Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Public policy is key to the digital economy

February 7th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

Interesting research from Harvard Business Review who have introduced the Digital Evolution Index  to trace the emergence of a “digital planet,” how physical interactions — in communications, social and political exchange, commerce, media and entertainment — are being displaced by digitally mediated ones.

They outline five “features of the global digital economy”:

  • Digital players wield outsize market power.
  • Digital technologies are poised to change the future of work
  • Digital markets are uneven.
  • Digital commerce must still contend with cash.
  • Digital technology is widespread and spreading fast.

Each of these five features, they say, “contains both upsides and challenges. Moreover, how strongly each of them is felt varies depending on where you are in the world”

The report produces a map of counties digital development divided into four zones: Stand Out, Stall Out, Break Out, Watch Out.

But by far the most interesting comments come in the conclusions:

Digital innovators should recognize that public policy is essential to the success of the digital economy. Countries with high-performing digital sectors, such as those in the EU, typically have had strong government/policy involvement in shaping the digital economies.

This comes despite the popular business press obsession with so called digital disruption which poses public policy as a barrier to change and innovation.

Skills on their own are not enough

February 5th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

electrnicengineerI have been involved in research in Vocational Education and Training for a long time. Vocational  Education and Training is a strange thing. Although always popular in the German speaking countries, for a long time it went out of fashion in many countries.  With the emergence of the Knowledge Economy, went the story, we needed more people with higher qualifications. Mass university education was the answer.

With the financial crash in 2008 and the onset of austerity and ‘the crisis’, this argument started to fall apart.  For one thing universities are expensive to run and where in countries like the UK, students were charged fees, many started to bulk at the debts they were running up. At the same time employers were complaining about the lack of ‘employability skills’ from university leavers. And questions started to be raised about the best way of learning the technical skills which economies were now deemed to require.

Especially in south European countries, the crisis led to very high and persistent levels of youth unemployment (in Spain and Greece over 50 per cent). This was seen as politically uncomfortable.

The answer was to reinvent vocational education and training. The European Commission and many national governments alike have returned to the idea of apprenticeship for mediating the school to work process and offering an alternative route to qualification for unemployed young people.

Generally, this may be seen as a good thing. Offering structured and high quality work based learning can provide young people with a route to a career. However, there are a number of problems. It is not possible to simply transfer the German Dual system of apprenticeship to other countries which lack a culture of employer commitment to training, even if the infrastructure and skilled trainers were to be available. Establishing an apprenticeship programme does not come cheap and requires investment.

Although economists seem these days to see high quality training as the answer to all evils from low productivity to high unemployment, reality is a little different. Productivity and employment are dependent on many different factors, including government policies, investment and a willingness to look at longer term returns on capital than has been common in some countries. Having a skilled workforce is one thing – but making the most of those skills is another

Historical Anniversaries 2018 – Part One: Remembering the Victims of Holocaust

January 28th, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

Normally I am writing on this blog about my work as researcher in vocational education and training (VET) and on learning experiences while working with practitioners in VET. However, as we all know, researchers and educators are not working in a societal vacuum. Therefore, issues of social awareness and social responsibility are always there to be considered and discussed. And historical anniversaries trigger such discussions in the media and in public debate. Yesterday, two historical anniversaries were ‘celebrated’ with such discussions – one at the international level and another one in my home country Finland. I will start with the Day for Remembering the Victims of Holocaust and the Nazi Regimes.

What does the the Day for Remembering (Gedenktag) stand for?

As an expatriate Finn living in Germany I have got used to the German culture of remembering the atrocities of the Nazi regime and showing solidarity to the victims. Many TV-channels show documentary films that give insights into the dark history and into the role of different societal actors who were involved. One of the peak points has been the 27th of January – the anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau – the very place where the industrialisation of genocide and mass murders was brought to perfection.

