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April 29, 2013

The collegiate community of students: an interview with Professor Lawrence Young

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Photo of students using the Orchard computer suite at the University of Warwick. The Orchard is stocked with Apple computers.
Students in the Interactive Computation Learning Suite in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick. The suite is nicknamed 'The Orchard' as it is filled with 120 Apple iMac computers.

Alex Miles speaks to Professor Lawrence Young, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research (Life Sciences and Medicine) and Capital Development at the University of Warwick.

AM: Last week saw the announcement of another MOOC (massive open online course), in this case the ‘pan-European’ OpenupEd platform. What might the transformative impact of the 'MOOC movement' be on the experiential side of global higher education? Will students demand more from their investment in ‘place’? What might the physical consequences be of a move to predominantly online content provision?

LY: That’s a tricky question. I think part of the student experience has to be wrapped up in what the students gain from actually being here, physically in a ‘place’. I think we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that whilst all digital technology is rapidly developing and providing exciting opportunities to be innovative about the way we deliver, there is something about the collegiate community of students and how that translates into the experience not only in relation to a specific discipline, but also in relation to the overall experience that students gain, and that we all gained when we went to university, over the three or four year period. I think it is really exciting that there are new approaches; I don’t think they will ever replace the actual experience of being on a campus. That doesn’t mean that we do not need to explore more innovative digital approaches in the ways we deliver our curriculum, but for me I think there is something about the core experience of being a student on a campus.

With my capital brief that means we have to look at not only, how we are effectively and efficiently using existing space but also, how we can innovative in the way that we provide space in relation to the learning and teaching experience we give our students. Partly that means being really cutting edge in terms of delivering, in terms of the use of digital media and mobile devices. It also means that we have to accept that whilst things are changing we will always need lectures. Lectures are a really important way of engaging, it’s particularly important in our environment where we are a research imbedded institution. Our belief is that research influences and informs the way that we deliver teaching. One key facet to that is that our students are exposed to the best researchers in the world and by being exposed I think that means direct contact in a either small group context or a lecture hall, and I don’t think we can get around that. So whilst MOOCs are really exciting and whilst there are clear challenges in how universities benefit and are sustainable financially in that environment (those issues need to be considered) I don’t think that replaces the campus experience.

AM: ‘Eds and Meds’ has often been held up by writers such as Will Hutton and David Willetts as the future of western economic growth – acting almost as an indicator of prosperity in some cases. Given your background in the medical sciences – what might the role of universities be in combining ‘eds and meds’ to support the UK’s economic prospects in the short-term?

Photograph of students using the Orchard computer suite at the University of Warwick. The suite got its nickname as its filled with Apple computers.LY: It’s quite clearly an issue about medicine, about bio-medical science and its’ teaching, and about research and how that informs our understanding of the various opportunities there. Clearly there is an on-going need for us to maintain our national position, our UK position in life sciences. One way to achieve that is continue on the enormous strength we have both in research and how that research informs the development of teaching. The issue for me, in terms of what this means for UK science is quite a fundamental. There was a very important report from BIS about a year ago on life sciences and the capacity to grow that area and the interesting interface between innovation in healthcare, not only in the NHS but in world-wide healthcare and the way that we teach our students. Those connections are essential. We need to be creative in the way we provide undergraduate and postgraduate training; there is a massive need within the healthcare system in this country for continued professional development (CPD). I think we are only scratching the surface with things like the reorganisation of the NHS; we need to think about this not only in the context of hard-core biological science but with relevance to social and psychological sciences. As well as the opportunity to interact more effectively with big firms like GE healthcare, who are considering all types of opportunities with digital healthcare, etc. There is a really important position for a university such as ours which is so research intense and has enormous multi-disciplinary strength in health altogether; it’s not just about medicine or biomedicine.

AM: The University of Warwick is hosting the 2013 Global University Summit later this summer, which will issue a formal declaration on higher education to the G8. This year the G8 is focussing on free trade - thinking about that topic, and also thinking about what the G8 traditionally does. If you could get one commitment from the summit of world leaders related to higher education that would benefit the sector, what would that be?

