A New Future for CETIS

After over a decade of supporting Jisc innovation and projects a new future beckons for CETIS. Following the Wilson review of Jisc, the organisation has confirmed that it will continue to provide “core” funding to CETIS until July 2013. Since 1998 CETIS has established a global reputation in the fields of educational technology and interoperability, from July 2013 we will build on that reputation and work with other partners to ensure that interoperability is a key consideration for Universities and Colleges.

In response to the announcement close colleague and former chair of our Board, Professor Mark Stiles said:
“CETIS is recognised internationally as an invaluable centre of expertise. As universities struggle to address the very real challenges confronting them, CETIS will be an essential source of guidance and support. The need for universities to take an enterprise view of their information, not just for learning and teaching but also organisationally, will place standards and interoperability high on the national agenda, and I am confident that CETIS will be more than able to respond to this and become ever more successful. Whilst the Board has been wound up, its members, including myself, are committed to continuing to work with, and support, CETIS in its reborn form.”

We will continue to work with Jisc, and other agencies and organisations in the sector. Many of our partners see us as a “trusted” broker for information and future developments of educational technology and standards in education, and we aim to maintain that role. We are currently working with a number of our partners with a view to funding future activities.

Over the next seven months CETIS and Jisc will work together to develop a new relationship. We are also actively seeking out new collaboration opportunities with a range of stakeholders in the education sector and looking forward to maintaining and extending our valued position in national and international developments around the use of educational technology, interoperability and standards.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Jisc for supporting our work in the sector over the last decade and look forward to continuing to working together in key areas in future years.

Are we crawlers, walkers or Runners when it comes to Business Intelligence in Higher Education?

I was pleased to attend with JISC colleagues the recent

UCISA Business Intelligence event in Bristol In the context of current CETIS work in the support and synthesis project for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Student Life-cycle support project.

There were a variety of speakers at the event and a great deal consistency of issues raised, issues relevant to our work in CRM/SLRM. There were however also some quite notable inconsistencies.
One of the speakers described business intelligence in Higher Education (HE) as being a “mature “ area whilst another revealed when conducting an ad hoc straw poll of those attending the event (largely UCISA members ,Management and Information Systems Managers/Directors in HE) asking the audience to categorise where they believed their institutions were with Business Intelligence as Crawlers (Very much at the early scoping stage) Walkers (Scoping and pre-planning stage) and Runners (Planning and implementation stage) Out of an audience there were no runners about six or seven confessed walkers with the rest of us admitting to being crawlers, which I think is probably a more accurate reflection as to where institutions are just now.

William Liew and Martine Carter talked about Business intelligence activities at the University of Bristol which were driven from a financial measurement perspective and their attempts to integrate systems across research, procurement and student data and in their words “eliminate” local systems in order striving for the very bold ambition of“true” data for financial purposes. In their work they recognised multi stakeholder perspectives and quite honestly detailed the barriers they encountered. I must confess to having a little difficulty when one approach or one model is presented as THE model. Models from my perspective are a useful tool “A way of presenting a particular view of the world or representation from a particular perspective “too often they presented as THE view of THE organisations, it is one of the inherent deficiencies of modelling of any persuasion.

I was also very interested in David Sowerby’s presentation regarding the University of Bedfordshire’s student retention system and recognised the potential significance of this approach, in particular given the current Border Agency requirements of institutions to monitor foreign student attendance. Metrics relating to student “engagement” were presented, metrics based on consistent parameters being applied across the institution and values set against these parameters to define levels of student “Engagement” in order to flag up potential retention issues… all interesting stuff.
Some of the key points in BI implementation highlighted were:
1. Stakeholder Engagement buy-in ownership was essential.
2. The need for (process) modelling.
3. Data Quality – Bad data in Bad data out.
4. The need for meaningful Key Performance Indicators (KPI)
I am mindful that I will be attending the IMS GLC Learning Impact conference in the US in May 2010 and contributing to the Analytics discussions at this event.

I suspect our US colleagues are, using the earlier analogy, runners and they will indeed be running with Business Intelligence, although whether this is in the right direction will be the big question.

Digital Inclusion what is the message ?

I have been closely monitoring with interest the activities and ongoing debate in respect of the UK governments activities in respect of the digital inclusion agenda.

