Some are more equal than others: technology, education and inequality

Does technology cause inequality? Perhaps surprisingly, in our age of increased access to information, open platforms and ability to self-educate, there are rumblings that inequality is being driven by technology. Writing recently at the World Economic Forum, Kaushik Basu,Chief Economist at The World Bank argues that ‘the only countries recording high rates of annual GDP growth are emerging economies, including Vietnam (6.5%), India, China, Bangladesh, and Rwanda (around 7%), and Ethiopia (over 9%).’ Basu then goes on to postulate that, despite the growth of labour-saving technology (‘global sales of industrial robots… reached 225,000 in 2014, up 27% year on year),’ we are now seeing ‘disparate performance,’ created by technology. ‘High- and middle-income countries will come under strain, as their workers compete for jobs in the globalized labor market. Their income disparities will tend to rise, as will the frequency and intensity of political conflict.’

This trend is likely to be maintained, Basu believes. ‘As the march of technology continues, these strains will eventually spread to the entire world, exacerbating global inequality – already intolerably high – as workers’ earnings diminish. As this happens, the challenge will be to ensure that all income growth does not end up with those who own the machines and the shares.’

Similarly, Rolf Brynjolfsson has attributed the rise of inequality to technology. ‘There’s globalization, there are institutional changes, cultural changes, but I think most economists would agree that the biggest chunk of it is due to technology,’ he says in Business Insider. ‘And that’s because of what economists call skill-biased technical change — favoring skilled workers versus less-skilled workers.’

Brynjolfsson’s concern is primarily the way robots are squeezing out lower-paid jobs. Despite admitting that productivity has slightly grown in the last decade, ‘central to Brynjolfsson’s argument is the idea that innovation is rapidly accelerating as trends in computing and networking advance at an exponential rate,’ writes Joe Wiesenthal. While the GDP pie is increasing, ‘not everyone is benefiting,’ and Brynjolfsson lays this problem squarely with technology.

‘The biggest factor is that the technology-driven economy greatly favors a small group of successful individuals by amplifying their talent and luck,’ Brynjolfsson observes. These individuals, Brynjolfsson argues, reach stratospheric levels of income because successful ideas can be widely experienced and distributed. We don’t have lots of regional Facebooks, tailored to communities, countries or even continents. We have one Facebook, and the competition doesn’t stand a chance. This ‘Google-isation’ of our commodities is, for Brynjolfsson, an explanation for why very few people are earning huge amounts of money. ‘Why use a search engine that is almost as good as Google?’ as MIT Editor David Rotman puts it.

And for Brynjolfsson, what is the common factor? It’s that these super-fast, super-rich entrepreneurs all make their money via technology. This money does not trickle down to employees; it stays locked in the hands of a new technology elite.

 

Alternative viewpoints

Certainly, inequality is rising globally. And when it comes to higher education, the differences between haves and have-nots are becoming acute. Some 42% of young people now cannot afford to go to university, and 59% of graduates are unemployed. Yet, we would argue that this has not come about because of technology. Correlation is not causation – these unfortunate figures are part of a much wider platform of political infrastructure and global recession. The huge cuts in higher education funding worldwide have increased inequality far more than technology has.

It doesn’t take long to find figures critical of Basu or Brynjolfsson’s stance. Colin Gordon, professor of history at the University of Iowa, says ‘the notion that inequality is generated by rapid technological change and skill shortages is not sustained by the recent American experience. If demand for certain workers or certain skills were reflected in wages, we would expect to see wage gains where that demand was highest and wage stagnation where it was weakest.’ For Gordon, this is not the case. ‘Since 1969 labor’s share of income has fallen most rapidly in those sectors where union presence withered, not where computers displaced labor.’

Gordon point outs that ‘across our last two business cycles, income concentrated not in sectors or regions where skills were most in demand but where speculative bubbles (dot-com, housing, finance) bloomed and burst. During our most recent recession and recovery, the notion of a “skills shortage” was belied by the fact that job openings and available workers were distributed fairly evenly across the economy, and that skilled workers saw no “bidding up” of their wages or increase in their work hours. Indeed, most of the growth in wage inequality across the last generation can be found within occupations, and not in their relative share of the labor market.’

Gordon argues that ‘whatever causal importance we assign to technological change, it is hard to see it as a credible account of the different trajectories of inequality across countries. Technological change is a challenge faced by all national economies, and the secular decline in labor’s share of national income is common to most advanced economies. And yet on key measures of inequality, differences across national settings (and especially the outlying status of the United States) remain profound.’ He concludes that ‘in both 1985 and 2007, the United States leads the pack in both educational attainment and inequality.’

Technology is a tool – and it’s how we choose to use that tool that counts. Blaming technology is a handy technique for political elites; it means they can claim inequality is not politically driven or that political decisions could not reduce it. Globally, real GDP growth has increased from just under 3% (trend) in 1980 to just over 4% (trend) in 2015 (estimated figure; source IMF). Meanwhile, poverty headcount rate has dropped dramatically, from 37.1% in 1990 to 12.7% in 2012.  (Source: World Bank.) So wealth across the world is growing; but it it’s growing at a far greater pace for the very rich than it is for everyone else.

