The future of higher education – and IT services

I had a busy day yesterday, preparing for the Executive planning meeting next week. Although it did not rate at all in the UCISA Top Concerns, Governmental policy can have a significant impact on the mission of higher education institutions run and consequently on the demands made of their information/IT services. So I spent most of the day reviewing the contributions to the review of HE by the Secretary of State, John Denham.

The paper with the greatest technological focus was the submission by Sir Ron Cooke, World leader in e-learning. UCISA contributed to the paper and I expect that many of the actions recommended will be taken up by the JISC in the coming year. UCISA, having just signed a strategic relationship with JISC, will be working with them to help deliver on some of these actions. However there are two potential stumbling blocks. The paper talks about a number of development areas, particularly relating to research and innovation. Development invariably requires investment and I doubt that there will be any new funding to move things forward, in spite of the Government suggesting that the sector should be to the fore in leading the UK out of the recession. Secondly some of the actions will require a change in the way that academics work. Many initiatives to share teaching resources have failed over the years as a result of the ‘not invented here’ syndrome, going right back to the national development programme in computer assisted learning in the 70s. Academics have generally shown a lack of willingness to use others material so will the availability of open learning resources have a great impact? Further, although the value of research data has been recognised, there is no recognition for publishing it. Without this academic staff may deem the amount of effort required to learn how to tag and document data effectively as being too great.

Recommendations from a number of the other papers have the potential to have an impact on information/IT services. Drummond Bone’s paper on international issues suggests a move towards greater collaboration with overseas partners, greater mobility of staff and students and increased distance learning as likely future trends to develop sustainable international policies for the sector. These will bring a number of technological and support challenges.

It is unlikely that the recommendations in many of the papers will be implemented this side of the general election since they advocate a change in Government policy. The Executive’s role next week will be to identify those that are likely to come to fruition as a consequence of the recession or trends in the sector and look to ensure that UCISA is in a position to assist its members meet the new challenges that arise.

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