Indeed, years and decades have passed from those dark days. Therefore, some people may think that one could leave that sad past behind. Some people may think that one could take a different view on the German military past – as if it were something separate from the genocide and mass murders of civilians of that time. And furthermore, migrants are coming to Germany from such areas in which the remembering of holocaust is not present.

This all has now been brought into discussion – once again – by the news updates and commentaries on the Day of Remembering. Below I have selected some examples that emphasise, how and why we need to keep the culture of remembering alive and ready to respond to whatever challenges.

The Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau as an advocate for the cause of the victims (also in the Internet)

My first example is the report of the leading German TV-channel ARD on the different activities of the Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau. Whilst the museum emphasises the importance making your own impressions there, on site, they also keep an eye on the discussions in the media and Internet. And, when they see something inappropriate (from the perspective of the victims), the intervene. Read more from the report:

Auschwitz-Museum in sozialen MedienAnwalt der Opfer im Netz

Insights into historical facts as means to challenge the present-date antisemitism

The reason why I emphasise the active engagement of the museum in Auschwitz is the worrying tendency in Germany and elsewhere towards antisemitic violence and hatred vis-à-vis Jewish people. To some extent this is connected to the right-wing populist movement in Germany but to some extent also to migration from the Middle East or from Eastern Europe. Here it is not my intention to make false generalisations. Instead, I want to emphasise the importance of a culture of remembering and solidarity for the victims. To me the following contributions of the radio channel Deutschlandfunk bring this to the point:

Letzte Briefe von NS-Opfern vor dem Tod (Last letters from the victims of Nazis)

This report informs of an exhibition of the last letters of holocaust-victims to their relatives. It makes transparent the human beings and human lives that suddenly became victims of a brutal terror regime.

“Hass bekämpft man durch Bildung” (We have to fight against hatred with means of education)

This is an interview with the leading Jewish rabbi in Paris. He reflects on newer tendencies towards antisemitism, xenophobia and racism in Europe. But he also emphasises the achievements of intercultural education in promoting solidarity and understanding between people with different cultural backgrounds.

I think this is enough of this historical anniversary. To me it is important that the message of remembering and understanding is passed forward. As the Prime Minister of the German Federal State Thüringen, Bodo Ramelow has formulated it: “Never again means never again!” The lessons from the history have to be learned.

More blogs to come …

 

 

 

Boot camps closing

August 10th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

Interesting press release from Reuters regarding the American Coding Boot Camps – a model some policy makers in Europe have been looking at as a model for adoption.

Reuters report that “closures are up in a field now jammed with programs promising to teach students in just weeks the skills needed to get hired as professional coders. So far this year, at least eight schools have shut down or announced plans to close in 2017, according to the review website Course Report.

Two pioneers in the sector, San Francisco’s Dev Bootcamp and The Iron Yard of Greenville, South Carolina, announced in July that they are being shut down by their corporate parents.

Others, including market leaders like General Assembly, a New York firm that has raised $120 million in venture capital, are shifting their focus to corporate training.”

Some of the Boot Camps offer  online programmes, others have face to face training. What they share in common is that they are fee paying. According to Reuters average tuition is just over $11,000 for a 14-week course. The spread of the boot camps has been largely funded by Venture Capitalist who have pumped in more that 250 US dollars.

Following on the failure to monetise MOOCs venture capital  seized on boot camps as another route to “disrupt” education by creating a new privatised market.

Interestingly though, Code Academy who have always offered free online training in coding have come up with a new business model. According to Bloomberg they have launched a three-tiered paid service which will allow personal learning, provide mentored help in building websites from scratch and build front-end applications. The fee ranges from $19.9 to $499 per month.

What is industry 4.0?

August 7th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

I’ve long wondered what is meant by industry 4.0. Some shining techno world of robots and Artificial Intelligence? Or the end of batch production for individualised goods (although we have been told this is happening for the last thirty or so years). The rise of service – although how does this relate to industry and it is hardly new? And whatever was Industry 3.0, 2.0 and 1.0 for that matter?