If technology is not to blame, what is? Economist Thomas Piketty argues that the gap between rich and wealth is now far more extreme than could have been imagined just a few decades ago. In the US, the richest 1% of the population now owns over one third of the country’s accumulated wealth. 15% is owned by the top 0.1%. Recessions slow down but do not alter this trend – ‘inequality has only gotten worse since the last recession ended,’ writes David Rotman. ‘The top 1 percent captured 95 percent of income growth from 2009 to 2012, if capital gains are included.’

What are we to make of this? ‘The disparity in the portion of income earned from work—what economists call labor income—is particularly striking,’ says Rotman. Wage inequality in the US is ‘probably higher than in any other society at any time in the past, anywhere in the world,’ says Piketty. ‘In the aftermath of the recession, much of the recovery went to the very rich,’ says Rotman. ‘Meanwhile those with low levels of education are falling behind.’

For Piketty, much of the problem lies with salaries paid to ‘supermanagers’. Rotman’s article points out that according to Piketty’s figures, ‘about 70 percent of the top 0.1 percent of earners are corporate executives.’ Usually, rising inequality is explained by the race between demand and supply of high skills. ‘I think that this is an important part of the overall explanation,’ Piketty says, ‘but this is not all. In order to explain why rising inequality has been so strong at the very top in the U.S., one needs more than a skill-based explanation.’ The answer is to found in ‘pay-setting institutions and corporate governance,’ and Piketty concludes, ‘above a certain level, it is very hard to find in the data any link between pay and performance.’ Again – the problem is political, not technological.

In the UK and to an extent France the problem is slightly different; ‘accumulated wealth, much of it inherited, is returning to relative levels not seen since before the First World War,’ according to Rotman. ‘Privately held wealth in some European countries is now about 500 to 600 percent of annual national income, a level approaching that of the early 1900s.’

For Piketty, this is ‘a radical departure from how we have thought about progress.’ Inequality is supposed to reduce as countries become more technologically developed. ‘Many of us suppose that our talents, skills, training, and acumen will allow us to prosper; it is what economists like to call “human capital.” ’ But – this is not happening.

 

Creating connections

It’s at this point that the importance for higher education becomes apparent. ‘Though income growth among the top 1 percent is an important phenomenon,’ writes David Rotman, quoting his colleague David Autor, a MIT economist, ‘the disparity in skills and education among the other 99 percent is “a big deal, a much bigger deal.” The gap between median earnings for people with a high school diploma and those with a college degree was $17,411 for men and $12,887 for women in 1979; by 2012 it had risen to $34,969 and $23,280. Education, Autor says, “is the most powerful thing you can do to affect lifetime earnings.” ’

Rather than driving inequality, technology drives connectivity. From a higher education perspective, it enables people to learn anywhere, reduces access costs, reduces the costs project work and real-time modelling, enables people to stay in touch cost-free and aids collaboration.

So where from here? What we as providers need to do is to find ways of creating greater access to learning, within this changed environment. And technology is the best way to do that – as we’ll see for several reasons.

Providers do have to take some of the rap for the disconnect between what they think makes a fit-for-purpose graduate, compared with what employers think. McKinsey’s recent Education for Employment survey found that 74% of providers think graduates leave university prepared for an entry-level position. But ask employers, and the figure you get is just 35%. Nor are graduates themselves under any illusions, with 38% answering positively to the same question.

With rising inequality in mind, MIT economist Damon Acemoglu argues how essential it is for education to come to the forefront as traditional low-skill jobs become increasingly automated. ‘I think most people are not sufficiently informed about the sort of skills that they will require,’ he says. ‘There isn’t quite enough of an understanding that most U.S. workers who don’t have college degrees are not going to be able to get good-paying manufacturing jobs.’ For Acemoglu, ‘those types of bread-and-butter jobs of previous decades have gone; now those tasks are being performed by robots and computers.’ Instead, there is an ‘explosion’ of demand in the service sector; ‘in middle- and low-skill services, for example, in health care, clerical occupations or customer service.’ Acemoglu’s belief is that ‘for the most part, U.S. workers, especially U.S. males, haven’t really made the transition to performing them.’ And this is where up-skilling – via education – becomes both paramount and urgent. ‘These are jobs that workers with high school or two-year college degrees can perform.’

The importance for HE is also highlighted in a new report published by the World Bank Group’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice. Technology, Growth and Inequality by Ivan Rossignol outlines a way for governments to promote the benefits of technology whilst protecting the economic income of citizens. Essentially, the answers are to focus energies on accelerating some areas and containing others:

 

Accelerate

  • Education
  • Skills
  • Healthcare
  • Connectivity and trade
  • Pace of reform

 

Contain 

  • Regulate new sectors
  • Protect trade and investment barriers
  • Protect social benefits

 

This is, let’s keep emphasising, a political framework. It will not happen by goodwill, good intentions and hope – it needs to be driven by governments. Where it’s sadly unlikely to fulfil its potential is that principles such as protecting social benefits and increasing healthcare provision are seen as left-wing principles, and dominant economies tend to be run by neoliberal, right-wing governments. However, we can at least lay these principles on the table, and offer them for consideration.

