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Students – earning less, owing more

Several bad news stories for students have emerged this month.

A report (‘Payback Time’) published by the Sutton Trust in the UK, sets out to analyse the impact of recent changes to student loans and fees.  Under the new regime, under which tuition fees rose to a maximum of £9,000 a year, students will leave university with almost £20,000 more debt on average than under the previous system.

The report concludes that most students will still be paying back their loans into their 40s and 50s.  Many will never clear their debts.  The study uses the example of an ‘average teacher’, who would still be paying back the student loan into their early 50s.

Meanwhile, as the cost of an education increases, the value of a degree is declining.

According to research by The Complete University Guide, over the last five years, the value of a degree has declined by up to a third.  Researches analysed data based on graduate employment and earnings six months after leaving university.   They found that the average starting salary for graduates in professional employment dropped by 11 per cent in real terms between 2007 and 2012.

However, some degree courses, including librarianship and information management, have bucked the trend.

Meanwhile in Sweden there are moves to amend existing student loan guidelines.  The proposed changes would mean that student loans will no longer be written off when graduates reach the age of 67 and that fees for ‘late payment reminder’ letters will double.

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Women in business – still under-represented at the top

“Still no progress after years of no progress”

Gender equality in politics continues to be a news story.  In the UK, the leader of the opposition stated the Prime Minister was failing women.  Four female MPs from the ruling party’s most recent intake have already made it clear they don’t want to stand again at the next election although they may not have explained exactly what it is about the way that UK politics works that makes them want to leave.  Complaints of sexism (and indeed mockery of regional accents) in the House of Commons don’t come as a surprise to any of us who watch the debates on television or from the public gallery.

We’ve covered gender quotas on this blog before when two of Germany’s political parties reached a compromise over quotas.  Similarly we’ve covered the representation of women at the top of businesses.  The latest research suggests that not much is changing or improving.

The 2013 Catalyst Census: Fortune 500 Women Board Directors finds that there has been no change at all in the representation of women at a senior level in America’s top corporations:

  • Women held only 16.9% of board seats in 2013—no change from last year
  • In both 2012 and 2013, less than one-fifth of companies had 25% or more women directors
  • 10% had no women serving on their boards.
  • Less than one-quarter of companies had three or more women directors serving together in both 2012 and 2013.

In the UK, Spencer Stuart’s UK Board Index 2013 (available via this link) found that women account for just under 18% of the total directors in the UK’s top 150 companies – although this figure at least is climbing.  In the last year, 38% of all newly appointed directors are women.

The latest figures for Europe (the EU-27 countries) show that women make up 16% of board members.  The highest representations are in Finland (29.1%) and Latvia (29%).  Although the number of companies with no women on the board has decreased from 35% in 2010 to 23% in 2013, there are still very few companies with women at the very top as CEOs. or Chair.  All countries are falling far short of the EU’s 2020 40% representation objective.

Growing Europe’s economy: the role of ICT

The European Commission has published a scenario-based report on how the innovative rollout of ICT can bring about economic growth.

The report, written by The Conference Board, considers two driving forces:

  • The pace of economic growth – fast or slow
  • The European digital market – fragmented or integrated

By placing these forces on a simple ‘two-by-two’ axis, the report explores four possible 2017 scenarios.

Scenario one – The Digital Rainforest

In this scenario, an integrated Europe-wide market for ICT is able to take advantage of global improvements in the economy to compete worldwide.  In this market, rapid growth and change requires flexibility and agility and the market is likely to be characterised by constant change and disruption

Scenario two – The Digital Glasshouse

In this scenario, the integrated EU marketplace is hampered by slow economic growth.  However, Europe will benefit from an internal market that functions more smoothly.

Scenario three – The Digital Desert

Here, slow global economic growth and a fragmented marketplace hampers the growth of the European ICT market

Scenario four – The Digital Savannah

In which the EU market remains fractured but worldwide growth means many firms simply ignore the European market seeking to grow beyond Europe’s borders

Recommendations

The report calls for rapid action to ensure that the European market can maximise tis potential as the world’s largest economic bloc.  A high quality and affordable infrastructure of high speed fixed and mobile broadband is vital.  At the same time, efforts to upskill the population must be improved and a regulatory environment, which supports sector growth, must be established.