Erinc Yeldan, Professor of Economics at Yasar University, sums it up pretty well writing in Social Europe. In an article entitled “Beyond Fantasies Of Industry 4.0″, he says”

As a popularized futuristic concept for the 21st Century, “Industry 4.0” reveals a Messianic expectation of a technological revolution encompassing the utilization of advance techniques of digital design and robotics for the production of “high value-added goods”. It doesn’t matter in this conjuncture, nor of relevance, to ask what the characteristics of the first three episodes of industrialization were, and why do we conceptualize the emerged fourth industrial advance with a digitalized mark (4.0), rather than in plain English. It seems what matters now is the urgent need for creating an image of vibrant capitalism serving its citizens in the embrace of globalization.

If we accept the idea of Industry 4.0 as real (and I am highly dubious), Erinc thinks the question of ownership is critical for the future:

..to whom will the ownership rights of the robots belong? States as owners of public (-?) capital? Private ownership as organized along trans-national corporations under the post-imperialist phase of global capital? Men and women of the scientific community who in the first place designed and projected them? Or perhaps, a de-centralized, democratically operating societal network, above and beyond nation states?

Although I agree, this is just a part of the argument about teh future of technology. Technology is not a natural phenomenon, it is a socially derived process. How we use technology – for private profit or for public good is a political and social issue. It is long time the meanings and assumptions of the Industry 4.0 fantasy were explored from a social viewpoint.

Why is there such a big gender difference in graduate employment

June 16th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

salaries grad

In our work on Labour Market Information Systems, we frequently talk about the differences between labour market information and labour market intelligence in terms of making sense and meanings from statistical data. The graph above is a case in point. It is one of the outcomes of a survey on Graduate Employment, undertaken by the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

Like many such studies, the data is not complete. Yet, looking at the pay by gender reveals what WONKHE call “a shocking picture of the extent of the pay gap even straight out of university, and how different subject areas result in a diverse range of pay differences.”

Understanding why there is such a gap is harder. One reason could be that even with equal pay legislation, employers simply prefer to employ male staff for higher paid and more senior jobs. Also, the graph shows the subject in which the students graduated, not the occupational area in which they are employed. Thus the strikingly higher pay for mean who undertook nursing degrees may be due to them gaining highly paid jobs outside nursing. Another probable factor in explaining some of the pay gap is that the figures include both full and part time workers. Nationally far more women are employed part time, than men. However, that explanation itself raises new questions.

The data from HESA shows the value of data and at the same time the limitations of just statistical information. The job now is to find out why there is such a stark gender pay gap and what can be done about it. Such ‘intelligence’ will require qualitative research to go beyond the bald figures.

The threat to research

June 14th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

I just realsied I had not updated the editorial since July last year. Then I wrote a hasty and angry editorial about the threat that Brexit posed to Pontydysgu and to the wider educational community. Since then a lot has happened!

For companies like Pontydysgu, along with other small enterprises working in research, we have the flexibility to move offices to more sunny climes within the European Union. But friends in universities in the UK tell me teh situation is seen as increasingly dire as lack of access to European project funding threatens to compound reduced resources and higher work pressures brought about by UK Higher Education policy and enthusiastically adopted by senior managers. Perhaps things look a little more hopeful after last weeks rejection of austerity by UK electors. But Brexit is not only a monetary threat to research in the UK: as important is isolation from the international and cross disciplinary research networks built up by researchers in universities throughout Europe.

Stress and academic identities

May 7th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

I was planning to write an article on academics and ‘well being’ today so it is somewhat serendipitous that Twitter gave me a link to an article in Times Higher Education on academic stress.

The article reports on a study by Roland Persson, professor of educational psychology at Sweden’s Jönköping University who has developed a ranking of academic stress in 91 countries. Germany, Canada, Denmark, Finland and Malaysia are judged to be relatively stress-free sectors with Chian most successful and UK coming somewhere in the middle.

Professor Persson, ascribes Germany’s success in generating high staff morale and strong job satisfaction among academics to the country’s relative lack of a performance management culture, according to Times Higher.
My article was going to be nothing like so scientific. But I have many friends working in universities sin the UK and am struck how demoralised most of them seem to be.