Being brutally honest with the appointment of dot com entrepreneur Martha Lane- Fox as “Digital inclusion Champion” I was initially concerned how “inclusive” the agenda would be given Ms Lane-Fox’s largely privileged background, and whilst the jury still remains out, I have been impressed with much of the work done thus far, this despite Martha’s occasional dip into “apple pie and mother statements”. Her personal enthusiasm for the role is evident and has significantly raised the profile of digital inclusion arguably the “lions share “ of the challenge facing us.

I read with interest this morning’s published data from PWC relating to the “benefits of getting everyone online in the UK are GBP22billion” and this has served to highlight some issues I have with the focus of the undertaking.

“>www.prnewswire.co.uk/cgi/news/release?id=268499

Perhaps I’m being a little disingenuous as I have not had the benefit of reading the whole of the PWC report but it does have the taint of many of those presented by management consultants, justifying their own role, importance and significance in the activity leading to the inevitable further commissioning of work.

The report does highlight the issue that over 10million adults across the UK have never used the internet and of these 4million are “socially excluded” a definition of which is not at present provided of this number (4million) 39% are over 65, 38% are unemployed and 19% families with children. In the draft there is no mention of those with disability or accessibility challenges which in itself is quite concerning. The report then goes further in presenting questionable data in respect of lifetime savings.

There is a real conflict in the duality of the aims and motivation in undertaking “Digital inclusion” activity. There is a compelling argument, no doubt supported by the treasury in these uncertain economic times, of ‘savings “ of GBP900million pounds in “customer contact costs” however they may be defined.

There are arguments and some data supporting the notion of the potential benefits accrued by those digitally included in society. We must when highlighting the benefits also equip, in a measured non alarmist way, the “included” with the critical skills required to mange the inherent risks and danger of online activity in a balanced way.

From my perspective there is one key word that seems to be missing form the report though I hope not the debate that of “choice”.

Digital inclusion should primarily be about choice, the informed choice of individuals how to participate (or not) in (digital) society.

Kevin Kelly talks about possessing the ability to “switch off” from the digital world to counteract arguments of technological determinism. If the inclusion strategy is about choice, widening accessibility, voluntary participation and improvement in the population’s digital literacy I’m fully behind it. If it is about compulsion to participate I’m not we (and the govt) need to be much clearer about this.

I’m sure that I would be classified as one of the digitally included and thankful I am but I choose not to use any number of digital services including Online banking, tax file systems, payment for local council services etc etc and I choose from a position of being informed. My father (one of the digitally excluded over 65’s mentioned in the report) chooses to be digitally excluded, despite my best efforts to provide him with technology and inform him of the benefits inclusion would bring to him. He chooses to walk to the post office to pay his council tax monthly as it, I quote, “gets me out of the house, I like to walk and meet my fiends on the way and in the post office”. these are his informed choices.

The primary motivation behind digital inclusion should be to provide access, educate inform and prepare citizens to improve levels of digital literacy alongside the ambitions to broaden access to the technology.

This should be done with honesty with the aim of providing all UK citizens with skills and ability to make informed choices to the extent, which they may wish to participate in (digital) society.

Will the i Phone ever be free ?

Just about very day I meet a yet another colleague, or friend, extolling the virtues of the i Phone and I have to admit that I think it is a wonderful piece of technology and there can be no doubt the interface has revolutionised the way we interact with technology. Whilst I have been suitably impressed by the device; as a point of principal I have resisted buying one sticking rigidly with my (very) old tried and tested Nokia. This is not a result of standing aside brick walls in Birmingham with colleagues assuring me “There is a restaurant here” but as a direct result of the business model applied , I refuse to sign up to an exclusive carrier deal just to have access to the i Phone nor do I wish to purchase my applications exclusively through iTunes it is anti-competitive and despite the overtures of Apple “exclusivity breads innovation” I don’t buy the argument.

I was very heartened to read recently in Business week that Apples exclusivity agreements for approved networks and applications is being seriously challenged in the US. I also love the idea of “jailbreaking” being (possibly) legalised in the US. I hope that this happens here


Business Week article

Schools based apprenticeships: another landscape

When I started in Further Education nearly 40 years ago, our major role was supporting apprenticeships. Every September stream of youngsters who were working for national companies such as British Telecom and the National Grid and local engineering and construction companies would queue up to enrol for their one day in college to study for a National Certificate.

