The Work Foundation: interesting acquisition

Work Foundation thinktank declared insolvent and sold

Unfortunate situation for the Work Foundation. However, things do seem to have turned out reaonably well according to the Guardian.

The Work Foundation, which bills itself as “the leading independent authority on work and its future”, announced today that it had been acquired by Lancaster University. The move came after a winding up petition, citing a £26.9m pension deficit, was filed at the high court yesterday.

The university claims the purchase minimises losses to creditors, including pension fund members, and safeguards 43 jobs, including that of the foundation’s executive vice-chair, Will Hutton. Hutton is a former editor of the Observer, a member of the Scott Trust, which owns the Guardian, and an adviser to the government on public sector pay.

The foundation, which aims to equip “leaders, policymakers and opinion-formers with evidence, advice, new thinking and networks”, will remain at its Westminster base as a separate entity. The alliance…would help the foundation consolidate its reputation for analysis and its ability to advise policymakers.

Private Eye has a slightly less positive slant on the situation in its most recent edition:

THE WORK FOUNDATION
How Will Hutton turned the Industrial Society with an annual income of £20m, into an insolvent disaster that can’t pay its former staff’s pensions – and all on a salary of just £180,000

However, it is probably a good thing that the Work Foundation will continue in existence. I really didn’t realise it was as big as that (although clearly a lot smaller than it used to be). It also will be interesting to see the impact on Lancaster’s REF submission. And what they do with the pension deficit.

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On ‘The Edgeless University’

The Edgeless University – Demos

Available for download: via Demos Publications

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This is an interesting paper which identifies a range of significant technological challenges for higher education. It is suggested that universities are on the brink of an electronic revolution like the music industry in 1999 but struggling to make sense of the opportunities or understand the strategic options:

The next stage of technological investment must be more strategic. The sector currently lacks a coherent narrative of how institutions will look in the future and the role of technology in the transition to a wider learning and research culture.

A reasonable enough proposition although this in the context of welcoming the far-sighted establishment of JANET seems a little bit harsh – it is difficult to get much more strategic than setting up a successful shared sector wide network like this.

Many of the specific points made in the report are quite pertinent (if not entirely novel):

    – openness in terms of publication of research and free access to IP remains a difficult agenda;

    – the importance of recognising the value of teaching in the context of potentially distorting RAE/REF demands is a challenge;

    – high quality e-learning, discrete or blended, is about much more than just providing new tools – it requires huge investment and support;

    – the value of face-to-face learning and teaching should not be discounted.

Fairly straightforward agenda there then.

However, some of the ideas in here are just plain wrong. In particular the idea that there is a deficit of flexible study pathways for credit-based learning and that somehow it is the role of government to take a specific policy lead in this area:

Government policy must help higher education institutions develop new ways of offering education seekers affiliation and accreditation. This might include shorter pick-and-mix courses and new forms of assessment.

Then there is the particularly misguided idea of seeking to reconcile “informal learning” with the formal system of higher education:

Informal learning is growing in popularity and significance, and attracting the attention of politicians, but there are problems in reconciling informal learning with formal frameworks, and managing the relationship between institutions of higher education and the kinds of learning that happen outside them. We have yet to find a model for collating learning from many different sources. Funding and the structure of learning in formal higher education tend to militate against this.

There is a good reason for this – if “informal learning” can be recognised then there are actually costs in doing so and, in order to have currency, it has to be within an educational framework of some kind. More often than not though, such learning will be just “informal” – it is difficult to argue that mainstream HE provision should be skewed to cope with such marginal activity. Indeed, there remains significant adult and continuing education provision parts of which are structured for this purpose.

The overall conclusion though is pretty difficult to argue with:

In building the e-infrastructure for higher education we should not just build around the needs of institutions as they exist already. To pursue the possibilities of the ‘Edgeless University’, technology will have to be taken more seriously as a strategic asset. Technology is a driver for change. But we should harness it as a solution, a tool, for the way we want universities to support learning and research in the future.

So, the future is ‘edgeless’ it seems.