And what can be done is to improve things as best we can within our resources – which is to focus on giving students of all backgrounds the best chances they can get, and focus efforts on removing price barriers for them wherever possible.

A way to drive this is to emphasise that happiness and welfare are important and fundamental. They are not secondary to economies; they underpin economies. They are hard to measure – and as importance is always skewed to that which can be measured, suffer as a result.

Technology can help economies, prosperity and social wellbeing, but it has to be driven forward by real people. To do this, we need more virtuous entrepreneurs. At ELU, we try to create social capital by actively reducing the skills gap, increasing digital learning wherever possible, using asset-light campuses, focused on competency-based learning and branding EU-wide, to remove associations with elitism. Our ethos is to encourage personal freedoms and create a focus on jobs and empowerment, funnelling students to a job at the end of the process. Judicious and disruptive use of technology is a key part of this.

Consider the Legatum Prosperity Index – which attempts to resolve the ‘hard to measure’ issue by arguing that ‘national success is about more than just wealth.’ Moving beyond GDP and similarly narrow measurements of prosperity, the Index identifies successful countries and regions ‘against a broad set of metrics covering areas such as health, education, opportunity, social capital, personal freedom and more.’ In other words, it uses subjective as well as objective data – ‘both wealth and wellbeing.’ It includes factors such as democratic governance, entrepreneurial opportunity and social cohesion, all of which do not register in terms of GDP.

For example, in the UK, areas with relatively low GDP can have very high life satisfaction and overall prosperity scores – Devon, West & South of Northern Ireland and Dorset, for example – whereas London region Wandsworth emerges as number 1 for GDP per capita, but is way down the life satisfaction index at number 132 (of 170).

If nothing else, such figures demonstrate that living in areas of high GDP has no correlation with personal satisfaction and happiness. Rather than chasing GDP, we should be examining what improves people’s quality of life – and education is a key part of this.

If there is doubt that social wellbeing is important for economic development, consider the model below. Published by the Legatum Institute, it argues that the more social wellbeing flourishes, the more economic prosperity does too. In other words, social wellbeing and personal empowerment is a fundamental part of economic prosperity – not a result of economic prosperity.

 

[See image on page 2 of this link]. Source: Legatum Institute, Prosperity and its Distribution: Measuring Progress Towards a Prosperous World for All.

 

Is university a luxury club?

In today’s knowledge economy with data, knowledge and insights available at the click of a button, the traditional university – brick walls, strict entry criteria, a homogenous culture and self-perpetuating ecosystem – would never have been invented. This is not to say that traditional universities are no longer fit for purpose. But it does say that there is plenty of room for other, non-traditional learning providers to come to the fore, offer something different and enable those students who for financial, geographical, cultural or other reasons are unable to join the traditional university model.

Previous articles have discussed how technology has enabled the rise of blended learning, bootcamps and nanodegrees. Learning and transformation is the important thing, not being part of an elitist club. ELU wants to contribute to the levelling of the playing field for people who have the abilities, talent and potential for university but are excluded (or feel they are excluded) by traditional suppliers.

Consider the German model of ‘dual’ Vocational Education and Training. In essence, this system offers apprenticeships in the workplace combined with a ‘vocational school’, offering classroom-based education. ‘Perhaps the most striking feature of this system, for those unfamiliar with it, is the engagement of businesses (and employers in general) in the conception and implementation of dual apprenticeships,’ says the Bertelsmann Stiftung report Cooperation in action:  the dual vocational training system in Germany. In practice, this means that ‘co-operation between employers, vocational schools, chambers, governmental bodies and labour unions is at the heart.’ The dual system ‘seeks to provide the labour market with the skilled workforce it requires and to equip young apprentices with market-relevant skills for their future professional lives. Given that it is employers who are the ultimate users of skills, it is eminently sensible to involve them in both the conception and the implementation of dual training programmes.’

Recently in the news is Andela, a company that assesses tens of thousands of tech applicants from across Africa and then selects the top 1% of talent. As well as match-making high-achieving individuals with companies, the model is creating social prosperity too – enabling talent that might otherwise not have access to good jobs, to reach large corporates and build a successful career. The company’s innovative model has now been recognised by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who along with Priscilla Chan has shown confidence in Andela’s potential by investing $24 million in it.

There are several ways to define the non-traditional university, for students who want to achieve their potential but feel they won’t be accepted on the classical model.

 

  • Rethink the role of academics – the learning experience is shaped to the ultimate workplace, not the campus.
  • Equality becomes part of the university brand. Many classical models present themselves to the world as exclusive and best-in-class. Whilst the quality of the teaching should be peerless, the university itself should not be advertised as elitist.
  • Help less privileged students – financially, socially and culturally.
  • Be a connection hotspot. University is about learning, incubating talent, and facilitating growth. It is not a static, self-perpetuating ecosystem where responsibilities stop the moment the student graduates.
  • Focus on the freelancer economy. Jobs are no longer for life. Help students thrive in the new flexible contract world.
  • A lifelong learning approach. Continuous professional development is the key to success in this new world. Help students adopt this mentality, rather than sustaining the sense that learning stops when you graduate.
  • Empower students to become entrepreneurs – build that philosophy as part of their armoury.