With the expansion of academic higher education and the abolition of grant aided apprenticeships in the 1980s such programmes fizzled out.

Only now has government appreciated the importance of such schemes and is making the apprenticeship a core option within its 14-19 agenda alongside academic routes such as the traditional A Level and ‘new’ Diploma. Much of the delivery will be based in schools.

Rebuilding an apprenticeship framework for 14-19 year olds from nothing within schools that have generally focussed on academic subjects will not be easy and may be some reason why at least 13 government quangos such a the Sector Skills Councils (that identify the required competences) to the UK Commission for Education and Skills (that has to find ways of engaging employers) have been created.

So where will IT will be used for these youngsters?

Just a short (and not comprehensive) list:

  • Information and Guidance systems which assess students abilities, provide career and labour market intelligence information and provide the opportunities to record ‘action plans’.
  • Local prospectus systems that identify the opportunitie available within schools

  • Systems that support employers in providing the necessary information for work placements

  • Systems that support the students and their advisors in finding work placements.

  • Tracking systems that monitor the attendance and progress of students at school, college and in work placement

  • Content delivery systems that provide underpinning knowledge in an innovative and interactive way. (Comeback learning objects!)

  • Portfolio systems that store validated students achievements for assessment.

  • Online testing systems for key/ functional skills and the underpinning knowledge for the Technical Certificate

  • Qualification awarding and recording systems that are linked to the Qualification and Credit Framework.

  • Support networks for teachers that provide exemplars of good practice and resources.

  • Systems that ‘feed’ attendance and achievement data to national DCFS collection systems.

  • …..

……….and the challenge for JISC.

Given that the Unique Learner Number will enable infinite opportunities for collation and aggregation, to identify where data standards and the interoperation of systems are required and how privacy and security can be maintained.

As mentioned in earlier blogs, this work will be conducted within a context of government imposed tight delivery deadlines and a commercial provider sector will exploit the open doors to provide quick and profitable solutions.

On a personal note, my apprenticeship is now over and having obtained my qualification for a bus pass, this will be my final blog for CETIS.

I would like thank all those friends within the JISC community that have made my work so satisfying and enjoyable and wish you all success, happiness and good health for the future.

Don’t get stuck in the swamp!

I have rather worn out my ‘tie quip’. For those few who have not heard it, the adornment of a tie around my neck indicates that I am on that day working for an international company. Pearson. The lack of such adornment indicates that I am spending one of my two contracted days per week for CETIS.

This sharing of my time between the public and private sectors gives me a fairly unique understanding of the conflicting and shared pressures that face these two areas.

My commercial colleagues are driven by the market. Up to now there has been little appetite to invest in technology based tools to support teaching and learning as so many pioneers in such as teaching materials have met untimely and expensive ends (administration and information systems are another matter!).

Things are changing rapidly. There is a recognition that the prevalence of technology from the mobile phone to the software that supports networking communities within our ‘customers’ lives has meant that there are now significant commercial opportunities from the development of appropriate tools and services.

System that underpin the sharing of learning objects or exemplar lessons or match an individual’s achievements to employment opportunities are coming off the drawing board. Major international companies with publishing assets and expertise are well placed to integrate such tools into their existing business offerings.

The English government’s multi-billion ‘Building Schools for the Future Programme’ that has led to many local authorities sub-contracting their information technology systems and infrastructure to the private sector will provide a ready and easy channel for such commercial products to be installed.

This may not be such a bad thing. The products will probably work, be user friendly, rugged, regularly updated and heavily supported.

Teaching, learning and employability will be enhanced.

Interoperability will be focussed on what is important such as the ability to work across diverse platforms rather than satisfying speculative possibilities.

So where does JISC and CETIS fit into this world ?

I suspect that increasingly there will be a closer relationship between the JISC community and the private sector. Just as engineering companies such as Rolls Royce have relied on universities to develop such as rotor blade material technology the major publishers will be looking at HE to provide answers to such as identity management, maintaining trust and security and, yes, appropriate interoperability.

For example, ‘trust and security’ is a very topical example of where work is needed. The public are becoming uneasy about tens of thousands of health professionals having access to medical records or even more educational administrators through ‘Contactpoint’ being able to identify which agencies (including such as social services) have been involved with their children.

