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It's good to be king... further reading

2 min read

In pulling together my "It's good to be king..." post there were a number of things that were included in earlier drafts that didn't make the final cut... and other things people have shared with me would have fit equally well.

Here's a selection from both stacks. [trigger warning: awful things]

Moldbug proposed a paper for a Functional Programming developer conference - the internet was not happy. Here's his response. (I leave it to those inclined and skilled to write the "functional programming==neo-reactionary politics in code form" post)

A Reddit AMA focused on Urbit

Scott Alexander's Anti-reactionary FAQ

Nick Land on tech secessionism (video)

That whole Justine Tunney thing, where she proposed that Google took over the US Government

Bloody Shovel on mob raising and Russian fascism

Just why are the alt-right reading collapsarian/dark mountain style blogs?

Meanwhile, in Poland...

David Golumbia on the Politics of Bitcoin (& expanded notes)

Intellectuals in Crisis - Historians under Hitler (I guess 2016 is the year we repeal Godwin's Law)

Jurgen Habermas on pulling the ground from under right-wing populism 

An LA Times guide to the wider terminology of the alt-right. It is not a co-incidence that so much of this language comes from the PUA/Men's Rights world.

The theory of Anacyclosis

On the recorded political beliefs of academics, disciplinary norms, likely reasons and the likely effect on students and educational policies.

And now for something completely different:


(and, for the completist, this is where the post title comes from)



#opened16 - TJ Bliss notes

4 min read

TJ had a hell of a job following Sara - and he was stimied by technology woes almost constantly throughout For those who don't know TJ he is a progamme officer at the Hewlett Foundation, and has worked on OER and open education grants since 2012. TJ's first name is actually the letter "T" and his middle name is actually the letter "J". 

William Hewlett said "Never Stifle a Generous Impulse".

TJ does his job because other people have achieved results - people (in this room and in the wider community) have done the work. TJ gets to know what people are doing, and can link people together. This is one of the main things a funder can bring to a field - he can help frame issues around the wider movement.

What we are doing is important - but it is not the whole thing. There are drops in the ocean we can give to support partial solutions to much wider problems. What we are working on in Open Education is solvable. This is something we can do to support some of the issues that the students Sara talked about are facing.

People are joining and contributing to the community all the time, which makes it both welcoming and healthy.

The four (or maybe seven) "I"s of OER.

1. Ideology - at the core is the the concept of sharing within education, and sharing as a foundation of education. We often talk about content, about the sharing that happens in and around the classroom. The ideology of the global commons describes a worldwide space where we can share. OER is a part of a broader open movement, which is perhaps best described by Wiley's 5Rs.

2. Individuals - these are people who are taking on these ideologies, and committing large parts of their lives to the movement. Sometimes we call them "champions" or "heroes".

3. Institutions - institutions matter. Hewlett was set up as an institution deliberately. Institutions are where people are - and (ideally) keep people safe. Educational institutions matter - at all levels. Funders (and there are more funders getting involved with OER the whole time, including governments) matter. International organisations like CoL and UNESCO matter. All of these organisations support and drive the movement.

4. Infrastructure - what we need is not well understood. We don't what trees are missing in the forest, or even what the forest needs to look like. Strong early work on the legal infrastructure has supported global change in a wide variety of fields - technical and policy infrastructure are the next steps. Research, and researchers, are an essential part of the infrastructure - we need good critical research to hold ourselves accountable. We need to be "open for criticism".

5. Idiosyncraticism - OER is idiosyncratic... it is becoming less so as we learn what works and our designed interventions become more predictable. But the strength is with the choices and decisions of individuals and the ability to experiment and challenge.

6. Institutionalisation - as we move away from the "wildness" of early experimentation, it becomes systematised. Direct one-for-one OER textbook substitution is an important driver, but resources do often need to look like the resources that are already used. Open Textbooks have driven adoption, but as faculty begin to understand the opportunities of OER more kinds of resources are widely used and repurposed. Policy has become national (eg Poland has adopted OER across K12.

7. Individualisation - we are beginning to become able to support faculty in personalising materials like textbooks in ways that have never been possible before.This is what drives a range of innovative pedagogy that can meet needs around the world. This is the tradition of "open pedagogy" and "open educational practice" that has always underpinned this community. This will become mainstream, and this realised the full value of OER.