“National governments and the European Commission must commit to a long-term coherent and strategic vision for the role of ICT, reforming and investing where necessary…. To further innovation and [lead] by example”

More information.

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Public access to ICT: Another reason why libraries matter!

The Technology and Social Change Group of the University of Washington’s Library School published its report of the five-year project exploring the impact of public access to ICT around the world.

The results show the impact that public libraries and cybercafés have when it comes to promoting digital inclusion and the development of ICT skills, particularly for marginalised populations.

Public access facilities bridge a number of digital divides.  They broaden access to both ICT infrastructure and to information resources.  For over half the users surveyed, libraries and cybercafés provided their very first contact with computers or the internet.  For over a third, they continued to be the only source of access to the internet.

The importance of empathy

The researchers explored in depth the role of ‘infomediaries’ to users in Bangladesh, Chile and Lithuania.  The findings showed that the ability of infomediaries to empathise with users is just as important as their technical skills.  This included giving them confidence to learn and to understand often unexpressed or unformed needs.

In-depth research amongst teenagers in Cape Town, South Africa showed that mobile phone internet access and public access computers were no substitutes for each other.  Indeed, interviewees had very often developed elaborate practices which combined the use of public access and personal devices.  The evidence shows that public access is not obsolete, even as mobile device ownership is growing.  They continued to use public access for help from staff and simply to ‘be alone together’ – a trend which is also emerging in newly designed academic libraries.

Recommendations

At a policy level the report calls for continuing support for public access to ICT, maximising the use of existing infrastructure.

Librarians should:

  • adopt a flexible approach to rules such as limiting time spent on machines or noise levels
  • be flexible to emerging needs.
  • embrace the mobile revolution
  • pay attention to venue design
  • focus on content awareness and market their resources

The full report is available for download here.

[Follow Val Skelton on Google+]

Generational diversity – strategies for the ageing workforce

The number of people in the UK employed over the age of 65 has reached the one million mark.

The demographics of the ageing population are astonishing.  Today, the median age (where half the population is older; half younger) of the world population is 28.  By 2050 the median age in Europe will be 47 and 22% of the world population will be over 60.

A report by organisational development experts Talentsmoothie explores the implications of the ageing population for businesses.

‘A new career stage’

In the UK, the number of working pensioners increased by 85% between 1993 and 2011.  Employees now have the right to work beyond statutory retirement age – many of them want to do so, or are forced to do so by economic circumstance.  This ‘extended career’ stage is currently not being managed by employers and the report calls for organisations to focus on proactively managing this career stage – beginning well before statutory retirement age.  65% of organisations participating in the research said they were ‘reactive’ rather than proactive when it comes to discussing retirement with employees.

Similarly, employees are often not keen to raise the issue, fearing that raising their concerns will ‘rock the boat’ and trigger redundancy.

Skills gaps

Over the next ten years, the UK (and many other countries) will experience skills shortages.  Research from a number of sources, including CIPD and McKinsey, predicts skills gaps and a shortage of school- and college-leavers to fill vacancies.

The report describes older employees as a ‘hidden talent pool’.  In the UK organisations such as DIY chain B&Q and building society Nationwide have made a positive effort to employ and keep older workers on board.  The benefits they have reported include reduced employee turnover, improved customer service and increased profitability.  In Japan, Toyota is addressing the ‘knowledge drain’ of retired employees by re-recruiting them to work part-time.

Generational diversity

The oldest Gen-Z youngsters are already 18!  As they begin to join the workforce we will have an increase in the number of ‘five-generation’ workplaces.  Employers need to understand the generational diversity of their customer base and their workforce.  They need to develop policies and working environments that maximise the benefits of multi-generational organisations.

And all of us should overcome our fears of discussing ‘the R-word’ – retirement!

Collaborating to ensure cybersecurity

Earlier this year the European Commission published its Cybersecurity Strategy.

The document called for the development of a platform to bring public and private sector stakeholders together so they could share good practice and develop secure ICT solutions.