Can our JISC community provide solutions?

So a plea, for my JISC colleagues:

Keep a close eye on the private sector and what they are doing and especially what they are doing in the schools sector where there are so many easy commercial pickings. Some privately funded initiatives will inspire you. Others will identify necessary areas of research and development. Some will identify easily developed non-commercial products such as Moodle extensions

Our learning technology landscape has changed.

The secure ground is increasingly being taken by big business. JISC better not be left with the (Mark Stubb’s inspired) swamps.

It’s not getting any easier in FE

I visited a large further education college earlier in the week that had just been told that its income allocation from its main provider, the Learning and Skills Council, was to be reduced by £4m for 2008-9: a 20% reduction on their 2007-2008 allocation. We know that from 2010 colleges will be competing with schools for their share of 14-19 budget allocations controlled by the Learning and Skills Council’s successor, the local authorities. For 2008-9 schools will still receive more than colleges for teaching the same courses and many are focussing on developing vocational centres in direct competition with their local college.

For example, in Newark, a new £1.6m ‘Construction Centre’ has just been opened by Ed Balls, the secretary of state for children,schools and families.

Having spent most of my working life in FE and having had to manage challenges in trying to maintain income within ever changing contexts, I have much sympathy for the management within this sector. As ever as a leader within a college, one will look at the use of technology to bring efficiencies and to enable new income streams (such as Train to Gain contracts) to be realised.

In the past over complex tools, lack of data interoperability and most importantly lack of user confidence (and time for familiarisation) meant that investment in IT rarely brought the expected benefits. Recent research from Becta has shown that the use of IT within colleges to enhance teaching and learning was generally dependent on a few enthusiastic champions. Once a beacon college lost its champions the innovative and extensive use of computer based systems usually regressed.

So what is changing?

First of all, there is a rapid increase in the confidence  of academic staff and administrators to use IT. We in our JISC bubble wrongly assumed in the past that our academic colleagues would be happy to use the exciting tools and resources we found and developed for them. I remember at Newark and Sherwood College spending fifteen minutes providing ‘just an overview’ of TOIA, frustrating those colleagues who just wanted a quick and dirty way to produce an online multi-choice test. (They never asked for further details of the various facilities that that tool offered).  

Staff, through their use of a multitude of administration systems, electronic whiteboards and ad-hoc online materials, are now generally confident enough not only to employ technology, but also to dismiss the spurious claims of many a software vendor.

Secondly, interoperability is no longer something that just we in CETIS get excited about, but is a requirement that is increasingly demanded by the users.

“Why cannot I move data from my electronic whiteboard to the VLE?”

“Why do we have to type our students results into a spreadsheet to send to an awarding body?”

“Why do I have to log on to so many systems to process the assessment of a piece of student project work?”

Becta has picked up on this mood and is working with both the existing skills and expectations of the practitioners in the schools and college sectors to provide through such the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) a mechanism to satisfy these and similar demands. Purists may whittle on about the inadequacies of SIF but the pragmatists believe that it is good enough, is open to refinement and can immediately bring some savings in the costs of moving data around educational systems.

Thirdly, the need to save money is forcing colleges to merge to form ‘regional centre’s. Regionalisation means that ICT is vital to support monitor and track the performance of distributed student cohorts. Online materials, assessment evidence recording systems and electronic registration are becoming common place for work based learning. Larger colleges have more scope to build on good practice in the use of learning technologies

Fourthly, the provision of online assessment for many a qualification has enabled on demand formative and summative assessment. College income, so dependent on student achievement can be realised earlier and, due to repetitive student practice, with greater confidence.

…and finally, the pending links with local authorities for funding will mean that college administration, information and student guidance systems will become subsumed into developments instigated by such government initiatives as Building Schools for the Future and Every Child Matter and the expectations that SIF can realise.

We are therefore looking at a sector that has been forced to accept technology to support flexible delivery , to compete effectively with private providers for such as Train to Gain and to interoperate effectively with local authority and government information systems.

Staff within FE are hungry for easy to use cost effective tools and interoperability where it can help the bottom line.

Please carry on listening to them.

The challenges that FE now faces may be HEs in the future!

