Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Brexit, universities and research

July 21st, 2016 by Graham Attwell

bannerEmptyH2020Much of the concern expressed by UK universities regarding Brexit is linked to free movement of researchers and to the loss of income from European funded research. these are important issues and while Brexit campaigners promised national money to meet any funding shortfall, the credibility of such promises is doubtful.

But there are other important issues raised from the probable exclusion, or at least downgrading, of UK institutions in European funded projects. In the 40 or so years since the UK joined the European Union, research has changed. The days of the lone researcher, labouring away in their office or laboratory are long gone. Research today is largely comprised of distributed and cross disciplinary teams, often at a large scale. Internet technologies have facilitated communication between distributed teams and made knowledge sharing much easier. Not only does Brexit threaten to isolate researchers in the UK from participating in such projects, but it also makes the UK institutions less attractive for ambitious researchers. And at the same time, especially in an age of austerity, core national funding for full time researchers has been greatly reduced, with the rise of short term appointments based on European and other project based research funding.

Of course European funding is not perfect. As with any such funding programme, the bureaucracy can be annoying (to say the least). Competition to get projects is high. And the short term nature of project funding often condemns promising prototypes to a silo, whilst seeking more resources to continue the work. Despite various attempts by the EU to prompt sustainability, research exploitation routes remain perilous. But one of the great benefits of the European research programmes in education has been for professional development, although this is rarely or ever picked up in evaluation reports. Many of those leading research and teaching in European universities today have benefited from the informal learning from discourse and exchange with peers in different countries. Exclusion from that opportunity for UK researchers will be one of the greatest losses for education from Brexit.

 

Supporting start up businesses

July 5th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

 

 

 

 

One of the best things about Twitter is the ability to follow links to all kinds of things you probably would never have been to without it. And so I find in my notes somewhere the link to an article in Quartz – an online magazine (?) about which I know nothing. The link is to a loosely researched article about entrepreneurism – making the point that there is not much thing as an entrepreneurial gene but rather propensity to take risk and to set up new businesses is more like to be related to access to money – in other words to class.

The article, attributed to REUTERS/Allison Joyce, quotes University of California, Berkeley economists Ross Levine and Rona Rubinstein who “analyzed the shared traits of entrepreneurs in a 2013 paper, and found that most were white, male, and highly educated. “If one does not have money in the form of a family with money, the chances of becoming an entrepreneur drop quite a bit,” Levine tells Quartz.”

Entrepreneurship is all the trend in Europe at the moment, especially in the recession and austerity hit southern countries, where setting up a business is seen as one of the few ways of getting a job. However the rhetoric seems to overplay the potential of technology (everyone can be the next Steve Jobs!), whilst ignoring sectors of the economy such as tourism which probably represent better opportunities within the existing labour market.

At the same time programmes such as the EU Youth Guarantee fund are being used to set up support agencies for young people wishing to set ups their own business and we are seeing the increasing emergence of co-working spaces for new enterprises. But anecdotal evidence – and some reports although I cannot find them at the moment – suggest that many of these businesses are struggling to survive beyond the first one or two years. In austerity Europe bank capital remains hard to come by and most young people do not have access to their own funds to consolidate and explained their business. Although initiatives like the EU SME programme are very welcome, access to such funding is not simple and anyway the amount of grants on offer are simply insufficient. As European politicians slowly wake up to the disaster austerity policies have wrought, then establishing better support for new businesses should be a priority, tied to easy access to small business start up capital.

Understanding that Brexit vote

July 4th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

Many of my friends from outside the UK have asked me however could people have voted for Brexit. And I have read countless newspaper columnists and analysts asking the smae question (with usually not very profound answers). The best explanation I have come across was posted by Ron Johnston, Kelvyn Jones and Davidn in an article entitled Predicting the Brexit vote: getting the geography right (more or less) on the London School of Economics Politics and Policy blog. Using a large body of polling data collected by YouGov they had earlier this year pointed to “clear evidence suggesting that young people and those with higher-level educational qualifications were much more likely to support Remain, whereas older voters and those with few or no qualifications were much more likely to support Leave.”-And despite they misread the likely outcome of the referendum, their findings largely tie up with a post referendum analysis of the results. Following a detailed analysis they find that:

There are substantial parts of the country where large numbers of people have lost out from the deindustrialisation and globalisation of the last few decades of neo-liberal economic policies, and where the educational system has not helped large proportions of the young to equip themselves for the new labour market. Increasing numbers in these disadvantaged groups were won over during the last few decades by the campaigns in parts of the print media, taken up by UKIP since the 1990s, linking their situations to the impact of immigration – uncontrollable because of the EU freedom of movement of labour principle.

