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Posts Tagged ‘Will Cooper’

Education’s changing role and how this affects digital employment

September 10th, 2009

The schools and colleges are back in full swing as young people dust off the summer sand to prepare for the next stages of their learning journey. Very soon, students will be returning or taking their first steps in our universities. It’s always a vibrant time with hopes and expectations tussling with fears and anxieties in young minds, this year maybe more than ever with the recession still corroding the employment market.

Conversations with academic friends this summer have intimated how university and college students are asking blunt questions about the value of their degree in relation to the jobs they hope to hold when they complete their studies. And throughout the long vacation, I’ve also seen the first signs that the political parties are revisiting their education agendas, partly in preparation for the coming general election early next year but also in response to the crisis of cash and confidence that is rapidly developing.

The Government goal of having 50 per cent of young people in higher education cannot be achieved now and Lord Mandelson has re-opened the debate on the social mobility role of elite universities, while also signalling an end to the cap on fees.

Equally important, the Government has again pushed the higher education agenda towards acceptance of more “at home” students, studying part-time or taking two-year degrees. Is it also time to make a radical change, not turning back the clock to the “second-class” polytechnic system (even though most of those institutions succeeded brilliantly in their mission) but accepting the economic and cultural necessity to have a degree-standard vocational education sector?

Students struggle with increasing debt, unlikely now to fall in the future, are right to ask about the economic value of their studies and qualifications. In digital education, it’s a given (whether backed by relevant research or not) that many degrees are not worth the e-paper they are written on. Produced in haste by university departments hustling for more students (=more cash) to please their masters, these courses often do not provide the digital sector with the graduates it needs.

And they are desperately needed. As Danielle Long writes in her recent Long View for New Media Age, there are rising vacancies in the UK’s digital industry and in the magazine itself Suzanne Bearne and Will Cooper’s recent cover story focusses on the need for the sector to implement a more aggressive recruitment strategy.

That means attracting talent from a wide pool of graduates but also means accepting the high cost of training most of them. Surely there is a better way that gives undergraduates the degree education they want and need – a model built on the successful German Fachhochschulen model or more broadly the Australian Vocational Education and Training system. Would this provide more fulfilled professionals with the skills and attitudes companies in the digital and the whole economy need?

Whatever the reformed education model looks like, there is likely to be a mismatch between what the economy needs and wants – and what it will get when the public sector recession starts to bite next year.

All the more galling then to read the OECD annual report released this week comparing education systems internationally. It makes a strident call for governments to spend more on higher education –because the positive economic benefits alone are compelling.

Despite the rather self-satisfied response from the UK government to the OECD appeal, the underlying pressures on the current foundations of UK education must surely force a radical, rapid and positive change, with or without spending increases.

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