Imagine an education system where the goal was not simply education, it was to solve the world problems. Imagine a system where learners at all levels were empowered to make meaningful, real world, contributions to solving these problems. Where this could be a truly global endeavour.

Predicting the future is fun, and hard. We don't know which way OER will go, or how much it would matter in 20 years. (the site).

OER is in the great glass elevator. Dare we go "up, and out"?


#opened16 - Sara Goldrick-Rab notes

6 min read

Sara's title: Paying the price: college costs, financial aid and the betrayal of the american dream. Her slides are on Prezi.

Sara noted that everything she did was grounded in student needs - her book is about college from the student perspective. 

Chloe Johnson was an 18 year old at community college. She saw college as "what you do" - you can't get a decent job if you can't. College is normalised, just the next step.

Nima (at the same college) wanted to earn more to help her family - seeing it as a repayment of their support. Family is a big part of what drives young people to higher education. Many students see their study as being about the family they grew up in.

74% of 9th graders from low-income families expect to attend college. An expectation - not an aspiration. And even though we know many will not graduate high-school. But only one in two of this group of students will ever make it to college. Of those who do go only 2 in 5 will get a degree of any kind within 6 years.

Yet we spend about $200 billion/year on financial aid - an intervention that is supposed to ensure that prices are not a block. But many issues are not financial, they are problems in comprehending and understanding the system.

Financial aid is not money. It is a policy that is designed to deliver money.

Sara's study of 3,000 college students in recipient of the Pell grant was designed to find out how and why financial aid is not working. This was qualitative research - aiming to understand a wider part of student lives than just the college experience. This was primary data - linked directly to lived experience.

1,000 of the 3,000 students agreed to speak - but the project could only handle 50. These 50 were interviewed regularly over 6 years - no matter what happened in their lives. The interviews were largely unstructured ("how's it going?" with follow-ups based on expressed student affect.

There is an unconsidered assumption that Pell recipients are "OK". But Pell does not cover the cost of college. More people now need the Pell grant, and more people are entitled to it. The costs rose during the recession as more people became eligible - this was linked to wider conversations around how hard students were working (how much benefit the state got from these payments in terms of learning gain).

The value of the Pell grant has dramatically declined - only a third of the full cost of college is covered. Students do not know about this decline in advance.

Chloe's mum makes $25k a year - her "expected family contribution" was $2.5k. But her mum could not pay this. Chloe sold her horse to cover this gap.

Her college charged $15k a year (including $3k in tuition). Grant support only offered her just under $3k. The funds were oversubscribed, she got a partial grant. She had to come up with the remainder herself.

This is not unusual. These *actual* costs are very similar to the national average.

Many students contribute to their family - this contribution is lost when students go to college (so students still try to support families whilst at college - this is ignored in support calculations.)

Living costs are also underestimated. Only 13% of us students live on college - costs for those students renting outside college are basically made up. For example a college in New York decided that living costs have gone down since 2012 (in actuality rent has risen by three times inflation in this area).

Books are a sizable fraction of total costs - the estimate is very often inaccurate (as with most of these estimates... housing, food, travel....)

Prices increase over time (from year to year) - institutional grants are removed after year 1 - students are not aware that they need to refile FAFSA applications. Students face issues in meeting academic requirements - these vary from school to school.

No Pell student should need to take a loan, but 77% of university students do (25% of community college students. Nearly three quarters of all students work during college - this is not an effective strategy as work does not pay and makes it very difficult to attend classes. To even get 20hrs of work, students may hold three jobs.

Work-study is not accurately allocated based on need.

Two-thirds of students that are not working are looking for work. It can be inferred that students want to work, but cannot.

Nearly a quarter of students were food-insecure. Many interviewees had not eaten for a number of days.

16% of students have trouble paying rent on time. In some studies 13% of students are homeless.

The erosion of a social safety net has led to more students supporting families - students use loans they are eligible for to support families (this was 33% in the first year of the study and rose over time).

Of the 3,000 students in the study 50% did not complete degrees (42% at community college). More than 2 in 5 have no degree, just debt. 66% borrowed for the first year of college but never got a credential.

Chloe worked two jobs to cover her college price. Her grades sank (as she was forced to take enough classes to finish in four years). She applied for a loan, but it came too late. At that point her grades had dropped such that she was placed on academic probation. She didn't know what this meant and assumed that she had been dismissed. She is now in the Navy, and hopes one day to return to study.