 

Technology is not going to solve inequality, because that can only be done by political will; regulation and taxation with voter support. In MIT Technology Review, David Rotman writes, ‘Since the 1950s, economics has been dominated by the idea—notably formulated by Simon Kuznets, a Harvard economist and Nobel laureate—that inequality diminishes as countries become more technologically developed and more people are able to take advantage of the resulting opportunities. Many of us suppose that our talents, skills, training, and acumen will allow us to prosper; it is what economists like to call “human capital.” ’ Quoted in the article, Thomas Piketty states dolefully that the hope that technology will lead to ‘the triumph of human capital over financial capital and real estate, capable managers over fat cat stockholders, and skill over nepotism’ is ‘largely illusory.’

No one would deny that there’s considerable work to be done. But let’s move away from blaming technology for inequality and see where the real perpetuating and widening of inequality lies – with political decision-making that protects the interests of a very small elite. Recent scandals such as the Panama Papers show how such elites are able to drain economic sources whilst avoiding contributing to the host countries where they pay staff as little as they can get away with. If that can be stopped, inequality will reduce as a consequence. Technology, meanwhile, rather than being scapegoated, should be embraced.

 

Sources

Kaushik Basu comments: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/is-technology-making-inequality-worse/

Colin Gordon comments: https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/the-computer-did-it-technology-and-inequality

Daron Acemoglu on inequality: https://minneapolisfed.org/publications/the-region/interview-with-daron-acemoglu

Stats on tech and inequality:

MIT Technology review quotes (Brynjolfsson, Steve Jurvetson and Thomas Piketty): https://www.technologyreview.com/s/531726/technology-and-inequality/

Further Brynjolfsson quotes: http://www.businessinsider.com/erik-brynjolfsson-2014-1?IR=T

Further Brynjolfsson: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/515926/how-technology-is-destroying-jobs/

Legatum Prosperity Index: http://www.li.com/programmes/prosperity-index

Fundación Innovación Bankinter  model: https://www.fundacionbankinter.org/ftf_j2016

Andela: https://andela.com/

Andela financing: http://money.cnn.com/2016/06/16/technology/andela-24-million-chan-zuckerberg-foundation/index.html

Dual vocational system in Germany: http://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/en/publications/publication/did/cooperation-in-action-the-dual-vocational-training-system-in-germany/

World Bank and IMF growth figures and Ivan Rossignol material:

https://www.fundacionbankinter.org/documents/20183/85804/Ivan+Rossignol+June+2_Technology+Growth+and+Inequality/8ff7578d-71bd-42bd-b218-2622f90d8aaa

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Technology boot camps – do they work?

The tech sector is one of the fastest-growing industries globally – and with this increasing market comes the need for more jobs. In the US, demand for computer specialists is expected to have increased by over three quarters of a million jobs in the decade up to the end of 2018, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor. ‘New com­puter specialist jobs will rise in almost every industry,’ says David Clinefelter, Chief Academic Officer at the Learning House in The Evolllution, and ‘roughly half will be located in the computer systems de­sign industry, which is expected to employ more than one in four computer specialists in 2018.’

 

But where will all these highly trained computer specialists come from? And in such a fast-changing marketplace, how will computer science graduates stay up to speed for these new roles? A criticism sometimes made of traditional degrees is that students ‘don’t always get the hands-on experience they need to land their first jobs,’ writes Tara García Mathewson in Education Dive. That’s compounded by the fast-changing nature of tech jobs – what worked a year ago doesn’t work now, and what worked five years ago is ancient history. Because of the nature of the role is so quick to change – people always want the latest technology – there’s a perceived skills gap.

 

In response, ‘several coding boot camps have incorporated project experience into their programs,’ says Mathewson. These include Free Code Camp, which places students with not-for-profit organisations that have vacancies for programmers.

 

‘Traditional computer science programs have not been able to keep pace with the demand,’ agrees Clinefelter. ‘The combination of highly motivated students in an immersive environment with veteran practitioners as faculty, coupled with a competency-based curriculum focused on entry-level knowledge, in an industry with a shortage of talent results in an ideal learning environment.’

 

On the way up

Boot camps are a rapidly increasing market. In North America there are more than 300 camps across 51 cities in the US and Canada. According to Course Report, which compares different coding schools for prospective students, the market is expected to have grown by almost 250% in 2015, to an estimated 16,056 graduates – an increase from 6,740 the previous year. All this from a flat base just a few years ago.

 

What happens in these immersive programmes, which can involve studying up to 10 hours a day, or longer? ‘Generally… students spend six to 15 weeks with small groups of peers learning web development skills’ says Michelle R Weise, Executive Director of Sandbox ColLABorative, Southern New Hampshire University, in a separate article in The Evolllution. Costs vary, but will usually be ‘between $10k and $20k.’