At about the same time in the US, President Obama published an executive order which also focused on the importance of protecting infrastructure from cyberattacks.

Both initiatives reflect the invaluable contribution that the digital economy makes to society and the economy and the importance of protecting sites and services from malicious cyberattacks.  Organisations and nations need to manage and mitigate cyber risk and there is much to be gained from stakeholders sharing experience and information about potential threats, vulnerabilities and solutions.

Writing for Harvard Business Review, Harry D. Raduege, Jr.writes writes about the importance of bringing together leaders from all sectors to learn and share.  In particular, he believes they should focus on:

  • Understanding the problem - what are the key issues and threats facing your organisation?
  • Making one person accountable – a leader in your organisation should be identified as designated to look after all cyber/digital issues
  • Coordinating efforts – not just within your own organisation, but also up and down your supply and value chain
  • Communicating – not just within supply chains but beyond with government agencies; professional bodies and regulators

Meanwhile, the UK’s National Audit Office has expressed concern about a skills shortfall in information security.  Responding to the report, Marisa Viveros writing for Harvard Business Review agrees that holistic and collaborative measures are called for, mirroring the interdisciplinary approaches of academia.

Above all, education about cybersecurity and IT issues is “one of the best investments a company can make”.

More information on the EU’s cybersecurity plan can be found here.

[Follow Val Skelton on Google+]

Is Higher Education value for money?

The UK’s Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and the consumer organisation Which? has published the 2013 survey of the student academic experience at English universities.

The first survey, in 2006, coincided with the introduction of HE fees and the surveys aim to discover whether students are getting a ‘better’ academic experience in the light of increased fees.  The report concludes that there is “no apparent relationship between the fees students are being charged and what they receive”.

Background

  • Although students are paying more, universities themselves are not receiving additional money – student fees are simply filling the gap left by reduced centralised government funding.
  • Student fees trebled in 2012.  The average fee charged is now £8500+
  • Contact with academic staff has hardly increased, despite higher fees
  • Diverse student experience in terms of teaching format and contact hours and the perceived gap in helpful upfront information to help students choose the appropriate course

Key findings – choosing the right university

  • 32% of students might have chosen a different course if they had known what they know now
  • 21% of students thought information provided by their institutions was ‘vague’; 9% thought it was ‘misleading’
  • 29% of first year students think their course is ‘poor value for money’

Student workload

  • The average weekly workload is 30 hours per week
  • Women and mature students study more than men
  • 14% of the 10,000 students who said their course was worse than they expected said the course had not been challenging enough

Contact time

  • No significant change in the amount of contact time or proportion of small group teaching
  • Students paying less than £8000 received same amount of contact time as those paying more
  • Other factors important to students include their satisfaction with the quality of teaching as well as they amount of face-to-face time
  • Significant differences in contact time between subject areas and institutions
  • Students recognise the importance of small group teaching and the amount they receive contributes to their satisfaction levels
  • Contact time has risen by just 20 minutes per week since 2006

The report is available for free download from the HEPI website.

[Follow Val Skelton on Google+]

New teaching and new learning – universities in 2020

Higher education is as susceptible to technology disruption as any other information-centric business.  Communications technologies mean that knowledge transfer need no longer be tethered to a physical university campus.  Simultaneously steadily increasing fees mean that customers are questioning the value for money and quality of higher education while the current economic climate means that a college degree is no longer a guarantee of future employability.  New competitors are entering the market – and not just in the US.

The Pew Research Center has released a report on technology disruption and higher education.  The research presented two future (2020) scenarios to which selected invited experts and members of their trusted networks responded.

Scenario one presented a future in which higher education was not significantly different to today, although some new technologies such as teleconferencing, personal wireless smart devices were more widely adopted (39% broadly agreed with this scenario).

Scenario two presented a future in which higher education was transformed.  This transformed landscape includes a significant move to individualised learning activities;  hybrid classes; mass adoption of teleconferencing to leverage expert resources (60% of respondents broadly agreed with this scenario).

Several key themes are discussed in the report including the need for universities to be highly adaptive and innovative if they are to thrive. Several respondents referred to the slow rate of change in the current system.