Even where some students were offered more money this had little effect - financial aid does a bad job of delivering money to students. Rules, requirements, exclusions and surprises abound (for example when parents get a job after a long period of employment, aid drops)- and it is just plain slow.

College readiness must be matched with reasonable college prices. Today education is too risky - and puts families off education over multiple generations.

What we need to do is address non-tuition costs, making estimates accurate, driving down book and food costs (some colleges feed all students). We should fix the work-study programme, and raise the minimum wage... and talk to local employers about the benefits of having their employees finish collge.

And we need a more inclusive, less judgemental system than Pell. Like all programmes for the poor in this country it is under resourced. Making more people beneficiaries would help do this. Undocumented students are one in four of recipients.

Sara has been calling for "the first degree for free" - a fully funded associate degree. The needs of students should be central to the way colleges work. Diverse schools delivering high quality tuition should be free .

Sara created the FAST FUND to support students immediately via an emergency aid programme, delivered via faculty. Proceeds from her book "Paying the Price" support this. This is not the solution, but this is something we can do now - and we can show that it can be done.


#opened16 - Gardner Campbell keynote notes

5 min read

Gardner kicked off with an impressionistic and immersive video journey - covering aspects of counterculture, rebellion and learning. I can't really do it justice in words, but it drew particularly on the career of (Nobel Laureate) Bob Dylan. You can see it here.

And that @actualham actually periscoped the entire presentation.

Robert Wagner Dodge was a member of a team of smoke jumpers who dropped into forests to fight wildfires. A change in the wind direction claimed the lived of 12 out of 15 men. But a creative idea saved his life. He threw a match out ahead of him to start another fire - he could then lie in the ashes of this fire and survive as the main fire blew over.

A 2008 New Yorker magazine article ("The Eureka Hunt", Jonah Lehrer) described this as an example of "insight learning". Insight is a Scandinavian word (according to google) in increasing usage over the past 200 years. The use of, and perhaps need for insight, has grown. Common definitions draw on the ideas and language of higher education - but synonyms are on the banned list for learning outcomes. It can be a capacity to gain an intutitive understanding, the understanding itself and in psychiatry an understanding of the causes of ones own disorder. 

Insight-oriented therapy depends on conversation between the therapist and the client (but will it scale?). Monied interests in mental health focus on the use of medicines support scale - but this may be less sustainable.

Describing the insight experience, Lehrer ennumerates the following stages:

  • concentrate
  • search
  • mental block/impasse
  • walk away/distraction/relax
  • then the problem has been solved. (a "sudden sense that the solution occured already")
  • feeling of certainty

But what happens between the distraction and the solution? Neuro-resonance imaging shows the activity of the anterior superior temporal gyrus (aSTG) - this is a part of the right hemisphere, where neurons are "less precise, but better connected". This is followed by a gamma wave spike (Kandel, "The Age of Insight", 2012). Gamma waves are thought to result from the binding of neurons, as cells draw themselves into a new network. This peak happens 300ms before a test subject offers an answer to a puzzle requiring insight. An insight is therefore thought (Earl Miller) to permantly alter the structure of the brain.

Science and myths both describe this process. Linda Rondstat described the process of recording with Brian Wilson - focusing on the way in which he worked out harmony vocals... he would go to the piano and play something entirely unconnected (another key, in a different genre) and then immediately solve the problem. Gardner gave other examples of using alternate gamelike processes to generate insight in the self and in others. But you *have* to wait.

Bruner ("some elements of discovery" in Towards a Theory of Instruction, 1971) suggested that a failure to wait would result in obedience rather than reflection - shallow learning rather than deep. And this "deadening" is made more likely by the pressures of a curriculum or timetable, (Garder gave the example of the use of the "Eureka Hunt" article in a blogging assignment (which used Sample and Long's "Blog Scoring Rubric). The goals that lie behind these exercises are not "bad" goals, but when students write to a rubric the result is not pretty (thrown into sharp, ironic, relief by the subject matter).

[*breaks fourth wall* here I'm also aware of the irony of my notetaking]

These summaries and responses could well be written by an algorithm.

Lehrer notes that trying to force an insight can actually prevent the insight. A clenched state of mind inihibits the outpouring of creativity... there are flashcards available for the eureka hunt, with a robot voice. There is also a request for a step-by-step guide to a response (on "Course Hero", a paper mill site).