From this they conclude that “class, as expressed through educational achievements, delivered Brexit.”

Linking austerity (which has done nothing good for the vast majority of people in the UK) to the growing inequalities in the education system is important to understanding the Brexit vote. Of course the vote can be seen as an attempt to kick the ruling Tory party toffs. Yet it is very hard to argue for the EU, given that they have been one of the major transnational proponents of austerity.

However, I have some reservations about the idea that “the educational system has not helped large proportions of the young to equip themselves for the new labour market”. On the one hand this is obviously true. But the problem is that the new labour market is largely comprised of low paid and insecure jobs, mainly in the service sector. Many of those who have been able to pay for an increasingly expensive university degree are working in what are classified as non degree jobs. Education and the labour market have to be understood as parts of a symbiotic system. Education alone will not change the reality of lack of opportunity in deindustrialised areas of the UK. Lack of opportunity for meaningful and adequately paid employment and lack of educational opportunity are two sides of the same coin in a currency called austerity.

We are not going away

July 4th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

I just checked the company documents. Pontydysgu was set up on 3 February 1999. In that time our work has moved from Vocational Education and Training to embrace the use of technology for teaching and learning, working around careers, knowledge development and sharing in organisations and much more. And whilst our core staff remains largely unchanged we have employed interns from all over Europe and wider afield, including Wales (of course), Romania, India, Greece and Portugal as well as the UK. We have worked with training organisations, libraries, universities, schools, NGOs and enterprises from across the European Union, we employ staff in Germany and Spain.

Brexit poses an existential threat to the future of our organisation. It is not just that the EU is a major funder of many of the projects and contracts that we working on. It threatens our whole pattern of collaborative research and development and our ability to develop the long lasting partnerships with individuals and organisations from all over Europe on which our work rests.

But we are not going away. Of course we, like many other UK based organisations, are exploring the option of setting up a company based in an EU country (or countries). In the meantime, with so much political uncertainly we will continue to work on our current projects and to seek new partnerships. And we would like to thank the many friends who have contacted us expressing their regret at the outcome of the referendum and their solidarity and determination and commitment to work with us in the future.

Waking up with the results of the Brexit-Referendum

June 24th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

During the recent years I have been blogging mostly on our ongoing EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. This time I leave it at the background. And normally I am not making comments on politics – not of my country of origin (Finland) or of my host country (Germany) nor of any other country. BUT today I cannot help picking up the topic “Brexit” due to various reasons. Let me give three reasons for this:

  1. The “Learning Layers” connection: It so happened that the referendum took place just one day after the LL project consortium meeting in Bristol. The two last days before the referendum we spent in a productive and collaborative project meeting – working towards common results and discussing prospects for follow-up activities. In our meeting we worked in the spirit of accustomed normality – partners from Member States among each other as peers among peers. There was no feeling that this could abruptly change (although the British colleagues were worried and acknowledged the risks). Now, after the results, we understand that things will not change overnight and that the future cooperation arrangements will not exclude the British universities from European research cooperation. Yet, the change of climate is taking place and we don’t quite know what to expect.
  2. The Pontydysgu connection: I am writing my blogs on Pontydysgu website as a result of long years of cooperation. I came to know the senior members of Pontydysgu staff (Graham and Jenny) in 1996 at the beginning phase of the EU funding programme Leonardo da Vinci. That was quite some time ago – and some years before the start of Pontydysgu. During the following twenty years we have had a shared history of working in and with European cooperation projects – mostly with focus on vocational education and training (VET). In the course of the time I have learned to appreciate the effort of my Pont colleagues to work as interpreters between the Welsh, British and continental views – and to get the best out of different projects. In this way they have become popular and successful as British partners in EU projects – with educational, labour market -oriented, regional or ICT-related themes. Now, in the new situation I understand that my Pont colleagues have more concerns about their European cooperation than the universities.
  3. The family connection: Finally, I have a personal reason: I have very close family members living as expatriates in London. To be sure, the adults of the family have double nationality and so have the children. They should not need to feel ‘outsiders’, they have got their proper places in the British society. Yet, they (the adults) have grown up on the continent and brought with them a common family language (Finnish) when they moved to Britain long ago. Now, after this heated referendum campaign there are more questions in the air, how expatriates are being perceived in their neighbourhoods (or how the neighborhoods with expatriates are being perceived). Up to now I have had no reason to raise this question, now I am not sure. As we recently learned it in the context of the tragic killing of the Labour MP Jo Cox, “rhetoric has consequences”. But, in the same context we should try build on her life work and her attempt to overcome the power of hatred and division with something grater – human values and solidarity.

