s ravings.


"Mark my guidance, good my friends
Use it very boldly
Thou shall find thy colleagues’ rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly."
In their mentors’ steps they trod
Feeling sometimes rebuffed
‘Til they met an awkward sod
And told him to get stuffed!


Therefore, Colleagues, all be sure
Quills or rank possessing
Ye, who now will use on-line

Shall yourselves find blessing.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

More Porter Vice Chancellor? (2)

Second in my series of compatition in Higher Education.  This time we look at challenger institutions and the ease (or not) of getting into the HE sector.

If it is relatively easy for new entrants to get into the industry and to compete with existing Universities then the "profitability" of incumbent players will diminish.  I use Porter's terminology here - as he considers the pressures on profitability in commercial environments - rather than the measures that Universities prefer to use.

Picture by jscreationzs at
Readers of my blog know that I often liken the challenges of the HE sector (and some of its actions) to that of the banking industry.  Here, there are many examples of "challenger" institutions, entering the market since 2008 whilst the attention of the big players was diverted through past wrondoing, mistakes, mismanagement and an overarching sense of superiority and incumbency.

Well - UKHE has its challengers too:
  • Niche institutions such as The London Institute of Banking and Finance (LIBF)
  • Alternatives to University such as apprenticeships (or even degree apprenticeships)
  • Global delivery systems (MOOCs, as the tip of an iceberg of on-line resources)
  • Commercial providers in mass market areas (BPP in Law, Accounting, Business...)
  • A lack of conviction that a UK degree is a passport to a job in China
Yes, it is difficult to swim through the mire of regulation, legislation, funding, establishing "academic" credentials, but it is not impossible.  Yes, it is a long term activity but then again, incumbent Universities did not appear overnight.  The message is that the current market can, and will, be challenged.

So, Vice Chancellor, INNOVATE OR DIE.  Don't be a bank.  Don't rely on incumbency and dubious legacy benefits.  Brand will tarnish if it is not constantly polished - and I don't mean changing the logo!

Next in the series will consider "Buyers" - just who buys Higher Education and how much influence do they have on the shape of it?