Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Issues in developing apprenticeship programmes: UK and Spain

May 22nd, 2018 by Graham Attwell

soundtechAfter years of running down apprenticeship schemes through a policy focus on mass university education, the UK, in common with other European countries, has in the past few years turned back to apprenticeship both as a strategy for providing the skills needed in the changing economy and as a way of overcoming youth unemployment especially or those with low school attainment.

The turn to apprenticeship has gone through a number of phases. In its earliest incarnation there was a tendency to just label any vocational work based programme as an apprenticeship. This did nothing for the reputation of apprenticeships either with young people or with employers and there was widespread criticism of the quality of many of the courses on offer.

Two years ago, the government undertook yet another shakeup of the apprenticeship programme, introducing a training levy for large companies and placing a focus on higher level apprenticeships including degree programmes.

Yet this reform has also run into problems. Despite setting a target of three million new apprenticeships by 2020, there was a near 27% fall in the number taking up trainee posts in the last quarter of 2017.

The number starting apprenticeships dropped to 114,000 between August and October, down from 155,700 in the same period in 2016. That followed a 59% drop in the previous three months after the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in April last year.

The biggest drop came in “intermediate” apprenticeships, the basic level, which dropped 38% to 52,000. The highest level of apprenticeships – known as degree apprenticeships – rose nearly 27% to 11,600. Schemes for adult apprentices were worse affected than for those young people, falling by just over 30% compared with 20%.

Last week, the UK House of Commons Education Select Committee heard evidence from the Further Education minister Anne Milton, the quality inspectorate Ofsted, the Institute for Apprenticeships and the Education and Skills Funding Agency on the quality of apprenticeships and skills training.

What seems remarkable from the TES report on the issues emerging from the meeting is how much they parallel problems in other European countries attempting to develop new apprenticeship systems, such as Italy and Spain. Indeed, nearly all of the issues also emerged in our study on apprenticeship in Valencia, Spain, all be it in different forms. This first article provides a quick summary of some of the issues raised at the House of Commons, together with a look at their resonance in Spain. In later posts I will look at some of the issues separately, particularly in reference to developments in the Dual System in Germany.

Higher level apprenticeships

According to the TES, high up the agenda were degree apprenticeships. While degree apprenticeships may raise the prestige of apprenticeship funding, this does little for the lower skilled young people looking for what in the UK are called intermediate level qualifications. Similarly, in Spain the new FP Dual apprenticeship programme has gained biggest traction at a higher apprenticeship level, demanding good school examination results for entry.

Despite the fact that Spain has a decentralised regional system for approving new apprenticeship programmes and the UK operates a national system, in both countries there seems to be significant issues around the level of bureaucracy in getting approval for new programmes and for the management of programmes.

Judging quality

In both countries too, the quality of apprenticeship programmes appears to be variable. Paul Joyce, deputy director for FE and skills at Ofsted, said there was a “very mixed picture” in terms of the quality of apprenticeships, adding: “It is certainly not a universally positive picture in terms of quality.” He said that of those providers inspected so far this year, “round about half are ‘requiring improvement’ or are ‘inadequate’, so it’s a very mixed bag”.

In Spain with no inspection system and few attempts at any systematic evaluation it is difficult to judge quality. Anecdotal evidence suggest also a “very mixed picture” in part due to the lack of training for trainers.

The role of Small and Medium Enterprises

The House of Commons Select Committee heard from Keith Smith, director of apprenticeships at the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), who said there was an aspiration to give employers more control in the system.

He added: “For small businesses, we need to be really careful we provide them with the right support and infrastructure to do that. They’re not the same as big levy-paying employers, they don’t have the same back-office support.

“We’re trying to design this very much with micro-businesses in mind. So, if it works for micro-businesses, it will work for all small businesses.”

Despite that, there would appear to be little take up from small businesses at present, possibly due to lack of knowledge about the new system, or because of the bureaucracy involved.

Similarly in Spain, there is limited take up by small businesses, Whilst in reality vocational schools are in charge of the system, the curriculum for apprenticeship programmes is developed in partnership between the schools and the companies.

More support needed for disadvantaged

Apprenticeships and skills minister Ms Milton said she will do what she can to break down barriers for disadvanataged people, including lobbying other ministers on issues such as travel discounts, an apprentice premium and the benefits system. After education secretary Damian Hinds yesterday refused to commit to the Conservatives’ manifesto pledge of transport subsidies for apprentices, Ms Milton was also coy on the issue.

In Spain there is continuing confusion over support for apprentices. With the adoption of the FP Dual system largely in the control of the regional governments, different regions have different policies, some stipulating pay for apprentices, some of training allowance and others not. Similarly, in some regions transport is paid and in others not. Sometimes it depends on agreements between individual employers and vocational schools.

 

The Green Slime Neoliberal Lens

April 2nd, 2018 by Graham Attwell

Like many of us I guess, I am disillusioned that the rich promise of social networks for informal learning and the sharing of knowledge has been overwhelmed by endless drive for monetization. Even such basic features as privacy and data security seem to be determined more by how to make money than by any ethical concerns.

I long ago lost faith in Facebook. However, I still have a soft spot for Twitter. Even though curating follower lists takes some time, it is amply paid back by the links to so many things – reports, papers, blogs etc.I would never have stumbled on before.

