Is Education Working?

Via … someone… (apologies, I forget who…) I notice that [t]he BBC has applied for funding to help launch a series of industrywide, [foundation] degree-level apprenticeships in technology and engineering (Broadcast: BBC lines up apprenticeships).

Digging around a little, it seems that in an Apprenticeships Conference Speech (June 2012), Caroline Thomson, the BBC’s Chief Operating Officer, laid out the plans: “Over five years, our ambition is to grow a new generation of highly skilled technologists and engineers – made up of Level 5 Apprenticeships (that’s equivalent to degree level) and beyond that Traineeships up to Masters level. Once trained, this talent will be available to work either in the BBC or for others in the industry.”

Just imagine, you could be an 18 year old who embarks on this journey and by the age of 23 you come out with a Masters education, no debt, AND you’re highly employable. That doesn’t sound like a bad option in today’s economic climate, and it’s also extremely good for us in terms of growing the new technology talent that we need.

More generally, we’re investigating how we can develop ‘career pathways’ in other areas where we have skills gaps. For example, many of us report shortages in Production Management skills – so it would seem sensible to start to ‘grow our own’ rather than keep poaching from one another.

Again, apprenticeships are the answer. In this case new, higher level apprenticeship qualification, building on Creative Skillset’s existing Level 3 qualification [this one? Diploma in Creative and Media]. We are proposing to launch a more advanced Level 4 qualification which would allow people to progress.

As you have been hearing the BBC currently has 55 apprentices. They receive their formal training from FE colleges, and that feels right for that intermediary qualification. But as we move into higher level qualifications, we believe it’s really important for the training to become far more industry focused and employer led.

So the BBC Academy plans to take on responsibility for training the BBC’s higher level Apprentices. We’re hoping that this will inject a real sense of added prestige to the Apprenticeships and make them even more highly sought after and highly prized across the industry.

The plans are dependent on a successful outcome to a bid from the BBC into the Employers’ Ownership of Skills Pilot, which “offers all employers in England direct access to up to £250 million of public investment over the next two years to design and deliver their own training solutions. The pilot is jointly overseen by UKCES, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education.”

(By the by, I also belatedly note the recent announcement UfI Trust £50M endowment fund that will be used “to fund projects that can transform vocational adult learning through technology”. The fund is a windfall from the sale of learndirect, which I first picked up on when I saw a learndirect sponsorship logo on the Marussia F1 car.)

The ability to award degrees in the UK is regulated [see David Kernohan’s comments below.. it was late, I was tired and being careless/sloppy in my writing, which is to say this part of the post is even more meaningless drivel than the usual unchecked ramblings I post; thank goodness for open peer review;-)]by BIS (I think?), who maintain the official “Recognised Bodies” list (hmm… this could be a handy source of UK “university” homepage URLs?). If the BBC does start running Masters courses, who will be validating them I wonder? Would the BBC be allowed to apply for listed status I wonder?!

(I had a quick look around for a current/”live” list of institutions proposed for inclusion as BIS listed/registered bodies, but could only find a recent-ish “latest proposals” list (Institutions proposed for inclusion as Listed Bodies (March 2012)). This then got me wondering if there’s anything in the Open Data Institute 5 year plan that would seek to get the ODI into a position 5 years or so hence that would allow it to become a listed body? Or whether the plan is to develop it purely, although quietly, as a generously supported University of Southampton enterprise?)

It was also interesting (to me, at least) to see an announcement this week relating to training offerings by our friend that is Google: Google launches new developer education programs in the form of the Google Developers Academy, “a new program that provides training materials on Google technologies”. I’m not sure what makes this new – Google has been offering training courses for ages (eg the Google Qualified Developer programme I noted in 2010) – but maybe it’s more formal now? I need to take a proper look, I think…

The Goog’s also made an announcement about an “open online course” they’re offering in mid-July to support the development of search skills: Power Searching with Google, “a free online, community-based course showcasing search techniques and how to use them to solve real, everyday problems”. Given the stupid numbers that signed up to the Stanford AI course, it’ll be interesting to see how many go for the Google course…

PS It also seems as if the leader of the Stanford open AI course, Sebastien Thrun, made a good call when he set up Udacity, following the success of that course, to run open online courses – it’s just partnered with Pearson’s VUE testing centres (in an undisclosed arrangement? Or are details available somewhere? In particular, how does the money flow?) [commentary]. The partnership will allow learners to take a supervised exam that can contribute towards and “official” Udacity credential. By using a recognised testing centre, it seems that the Udacity folk are pushing ahead at full tilt in their designs to come up with an alternative qualification that is recognised by employers – with properly managed assessment presumably playing an important part in that. (FWIW, it’s maybe also worth noting that recently Pearson acquired IT testing provider Certiport.)

PPS given all this activity around threats to the HE sector from workplace trainers, and, erm, “other”, I note this from four years ago… If Universities Were Companies…. Hmmm… If you acknowledge these rivals as threats and start to feel as if they have to compete with them (or are perceived as behaving as if they are competing with them directly), will that start to legitimise their offerings (using “logic” along the lines of: if universities feel threatened by these alternatives, they must see them as in some way equivalent to their (the university) offerings. Which means the alternatives must be educationally sound or the universities wouldn’t respond, because it wouldn’t be a real threat. Which means we should maybe treat the alternatives as valid alternatives to university qualifications, because the universities do…)


Blimey – is that *really* the time?! Enough…

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

4 thoughts on “Is Education Working?”

  1. Great post Tony. Ability to award degrees in the UK is controlled by the Privy Council so called because they meet in public toilets^h^h^h^h^h they were originally the private counsel of the Queen/King. In practice, the Privy Council award degree awarding powers based on the recommendations of the QAA, who assess the suitability of applicant institutions. There are various criteria, but the main stumbling blocks are (a) having taught to degree level for 4+ years (via a validation arrangement) and (b) having about £50,000 knocking about to pay the QAA.

    So the beeb don’t have the former, and somewhere like the Social Science Centre at Lincoln don’t have the latter.

    In the US the system is equally rigorous… you have to ask *really* nicely and say please.

    Did learndirect really sponsor an F1 team? yikes…

  2. Oooh sorry, and “Listed Body” =/= “Recognised Body” with degree awarding powers. “Listed body” status means you are allowed to sponsor the entry into the UK of entirely legitimate foreign students to study at the Psychemedia School of Data Mangling and Beer Scarfing.

  3. @dkernohan Thanks for those corrections – I had intended to draft, check, then publish this post, but in the end I just did a quick sketch and then hit publish, given lack of new content here for aaaaagggggggeeesssss…;-) Note to self: must do better…

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