I think this is enough to clarify, why I cannot leave the topic ‘Brexit’ aside like an old newspaper with news of yesterday and days before. This new period of uncertainty – on both sides of the Channel – is not a matter of some rapid negotiations and then back to ‘normal business’. Now it is time to rethink and reshape the mutual relations on a new basis – and that need time. Let us hope that this time will be used well. I leave my remarks here and try to get back to my usual themes.

More blogs to come …

Charts and viral videos aside, this is why I’m voting IN.

June 16th, 2016 by Angela Rees
I joked about it six months ago, “if Brexit happens I’m out of a job”, happy in the knowledge that Britain is better off in Europe, that Wales is better off in Europe. I still believe that. For me there are no compelling reasons to leave, the least of which is ‘getting back control of […]

Thinking about Entrepreneurship

May 25th, 2016 by Graham Attwell
For some time I have been interested in Entrepreneurship. For one thing I resented the way the Thatcher and Blair acolytes had stolen the word. Working class people have also been entrepreneurial, setting up small businesses or providing services. Yet to listen to the new reasoning, entrepreneurs were the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of the world, millionaires and directors of multi million pound listed software companies. Just as Puritanism equated being wealthy with being one of the saved, so neo-liberalism equated being rich with being an entrepreneur. It was something the poor should aspire to and they should study in awe rich people as role models.
Since the onset of the recession, or the crisis as it is universally called in southern Europe, some of the gloss has faded at least from the bankers.
Yet with unemployment and especially youth unemployment remaining at very high levels and with employment increasingly precarious, there seems, at least in Spain where i am living, to be ever more emphasis on entrepreneurship as the hope for the future of employment. Over the last week we have attended two conferences and workshops on innovation and entrepreneurship. On the one hand the increasing support for people trying to set up their own businesses is to be welcomed, even if coordination between the many different agencies involved seems somewhat lacking.
Yet the line of argument seems somewhat under developed. The answer for the ailing labour market is innovation Innovation is connected to entrepreneurship. The great future for innovation is technology in disrupting markets. Universities need to develop closer links to industry. We need more training in technology. Web 2.0 and social media are critical to marketing innovations. Look to Apple, look to Uber, look to AirB. Don’t forget the example of The Great Steve Jobs as a role model. And so on.
As Jim Groom and Brian Lamb said in 2014 “Today, innovation is increasingly conflated with hype, disruption for disruption’s sake, and outsourcing laced with a dose of austerity-driven downsizing.” And I fear the increasing popularity and support for entrepreneurship is also becoming conflated with hype.
I am curious about the overwhelming emphasis on technology, software and hardware. Is there any city on Spain – or for that matter anywhere else – which is not trying to develop the next Silicon Valley? Yet looking at the figures, the construction and care industries remain two of the largest industries in Europe by numbers employed. Yet they are rarely, if ever, linked to entrepreneurship. Services are continuing to grow in employment, although this covers a wide range of occupations. The number of people who make real money out of releasing Apps to the various app markets is extremely limited.
I think we need more nuanced thinking around a  number of issues. Clearly labour markets are closely tied to employment. Whatever skills we teach young people they will not gain employment if there are no jobs. Self employment and starting up a business are increasingly attractive routes for young people (especially as there is little alternative). However businesses vary greatly in size and type. Motivations and ambition can be very different. Some people are just looking for a weekend or hobby business, others may be wanting to build on skills. Disruption is probably a minor source of employment or indeed driver of entrepreneurship.
Whilst there is progress in providing support or young people in setting up their own business, advice and help is seldom geared towards them. Being told to go away and produce a profit and loss projection in a spreadsheet is only a small part of the story. And probably the major lack at the moment is help to develop businesses towards sustainability. Growth is not the only measure of sustainability. Bank capital is still in scarce supply and whilst welcome crowd funding has its downsides. And the schooling system in Spain, based on remembering facts, hardly helps young people in striking out on their own.
Above all policy and practice need to link up. Having said that there is a big contradiction between policies of austerity and policies of supporting entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship requires public support as well as private funding. Enough for today…more to come.

