Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

European Union, AI and data strategy

July 9th, 2020 by Graham Attwell
lens, colorful, background

geralt (CC0), Pixabay

is the rapporteur for the industry committe for European Parliament’s own-initiative  on data strategy and  a standing rapporteur on the World Trade Organization e-commerce negotiations in the European Parliament’s international trade committee.

Writing in Social Europe she says:

Building a human-centric data economy and human-centric artificial intelligence starts from the user. First, we need trust. We need to demystify the data economy and AI: people tend to avoid, resist or even fear developments they do not fully understand.

Education plays a crucial role in shaping this understanding and in making digitalisation inclusive. Although better services—such as services used remotely—make life easier also outside cities, the benefits of digitalisation have so far mostly accrued to an educated fragment of citizens in urban metropoles and one of the biggest obstacles to the digital shift is lack of awareness of new possibilities and skills.

Kampula-Natri draws attention to the Finnish-developed, free online course, ‘Elements of AI’. This started as a course for students in the University of Helsinki but has extended  its reach to over 1 per cent of Finnish citizens.

Kampula-Natri points out that in the Nordic countries, the majority of participants on the ‘Elements of AI’ course are female and in the rest of the world the proportion exceeds 40 per cent—more than three times as high as the average ratio of women working in the technology sector. She says that after the course had been running in Finland for a while, the number of women applying to study computer science in the University of Helsinki increased by 80 per cent.

Is graduate pay a true measure of the quality and relevance of courses?

July 8th, 2020 by Graham Attwell
learn, school, balloon

geralt (CC0), Pixabay

That education policy in the UK is confused is nothing new, neither given the rapid turnover in education ministers is it surprising. But the latest turn, although rhetorical at the moment, is both strange and worrying.

In the last two weeks both the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and the Education Minister Michelle Donelan have criticised the quality and relevance of university courses. Johnson talked about “low-value courses” in his major set-piece speech on economic recovery post-Covid-19 while Donelan said that too many students “have been misled by the expansion of popular sounding courses” with what she described as poor standards and “no real demand from the labour market”.

Clearly most of this rhetoric is ideological. Johnson is talking about more funding for Further Education Colleges, which have been starved of funding through the period of austerity. However, it is being suggested that one motive may be that university cities tend to vote Labour, but in many of the towns in which the Conservatives won new seats in the election last November, there are not universities but are Further Education colleges.

To justify the talk of low value and poor quality courses the government produce various data as evidence. There are different surveys looking at issues related to satisfaction and student outcomes. The first is the student satisfaction survey conducted in every university. Although comprehensive it is doubtful that this survey has much greater validity than the happy sheets I used to hand out at the end of staff development workshops. Universities go to great lengths to make sure students are happy, through various gimmicks and social events.

The Graduate outcomes for all subjects by university (LEO) survey is undertaken by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). It surveys the employment and earnings of higher education graduates using matched data from different government departments. It is interesting that the ONS describes the survey ads “experimental.”

Although interesting the sheer number of variables impacting on graduate earnings after finishing at university render the findings meaningless when compared to subject sample sizes. After Donelan’s speech, former universities minister Jo Johnson tweeted salary data is about as useful a guide to course quality as an MP’s majority.

Of course, one of the “experimental” findings is that students undertaking STEM subjects have higher earnings that those doing humanities and arts. And the strong suspicion it is humanities and arts courses that Johnson and Donelan are firing at.

Many would probably argue that earnings are not the best proxy for judging course quality in any case. But it is interesting that the Graduate Outcomes survey, through a series of reflective questions. found that graduates of creative arts courses are more likely to be using skills learned during their course in employment than their peers who studied maths, biology, or physics.

 

What policies are needed to respond to the recession?

June 19th, 2020 by Graham Attwell
architecture, skyscraper, glass facades

MichaelGaida (CC0), Pixabay

I attended an excellent webinar on Thursday from the UK Centre for Cities. The webinar, presented by Elena Begini and entitled ‘How will the recession affect different parts of the country?’, provided an analysis of the latest labour market data, both around the numbers unemployed and those furloughed and receiving government funding.