The four deadly mantras of student success: 

  • "students don't do optional"
  • "define more pathways"
  • "we need to graduate more students" [memo to higher ed: we don't graduate students, students graduate themselves]
  • "students are our product"

Pushback against this is around insight orientated education being only for talented learners.

But neuroscientist Eric Campbell suggests: "The Aha! moment is well within the competence of the average person". Can we afford not to give all students this opportunity?

Blogging is an example of an "insight generator" - the freedom of analysis and response without a rubric can be scary. 

A student in Gardner's "Milton" course looked at the idea of blindness via a youtube video made by a man who was born blind. Sharing this with the class allowed him to surprise, and to contribute to the development of their own learning. Other examples of students own work also demonstrate this insight - "my favourite thing about blogging for your classes was being encouraged to take and active role in my own education". 

Gardner is running an "Open Education" course for AAC&Us faculty in January. [Gardner's blog]



Here's why I want an edtech discipline (or something very like one):

- I want new edtech claims to be examined and critiqued on the basis of old edtech research.
- I want more people to know about old edtech research.
- I want the possibility of genuinely curiosity driven research - evaluations of funded interventions are great but we're never far from the accusation that the primary purpose is to gain more funding.
- I want people trying to do something with technology and education to have some kind of theoretical basis for what they are trying to do.
- I want academic conferences that are not primarily about advocacy
- I want something other than press releases to be the dominant means by which edtech decisions are made.
- I want a critique of the structures of power that shape decision making in edtech to become more visible to decision makers (there's a tie in to a parallel need for support for "higher education policy studies")
- I want the people who do this stuff well to have a chance of making a living doing it. (And I want them to publish in places than we all can read.)

(probably not linked: I forgot I made this ages ago which seems apposite )


Blockchain - in "up goer five" style

3 min read

(I made this with the "Simple Writer" that a man called Randall Munro made. I sometimes have to tell people about blockchain, so I thought I would try to do it so lots of people could know about it even if they don't like hard words)

New money things are built of lots of hidden information. Hiding this information means you have to make special new money and give it to people who hide information for you in a special game. The one who guesses right in the "hiding the information" game gets the money. Lots of people want to play the game, so it gets hard. Playing the "Hide the information" game means you use a lot of power and need to have special computers.

Mostly the information that is hidden is about spending money. Some people want to use the "hide the information" game to hide other kind of information, like how you did at school. But sometimes they forget how much power you need to play the game.

Once some people used the "hide the information" game to hide the idea for another game. But the idea was wrong and they couldn't change it (because once you hide information in the game, you are not allowed to change it). So people lost their money, and they were so sad that they broke that "hide the information" game to get it back. Now there are two games, and the people are cross with each other.

The money that the main "hide the information" game makes is not like normal money. With normal money there can always be more, but with the money from the game once all the money is made there can be no more. When that happens they will have to pay people to play the game, which will make the game different. If the information you want to hide as part of the game is to do with not much money, the players might not want to put it in the game, as they won't make enough money to pay for their special computers and their power.

Sometimes the new money made in the game means the same as a lot of normal money, and sometimes it is only the same as a little bit. This can make using the new money very hard, but as people get to know about the new money it might get easier. Some of the people who thought up the game wanted to make things so people who run countries couldn't be the same people who ran money. If everyone used the new money this would make it hard to run countries.

So the special money and the "hide the information" game are interesting and fun to look at and think about, but it can be quite hard to think of new ways to use the game that are good. But lots of people still try, because people are very interested in the game.


The Battle of the Somme

2 min read

This is a clip from a 1978 BBC film of Ashley Hutchings' play "Lark Rise To Candleford" (adapted from the Flora Thompson book), within the context of part of a 1979 documentary about the work of Hutchings and The Albion Band.

Hutchings: "The First World War was really the end of the innocence, the end of the old world. Nothing was ever the same after [...]. And after the roll call of the fallen in the First World War, we come crashing in with a tune called "The Battle of the Somme" which is from that period.  We come in with our electric instruments and our drums and we are the modern world. We are accessories to the death of the countryside, the old culture." 


The tune was written by Pipe Major William Laurie of the 8th Battalion, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, in the immediate aftermath of the battle. He was invalidated home and died of his wounds shortly afterwards. "The Battle of the Somme", a haunting 9/8 retreat march sometimes played as a "slip jig", became one of the most popular tunes to emerge from the First World War.