 

Impressive figures 

What about job placement rates? The Software Guild claims a 95% placement rate within 90 days of graduation. Most will present job attainment rates from somewhere between 63% and 99%, according to Weise. These are better odds, as she points out, ‘than the 57% placement rate of law-school graduates’ that the American Bar Association quotes. Alice Truong in Fast Company refers to Hack Reactor, which looks for candidates who have some coding experience, boot camps them in San Francisco and then promises a 98% job placement rate within three months of graduating, with an average subsequent salary of $110,000.

 

However, these figures are perhaps not quite as straightforward as they might first appear. Many boot camp graduates will already have completed a first degree, and some will have coding experience already, as the Hack Reactor example makes clear. In these cases it’s not a substitute for university; it’s a top-up experience that talented workers use to hone their skills and knowledge. Fast Company, quoting the founder of Course Report Adam Lovallo, points out that ‘the goal is to find whether these coding programs are just taking in people that are already employed and highly qualified and helping them change careers, or if they are taking in people and producing graduates that really substantially increase their earning potential.’

 

In other words, are the figures indicative of great success by the boot camps, or are they essentially highly-qualified people who would be likely to get jobs anyway? There’s no way of disentangling that from the stats, but it’s worth bearing in mind when reading figures of close to 100% placements.

 

What can’t be denied is that the major players in the tech industry like the look of boot camp grads. Apple, Facebook, Google and Twitter are all known to hire straight out of boot camps. Politically, too, an awareness of their value is rapidly increasing. As Michelle R Weise says, ‘the Obama Administration has been particularly enthusiastic about boot camps. In fact, the federal government seems to be fully aware of the burgeoning of alternative learning pathways that lead to middle- and high-skills jobs in demand today.’ Examples of these programmes include Udacity, which offers ‘nanodegrees’, edX which runs ‘Xseries’, and Coursera’s ‘Specializations’.

 

Such partnership models are likely to increase, as businesses and universities try to close the gaps between what traditional education models offer, and what workplaces actively need.

 

Matching workplace needs with learning outcomes

So could coding boot camps eventually replace traditional computer science degrees? It seems an unlikely question, but one which is being asked in some quarters. At present, boot camps are still seen as a poorer relation to university; but if the key purpose of university is to get a job, and boot camps can provide them, how vital is the traditional schooling model?

 

Online boot camp Bloc, for example, offers a course that can be taken part-time over a period of 72 weeks and includes computer science fundamentals ‘that top engineering companies continue to look for in employees,’ according to Tara García Mathewson. Mathewson quotes Bloc’s CEO Clint Schmidt who ‘says it’s a common refrain from employers — that computer science fundamentals are important and that they teach students how to think about software and how to use it to solve complex problems.’

 

Significantly, Bloc offers a job placement guarantee. ‘Graduates are eligible for a complete reimbursement of the $24,000 tuition if they don’t find a job within four months that offers at least $60,000 per year,’ Mathewson writes. ‘We’re designing this software engineering track to meet the very acute need in the market,’ Schmidt is quoted as saying, ‘but without requiring students to spend four years and a couple hundred thousand dollars in tuition to do it.’

 

Funding issues 

As tuition costs at traditional institutions have risen, prospective students are more aware than ever of the need to ensure their investment in their education pays off at the other end. ‘Coding boot camps are providing a tempting alternative to a two- or four-year program, especially when they offer such job guarantees,’ Mathewson writes. She goes on to mention the Viking Code School and the App Academy, which operate on a ‘free’ model similar to the way student loans work – collecting tuition fees further down the line by taking a proportion of the graduate’s salary once they are in the workforce. Both Bloc and Code Fellows, Mathewson points out, ‘offer a refund to students who don’t find jobs using the skills they acquired through the program.’

 

Then there’s Flatiron, which offers a 12- to 15-week program for $15,000 and places students into jobs ‘99% of the time with median starting salaries of $74k,’ according to Michelle R Weise. ‘Students who may not even have a bachelor’s degree are landing jobs at places like the New York Times, Etsy, Goldman Sachs and Google,’ she adds.

 

Even so, one of the factors slowing down the growth of boot camps as a viable alternative to traditional universities is funding. To date, they have not qualified for federal funding in the US in the way that classical study centres do. This situation, however, is rapidly changing. EQUIP – Educational Quality Through Innovative Partnerships – is an Obama-led initiative designed to help some non-traditional educational providers, such as boot camps, access federal money.

 

‘What this experiment does is waive the rules (for a small number of test sites) where schools are limited from using more than 50% of content or instruction from another entity,’ says Joshua Kim in Inside Higher Ed. The aim is win-win for students, enabling them to use non-traditional learning establishments, helping them get the tailored education they need, and achieving the hands-on skills that employers want – without breaking the bank.

 

A mix of skills

It’s not time to start sounding the death knell for traditional models just yet. The advice to potential students is to choose your course carefully and decide if a boot camp on its own is really going to be enough, or whether your career prospects are best served by a mix of university and boot camp top-up. Certainly, be cautious about online-only courses. A mix of face-to-face learning and online components is the optimum way to get the best education at the best price. And whilst boot camps work well for tech – we are talking specifically about coding – nothing compares with the wider benefits of being in a university scenario; having time to absorb and apply the information you learn, the social benefits of mixing with peers, and the distillation of theoretical knowledge to accompany the practical.