Elena explained that in the first month between March and April there was very rapid increase in the numbers employed and furloughed but of the main impact Covid 19 crisis was on those cities with weaker economies mostly in the north of England

Between April and May the increase in unemployment was slower. But in this month, it was the stronger city economies in the south of England that were hard hit. London and Basildon both joined the 20 hardest hit cities in terms of unemployment COVID 19 has spread out across most cities. Interestingly those cities hardest hit by unemployment are also those with the most furloughed workers. To a certain extent this depends on whether jobs in a city are able to be undertaken from home. In Wales Cardiff and Swansea have relatively lower rates of both unemployment and furloughed staff whilst in Newport the rates are higher, presumably reflecting a higher percentage of office worker in Cardiff and Swansea while a higher percentage of industrial enterprises in Newport.

These broad trends are also reflected in the percentage of self-employed workers who have applied for government assistance.

Type of employment is important. Crawley and Reading are both major and previously relatively economically strong cities close to London. But while Reading has (only!) 25 percent of jobs hit by the recession, Crawley has 38 per cent reflecting the importance of the aerospace industry (and particularly Gatwick airport) to the city.

It also should be noted that all cities have fast rising unemployment of young people although once more there is wide variation, for instance very high rates in northern cities and relatively low rates in Oxford and Cambridge.

One of the strengths of the Centre for Cities is that they not only analyze the data but put forward policy measures o respond to the research. Elena suggests the scale of the recession means there is an urgent need for active intervention. Austerity is not an option.

But because of the different trajectories in different cities the policy response needs to be differentiated.

For those cities which are relatively strong economically, there is the potential for a quick “bounce back”. This requires enhanced career support both for those seeking jobs for which they are already qualified or for employment in jobs with similar skill requirements.  Secondly there is the need for grants for those seeking retraining or upskilling (and also courses are needed to support this). For places with weaker economies the priority is job creation with a particular focus on the green economy and on infrastructure development.

I have written this from my notes taken during the webinar so apologies for anything I have missed or for misreporting. A recording of the webinar is available for the Centre for Cities web site together with the data and their analysis.

 

 

Vocational courses not advanced enough

June 12th, 2020 by Graham Attwell
training, education, vocational training

geralt (CC0), Pixabay

The Centre for London, a ‘think tank’ for the English capital, has released an interesting new report on further education in London.

The report finds that further education in London is hampered because:

  • It is underfunded: there are more learners in Further Education than in Higher Education in London, but spending on adult education, apprenticeships and other work-based learning for over 18s has fallen by 37 per cent since 2009/10.
  • There are not enough learners: the proportion of working age Londoners in Further Education has fallen by over 40 per cent since 2014 – only one in 13 Londoners were in further education in 2019.
  • Funding can be restrictive: grants for learners and colleges have been reduced or replaced with loans, and providers continue to be funded by annual contracts based on the number of learners in the previous year.
  • Making savings impacts teaching: As of February 2019, 29 per cent of London’s colleges were Ofsted rated as requiring improvement or inadequate, compared to just six per cent of London’s schools.
  • Courses are not advanced enough: 99 per cent of learners are taking courses at level 3 or below (equivalent to A-Level) and three quarters at level 2 (equivalent to GCSE) or below.
  • There are not enough new apprentices: Despite government investment in apprenticeships, London has half as many apprenticeship starts as the rest of the UK, and many of these new starters are not new to the labour market.
  • It has not responded to employers’ needs: the number of learners and apprentices in areas with skills shortages has barely changed since 2014/15.

The fall in the number of learners is worrying, but only to be expected given the sharp fall in funding for FE. Nevertheless a better understanding of what exactly is going on would be further data regarding how many people in London are participating in learning. It is possible that part of the fall is due to people pursuing online programmes, although I doubt that this accounts for all of the shortfall.

I am not convinced by the finding that FE has not responded to employers needs – in the long time I have been involved with vocation education and training employers have always said that (although I suppose it is possible that VET provision has never met employers needs).

The point about courses not being advanced enough is one that I have heard in other parts of the UK. I wonder if it is because it is more expensive to provide more advanced courses, or simply that many learners are not equipped to start on more advanced provision.

 

 

No Justice, No peace

June 3rd, 2020 by Graham Attwell

This video was made almost two years ago. It seems prophetic today.

The Futures of Education

April 30th, 2020 by Graham Attwell

Last year I evaluated the ICT in education projects and programmes for UNESCO. In particular I looked at UNESCOs work in sub Saharan Africa. In a ‘Landscape Review’ of the use of ICT in education I wrote:

“UNESCO has a humanistic vision of education and of the role of ICT in education linked to its mission of providing inclusive and quality education that is transforming lives and at the heart of UNESCO’s mission to build peace, eradicate poverty and drive sustainable development.