And Professor Persson’s findings tally with what my friends tell me. He identifies excessive workload as a key driver of stress, alongside a lack of support, understanding and respect from managers. But I think it goes further than that. Universities in the UK are being run as businesses and badly run at that. Tayloristic management was developed for running production lines in car factories. Many modern industries, especially those involved in creative or intellectual work have moved different management paradigms. Yet UK universities now seem to be both excessively hierarchical and at the same time have ado-ted management by target, with targets ever increasing.

Most researchers and teachers I know in universities are dedicated to their students and to their research area. There is a stark culture clash between doing the job in the right way as they see it and a management culture based on cutting costs and generating profit. At heart of this conflict is the identity of teachers and researchers. All that is keeping many of them in their jobs is the lack of alternative.

First of May and “PULSE OF EUROPE”

May 1st, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

So, once again we have celebrated the First of May – the special day of working people and international workers’ movement. Usually I do not feel inclined to engage myself (as an expatriate) in the politics of my host country (Germany). But to me the First of May demonstrations are clearly that kind of citizens’ participation in which I can join whatever my citizenship status may be. (To be sure – as an EU-Citizen I have no reason to complain: I have voting rights in the local/regional elections in Bremen and I can choose whether to vote for Finnish or German candidates in the elections of the EU-parliament.) In a similar way I have found my way way to the “Pulse of Europe” movement and its weekly demonstrations on Sundays.

Now that the First of May happened to be on Monday, I have been in two demonstrations on the successive days. Below I give short reports of both events. I will start with the First of May and the go back to the Pulse of Europe movement and its events in Bremen.

First of May in Bremen: The usual story – but with something new to think about

During my years in Bremen I have participated several times in the First of May demonstrations. Sometimes (in particular before the elections) there has been more interest to participate, sometimes less. This time – as I remember it – we were fewer than couple of times before. But we were enough to pass the message that this is a living tradition. Yet, when looking at the groups involved – they were pretty much the same: The major trade unions formed the majority. The political parties of the left (SPD, die Linke and the smaller groupings) were also there – of course. And we had the left groupings of several ethnic minorities – in particular the Kurdish people were actively present pleading for solidarity to their cousins in Turkey, Syria and Iraq. The German trade unions drew attention to the need to improve the resources in education and the care of elderly people – petitions were presented and signed. This was the familiar side of the event.

What was new then? Firstly, during the procession I got into conversation with a representative of teachers and researchers (GEW), who informed me of their local initiative group for international solidarity and cooperation. I became aware of their cooperation with similar trade unions in Turkey, Palestine and Burkina Faso – with initiatives that cover school education as well as higher education. I was invited to have a closer look at their activities and I will try to follow this up. Also, during the procession I got a leaflet of a solidarity initiative to support the refugees stuck on the isle of Lesbos (Lesvos). There was no chance to start a conversation but I will try to get a more detailed picture on the situation and on the work of the support initiatives. Here are the links to the websites:

http://www.lesvossolidarity.org and  www.bremenlesvos.wordpress.com.

Pulse of Europe in Bremen: The new movement with a clear message

In February and March I became aware of a new pro-European movement that had started weekly demonstrations for a positive thinking about Europe. Clearly, this was thought as a counter-model to the Dresden-based “PEGIDA” – a xenophobic and islamophobic movement that has provided a basis for right-wing populism and radicalism. And clearly, the Brexit-referendum in the UK and the presidential election in the USA in 2015 were the wake-up calls. The founders – individual citizens in Frankfurt – came to the conclusion that we need a popular movement that raises awareness of positive values, ideas, achievements and citizens’ participation opportunities related to the European Union. The initiative has to keep itself independent and open to all who are interested in taking action for Europe. And furthermore – the movement itself calls for active voting and contacting voters and politicians. It all started in a local demonstration in Frankfurt and the movement has spread all over Germany and to several other countries.