 

As Rob Gonzalez in The Crunch points out, ‘the field is constantly evolving and changing — with more things to learn and discover every year than you could learn in a lifetime.’ Universities might have their work cut out a little more to compete with boot camps, but the wider picture is still of vital importance.

 

Sources

 

http://evolllution.com/revenue-streams/market_opportunities/serious-students-only-coding-bootcamps-success-for-workforce-preparation/

 

http://techcrunch.com/2015/12/19/having-success-with-code-bootcamps-where-to-work-as-a-bootcamp-grad/

 

http://www.educationdive.com/news/can-a-coding-bootcamp-replace-a-four-year-degree/410059/

 

http://www.fastcompany.com/3029844/fast-feed/coding-bootcamps-expected-to-reap-59-million-in-tuition-in-2014

 

http://evolllution.com/revenue-streams/market_opportunities/joining-forces-with-the-disruptors-snhus-partnership-with-flatiron-school/

 

http://kernelmag.dailydot.com/issue-sections/staff-editorials/10005/your-kid-needs-to-learn-to-code/

 

https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology-and-learning/4%C2%A0reasons%C2%A0why%C2%A0equip%C2%A0is%C2%A0a%C2%A0big%C2%A0deal

 

http://www.fastcompany.com/3023456/become-an-ios-developer-in-8-weeks-the-truth-about-hack-schools

 

http://blog.ed.gov/2015/10/educational-quality-through-innovative-partnerships-equip-expanding-access-to-high-quality-innovative-postsecondary-education/

Why we need a new education model

Higher education is in crisis. Companies aren’t getting the employees they expect, and are discovering that graduates aren’t fully prepared for roles once they are in place. At the same time, students have different expectations of what they want from their learning providers. Generation Z are no longer passive learners. A combination of seeing themselves as customers, alongside an expectation of personalisation and instant feedback from their experiences as digital natives, creates a very different landscape for education providers.

 

Compounding this is a crisis in funding. Student fees are multiplying, and for many higher education students, fees are reaching a tipping point – the debt can become higher than their projected income expectations, making them question going to university at all. Those from less well-off households are hit particularly hard as a result. The global recession has fractured higher education, as described by David E. Shi, a former president of Furman University in South Carolina. This has led a situation ‘fragmented between haves and have-nots,’ he says in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

 

This perfect storm of company discontent, student expectations and financial considerations makes it pressing that traditional models evolve. The rise of MOOCs, boot camps and distance learning is quietly, but pervasively, pressing on the prestige and ubiquity of traditional universities. Things are changing, and with employers less focused on traditional degrees and more interested in what potential employees can bring to the business, this shift away from traditional pedagogical approaches is only going to continue.

 

A powerful way forward is to offer hybrid models – revolutionising the classroom-only model and augmenting it with online modules, in-work internships and guest lecturing from business leaders, directors and managers, as well as academics. A hybrid model can be visualised in the following way – a rich balance of the best of classical models, but incorporating disruptive innovation and advances in technology too.

 

Hybrid models can offer advantages for students over traditional universities in five key ways, as this article will explore.

 

Bridging the gaps

First is the ability to better match graduates with employers. Hybrids have the potential to be the bridge between the academic and the corporate worlds. By having options that include – for example – formal working relationships with corporate affiliates, in-work placements and a focus on guest lectures from business leaders, directors and managers, hybrid models give the graduate a better understanding of the workplace and can identify where they need to fill gaps in experience, in addition to their academic training.

 

Paul LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University, says that ‘what we’ve been historically good at for a very long time is telling the world exactly how long someone has sat at a desk. But we’ve been much less precise in saying what people have actually learned.’ LeBlanc asserts that in the past, a college degree was ‘a proxy for certain things: the ability to think critically, the ability to write well, the ability to present well.’ Today, however, LeBlanc argues that ‘when I meet with employers, I will sometimes ask them, “Have you hired someone with a college degree who doesn’t write well? Have you hired somebody with a college degree that you wouldn’t put in front of a group of customers to make a presentation, who can’t understand a balance sheet?” And it’s like touching a nerve.’

 

Ryan Craig, Managing Director at University Ventures and a former McKinsey consultant, takes up this point. ‘The national skills gap is well documented in the mainstream media and a top priority for policymakers and CEOs alike.’ And yet, ‘our system of higher education produces only one STEM graduate for every 2.5 job openings.’ The numbers are even worse for women, ‘who earn just 18% of computer science degrees.’ And although there are in excess of five million STEM job postings annually, ‘fewer engineering degrees are awarded today than in the early 1980s.’

 

For Craig, too many students graduate without the right skills to match what employers want. His argument is that ‘talented students from many institutions need to be trained for and matched to many employers.’ This is a role that coding bootcamps and staffing companies like eIntern can fulfil. They will ‘come to campus and provide a clear pathway to a career’ and will also ‘provide valuable no-risk training to specifically prepare students for the high-risk problems employers are trying to solve.’