All this is a rather lengthy prelude to two slides I found last week. Sadly I have lost who was the creator (anyone care to claim them?). But these are great slides.

Image from Tweetbot

 

Image from Tweetbot 1

 

 

 

They have had “Enough” of it – They say #NeverAgain

March 26th, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

Last week I came to Tampa, Florida, for my Easter break. Due to that fact I have felt closer to the news on the current youth movement in the United States with the motto #NeverAgain. As we know, this movement was started as the survivors’ reaction after the shootings in Parkland, Florida. The angry survivors, mostly seniors at high school, took the initiative to launch a new movement for strict gun laws and against the corrupt gun lobby (and politicians following its guidance). So, last week I saw a lot of media reports on the ‘March for Our Lives’ led by these young survivors from Parkland – now supported by hundreds of thousands participating in the demonstrations and celebrities supporting them.

But this post is not about the numbers or the celebrities, it is about these young activists who have achieved a lot and who are ready to fight for their cause – whoever they have to fight against. Below I try to grasp some key moments of this movement and add some reports (partly delivered by German media who tries to interpret what is going on).

Emma Gonzales “We call BS”

One of the early events of the movement was the gun control rally on Saturday in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, days after the gunman entered her school in nearby Parkland and killed 17 people.

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/02/17/us/florida-student-emma-gonzalez-speech/index.html

Here some quotes of the impressive speech of EmmaGonzalez:

“We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks. Not because we’re going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America, but because, just as David said, we are going to be the last mass shooting.”

“If the President wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy and how it should never have happened and maintain telling us how nothing is going to be done about it, I’m going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association.”

“The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and our parents to call BS.Companies trying to make caricatures of the teenagers these days, saying that all we are self-involved and trend-obsessed and they hush us into submission when our message doesn’t reach the ears of the nation, we are prepared to call BS. Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this, we call BS. They say tougher guns laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS. They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS. They say guns are just tools like knives and are as dangerous as cars. We call BS. They say no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS. That us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works. We call BS.”

The movement takes off – and the “March for Our Lives” takes place everywhere in the US

What happened then – of that I have been better informed by the German media. They have given a reports on the interim events and on the growing pressure on politicians. Whilst the first reactions from the White House and from the leading politicians tended to belittle the problems and the activists, the reports on mass engagement to participate in the March for Our Lives (24th of March) got the politicians alerted. This was reflected in the hasty process to tighten the gun laws in Florida just on the advent of the forthcoming March for Our Lives. See on this the report of the news department of the German TV channel ARD (with video and audio reports included):

http://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/parkland-waffendebatte-101.html

And then came the great day of the mass demonstrations. The report of the German TV channel ZDF informs of the preparations and on the atmosphere on the evening before the marches:

https://www.zdf.de/nachrichten/heute-plus/videos/heuteplus-schueler-demonstrieren-gegen-waffen-100.html

The speech that silenced the masses

Again it was Emma Gonzales who delivered the speech that got the most attention. Few but significant words in the beginning, long silence in between and then the concluding statements that delivered a strong messge.

https://www.zdf.de/nachrichten/heute-sendungen/videos/emma-gonzalez-schweigen-volle-laenge-100.html

I think this is enough of the events and of the movement that has reached great dimensions. The leaders of the movement are young but not naive. They have stood up against the gun lobby and mighty politicians – and shown that they cannot be intimidated. Instead, the politicians have got the challenge to stand up with them or to enjoy their last term of office. To me these young activists merit to be called as ‘profiles in courage’. To be sure, they know what they are fighting for – and they know that the future will be theirs.

More blogs to come …

The slow cancellation of the future

March 12th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

leeds-ucu-strike-christianhogsbjergWriting in the Guardian, Becky Gardiner, a senior lecturer at Goldsmiths University in London, explains why she is on strike. Although the strike in the UK universities is now into its fourth week and is ostensibly abut cuts to pensions it raises wider issues’

‭Becky says:

My favourite banner on the picket line reads “Against the slow cancellation of the future”, a phrase popularised by the late cultural theorist, Mark Fisher. In the grip of neoliberalism, we begin to believe that there is no alternative, Fisher told us.

In universities, this slow draining of hope began with the introduction of tuition fees in 1998, and gathered pace when they were tripled in 2010. Successive governments, enthusiastically aided by overpaid senior management drawn from outside the university sector, have turned higher education into a utilitarian and consumer-driven activity that students buy in exchange for skills for the job market.

The latest idea coming from the UK Department for Education (DfE) is to introduce a ratings system would which would allow students to make “consumer-style comparisons of degree courses.” Subjects will be given a gold, silver or bronze award, and details will be made available about post-degree employment prospects, potential earnings and dropout rates, according to the DfE.

The problem for DfE is that for all their efforts educations is not a consumer good. And statistics suggest that the best indicator of potential earnings comes not from which university or indeed which subject is studies but is dependent on the social class that the student comes from. So those courses with more upper class students will have the best post employment prospects, presumably attracting more upper class students and reinforcing their positioning in the consumer style ratings. The slow cancellation of the future seems to be speeding up.

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.

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    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.


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