UNESCO believes that education is a human right (so it cannot be a market good) for all throughout life and that access must be matched by quality. It has a mandate to cover all aspects and all levels of education and to lead and contribute to the Global Education 2030 Agenda through Sustainable Development Goal 4. UNESCO believes information and communication technology (ICT) can complement, enrich and transform education for the better. As the lead United Nations Organization for education, UNESCO shares knowledge about the many ways technology can facilitate universal access to education, bridge learning divides, support the development of teachers, enhance the quality and relevance of learning, strengthen inclusion, and improve education administration and governance.”

I am very pleased to see UNECO is opening up a global discussion on the futures of education.

UNESCO is now inviting organisations and networks to mobilize their stakeholders and partners to engage in the global debate on the futures of education and provide inputs to the International Commission on the Futures of Education.

They have prepared guidelines for running stakeholder focus groups so that a broad range of unique perspectives can be brought into the global discussion.  The insights gained through focus group discussions, they say, will be synthesized by UNESCO and presented to the International Commission as an input into the development of a global report on the futures of education.

UNESCO is also inviting its partners and organizations broadly interested in the futures of education to organize seminars or work groups that result in a written report  for the UNESCO International Commission on the Futures of Education.  Input is sought on identifying and addressing key challenges and opportunities foreseen for the future.

More informati0n at https://en.unesco.org/futuresofeducation/how-contribute

The future of work, Artificial Intelligence and automation: Innovation and the Dual Vocational Education and training system

March 2nd, 2020 by Graham Attwell


I am speaking at a seminar on Vocational Education and Training’s Role in Business Innovation at the Ramon Areces Foundation in Madrid tomorrow. The title of my presentation is ‘The future of work, Artificial Intelligence and automation: Innovation and the Dual Vocational Education and training system in Valencia’ which is really much too long for a title and I have much too much to say for my allotted 20 minutes.

Any way, this is what I told them I was going to talk about:
The Presentation looks at the future of work, linked to the challenges of Artificial Intelligence, Automation and the new Green Economy. It considers and discusses the various predictions on future jobs and occupations from bodies including CEDEFOP, OECD and the World Bank. It concludes that although one jobs will be v=craeted and some occupations be displaced by new technologies. the greatest impact will be in terms of the tasks performed within jobs. It further discusses future skills needs, including the need for higher level cognitive competences as well as the demand for so called lower skilled work in services and caring professions.
It considers the significance of these changes for vocational education and training, including the need for new curricula, and increased provision of lifelong learning and retraining for those affected by the changing labour market.
Artificial Intelligence may also play an important role in the organisation and delivery of vocational education and training. This includes the use of technologies such as machine learning and Natural Language processing for Learner engagement, recruitment and support, Learning Analytics and ‘nudge learning’ through a Learning Record Store, and  the creation and delivery of learning content. It provides examples such as the use of Chatbots in vocation education and training schools and colleges. It is suggested that the use of AI technologies can allow a move from summary assessment to formative assessment. The use of these technologies will reduce the administrative load for teachers and trainers and allow them to focus on coaching, particularly benefiting those at the top and lower end of the student cohort.
To benefit from this potential will requite new and enhanced continuing professional development for teachers and trainers. Finally the presentation considers what this signifies for the future of the Dual VET system in Spain, looking at findings from both European projects and research undertaken into Dual training in Valencia.
And I will report back here after the event.

Thoughts about Brexit – Part Three: The negotiations and decision-making

February 3rd, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my two previous posts I have started to write down my thoughts about Brexit. As I have said, I didn’t really want to take up this theme on my blog. And indeed, I haven’t had the least intention to present myself as a historian or as a political analyst. In my first post I have written about the difficult pre-history – the rocky road of the United Kingdom to membership and the uneasy years of the British membership. In my second post I wrote about the campaigning before and during the referendum and about the polarised atmosphere. Now, it is time to say something about the policy processes after the referendum – of the negotiations and of the decision-making.

The negotiations on the “Brexit-Deal” – the first phase

Once the result of the referendum was clear and there was a new government, the hard work for preparing a mutual agreement on future relations started. This pointed out to be a long period with many issues to be settled and to be considered anew. After all, the United Kingdom (UK) was during that time a Member State and could not declare its obligations null and void just on the basis of the referendum. Equally, as long as there was no clarity of the future relations, there was an immense uncertainty on the practical implications of Brexit.

