Online Education 2.0: Where are we headed?

Online Education 2.0: Where are we Headed? In conversation with Jake McClure, City and Guilds

In an exclusive interview with Jake McClure, Executive Director, City and Guilds, Former Head of Apprenticeship Strategy and Delivery, Cabinet Office

Only about 1/3 of the students that graduated felt that they will have the necessary work knowledge and the required skills to be successful in the workplace. This clearly augments the need for industry relevancy in higher education as students when entering workplaces don’t have the right skills to progress. The lack of such industry-led knowledge emphasizes on the need for industry relevancy in higher education now more than ever.
(*This is an auto generated transcript)

Following are the few key highlights from the interview:

Priyanka: So to start with Jake can you tell us a little bit about yourself about your past and present roles in higher education and what were your motivations in following the career that you have had in higher education.

Jake: Sure. So education’s really in the family. My parents were teachers and when I graduated from university I joined the British Council and to the world of global education and worked as a teacher and a trainer and a consultant in a number of different countries. When I came back to join the civil service education has underpinned most of the things that I’ve done in my career. And when I got the chance to apply for the role as head of apprenticeships in the Cabinet Office it was exactly the right time for me because I knew that there was nothing I wanted more than to give better chances to young people to help young people make informed decisions as to what they do. There’s never been a more important time particularly as the world of work escalates ahead. And the pace of change is so dramatic and technology is giving so many people so many opportunities but also so many barriers that put in place to restrict social justice and to stop this opportunity for everybody to really really achieve what they want to achieve. I thought there’s no real better time than to be able to take on this responsibility and after doing that I was given the chance to join City and Guilds which is a market leading vocational education organisation here in the UK and the rest of the world and working as executive director for strategy at a time when our organisations responding to lots and lots of changes some of which have come through government some of which have come through the European Union exit. So we’re undergoing a fantastically exciting innovative change programme to make sure that we are and we remain critical and relevant going forward to make sure that young people and indeed all people as we go through 100 years of living and we go through a whole lifetime of learning that we’re the organization that can underpin everything that someone does whether they’re at school. Further education higher education or in the workplace and want to try to do something different.

Priyanka: So previously you were the head of apprenticeships in the UK and the Cabinet Office. How was your experience of setting up the whole apprenticeship program and what were some of the major challenges and how did you overcome them?

Jake: So one of the major challenges really is the perception of apprenticeships here. The perception was and hopefully is improving that apprenticeships are simply low-level qualifications for people that aren’t necessarily going to go to university. Badly paid and second choice and obviously one of the things that I wanted to do was to completely change that turns on its head. And use some of the policy levers which were coming into play anyway as a result of government reforms to make sure that the civil service could practice what we preach. To have a fantastic array of new apprenticeship standards with the skills knowledge and behaviours that commence with what we need to be a productive Civil Service to give us the skills that we need for the future and to challenge this perception. So I wanted to make sure that young people as young as 16 could join the civil service that we didn’t put in unnecessary barriers such as you must have a degree in order to do a certain job. I didn’t want to restrict the age limit either. The new reforms mean that there’s no such thing as an upper age limit. So the apprenticeship programs that we rolled out have people as young as 16 on them have people in their late 60s even their early 70s. So as we move towards lifelong learning and Hundred Years of Living basically if we can underpin everything we do with this ethos that learning is forever then for me that’s probably the most important thing that these reforms are going to drive economics. Yes but also social justice.

Priyanka: It’s brilliant because I think that the end before we start to find people in traditional or untraditional learners and those lines are being blurred now because 16-year-olds are learning skills that 30-year-olds are learning and 60 years old are learning skills a 16-year-old are learning though it’s amazing. Can you elaborate a bit on why the apprenticeship program was such an important initiative for the UK and what were the major considerations by designing the program?

Jake: Sure. I mean I alluded earlier to the levels the economic growth and social justice really are at both ends of the spectrum. So it’s not really fair to say that Level 2 There’s nothing to do with productivity. There is there’s everything to do with productivity. Equally, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t use the Apprenticeship Levy and everything that it gives us to allow our existing workforce to upscale or to reskill. It’s proof that the accidental manager syndrome within the UK does so productivity one of the things the new reforms have done. It has given us new level three Team Leader apprenticeships Level Five operations manager apprenticeships a charge of manager degree apprenticeship a level seven for senior leaders and this can help companies and employers look at their productivity with their leadership and management.

Priyanka: That’s really interesting because I think when the apprenticeship levy was first implemented it was more towards start as young people were joining the workforce for the first time and now more than ever we’re seeing them being used to actually upscale executives a lot more. How do you feel about that transition in the perception of the Apprenticeship Levy and the changes that have come?

Jake: So for me, the whole purpose of the reforms was that they were to the employer-led. So if the employers are defining the skills gaps that they’ve got and if the skills gap that they got are at that senior level if they can use something that’s been developed and defined by employers as a way to upskill their staff to make them more productive as a company that’s absolutely fine. But we absolutely shouldn’t do that at the expense of younger people with all levels and pathways up to and including those that lead us into potentially higher education opportunities.