LY: I can’t help but be influenced by my own background. I was in New York recently with the Vice Chancellor at a UN sponsored summit looking at global health and the implications for the post 2015 millennium developments goals. I’d like to see some interaction between those millennium development goals and the G8 summit. Partly considering my medical background, it would be looking at how we can improve health globally and the responsibility that big universities have not only in the way we educate, but in how we disseminate and diffuse and support healthcare systems and biomedical training in developing countries. I’d like to think in terms of economic growth that we can’t take our eye of the fact that we have a responsibility in the west, where we have very developed healthcare systems to think about what that means for countries like sub-Saharan Africa, India or Pakistan. I’d like to see something that acknowledges the primacy of university and of higher education in supporting that interface between the G8 and the development cause.

This blog is part of a regular series on the Knowledge Centre looking at issues in higher education ahead of the Global University Summit (May 28-30 2013), hosted by the University of Warwick in Whitehall, London. As part of the Summit, a declaration of commitment and policy recommendations will be drawn up for the G8 summit of world leaders, taking place in Northern Ireland in June.


Photograph of Pro-Vice_Chancellor Lawrence Young University of WarwickProfessor Young was appointed to the Pro-Vice-Chancellor post this year. He is responsible for the University’s Life Sciences and Medicine research strategy, including the development of research opportunities both nationally and internationally and the raising of research income, publications and citation scores for the School of Life Sciences and the Warwick Medical School. Lawrence leads on the University’s capital development and space management programmes working closely with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost. He also works closely with the Registrar and Chief Operating Officer in developing and implementing the University’s environment and carbon management strategy.

He has, along with the other Pro-Vice-Chancellors, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost, and the Registrar and Chief Operating Officer, responsibility for supporting the Vice-Chancellor and President in developing the University’s international profile with a particular focus on relationships with China. The Pro-Vice-Chancellors also chair committees to hear complaints, appeals and disciplinary issues.

April 23, 2013

An avalanche is coming – higher education and the revolution ahead

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Photo of a snow covered mountain in British Columbia.
In the path of an avalanche: Columbia-Shuswap, British Columbia, CA
Image c/o DCZwick

Sir Michael Barber, Chief Education Strategist for Pearson, discusses his vision for twenty-first century education.

The twenty-first century is presenting unprecedented challenges at a global scale. The threat of climate change is deepening, the income gap is widening, tensions in international relations are rising and weapons of mass destruction are ubiquitous.

Meanwhile, economic activity is moving rapidly eastward and existing global leadership is being called into question. While many debate whether this will be an ‘Asian’ or ‘Pacific’ century, I take this as a point of departure. After 350 years of Atlantic leadership of the global economy, we will see the Pacific rise. At the very least, Asia will share in global leadership.

This shift in power is inevitable, but it is not yet fully realized. Today, Western powers are lagging and growth remains slow, but the Asian countries have not yet emerged as true global leaders. In other words, we have a world with immense problems without clear global leadership.

This leaves a number of critical open questions: What kind of leadership will the twenty-first century require? To what extent is the Pacific region ready to provide this leadership? What are the implications of the answers to these questions for public policy in Pacific Asia and for education systems in particular? And what are the implications for the G8 education leaders represented here?

My answer to these questions emphasises the importance of innovation. Innovation drives economic influence; economic influence underpins global leadership; and global leadership requires innovation to solve the many problems facing humanity in the next half century. If this is correct, and innovation is the key, then even the best education systems in the world need to radically rethink what they offer every student. This is true regardless of geography.

This philosophy of everyone as an entrepreneur and innovator is not what underpins education anywhere in the world today. Any country that wants to provide global leadership needs to undertake a radical transformation of their education systems. Innovation needs to be at the heart of any successful secondary or higher education system.

Although this is a substantial challenge, the responsibility of our education systems and institutions is to prepare present and future generations to seize the opportunities of the twenty-first century and overcome its many challenges. The accelerating pace of change suggests that with clear leadership there could be an ever better future ahead.