The situation was not improved when the prime minister called new elections and the government lost its majority. From that point on the government had to struggle to keep the government party and the supporting party united behind a deal to be made with the European Union (EU). And the situation was not improved when the prime minister brought a deal that was once rejected time and again to the parliament with some modifications.

The (prospect of) change of government and (of) the new negotiations

During the period when the government tried to get support from the parliament, very specific dynamics emerged. The opposition and the opponents in the government party were not debating the substance of the agreements. Instead, they declared themselves to be more competent and capable to negotiate a better deal. So, whatever was put on the table by the government was bound to be rejected. Time passed by and the risk of a chaotic No-Deal Brexit was becoming a real threat.

The (prospect of) elections and (of) the final decisions under time constraints

Then, after the unsuccessful prime minister had stepped down, a new phase started with negotiations and playing poker with procedural questions. The parliament wanted to prevent a No-Deal Brexit by legislation. The government wanted to extend the autumn break of the parliament. And it was difficult to reach a fair agreement on the timing of new elections. Finally, the elections took place and the government got a clear majority. And the decisions were made within the time frame to reach a basic agreement on the general terms of Brexit.

What comes next?

Now, after the departure of the UK from the EU has been confirmed, there is a transition period. During this period UK is a third country vis-à-vis the EU and its partner countries with framework agreements (such as Norway or Switzerland). The new relations have to be negotiated. And these negotiations will not be easy. From the UK side we hear expectations that the EU should give up its basic principles for common market (that it has created as a union) just because the UK (now as an outsider) doesn’t want to comply with them. And – given the history of Brexit negotiations so far – there is not much time to reach and agreement.

So, time will tell what comes out of these negotiations. I do not want to speculate on the result. It is better to wait and see with patience what negotiators can work out. For the moment I want to leave this theme for the future. I hope that those who want to continue good cooperation between EU and UK will find their ways forward.

More blogs to come … (but preferably on other topics)

PS1. Disclaimer: These are merely thoughts of the author – an observer from the European continent. Pontydysgu as an organisation is not responsible for the views presented above.

PS2. What could be a better musical theme for leaving this topic for a while than Auld Lang Syne as it was sung by the Members of the European Parliament together with the British MEPs leaving them?

Thoughts about Brexit – Part Two: The campaigning

February 2nd, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous post I started to spell out my thoughts about Brexit. As I said, I didn’t really want to take up this theme on my blog. And, moreover, I didn’t have the least intention to present myself as a historian or as a political analyst. What I have written in my first post about the pre-history of Brexit is mainly based on what I have learned from German media. Now, when we get to discuss the campaigning before and after the referendum 2016, I am able to bring into picture my own observations of the time when I visited UK twice during our project meetings. So, I was there and following the British media as well as the German media. And I had several conversations with our UK colleagues. Below I try to sort out my impressions of that time.

The dynamics of the campaigning

A specific feature of the campaigning was that the two leading parties were divided between those who wanted to remain in the EU and those who wanted to leave. The party leaders wanted to avoid splits in their parties and left it to the opinion leaders of the fractions to lead the campaigns. They themselves kept a low profile. Thus, their position vis-à-vis the achievements and benefits of the EU membership was ambiguous. Later on a resigning British Member of the European Parliament formulated it in this way: “They did not take ownership of what had been achieved with common European policies and never explained this to their voters.”

Instead of political parties taking the major role in the campaigning, specific campaign organisations were built and self-appointed opinion leaders stepped up to lead the debates. In this way the political debate around the referendum was decoupled from substantial issues – of the benefits and limitations due to the membership vs. on the consequences of leaving the membership. Instead, the campaigns became image campaigns.

The atmosphere during the campaigning

In the light of the above the debates during the campaign became very heated. The Leave campaign was successful in promoting the idea that the Brexit is mainly about ‘getting control back’ and getting rid of financial obligations to Brussels. The slogan that was painted on the campaign bus told that the money that was paid for membership fees could be invested into the National Health Services. The importance of the EU support for the agriculture and for the regional development in the UK was plaid down. The issues on getting back customs between the UK and the outer borders were not the lead issues.

Altogether, the atmosphere during the campaigning got polarised and heated. The worst incidence was the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox at a market place when she was campaigning for remaining in the EU. She had been a moral instance in the Remain campaign and spoken for decisions to be made on the basis of valid arguments. She was stabbed by a fanatic who called her as a ‘traitor’. The funeral of Jo Cox and the memorial service that was sent by BBC was a touching moment – but the voters had made up their minds.

