End of the year blog

I’ve been writing this blog for a whole year now, and so in the traditions of every newspaper or other media outlet,  I should provide a review of the year.

Having said that, there are plenty of these already available, that I’d point readers to:

Firstly the Guardian weighs in with “The U-turn universities wanted – over overseas students – never came“.

For those interested in technology supported or enhanced learning, I have to recommend  Audrey Watters over on Hack Education. She’s provided  a series of articles on the top ed-tech trends of 2013.

And finally Martin Weller of the Open University provides us with The Year of No S**t Sherlock.

Reviewing my own blog for the year – here are the highlights:


I started my rant against MOOCs, highlighting some of the hyperbole that was starting to fly around. I also started to highlight issues around BME attainment and more broadly around degree classification rates in the sector.


The blog this month was very quiet – I was away from the university, and produced a couple of short pieces. MOOCs were still there though, with suggestions that only 10 universities would exist in the future!


This month I took the plunge,and actually enrolled in some MOOCs – I figured I’d be able to comment better from experience. Coursera now own a lot of data about me, and in return I’ve received a couple of PDF certificates (and some interesting ideas). the VC of Salford took one of the same courses as me and also blogged about it.

In the same month we saw the apocalyptic vision “An Avalanche is Coming“, produced by the IPPR and written by Pearsons (who got  a bit of bad press later in the year as so much of the BIS budget was used up in supporting HNC and HND students at private providers). This report described the end of the world as we knew it. I was dismissive, and was much of the blogosphere.


In April I carried on studying a MOOC, and wrote about the New Media Consortium report on trends in technology in HE. We also had reports of another avalanche, this time a more serious and credible one, when Steve Smith talked about finance as being the big problem for HE. We also started to see the results of the first league tables of the year, with the THE Student Experience Survey and the Complete University Guide. The latter one prompted me to start producing detailed information on the university’s performance to a wide range of stakeholders.


May was a month ion which I completed a MOOC on Surviving Disruptive Technologies, with an essay on how a low ranking UK university can respond to the disruptive influences in technology, markets and finance. I provided plenty of detail of meetings I attended, on MOOCs with Universities UK, and more importantly on BME performance, where I gained some great ideas from the University of Hertfordshire. This year’s Learning and Teaching Conference at Staffordshire (July 1st, 2014 – save the date) will pick up these ideas and use one of the same speakers.


June and we were back to league tables, with the results now in from the Guardian (a slight improvement) and the People and Planet Green League Table( a good result). I started to write about how we could improve our league table position, and this translated into workshops and talks that I delivered around some (but interestingly not all) of the faculties of the university. Also in June we saw the annual survey of opinions of HE leaders, who thought that the sector was going to change in size and shape, with mergers and closures as part of the change. This is similar to previous survey results – which seem to say,” yes there’ll be closures, but it’ll be someone else.”


This was  a quiet month – I must have been on holiday, but managed to get a piece about zombies into the blog.


This month we learned that HEFCE were going to reallocate SNC numbers from universities that under recruited to those that did well, from 2014. Clearly at this time HEFCE had no idea of what the Chancellor would say in December. This month I also started to get more interested in the ideas of Bourdieu and how we could develop social or cultural capital of students. I built this into a HEFCE project bid, but sadly didn’t get the funding.


And the final big league table of the year was produced, this time it was the Times/Sunday Times. Again I blogged about this, and provided plenty of analysis and information internally.


This month there weren’t may posts, but some crucial ones on how we might improve as an institution and on evaluation of teaching. By this point in the year, I’ve pretty much laid out my stall of what I think is important, and how we need to develop certain things further.


This month I took on responsibility for e-learning, and promptly had a day out with Blackboard, hearing what other universities are doing, and what the future of that software might hold for us. Also this month, UUK published its report on the funding challenge for universities, which started to suggest multiple sources of loans for students. Clearly finance is going to be the biggest challenge to universities (have you realised MOOCs don;t get much of a mention as we go through the months?)


You’d hope that this would be a quiet month, but once again university finance, and the marketisation of HE became dominant themes. First and excellent essay by Stefan Collini (which I to seem to refer to in all of my faculty talks) and then the bombshell of the Autumn Statement, announcing the complete removal of student number controls. HEFCE have yet to provide detailed information on the change to number controls, but on one hand it’s pleasing to see the recognition that HE has a positive impact on the economy and on society. On the other, there does seem to be a gaping hole in the finance, and a degree of scepticism that selling off the loan book is a good idea.

And finally

So in the 50th year since the publication of the Robbins report, HE seems to be changing more quickly than ever. The disruption forecast at the beginning of the year, which was going to be all about technology, doesn’t seem to have arrived in the quite the way some had predicted. The disruption to come in terms of increased marketisation and changes to funding will be significant, and much more likely to have serious impact in the near future.

Next year I’ll be continuing to push student attainment as a key part of my agenda, analysing league tables, providing data models of award and module performance and really pushing hard on the work with BME students. I’ll also be making sure we use technology enhanced learning as best we can. Hopefully I’ll have time to keep blogging.

Happy Christmas.