 

There will always be a time-lag between what can be taught on courses, and what companies need and want their new employees to be able to do – especially in, but not limited to, the tech field. Teachers can only teach what they know, and syllabuses have to be agreed and approved well in advance of students being taught. Yet this only proves the need for some kind of shift in education, towards courses that are more closely aligned with, and actively influenced by, real-time organisations. In response, Southern New Hampshire has developed ‘College for America’ to address some of these gaps between what universities are offering and what businesses want to see. That’s why I think it has had such a great response from large-scale employers,’ Paul LeBlanc says. Namechecking other early starters in this area – Excelsior College, Western Governors University, Charter Oak State College in Connecticut for example –he argues that College for America is ‘the first that has been fully untethered from the traditional course.’

 

Matching capabilities to work

The second element is that hybrid programmes lend themselves better to a competency-based approach. In Education Dive Keith Button writes, ‘advocates say competency-based education puts the focus on students’ capabilities rather than how many hours per week they spend in the classroom.’ In the US, at least 200 institutions have competency-based education programmes – and yet ‘the U.S. Department of Education has been slow to process the applications of colleges and universities seeking approval to receive federal financial aid’ for these programmes. This is an issue that is being addressed, but by no means resolved – perhaps because of the prestige factor associated with traditional university models. Button continues, ‘the benefit for employers,’ [advocates] say, ‘is that prospective employees can be judged more easily, based on their demonstrated competencies rather than guessing how their grades will translate to real-world work.’ LeBlanc adds, ‘You’re going to see more competency-based programs coming and I think they’re game changers.’

 

It is true to say that employers are changing their approach to what they expect from their graduates, and it’s even possible to question whether traditional university models are still fit for purpose. Witness Penguin Books, the global publishing empire run by Pearson, which recently announced it was lifting its requirement for employees to have a traditional degree. A self-aware and ambitious student can recognise that the tide is changing in the corporate world, and increasingly choose the university course that best suits them; rather than feeling that the name of the university is the most important thing.

 

Rethinking the campus

Third is customisation. Students get a more personalised experience, and this has notable positive effects on achievement. The ‘hands-on’ element of hybrid models is analogous to an apprenticeship model – internships or similar work experience inside real-life organisations give students a much better grasp of what employers expect. ‘Many of today’s rewarding and well-paying jobs do not require a university degree, but do require some form of post-secondary training,’ says Nicholas Wyman, CEO of the Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation. Arguing that ‘vocational education is smarter than you think,’ Wyman says that ‘the focus on college preparation often fails to make one important connection: the connection between school to the world of work.’ Wyman here is talking about work that does not require an academic qualification, yet benefits from in-work experience and along the way gives workers the social skills they need to thrive in a work environment. But the principle can be applied squarely to hybrid models at universities. If we want our students to succeed in the workplace, they need to know how that workplace operates – it is not simply a case of transferring academic knowledge, but adapting it.

 

The fourth key advantage is an enhanced experience. Hybrid models can stimulate students’ learning by being modular: one-on-one sessions one day, maths on another, visiting lectures on a third. The approach might be a linear stream, rather than a series of courses. Or consider TEx, an initiative by Texas University. The ‘Total Education Experience’ enables students to learn ‘through simulations, team-based projects and clinical experiences.’ Ensuring that the content can be delivered by mobile phone – ‘to meet students where they are, with the technology that they are used to,’ according to Marni Baker Stein, chief innovation officer of the Institute of Transformational Learning, ‘a student’s path through a course is automatically personalized to his or her needs and learning style.’

 

TEx is the kind of innovation that makes the delivery of hybrid models a reality. ‘Beyond fully online courses, TEx is designed to support a wide range of innovative teaching methods in classrooms, laboratories and in the field that ultimately will provide richer and more accessible content for students while preserving the quality of a UT degree.’ In other words, personalisation enabled by technology – a compelling proposition for today’s graduates.

 

Thinking too far outside the box?

It’s not too much of a leap from seeing the benefits of hybrid models to ask – do we need universities at all? Campus models are based on the principle of scarcity, as Peter Smith explores in his book Harnessing America’s Wasted Talent: A New Ecology of Learning. In an age where reams of information are available at our fingertips online – ‘abundant information,’ as Smith defines it – is there a need for students to attend classes at all? ‘Abundant information – in its many, divergent forms and uses,’ Smith writes recently in Educause Review, creates ‘a new ecology’ that consists of ‘three big changes, unleashed by technology and the global economy, which affect education. They eliminate scarcity as we have experienced it.’ Two of those changes are ‘unlimited content and unlimited access.’

 

The rise of MOOCs bears witness to this shift in thinking. Many – but by no means all – of the courses described as competency-based are purely online offerings. But here it’s time to sound some warning notes. Yes, MOOCs can offer outstanding learning opportunities for those unable to attend university courses – whether for reasons of finance, location, disability, family circumstance or other reasons. But the evidence consistently indicates that without an element of classroom-based learning, students will not reach their full potential. We could make a similar point about coding bootcamps. They work best as a top-up; not a replacement.

 

Perhaps the most obvious argument against Smith’s ‘abundant information’ model is that someone needs to curate that information, make sense of it and teach it – in ways that are absolutely no more or less central to student success than they were before the internet developed. Yes, students can access huge amounts of information and universities no longer have the monopoly on scarcity. In fact, there’s no such thing as scarcity any more. The problem now is that there is too much information, and the academic institution’s role is that of shaper and guider.