Facts, myths and manipulation

Afterwards the campaigns – in particular the Leave campaign – have been analysed from many perspectives. It appeared that blunt lies could be told and repeated without fear of being caught. All fact-checks were late and had no impact. People tended to believe the arguments that addressed their interests and wishes. Also, the campaign organisations could use big data for targeted messages. Furthermore, during the campaigning period fake profiles in social media were used to multiply the impact of some messages. I don’t want to go into details but this was part of the picture.

The impact on the political parties

Since the main parties were divided when preparing for the referendum, the result was no relief. The prime minister who had promised the referendum had to resign and the Conservative party had to choose a new leader. However, the situation was not easier in the Labour party. Both major parties had to cope with the fact that their supporters were divided on the Brexit issue and that there were vehement supporters of the Leave campaign and of the Remain campaign among the MPs. Furthermore, whilst the result of the referendum gave a clear message that majority wants to leave the EU, it was not clear on what terms. At this point it was symptomatic that opinion leaders of the Leave campaign stepped aside and gave the floor to others.

So, the debate seemed to be have been concluded. The hard work for preparing the terms of departure and making the decisions started. Thoughts on that period will be presented in a further post.

More blogs to come …

PS1. Disclaimer: These are merely thoughts of the author – an observer from the European continent. Pontydysgu as an organisation is not responsible for the views presented above.

PS2. What could be a better musical theme for reflections on this period than “Let it be“?

 

Thoughts about Brexit – Part One: The difficult pre-history

February 1st, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

I thought that I could just have a good night sleep and then go on with everyday life. I didn’t want to take up this theme on my blog. But apparently my thoughts are still caught with the departure of the United Kingdom from the membership of the European Union – Brexit, as we have known this for years. Now that this has happened I need to put down some thoughts and then try to leave this topic with some lessons learned. I do not claim to be a historian or a political analyst – by no means. I have just been an observer – most of the time from afar but every now and then from a closer distance. So, there are observations based on European media and some personal memories mixed in the thoughts that I am writing below. It seems that I need to write a couple posts. Let us start with the pre-history, then to the campaigning and then to the negotiations and decision-making processes after the referendum of the year 2016 until the final departure.

The difficult process of becoming a Member State

Looking back, the process of becoming a Member State was not that simple and pleasant for the United Kingdom (UK). In the initial phase – as I have recently learned it from media – the six founding members tried to get the UK into the club. Due to the illnesses of the crucial government members the decisions were postponed and the membership as well.The six founding members formed the European Economic Community (EEC) and the UK joined a parallel organisation – the European Free Trade Area (EFTA).

Then, later on, when the UK government was willing to join the EEC, the membership was blocked by the French president Charles de Gaulle. Only after de Gaulle had stepped down, the French government was ready to accept the membership of the UK. This was already a bad omen – the UK had to prove that it qualified for membership. This was reflected in the fact that shortly afterwards a new government organised a referendum whether to go on with the membership. The majority voted for remaining.

The bargaining for British opt-outs and discounts

These tensions became part of the everyday life in the British EU membership. The governments were reserved about deeper integration of the Community into a Union. The processes that paved the way for deeper integration and introduction of new fields of common European policies were not easy. For European observers this phase of the British membership appeared as constant bargaining for British opt-outs or discounts. The famous quote of the (then) prime minister was: “I want my money back.” To be sure, changes in the British government brought also changes in the climate of European participation. Yet, due to many opt-outs there was a clear distance that prevailed.

The road to the 2016 referendum

In the light of the above it is no surprise that – in spite of the governments’ commitments to European cooperation – it was easy to blame the EU as a scapegoat or as the source of all evil. In the media and later on in the social media such reporting flourished. In both major parties there were euro-sceptic fractions and a new political party started campaigning for the departure from the EU membership. The hard years of economic and financial crisis – and in particular the hard measures to prevent state bankruptcy in some of weaker countries of the euro-zone – nurtured increasingly sceptical views on the European Union. At this point the government party leader made a promise to organise a referendum on the membership if the party wins the elections. The calculation was that with the new majority government the prime minister is powerful enough to negotiate new concessions with the EU and then have a strong position when organising the referendum. As we know, the history took a different course. But that is to be discussed in the next post.

More blogs to come … 

PS1. Disclaimer: These are merely thoughts of the author – an observer from the European continent. Pontydysgu as an organisation is not responsible for the views presented above.

PS2. What could be a better musical theme for reflecting this pre-history than “The Long and Winding Road“?

 

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