Digital Future

The House of Lords report entitled ‘Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future’ has just been published. It is extraordinarily wide-ranging, covering everything from infra-structure, to industry to education. With respect to higher education it makes several recommendations, all of which I find interesting.

First, the report takes a dim view of the recent decline in research funding to Universities (paras 151, 153) and also, and this is most interesting, clearly argues for a reversal of the concentration of research funding into a small number of institutions. This is the subject of a lengthy discussion (paras 240-269) in which it is recognised that high tech industries tend to grow up in clusters around Universities, but that the UK has only two examples of this (not surprisingly, in Cambridge and in London). They call for a greater role by the Research Funding Councils in reversing the trend, and assisting a number of regional strengths and clusters.

Second, the report takes a number of swipes at current education immigration policy, particular with respect to postgraduate research students, who should be seen as a resource rather than some kind of threat. (See specifically para. 152, but also throughout)

Third, the report suggests that one factor holding back the upskilling of the UK population is inflexibility in education provision, and Universities should be encouraged to offer more short, part-time courses. Fair enough. Utterly bizarre, then, was the omission of distance learning courses from the menu of recommendations to Universities (see paras 198-200), despite the fact that the OU is one of their case-studies.

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