Offender eLearning: an issue of accessibility?

Prompted by my discovery of the Learning and Skills Council funded Offender Learning and Skills Service, I attended a NIACE conference in Bradford at the beginning of the month concerned with e-learning for offenders. Offender learning covers a wide range of institutions from Category A prisons to institutions providing support for non-custodial offenders.

The priority for all custodial institutions is security. Prison governors have tremendous authority and are obviously nervous about the use of the internet and other means of communications, In most institutions CDs and pen drives are banned, necessitating tightly controlled computer networks (where they exist at all).  

The requirements for offender learning in order to assist rehabilitation and a reduction in re-offending are clear.

It has been well publicised that a significant proportion of offenders require basic literacy and numeracy education. Less well known is the need for English as a second language courses. In London 50% of inmates are foreign nationals.

Craft workshops in prisons need to replicate those in the real world and therefore require appropriate technology. Timetabling of traditionally delivered courses can so often be affected by the logistics of prison management. e-Enabled distance learning could offer solutions.  

Many who are near to being released after long sentences need interactive simulations (such as for the use of cash machines) to prepare them for a different kind of world from the one in place when they started their sentence. Employability and the need for inmates to obtain evidence to build positive images of themselves for prospective employers is becoming increasingly important.  

The focus on the need for security, though, means that technological solutions have to be tailored to individual environments within a context of the need for confidence by institutional managers and governors. The picture is somewhat clouded by the role of the private sector who have responsibility for 30% of provision and have strict service level agreements (which currently are unlikely to include elearning) with the Home Office. 

Offender Learning is not just a Learning and Skills Council agenda. It must also be remembered that there are many prisoners studying for Open University degrees and there are other obvious opportunities for HEIs to deliver professional development programmes to an expanding and captive market (sorry!). In an environment where prisoners with Masters degrees are studying level 2 (GCSE) programmes to meet LSC targets, HE should be becoming more engaged. 

There are the seeds of infrastructural developments that are helping.

Within the need for security, some institutions such as Wormwood Scrubs are developing computer equipped learning centres. Learndirect have installed online centres with limited online external assessment facilities that have satisfied the concerns of governors.

The Learner Summary Record is being piloted to provide both on and off line summaries of learning outcomes and results and a record of action planning discussions. This will be linked to the Unique Learner Number and with the permission of the ‘owner’ will be capable of being shared with other agencies once a sentence is completed to enhance employability prospects.  

POLARIS, a VLE service with limitations (no internet links) is being piloted  for a handful of London institutions. Electronic whiteboards that in addition to showing tutor input, also displays the current screens of the students are available to enable the tutor to monitor for inappropriate use. 

So where can JISC help? 

There is a promise of government activity in this area and our advice will be sought. 

A few suggestions: 

Firstly we should recognise that there are many prospective HE students within our prisons and offender institutions.

Secondly we should look  at tailoring those (often JISC funded) technological mainstream solutions that satisfy both prison governor’s needs for security and the offender’s needs for learning and future employability. Systems that will enable national services that can provide only the  ‘approved’ URLs that can be accessed by inmates; tools that more effectively monitor computer usage; the provision of appropriate learning simulations and interactions and the provision of secure information and guidance services linked to employment are just a few ideas for consideration. There must be many more.

Finally, should we not be expanding our accessibility agenda to include offenders within our penal system?

From the other side of the fence: another update from the wider FE community

The start of another year in FE and an enormous number of changes for our colleagues trying to administer and deliver in the sector.

The Diplomas will be starting in September and as the delivery will be co-ordinated by Gateway consortia of schools and colleges the opportunities for hiccoughs are great. The Minerva system for aggregating achievements from all the components that make up Diplomas should be ready but the distribution of funds to partners could be problematical. As a student has to achieve all the components to obtain a Diploma, one can see a ‘pass the parcel’ blame game if one partner fails to deliver the necessary success for a component. The Diploma will herald the use of the Unique Learner Number for 14 year olds (FE students will be allocated them from September) which will enable through MIAP the aggregation and distribution of a great deal of personal achievement and aspiration data.