Notes from #OR2016 opening keynote - Laura Czerniewicz

7 min read

(Slides are available - note that these are hugely detailed and referenced, and you should take time to read through them. I should note that Laura was clear that her usage of terms like the "global south" as shorthand - which I have repeated in these notes - hid a great deal of sub-national inequality and were themseleves problematic)

Knowledge productuion and dissemeination has always been fraught with inequality. The global south is poorly represented, for instance, in Web of Science. Most citations are of academics residing in US and EU cites.

The global south is imaginary - Laura introduced the Brandt line as a way of visualising it, but inequality does not produce a simple dichotomy. Inequalities happen within spaces (this was illustrated by a view of two areas of Cape Town).

But what causes inequalities in knowledge production? Funding (as a % of GDP devoted to R&D) is very variable - but again is hugely concentrated in the global north, and China. But it is not just the money, we need also to look at legitamacy, reward systems and gatekeeping. The measurment of national representation in WoS itself has a bias against reports, consultancy and presentation.

Typologies and genres of research have different values in different systems - for example consultancy research is disparaged in Africa but is often the only available source of funding. In SA funding is linked to publication in (TR ISI) journals. Many institutions give money directly to authors - Cape Town does not.

Citations are a measure of credibility, but have uneven geographies - there is a huge bias toward the global north. Altmetrics are being taken up very slowly.

There are huge issues with access to research in the developing world - with many academics reporting huge difficulties in getting to the research they need.

The #1 producer of publications (linked to GDP) in Africa is Zimbabwe - combines a low GDP with a great scolarly tradition.

Only 1% of total journal articles are published by academics are based in South Saharan Africa.

Empirical sciences academics are having to research the global north in order to get published, whereas in the north academics are able to publish about the south. In a study of two "african studies" journals, the percentage of african-based authors has decreased.

Journal boards are primarily from highly developed countries. Journals are aware of this imbalance - international is a shorthand for the global north.

All this means that local knowledge may not be available to others in similar conditions, and is a necessary contribution to global knowledge. The choice for African scholars is often between recognition and relevence.

The opportunities of a networked world drawing on the changes that the internet has made to networks has led to the Budapest Declaration on OA.

The research cycle has changed at every point - from conceptualisation to publication to citation to measures of impact. And it continues to changes, offering genuine opportunities to collapse distance, enable global collaboration. But digital merely affords open, it does not equal open. Digital rights and licensing, digitally mediated closed networks, all offer new layers of complexity. 

There is a danger that the information revolution could exacerbate socio-spaital disintegration. It cannot be assumed, for example, that elecricity, computers and bandwidth are available everywhere at all times.

The rise of mobile connectivity - with a massive increase in the use of smart phones - is an important counter-trend. But though devices are getting cheaper, the cost of data in developing countries is the real barrier.

Discoverability is a new currency - if it can't be found it doesn't exist. Visibility (thus connectivity, infrastructure) is a requirement for participation. Internet based rankings and metrics affect the way we participate in physical space.

Search engines are the primary way that content is found at all levels - which changes the notion of what a search engine does. As a surrogate expert, a co-producer of knowledge - the "invisiblity of search engines" hides the biases and assumptions built into obfuscated algorithms. The "collective intelligence of the web" sounds like a closed cycle - the popular becomes more popular.

Personalisation, at an invdividual level via previous searches and profiling, keeps the seeker after knowledge trapped in their own cultural assumptions. The rise of filter-bubbles makes wider knowledge less discoverable. And the search engine market is dominated by google, as is the browser market.

Open Access policies are growing - but these may also have global unintened consequences. OA is slanted towards the north, and may make it even more difficult to discover knowledge from research conducted in the global south.

Looking at global poverty - a Cape Town University investigation started from the idea that poverty is taken seriously and research on it would be clearly available. Looking at academic and non-academic experiences around nearly every part of the world making two google searches and two google scholar searches for "poverty alleviation", no results came from SA in google, one in scholar. The number one ranked result was wikipedia, of interest because some access to wikipedia is free and papers cited in wikipedia tend to have more policy elsewhere.

Adding South Africa to the terms, an article in Forestry Policy and Economics in a very expensive journal appears - but the link that google finds is in an institutional responses. Google scholar finds more articles in repositories, and in green OA journals, than from other sources.

Turning to climate change (which is, of course unequal in cause), the team conducted similar research in what was percieved to be a newer and more open field. The US is dominant, with China at number two, and the global north better represented.