My belief is that deep, radical and urgent transformation is required in higher education as much as it is in school systems. My fear is that, perhaps as a result of complacency, caution or anxiety, or a combination of all three, the pace of change is too slow and the nature of change too incremental.

I agree with David Puttnam who argued, in a speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in June 2012, that:

"[I]t’s ... tragic because, by my reading, should we fail to radically change our approach to education, the same cohort we’re attempting to 'protect' could find that their entire future is scuttled by our timidity."

We need – as the London 2012 Olympics promised – an inspired generation, all of whom are well-educated and some of whom are able to provide the bold, sophisticated leadership that the twenty-first century demands. We need citizens ready to take personal responsibility both for themselves and for the world around them: citizens who have, and seize, the opportunity to learn and relearn throughout their lives. We need citizens who are ready and able to take their knowledge of the best that has been thought and said and done and apply it to the problems of the present and the future.

This surely should be the mission of universities. However, traditional twentieth universities are not meeting this high bar. Simultaneously, the ubiquity of information, the rising value placed on practical learning, and the increased willingness to consider alternative certifications has begun to weaken university walls. When faced with the rising cost of a university education and the decreasing value one is forced to ask: What is the future role of the university?

This poses a real threat to institutions that don’t change radically, as well as huge opportunities to those that choose to respond rapidly. I liken this to an avalanche. The one certainty for anyone in the path of an avalanche is that standing still is not an option. Indeed, it is a classic error of strategy to calculate the risks of action but fail to calculate the (often greater) risks of doing nothing.

There is by no means one certain way forward from here. Instead, what we will probably see is a diverse range of experiments, some of which will work and some of which won’t. I can imagine some universities succeeding by attracting only elite students, such as Harvard today, while others radically rethink their approach and open education to the masses, perhaps through a platform like Coursera. The central message to leaders of universities and those who shape and regulate education is, in the words of the old hymn, to ‘ponder anew’.

The certainties of the past are no longer certainties. The models of higher education that marched triumphantly across the globe in the second half of the twentieth century are insufficient for the future. Just as globalisation and technology have transformed other huge sectors of the economy in the past 20 years, in the next 20 years universities face transformation. In An Avalanche is Coming my colleagues and I aim to provoke creative dialogue and challenge complacency.

There is an abundance of innovation in education. We are on the brink of a brave new world of learning. I hope to encourage all those responsible for universities to consider their options creatively.

This blog is part of a regular series on the Knowledge Centre looking at issues in higher education ahead of the Global University Summit (May 28-30 2013), hosted by the University of Warwick in Whitehall, London. As part of the Summit, a declaration of commitment and policy recommendations will be drawn up for the G8 summit of world leaders, taking place in Northern Ireland in June.


Photograph of Sir Michael Barber PearsonsSir Michael Barber is a leading authority on education systems and education reform. Over the past two decades his research and advisory work has focused on school improvement, standards and performance; system-wide reform; effective implementation; access, success and funding in higher education; and access and quality in schools in developing countries.

Prior to Pearson, he was a Partner at McKinsey & Company and Head of McKinsey’s global education practice. He co-authored two major McKinsey education reports: How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better (2010) and How the world’s best-performing schools come out on top (2007). He is also Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Exeter.

He previously served the UK government as Head of the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit (from 2001-2005) and as Chief Adviser to the Secretary of State for Education on School Standards (from 1997-2001). Before joining government he was a professor at the Institute of Education at the University of London. He is the author of several books including Instruction to Deliver; The Learning Game: Arguments for an Education Revolution and How to do the Impossible: a Guide for Politicians with a Passion for Education.

[Source: Pearson]

March 22, 2013

The Future of Universities

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What’s next for universities? With the sector diversifying into online learning, not to mention the many varied opportunities offered by further and higher education colleges, it’s become harder to say what a university will look like in the future. In March 2013, leading academics and experts, organisations, and international student leaders at Warwick Universities Summit 2013 tackled the issue of universities in 2025. Speakers from across the sector discussed topics such as funding and widening access, and what the value of the global public university should be in a rapidly developing world.