From September every 16 year old will have a guarantee of an apprenticeship. Information and Guidance support will have to be ratcheted up to meet the demand of 14-16 year olds and systems for assessing competences, functional skills and background knowledge (the Technical Certificate) will have to be more effectively delivered by Awarding Bodies. Employers need engaging especially as the many of the apprentices will be those who are currently not in education, employment or training. Information systems to support them are considered important.

Information and Guidance is also fundamental to the shift in adult part time FE. Employer needs for the training of their staff will increasingly be delivered through the brokerage services of Train to Gain. Skills accounts will be available for individuals wishing to update their skills. Rather like mobile phone top up cards the credits on these accounts will be exchanged to pay for course fees. The government can manipulate demand by charging less for courses that meet their strategies.

The principle that students must pay a contribution for their part time vocational studies is now well established. Unless the student has no level 2 (GCSE level) qualifications from next year students on part time courses will be expected to pay 42.5% of the cost of their course.

MIS managers within the sector are having to face a change in their systems that record enrolments and achievements for funding by the Learning and Skills Councils. With three different funding models (14.18, adult learner and employer) to deal with, curriculum leaders are grappling with spreadsheets to develop the most cost effective mix of provision and timetabling.

Distance learning is still not treated more favourably and auditing systems are still required to collate the hours of tutorial support that are aggregated to determine the funding.

One important factor in funding is that one years funding for a provider can be severely diminished by poor performance in a previous year. Innovative ise of ICT can have a big part to play.

So where are the pressure points where JISC can help with standards and exemplar services?

Firstly for administration and the modelling of income and expenditure and the provision of services that complement the returns made to the LSC. Secondly for Information and Guidance and thirdly for Teaching and Learning.

For these latter two, Becta’s developing strategy for schools and FE focuses on ‘providing Learning Experiences that have access to technology wherever and whenever they require it’. 

They suggest that this could only be achieved if the following were available: 

  • a wide range of tools for the creation and manipulation of multimedia texts
  • a wide range of online resources
  • information on per
    sonal learning goals and student progress
  • collaborative tools and the opportunities to share with others
  • the ability to continue learning from one environment to the next
  • systems to provide protection (inappropriate content and contacts) and
    data security
  • access to formal learning support and teaching when required.

The outcomes of JISC previous and current initiatives can obviously support the attainment of many of these needs.

One important factor within this strategy is a move away from institutional systems for teaching and learning towards a recognition that the future is in providing more directed opportunities for students to obtain and share their own resources and increasingly to use Web 2.0 social networking  systems for collaboration.

Having said that the funding pressures on Adult and Continuing Learning (yoga and holi
day language course) has encouraged several providers either in collaboration or independently to use Moodle to support teaching and learning. JISC RSCs have been pro-active in many cases such as RSC North in support of initiatives in the
Tees Valley.

This sector needs help in staff development of a (generally) part time work force and providing the necessary quality and innovative practice to fight off other providers who can now annually bid for 10% of ACLs traditional work.

FE has grown up with its view on online content. It is expected to be free and for text is generally printed for use. Video clips are more effective than animations for describing such skills as changing a washer on a tap and several centres such as Bolton
Community College are developing catalogues of such clips to be shared by others.

Online assessment is generally normal now for many qualifications. One college I visited is expanding 10 fold the number of work stations dedicated to online testing. Educational purists may grumble but the ability for students to repeatedly take mock tests until they prove themselves ready for the ‘real thing’ is significantly raising achievement and with less expensive teaching is greatly improving income for their colleges.

One other bright spot in development is that concerned with offender learning in prisons and other similar institutions. A great deal of money is being spent on learning centres within institutions where internet access will be available but only to selected sites. A big opportunity for those developing interactions that support the teaching of basic literacy and numeracy and from what I hear about the employers views of some undergraduates something that HE could do with as well!!

Clive Church 1 February 2008

What is happening in the ‘work base learning sector’

As with the school’s sector there is enormous political will to deliver improvements in the development of skills training and education, The Leitch review aimed at developing skills training to improve the competitive edge of the British economy has become something of a mantra.

 

Vocational and especially skills based education has for many years suffered from low status compared with academic routes for learning. The government wants the meeting of employer’s skills and education needs by HE institutions to have equal status with research and academic activities.

 

Ironically the status of skills based education is being perhaps somewhat undermined by the government’s agenda to tackle the 16-18 NEET (not in education, employment and training) problems by obliging students within this category to take ‘apprenticeships’.