On google scholar, no results were found from South Africa, Africa or any other developing countries for a search on "climate change" - authors were largely from US and UK. The top ranked paper appeared in five web locations, three being repositories. Largely technical reports were returned, and only two different journals - this may be because technical reports are a more accepted form of scholarship in the field.

adding South Africa to the search terms, the top ranked article was in Nature, but using inverted commas returned the South African Journal of Science. 

Editorial oversight in the field is again concentrated in the UK, US and China - even for research specifically considering South Africa. This finding suggest that the "gatekeepers" have a particular cultural background with implications for the field.

Academics tend to store their identities with dedicated services rather than own their own infrastructure - reporting that online presence takes time, money and expertise. Choices were shaped by resource constraints and perceptions of value of certain activity.

In closing Laura noted that online practice adds major complexities to global inequalities of power and resources, but OA is only meaningful only if everyone has the ability to participate. She compared the earlier science examples with the much more evenly distributed open source community.

(Questions focused on the need for collaboration, and a need to investigate new technological and business models that work for everyone. There was an interesting point made about the complicity of search engine providers in algorithmic bias - search engines are being taken on but this may need more co-ordinated effort.)


Notes from #ARMA2016 Plenary Session 2: Dame Julia Goodfellow

8 min read

Alicen Nickson, Deputy Director, Research Support & Development, Brunel University discussed the joint work Brunel and Research Media are doing to encourage interdisciplinary research. Research Media provide communications and reporting support, including the Brunel Annual Report.

Dame Julia Goodfellow (University of Kent) started by noting that the rate of change in HE policy has led to institutions becoming reactive rather than proactive. Citing RB Haldene as a lasting influence in research funding (100 years ago), Britain does incredibly well in terms of outstanding quality accross a broad range. We are already ranked second in the world in Innovation by the OECD, much of this comes from our university base.

So there is a political consensus on the value of research and innovation - every HE minster has said similar things about the strength of UK research and the economic (and cultural)benefit it brings. There is a recognition of the importance of interdisciplinary research.

This consensus is visible in government planning - for example the 2014 Plan For Growth set 8 grand challenges and signalled significant investment in research.

George Osborne said in May 2015 that universities are the "jewels in the crown of the british economy". But clearly a lot has happened since - the election of a radical conservative government suffused in marked values. Jo Johnson wrote the Conservative Manifesto 2015 and is personally committed to many of the HE priorities there in. He immediately began to cut (£150m from HEFCE), and focus on teaching policy.

BIS, as a non-proctected department had a significant cut - but this could have been much bigger (with significant impact on research) without the change from student maintenence grants to loans.  The creation of OfS seperated research from teaching at a policy level.

Science was protected in real terms for research in the Autumn Statement - an amazing achievement - with £1.5bn transfered from BIS for the the Global Challenge areas. This was welcomed by Sir Paul Nurse, who also laid the ground work for UKRI.

The Stern review continues that pattern of a review after each REF, in previous iterations this has not led to greater changes. Stern was specifically charged to examine burden within the REF. Quoting James Wilsdon's comments on Wonkhe, Julia felt that the overarching concern was with the expense of the REF - and noted that it would be interesting

Looking at devolved administrations, she noted that there was a significant divergence in policies around teaching students. Scotland has no fees and student number controls, and saw a recent commission on Widening Access. Wales has faced swinging cuts and it is expected that the Diamond Review will propose a loan scheme. NI has also faced significant cuts.

Turning to the Queen's speech, the HE bill was announced alongside bills on localisation, extremism and radicalisation, and bills that may have an effect on the UK as an attractive destingation (NHS visitors overseas charging.

The WP created two NDPBs: the OfS and UKRI. These are "Haldene" bodies at an arms length from government. The new OfS looks to streamline reporting for institutions, and the three stage implementation means an immediate boost to fees in line with inflation. There is a welcome focus on widening participation, with implications for PG research.

The first reading of the Bill was on the 19th May though the legislative timescale is unclear. The bill includes the legislative apparatus to set up the two new organisations.

Julia noted that Wakeham and Shadbolt reports on Graduate Employment, and the forthcoming report Diamond review of efficiency.

In her personal view, she felt that the focus on high quality research will not go away. The British system is very effective compared to others in Europe. She also saw a continued focus on impact and industry collaboration, noting that the impact agenda has helped institutions in recruitment and media relations.