The demonstrations follow the same pattern: The ‘Pulse of Europe’ initiative is presented as an open and independent  citizens’ initiative. The 10 points manifesto is presented. There may be a guest presentation. Then there is a review on key events or incidents at European level. The audience is then invited to sing the Pulse of Europe version of the “Ode for Joy”. Then there mey be a ‘Greetings to …’ action with postcards or with posters and group photos. Then comes the “Open microphone” session for participants to present their views, arguments, messages or critique to be taken on board. And finally, there is the cultural concluding part when the participants join in a chain of people round the square to dance or to listen to a music performance. We have been dancing Sirtaki (focus on Greece) and listened to a bagpipe player (focus on the UK) and so on (I have missed couple of events when travelling).

To me this new movement has been a most welcome fresh wind. I have been happy to see, how the organisers and participants take this mode of participation seriously. Everyone knows that such a popular movement that tries to keep itself open for people with different political opinions cannot go into great detail. Yet, the ten points and the issues brought into discussion provide a good balance between positive ideas and critique of the aspects in present-date EU that tend to alienate citizens and decision-makers from each other. One of the key points of the movement is that we have reform EU to make it sustainable – but we have to keep it first to be able to reform it. And this is the message that the movement has been passing to other nations who have had or will have elections – in particular the Netherlands and France. The current message to our French neighbours is: “Restons ensemble!” (Let us stay together!) Or – as I would continue it: “Marchons ensemble!” (Let us proceed together!)

Here the links to the website of #Pulseofeurope and to the facebook-group:

http://pulseofeurope.eu  (in German)

http://pulseofeurope.eu/pulse-of-europe-what-is-at-stake/?lang=en  (in English)

https://www.facebook.com/PulseofEurope/

Next Sunday we will meet again at the central square of Bremen (Marktplatz) at the City Hall (Rathaus). We will continue.

More blogs to come …

 

 

 

Hyvää Kalevalan päivää 28.2. – Happy Kalevala Day February 28th

February 28th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

Normally I have not made great noises about my Finnish nationality. And it has never crossed my mind to to start blogging in my own language – after all, I have been working several years as a European researcher (using English as the working language). However, this year – the year 2017 – is something different. Finland is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its independence (I have already blogged on this after the 99th Independence Day 2016).  And today, on the 28th of February we celebrate Kalevala – our national saga. So, this calls for a little explanation on the importance of Kalevala for our nation-building and on the circumstances in which it was created.

Finland in the 19th century – the search for Finnish national identity and Finnish national saga

During the Napoleon wars in the 19th century Sweden lost Finland to Russia. Since the wars were going on elsewhere in Europe, Russia was inclined to integrate the new province in a smooth way. So Finland was granted the status of an autonomous Grand-Duchy and the Russian Czar adopted the title Grand-Duke of Finland as well. Finland could keep the old Swedish legislation and govern itself as before – now showing loyality to the new rulers. This could be settled rather easily.

Yet, for the language, culture and national identity this transition was a challenge. So far the educated classes had spoken Swedish and tried to integrate with the elites of the Swedish motherland, whilst Finnish had remained as a language of uneducated. Now, Russian language came into picture as the language of the new rulers. The educated classes faced the question – how to position themselves in the new situation. A new movement emerged with the motto: “We are no longer Swedes, we don’t want to become Russians – let us be Finns!”

And as a part of this movement several hobby-folklorists started to roam around the rural areas to collect old folklore runes and songs to compile the new nation in making its national saga. The leading person in this movement was Elias Lönnroth who collected a huge amount of folklore and edited the national saga “Kalevala”. This saga tells of the arcaic ‘motherland region’ of Finland – Kalevala and of the ancient heroes of the past. Strangely enough, most of these heroes were tragic or tragicomic characters and this was explicit in the stories. (Perhaps the ancient Finns were kinsmen of Kaurismäki.)