 

Institutions that can offer a mixed portfolio of lecture, seminar, online add-ons and in-work placements are best placed to meet the needs of both students and companies – needs which fluctuate depending on the individual student and individual organisation. For tech companies in particular, there is the added complication that there will inevitably be a time-lag between what is taught on a university course, and what businesses need their graduates to know when they start work – simply because of how quickly technology changes.

 

Make sure the student gets the job

The answer to the deliberately provocative question ‘do we still need universities’ is to challenge the disconnect between the university experience and the job offer at the end of the process. Ryan Craig quotes Mike Fishbein, a marketing guru who has discussed what such ‘full-stack’ education companies might look like. ‘Fishbein’s view is that the goal for the end-user is not a quality educational experience, but rather a job: “Jobs are the top of the education stack.” According to Fishbein, “a full-stack education company might not look like a school at all. It could look like an employer, a lender, a school, and/or a recruiter all rolled into one” – because the point is to provide all services required to get the student a (better) job.’

 

In other words, for Craig, ‘if you’re going to go to the trouble of creating a product to improve higher education, and if you’re going to devote your life to a company to advance that product, you might as well make sure the student gets a job at the end of the day.’ Otherwise, the experience of university is all the student is finally being rewarded with – and in an age of increasing fees and commoditisation, that’s where many universities are, it could be argued, heading in the wrong direction, exposing themselves to attack from vocational courses and MOOCs as a result.

 

For Craig, writing in a separate article in Forbes, the key is to link performance to the job offer. ‘Expect to see some colleges offer a performance-based value proposition: pay tuition only once you achieve the desired outcome. For most students, that means a job – either a new job or a promotion, but definitely higher remuneration than the status quo.’ This kind of performance-based college will be, for Craig, ‘a full-stack higher education enterprise, in that it will take a strong interest in what you study, and in making sure you get the job.’

 

On the money

There’s one more key benefit that hybrid models bring. As fees rise, higher education ‘is increasingly being commodified, and its access restricted’ writes Ethan Miller in the Huffington Post. Many students begin to feel priced out of the market, and higher fees can in some cases prevent highly able and gifted students from participating in the higher education that they deserve. Miller quotes stark figures – ‘in the last ten years, tuition and fees increased 66 percent beyond inflation at public four-year institutions and 26 percent beyond inflation at private not-for-profit institutions’ (figures based on US institutions). ‘Nationwide, total student debt has surpassed one trillion dollars and the average student with debt owes about $26,600.’

 

Hybrid models can disrupt these ballooning figures, as they can be more economically viable by running on a lower cost base than traditional, exclusively campus models. The model at College for America envisages education as an ‘on-ramp’ – ‘to more stable work, an on-ramp to further study.’ Identifying that one of the key barriers for their target audience is cost, LeBlanc aims to make it ‘ultra-affordable, which is why our program is out in the market at $2,500 a year.’ College for America focuses on working adults, who according to LeBlanc are ‘the majority of today’s college students’ but who are ‘often least well-served by the traditional higher ed industry.’

 

Students have changing expectations from their learning providers – and businesses want changes too. Traditional universities need to wake up to this change – and there are key opportunities for hybrid models to steal a march in the new competitive age by giving learners, and organisations, offerings that are more attuned to their needs.

 

Hybrid models – the key benefits

 

  • Better match graduates with employers
  • Competency-based approach
  • Customisation
  • Enhanced experience
  • Ensure there is a job at the end of the process
  • Economically viable

 

Sources

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jan/18/penguin-ditches-the-need-for-job-seekers-to-have-university-degrees

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ryancraig/2015/04/03/a-new-generation-of-engineering-schools/#484764ed2923

http://evolllution.com/opinions/how-we-got-here-is-not-what-will-get-us-there/http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304561004579135253438812772

http://evolllution.com/opinions/meeting-students-are-critical-success-developmental-hybrid-programming/

http://chronicle.com/article/A-Crisis-of-Confidence/127530/https://www.technologyreview.com/s/429376/the-crisis-in-higher-education/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ethan-miller/the-crisis-in-higher-educ_b_2727653.html

http://www.utsystem.edu/news/2014/11/03/university-texas-system-makes-bold-move-competency-based-education

http://er.educause.edu/articles/2014/11/the-coming-era-of-personalized-learning-paths

http://www.educationdive.com/news/7-competency-based-higher-ed-programs-to-keep-an-eye-on/328382/

http://www.educationdive.com/news/will-the-internet-remove-traditional-higher-eds-prestige-factor/413466/

http://chronicle.com/article/MIT-Dean-Takes-Leave-to-Start/235121

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/vocational-education-smarter-than-you-think-nicholas-wyman

http://evolllution.com/opinions/audio-revolutionizing-competency-based-education/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ryancraig/2016/01/07/revolution-on-campus-no-risk-pathways-to-high-value-careers/2/#255e91e220e9

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ryancraig/2015/06/10/performance-based-college/#311aa816567a

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ryancraig/2015/05/26/the-full-stack-higher-education-company/#5c6af7be459d