She felt we will see an increased use of metrics - already seen in the "environment" section of the REF, and noted that field-weighted citations will be very useful to assessment panel.

John Kingman, the new interim chair of UKRI, is a "great appointment" as a long-term advocate for science. We still don't have a real feel for what changes will mean for Research Councils, and it was noted that OfS should have an input into research funding decisions - this appears to have been accepted.

Universities have a role to play in transforming the regions - this is patchy across the country with some rural and costal regions not having research and innovation at the heart of Local Enterprise Partnerships. In Kent the LEP has primarily been focused on Transport.

Turning to wider challenges, she noted events ranging from the US Presidential Elections, the rise of China and the future of Europe have an impact on research collaboration and international recruitement.

The pledge to reduce net migration is a huge issue, and has led to a 50% drop of students from India over the past 5 years. The Government refuse to remove student numbers from migration statistics, even though it is claimed there are no controls on international student numbers (which points to differences in opinion between the Treasury and the Home Office). The Government is committed to a £30bn target from education exports.

Freedom of speech and academic freedom are challenged by initiatives like the Prevent agenda. Students are less likely to be as committed to freedom of speech as universities, and this may be a challenge going forward.

15% of academics are from the non-UK EU, as are 125,000 students. Schemes like Erasmus and Horizon2020 provide significant benefits to UK HE. But this is not just about money, it is about an attitude to partnerships. Brexit could have significant impacts on the sector, with different implications for different institutions. There would  be a drop in research incomes, and it is unclear how changes would affect non UK EU students and staff. Kent, for example, have done a lot to emphasise their commitment to a diverse institution, but no-one really understands precisely what would happen. 

The Science minister will speak to the UUK board on the morning after the referendum which should be very interesting.

Every minister for science and universities for the past 25 years has signed a letter to the Times, as have 103 current vice chancellors (within 3 hours of an email requests). There has also been a joint letter from UUK and the German Rectors' Conference. But writing letters have only been a small part of University campaigns, there have also been huge efforts on campuses around voter registration and getting out the vote.

In questions, Julia felt that divisions between traditional universities and private universities (who may not be research active) would be one of the biggest changes within the sector.

On the removal of the Royal Charter from Universities, UUK are looking very carefully at the HE Bill and the new powers that the SoS may have. She noted that going to the Privy Councils on strategic changes can be complex.

The Humboltian model of HE (noting that the Germans feel that the UK model is far more utilitarian than a true humboltian model) is at risk as universities plan for potential course, and indeed institutional, closure. Universities are generally driven by scholarship, but private market entrants are also benefitting students. There is an onus on us to demonstrate the benefits of a research let model.

She saw PGR as an essential component of the UK research base, but suspected that we would see a reduction in numbers even with an increase in funding. She noted that PGRs are "loss leaders" and that we were nowhere near understanding the full economic cost of research students. Though PG loans are very new, we are only beginning to see the impact of UG loans - would those with a £40k debt including interest want to take on further debt as post graduates.

In Research Fortnight yesterday Nick Hillman felt that universities could have made a better case to government for further funding. Julia felt not, she chaired a group putting a UUK input into the Spending Review based on the impact of the work that universities do. It is often the case that the Treasury is very supportive of research.

Julia did not want the Chief Executive role at either the OfS or UKRI ("Maybe chair..."). She felt an ideal candidate for UKRI would have an understanding and experience of both university research and industry.

She reminded us that EU research income is equivalent to another research council. There are very few non EU opportunities for multi-country research teams to get a single funding stream for a joint project.

On the "best" and "worst" policy changes in the last year, she noted that "nothing has happened yet: wait and see!"


Notes from #ARMA2016 Plenary Session 1: Phil Sooben and Ehsan Masood

6 min read

Phil Sooben was speaking on behalf of RCUK, which is representative of closer co-operation between research councils. He covered aspects of the HE White Paper and the spending review settlement, but did not be go into research council re-organisation, or the EU referendum, and did not be cover the Stern Review as this is covered in a session later in the conference.

The HE White Paper going through parliament in a process managed by BIS - inappropriate for Phil to speculate on aspects of the delivery of policies within this paper.