The Kalevala runes

As usual with ancient folklore, the stories were told as runes or sung as songs, With Kalevala, the metrics were similar as Ilias and Odyssey: the Kalevala-trokee. Therefore, the obligatory Kalevala-reading at schools has been a challenge for the younger generations. So, it has been easier to pick the tradition via shortcut-versions of particular versions, modern-styled movies with ancient characters or cartoon-versions with dog-shaped humans portraying the Kalevala characters.

But enough with the explanations – let us give sample of Kalevala poetry! Below I start with an original quote (the first verses of Kalevala). Then I continue with a self-styled Kalevala Day greeting (bringing the main Kalevala characters and their contributions together). And to be sure – this all will be in Finnish. And to pick metric, I have hyphenated the first verses. Enjoy it!

Mie-le-ni mi-nun te-ke-vi, ai-vo-ni ajat-te-levi,
lähte-ä-ni lau-la-ma-han, saa’ani sa-ne-le-mahan,
suku-virttä suolta-ma-han, laji-virttä lau-la-mahan …

Väinämöisen kanteleista, Ilmarisen ahjoista,
joukahaisen jousesta, Lemminkäisen miekasta,
Kullervon kirouksesta, Aino-neidon kohtalosta …

Mutta toki muistanemme, mielessämme kantanemme
Ilmattaren aikojen alusta – Väinämöisen kantajan,
Pohjan Akan mahtavan – Kalevalaisten pelkäämän,
Pohjan Tytin kaunokaisen – Ilmarisen emännän,
Lemminkäisen äidin huolen – poikansa pelastajan,
Sekä meidän Marjatan, jolle poika puolukasta.

Näistä kertoo Kalavala, Suomen kansan tarina,
juhlapäivä tänään on, juhlavuosi verraton!

– – –

This was my contribution to the Kalevala Day celebration on this special jubilation year of Finland. I think I will get back to topics like this later on this year.

More blogs to come …

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    News Bites

    Barcelona to go Open Source

    The Spanish newspaper, El País, has reported that the City of Barcelona is in the process of migrating its computer system to Open Source technologies.

    According to the news report, the city plans to first replace all its user applications with alternative open source applications. This will go on until the only remaining proprietary software will be Windows where it will finally be replaced with a Linux distribution.

    To support the move, the city will employ 65 new developers to build software programs for their specific needs. they also plan the development of a digital market – an online platform – whereby small businesses will use to take part in public tenders.


    OER18: Open to All,

    The OER18 Conference takes place in Bristol, UK on 18 – 19 April 2018. OER18 is the 9th annual conference for Open Education research, practice and policy. The final keynote has now been announced: Dr Momodou Sallah is Reader in Globalisation and Global Youth Work at the Social Work, Youth and Community Division, De Montfort University.  More about the conference: http://go.alt.ac.uk/2DmsPPu


    Learning about technology

    According to the University Technical Colleges web site, new research released of 11 to 17-year-olds, commissioned by the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, the charity which promotes and supports University Technical Colleges (UTCs), reveals that over a third (36%) have no opportunity to learn about the latest technology in the classroom and over two thirds (67%) admit that they have not had the opportunity even to discuss a new tech or app idea with a teacher.

    When asked about the tech skills they would like to learn the top five were:

    Building apps (45%)
    Creating Games (43%)
    Virtual reality (38%)
    Coding computer languages (34%)
    Artificial intelligence (28%)


    MOOC providers in 2016

    According to Class Central a quarter of the new MOOC users  in 2016 came from regional MOOC providers such as  XuetangX (China) and Miríada X (Latin America).

    They list the top five MOOC providers by registered users:

    1. Coursera – 23 million
    2. edX – 10 million
    3. XuetangX – 6 million
    4. FutureLearn – 5.3 million
    5. Udacity – 4 million

    XuetangX burst onto this list making it the only non-English MOOC platform in top five.

    In 2016, 2,600+ new courses (vs. 1800 last year) were announced, taking the total number of courses to 6,850 from over 700 universities.


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