New teaching

  • less demand for traditional lecture based courses
  • increased demand for individualised learning
  • increasingly connected student body
  • more hybrid education – a blending of online and offline
  • improved virtual environments
  • face to face for ‘the privileged few’
  • increased focus on employability
  • a move to competency based education

Technological innovation

  • web based delivery to meet growing global demands and provide value for money
  • more ‘tele-education’
  • distance learning integrated with social networking

New business models

  • structural changes to coincide with retirement of baby boomers
  • increasing corporate involvement
  • open research
  • push for value for money by consumers

New learning

  • collaborative education and peer to peer learning
  • a focus on how to learn and lifelong learning and self education
  • and, of particular interest to information professionals, an examination of how tools can enhance students critical thinking and information skills acquisition skills

The report is available, free of charge, from the Pew website.

 

UK government – agile and digital by default

The UK has a tradition of excellence in public services.  However, this has not always translated into excellent online services.  The UK government is now pursuing a ‘digital first’ and ‘digital by default’ agenda which aims to design and deliver world class digital public services.

Mike Bracken is the Executive Director for the UK Government’s Digital Service, responsible for delivering ‘customer first’ digital services.  Speaking at the ‘Agenda Setters’ stream of seminars at this year’s Internet World event, he described how a transformed, agile approach to design and development is opening up online government services.

Gov.uk is the new single site for government services (replacing Direct.gov).  Currently in beta, the site provides simple, clear and fast answers and is designed with external users in mind.  An example of this customer focus can be seen in the contrasting treatment of the same information – in this case about public holidays in the UK.

On Direct.gov, this information is displayed in a table – the information is correct, it is simply not easy on the eye.  The new site answers the key question that most people searching for bank holiday information want answered – When is the next bank holiday?  It is a simple, yet revolutionary approach to delivering truly customer first information.

Key elements and principles of UK.gov

  • Digital first and digital by design
  • Users first!  The users ‘trump’ the government department(s) in all decisions
  • Digital services NOT websites
  • Less information – much of the ‘marginal’ information currently available on Direct.gov will not be transferred onto Gov.UK
  • Quick tasks and answers – for example, by answering four simple questions you can discover your maternity entitlements
  • Understand the user journey – 90% of users will come into the site via search engines, not via expensive ‘home pages’
  • Devices and mobile  - the content is designed for mobile delivery
  • Agile development – small teams are involved in iterative development.  These are not massive, long term IT projects  This approach means you can ‘fail in increments’ and do something about it
  • Learn from experience
  • Build a trusted network of partners – a contrast with previously strained relationships with large external providers.  Work with world class digital businesses

Today, the government has announced a new advisory board to help drive the next stage of Digital by Default.  Leading figures from academia, industry and retail will help the government deliver its digital transformation agenda.

 

Building Europe’s digital economy

The European Commission’s Digital Agenda is one strand of its Europe 2020 Strategy.

Over the last 15 years, over half of Europe’s productivity growth has been ICT driven.  But if Europe is to fully exploit the benefits of the digital economy, it must address the seven key priority areas identified in the Commission’s Digital Agenda.

A new Single Market to deliver the benefits of the digital era

  • Simplification of copyright clearance, copyright management and cross border licensing. 
  • Better access to pan European telecoms and digital services and content.

 Improve ICT standard-setting and interoperability

  • Interoperability will encourage creation and innovation

Enhance trust and security

  • Coordinated approaches to both data security breaches and data projection legislation

Increase Europeans’ access to fast and ultra fast internet

  • Very fast internet is essential for the economic growth.  The Commission will explore how to attract investment in broadband

Boost cutting-edge research and innovation in ICT

  • Increased investment in ICT R&D to ensure our best ideas reach the market.

Empower all Europeans with digital skills and accessible online services

  • Everyone should be able to participate in the digital life

Unleash the potential of ICT to benefit society

  • Online access to medial records
  • Energy saving 
  • Support af aging populations

Making the digital agenda a reality is a key priority.  The documents and background information to the Digital Agenda can be found on the Commission’s website.