UKRI will be formed of 7 RCs, InnovateUK and Research England. John Kingman of the Treasury is the interim chair, who will be appointing the first chief executive. John highlighted the cross-disciplinary aspects of UKRI, following the Nurse recommendations. Spending review offered the scope to establish a common research fund, this may grow over time. However, budgets will be allocated to each of the nine constituent bodies via the current grant level process. He welcomed the restatement of the Haldene principle and dual support.

A second reading of the HE Bill will take place next month, with the committee stage for the 6-8 weeks following. Practical steps to establish the UKRI will take place after the second reading. The research councils will moved towards centrally led corporate functions with a single common approach for activities as a defaul, not just cost reduction but a better way of working.

Turning to the Global Challenges Research Fund, Phil acknowledged that this £1.5bn over the next 5 years was a major part of the increased research settlement in last year's spending review, with council allocations static or slightly reduced. He highlighted the close links to the DfID "Aid Strategy" and the UN Global Goals for sustainable development.

The RC's investment strategy for the GCRF is to retain the core allocations within this fund static at £100m from 17/18 to 20/21. The remainer of the funds will be fed in increasing amounts into a centrally managed pot, which can respond with agility to opportunities and challenges as they arise. Over time, stretch and transformational research funding will grow, whereas core allocations remain static in cash terms.

There will be five broad areas of priority: Health, Clean Energy, Sustainable Agriculture, Conflict and Humanitarian Action, Foundations for Economic Development. These are initial areas, and expansion is likely (eg Resilient Systems...). These priorities will be managed by a strategic advisory group, currently open for nomination closing on 23rd June.

The success of this initiative will be measured by real world impact - so a focus on real world problems, and stakeholder collaboration, will underpin projects. Funded work must fit with the definition of Official Development Assistance, and impact must be realised within developing countries via collaboration and partnerships.

Ehsan Masood (editor of Research Fortnight) noted the whole other dimension of the Bill and White Paper, on Teaching and the Student Experience. He cautioned that the discussed policies may yet not happen, and encouraged delegates to read the Bill.

The Bill has a tight timetable, with BIS aspiring to get it through quickly. It is important to understand what we are gaining or losing within these policy changes - a "great experiment". Governments have an internal logic which can be insulated from wider concerns, but Whitehall is accountable to parliament and thus the people. All of us have a voice that could be exercised before the Bill becomes law.

The big change in T&L is that HEFCE will go - this is not a surprise as HEFCE is no longer a funding body. The OfS will be a regulatory body (a phrase not often heard in HE policies) aimed at promoting a market in HE. This will make it easier for private universities to become established - an aspiration for a world class private sector to match a world class public sector. We have a number of high profile education companies up for the challenge of servicing one of the last untapped markets - so market entry will be speedier, and sector-funding means that there is a similar feel to when oil was first discovered in the north sea. And all of this from a Government that claims not to do industrial policy!

Smaller and specialist institutions should make their voices heard as this is clearly a matter of concern to them. Ehsan drew a parallel with the establishment of Academies and Free Schools centralising financial power in Whitehall. Choice and autonomy will exist, but more for new institutions and less for existing ones. He argued that older, royal charter, universities are giving away the rights to title and degree awarding powers to the OfS and Government.

He cautioned that if we allowed TEF to progress raising fees will become an automatic process rather than under the scrutiny of parliament. Eshan personally felt that this was a risk, and could lead to unacceptable levels of graduate debt, and again encouraged us to speak up.

Masood welcomed the Global Challenges Fund - a "very smart move" that will encourage younger researchers more nationally inclined to think and work in an interdisciplinary manner. The QR fund via Research England has a good protective wall around it, and the Haldene Principle will be enshrined in law (though he noted that the phrase is not used in the draft Bill).

However, he felt that the TEF would merely produce more tension within institutions, and that losing HEFCE as a single body would also hurt the sector. And "innovation" should be wider than solely commercial innovation - bring the word into the body that looks after research brings commercial innovation into a research culture. Academia's biggest contribution is in training, education and development and this isn't recognised.

In closing he noted that the existing Research Councils are established by Royal Charter and have a direct line to parliament, and that the proposed structure may not be able to retain that level of parlimentary access. Ministers may chose to reorganise or rename councils at any point, and UKRI has no Royal Charter and reports into BIS. This is a part of a wider trend to concentrate power in Whitehall - as a part of a journal that will fundamentally change the nature of UK HE. It is remarkable that no minister has stood up to properly explain the rationale behind the policy - if you care speak up, as otherwise the policies as presented will be speedily implemented.