 

As far as skills delivery is concerned the Leitch agenda objectives prevail: level focussed, demand led, employer driven and qualification captured.

 

The ‘levels’ is easy (ish). Every qualification will be approved by the appropriate Sector Skills Council and will according to the level of language used for the outcomes be given an academic level between 0 and 7 (HE is 4 to 7). Each qualification will be sub-divided into ’10 hour credits of learning’, each of which can be assessed independently.

 

‘Demand led’ is relatively easy too. Provide prospective students with Skills Accounts that the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) can top up as necessary (and avoiding the past problems with the similar Individual Learning Accounts of the 1990s) allow students to trade in their accounts for appropriate courses. For the employer who is unsure of the training opportunities that are available expand ‘Train to Gain’ and introduce a ‘National Employers Service’. Train to Gain brokers will link the employees of Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) with training providers. Currently focussing in low level skills this brokerage service will expand over the nest 3 years to include HE based skills with a budget virtually doubling to just over a billion pounds.  The computer based register of learning providers and the qualification/ credit details recorded on the Qualification Credit (QCF) database will support their work. For larger employers with more than 5000 employees a regionally based national Employer Service will provide support and manage accounts. It is hoped that the work of this agency will encourage most internal staff development to be formalised and therefore recordable within the national database of Learner Achievement Records (of more later). Currently employers spend £33bn on training bit only 33% leads to accredited qualifications and the CBI is asking the government for £470m to provide an employer based accreditation service pilot linked to the QCF.

 

Employer driven?

 It will be the responsibility of the Sector Skills Councils to be responsive to employers’ needs in their development of national qualifications containing units of competence and understanding. The responsibility of employers to provide some kind of accreditation for in-hose training is yet to be agreed.

 

Capturing the qualifications will be orchestrated by the QCA/ MIAP QCF system which will record with the use of the ‘Unique Learner Number’ student achievement of a minimum of 10 guided learning hours of expertise (a credit).

The QCA/MIAP system consisting of details of learning providers, accredited qualifications and unit/credit details and learner records is expected to be fully operational by 2010. For more details see http://www.qca.org.uk/libraryAssets/media/QCF_Leaflet_final_web.pdf

MIAP expecting to service 2.5 million adult learners in their initial launch.

As part of the MIAP service, learners’ records will be subject to regular ‘Rules of Combination’ exercises by which students and their advisors will be pointed to future study opportunities that are based on their current profiles. Using the Unique Learner Number (initiated by the 14-19 agenda) IT based guidance services introduced for this age group will be expanded to support a new Adult Careers Service that will be closely linked with Job Centre Plus.

 

There is an implied confidence that the private computer services sector will be able to provide the required technical infrastructure.

 

FE is fully aware of the changes it will be making; Funding models will be changing to meet the demand led agenda with employers/ individuals carrying more of the cost for higher level (level 4 and above skills education). Increasingly the focus will move from education validated by recording achievement/ competence to recording achievement/ competence supported by education/ training to compensate for ‘gaps in expertise/ knowledge.  More assessment and underpinning knowledge/ skills based delivery will be conducted off site.

 

FE has been competing with private providers in this space for many years. With employer based provision planned within the recent Comprehensive Spending Review to be more than doubled to 1.2 million by 2011 there is plenty of profit to be made by responsive and flexible private providers.

 

Such private companies have been adept at providing vocational competence recording tools, online assessment (and assessment practice) systems and online content. Awarding bodies are increasingly likely to join with such companies to deliver a total service to companies and their employees that leave little space for colleges.

 

So what are the challenges for HE?

 

Competing with colleges and private providers for employer based education and training by offering better more flexible and responsive provision; marrying the QCF system with those planned for recording HE delivered achievements and accrediting prior achievement and learning ( a priority action for work based foundation degrees).

 

…and the challenges for JISC (blue sky thinking apart)?

 

Ensuring that there are close links with those private companies providing the services that underpin so much of this government’s skills agenda to harvest developments (such as data standards) that have an impact on JISC projects; anticipating issues such as identity management and trust systems for research and development that could hold up national implementations and develop and provide innovative services that can build on and complement those systems that underpin and support the government’s skills agenda

 

Clive Church  3rd December 2007