This month, leading academics and experts, organisations, and international student leaders at Warwick Universities Summit 2013 tackled the issue of universities in 2025. Speakers from across the sector discussed topics such as funding and widening access, and what the value of the global public university should be in a rapidly developing world. Here, Alex Bols is interviewed by Alex Miles from the University of Warwick.

alexbols.jpgThree Questions for...
Alex Bols, Director of the 1994 Group

Alex Miles: My first question is in relation to the article written by Peter Scott last week [in which he said] mission groups are a divisive presence in the sector. To what extent do you think students identify mission groups as brands?

Alex Bols: One of the things that I spoke about at the Warwick Universities Summit is the increasing diversification of higher education - both in terms of provision and providers. Forty years ago when six per cent of the population went to a handful of universities it was relatively easy to say we know what a university is and what its purpose is. Now there are 167 universities, several hundred other institutions – including many private providers and further education colleges - offering higher education, as well as the recent wave of new universities – it is getting increasingly difficult to have a single answer to that question. In particular for those applying to university it is much harder to know what the experience will be like and so the provision of information becomes ever more important.

I think in this context missions groups can be a useful descriptor for different parts of the Higher Education sector. So it can help it to be more understandable to prospective students. Now, in terms of prospective students, the challenge is that most people don’t know most of the mission groups – so it doesn’t really work in that way yet – but it could in the future. Mission groups are also useful in policy making terms. With such a diverse sector it is important to have groups thinking about the unintended consequences of policy on different parts of the sector and how it all fits together.

AM: A recent report by McKinsey posits that in five years’ time there will be a deficit of 40 million graduate high-level jobs. How does this reconcile with a current perception of the depression in graduate jobs in the Western World, and how does the 1994 Group think it will address this future surge in demand?

AB: There are so many issues there, wrapped up in that one question. I think one aspect of that is clearly the concern around having the higher-level skills beyond simply the undergraduate level. And one of the things that the 1994 Group has been campaigning on particularly in the last year/18 months, is actually ensuring that postgraduate taught systems are more accessible to the full diversity of the student population, and particularly, looking as this year, the first students [who] will be paying £9,000 for undergraduate fees, will, within 18 months’ time, be thinking about which Masters they’re studying and we potentially have a ticking time-bomb on the horizon. That’s one aspect.

The second aspect, in terms of graduate jobs more generally, I suppose, is that it feels as though there is a real need for high-skill jobs in the economy. There are probably more low-skilled jobs, more manual jobs, but there’s been almost a hollowing-out of the mid-level skill jobs so it feels like there’s almost an hourglass effect. So actually it’s sometimes very easy to [say] “Oh there’s not enough graduate employment” – I think that’s mainly reflective of the economic situation that we’re in, that fact that graduates are still significantly more employable than people who don’t have high education qualifications. And actually if you look at the economy over the last ten years, the vast majority of new jobs being created are actually in graduate-type jobs.

AM: Finally, if you could ask the G8 to do one thing - make one commitment - bearing in mind that this year’s summit is focusing on free trade, what would that one thing be?

AB: I think, for me, the key question, in the clichéd term, is the “grand challenges”. There are a number of massive issues that affect the world as a whole - climate change, food and water security - a whole range of issues which cannot be solved by any one university, any one country. What I think we should be looking at, at the G8 level (and probably G20 and indeed, beyond) is how are we able to ensure that collaboration to tackle the major issues affecting the world for the next 50 years? How are they able to facilitate that investment in research, the collaboration across our best universities and across countries? How are we able to ensure that that investment in research will mean we are going to be able to tackle key questions – the key challenges of the future?

This blog is part of a regular series on the Knowledge Centre looking at issues in higher education ahead of the Global University Summit (May 28-30 2013), hosted by the University of Warwick in Whitehall, London. As part of the GUS, a declaration of commitment and policy recommendations will be drawn up for the G8 summit of world leaders, taking place in Northern Ireland in June.

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