BBC recipes and the battle for open

May 18th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

I found yesterdays protests about the BBC plans to archive their recipe site fascinating. After over 120000 people signed a petition protesting against the move and after the government culture minister (somewhat disingenuously) distanced himself from the plan, the BBC backed down and said they would move the recipes to their commercial web site. Now those into conspiracy theory might suggest this was what the BBC were after all the time and others point to huge protests from the middle class over the potential restriction on access to the Great British Bake off etc. whilst cutbacks to welfare quietly proceed. But I think this misses the point.

The major pressures for the BBC to restrict access to free recipes was that they are competing with private businesses including paid for newspapers, subscription websites, commercial publishers and so on. And that public funding should not be allowed to so this. People didn’t buy in to that argument, largely because of a conciousness that the BBC is a publicly owned organisation and that we have teh right to free content paid for by a license fee (ie taxes). I seem to remember the same argument coming from publishers in the early days – some ten or twelve years ago – against Open Educational Resources. Resources created by university staff, so they said, were paid for by public funding and that was unfair competition.  Today despite the government’s same disdain for publicly funded education as for the BBC, Open Educational Resources have become seen as a Good Thing. And the debate over OERs has extended into a wider discussion on the meaning of open. In the same way the protests over the proposed archiving of a publicly owned archive of recipes could well extend into the meaning of open content in wider areas of the web and to an open digital infrastructure The battle for open goes on.

 

Why are house prices spiralling?

April 22nd, 2016 by Graham Attwell

We should all be able to afford a home in an area we want to live. But for many of us in the UK, with prices spiralling way beyond incomes, this isn’t a reality,says the New Economics Foundation. In this excellent short video they explain why.

The future of work – myths and policies

March 29th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

I like this blog post by Robert Peal entitled ‘A Myth for Teachers: Jobs That Don’t Exist Yet’. The article looks at the origins of the idea that the top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 didn’t exist in 2004 and its later variant that 60 per cent of the jobs for children in school today have not been invented. In both cases he found it impossible to track these statement in any reliable research. Of course these are myths. But often such myths can be tracked back to quite prosaic political objectives.

For a long time, the European Union has pushed the idea of the knowledge society. And whilst there are many learned papers describing in different ways what such a society might look like or why such a society will emerge there is little evidence of its supposed impact on labour markets. Most common is the disappearance of low and unskilled jobs, linked to growing skill shortages in high skilled employment. Yet in the UK most recent growth in employment has been in low skills, low paid jobs in the retail sector. I remember too in the late 1990s when the European industry lobby group for computers were preaching dire emergencies over the shortage of programmers, with almost apocalyptic predictions of what would happen with the year 200 bug if there were not major efforts to train newcomers to the industry. Of course that never happened either and predictions of skills shortages in software engineering persist despite the fact the UK government statistics show programmers pay falling in the last few years.

I’ve been invited to do several talks in the last year on the future of work. It is not easy. There are two lengthy reports on future skills for the UK – ‘Working Futures 2012- 2022’ and ‘The future of work: jobs and skills in 2030’, published by the UK Commission for Skills and Industry. Both are based on statistical modelling and scenario planning. As one of the reports says (I cannot remember which) “all models are wrong – it is just that some of more useful than others. Some things are relatively clear. There will be a big upturn in (mainly semi skilled) work in healthcare to deal with demographic changes in the age of the population. There will also be plenty of demand for new skilled and semi skilled workers in construction and engineering. Both are major employment sectors and replacement demand alone will result in new job openings even if they do not expand in overall numbers (many commentators seem to forget about replacement demand when looking at future employment).

But then it all starts getting difficult. Chief perhaps amongst this is possible disruptions which can waylay any amount of economic modelling. The following diagram above taken from ‘The future of work: jobs and skills in 2030’Ljubiana_june2015.001 shows possible future disruptions to the UK economy and to future jobs. One of these is the introduction of robots. With various dire reports that up to 40 per cent of jobs may disappear to robots in the next few years, I suspect we are creating another myth. Yes, robots will change patterns of employment in some industries, and web technologies enable disruptions in other areas of the economy. Yet much of the problems with such predictions lay with technological determinism – the idea that technology somehow has some life of its own and that we cannot have any says over it. At the end of the day, despite all the new technologies and the effects of globalization, there are massive policy decisions which will influence what kind of jobs there will be in the future. These include policies for education and training, inter-governmental treaties, labour market and tax policies, employment rights and so on. And such considerations should include what jobs we want to have, how they are organised, where they are and the quality of work. At the moment we seem to be involved in a race to the bottom – using the excuse of austerity – which is a conscious policy – to degrade both pay and work conditions. But it doesn’t need to be like this. Indeed, the excuses for austerity may be the biggest myth of all.

 

 

 

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