Priyanka: So how do you think the apprenticeship program will affect continuous learning in adult learners?

Jake: So I mean I’m hopeful that the levee itself will help address some of the inequalities in learning. I was quite surprised and shocked to read quite recently that in employment more people get access to opportunities for training and development if they have a degree than if they don’t. So. These areas of change are the areas which I think that hopefully, the levy itself will have some incentives towards changing. I also feel that employers themselves by virtue of being given the responsibility to lead these reforms it’s helped increase the opportunities available to them when they use apprenticeships as a way to improve their workforce or look at their recruitment and attraction and selection procedures. More people than ever before in the employment space are thinking now about apprenticeships and something that I think is interlinked is that we’ve finally broken the barrier in terms of schools being able to feel that they can talk competently about alternatives to higher education. So with the Apprenticeship Levy the new apprenticeship reforms the apprenticeship standards that have been developed by employers. And a cause which has come into effect that. Will encourage schools to. Talk about alternatives to higher education. Benchmarks which have come in which will assess the school’s ability to give young people all the information that they need to make a concerned concerted decision around what they want to do when they want to do it. I’m hopeful that all of these measures will simply do what I think is the most important thing which is to give people the chance to make a choice based on the sort of things that they are informed about as opposed to making a decision when it comes arguably a little bit too late in their life.

Priyanka: So what role do you think that online education will play in achieving these goals and what are the challenges that it will encounter?

Jake: Well. It’s interesting because today’s the fiftieth anniversary of the Open University and in my opinion the OU has been pioneering in this space so it’s probably no surprise to you that I think that online learning has a key role to play whether it be through platforms whether it be through micro credentials whether it be through stacking chunks of online learning towards being able to achieve components of. Maybe higher education in this space.

Priyanka: It’s more that you know when you finish your program is being implemented and a lot of the online players are trying to do it. one of the things, for example, we’ve seen is that business development is really hard for them. The apprenticeship program it’s been this much slower process, they’re selling to a whole new customer and things like that. So what are some of the challenges you see that will come up as online course providers especially try to adapt to their offerings to the Apprenticeship Levy?

Jake: So for me, it’s about being able to showcase all the different ways and don’t make the assumption that employers. Know specifically what they want. From a technological perspective, they weren’t what they do want to. Happen to them is that they want their minds to be blown but what the art of the possible is and they want organizations like Connect2Teach to be able to help us do that.

Priyanka: I remember the first time we met we spoke a lot about how the higher education industry is moving and some of the big trends that we’re seeing especially in the UK and of course the rest of the world also. What are some of the major trends that you have seen in your work with both Apprenticeship Office and City and Guilds?

Jake: So in the world of higher education tuition fees have obviously meant that the consumer i.e the person that’s at the University or the further education college firmly feels that they expect a return on investment to be there. They want to know what they’re getting for their money for right or for wrong. This has meant that the consumer has got greater oversight on what they’re receiving greater than ever before in my opinion. That comes at a time when we’re also looking at a massive disconnect between. The sort of skills and the sort of jobs that the industry out there wants and the sort of. Skills and the sort of people that are graduating off courses. I think the gap in the US is something like 7 million. You know there’s a big disconnect and that hopefully. Over time. This will level out. But at the moment that’s one of the big. Things that I think our educational institutions in particular need to respond to. So one of the things I’m particularly passionate about is ensuring. That there is the right pipeline of talent that’s coming not just from our secondary schools but from our primary schools and that young people are made aware of the world of work and they’re made aware of the opportunities out there and it’s very difficult for schools to find the time and capacity and resource of money to do something that’s not actually within that brief. It’s not a teacher’s direct responsibility to be able to make everyone aware of what’s happening. In. The world of work in 2019. If indeed they did know. It’s not necessarily within their boundaries and capacities within the curriculum to be able to do that. And if this isn’t happening then it’s going to be difficult to make sure that the workforce of the future. Is coming out of the production line whether it beams that they go to further education colleges whether they go to higher education institutions or whether they join the workforce at a very young age if they’re not given that information in the best possible way as young an age as possible then it’s just not going to happen. Luckily over the last two to three years, there have been some policy levers put in place and some successes in this area. The Careers and Enterprise Company has a network of over 2000 enterprise advisors who voluntarily attach themselves to schools and work with the school’s senior leadership teams. And the ethos there is to help with the careers education advice and guidance strategy. There are also benchmarks in place now and Ofsted, for example, will be looking to see whether a school is achieving these benchmarks in terms of the career information advice and guidance they’re giving young people and the ways in which that’s happening. There are some new. Coming just around the corner initiatives such as T-levels which will hopefully sit alongside A-levels and allow young people to have that. Technical. Development in terms of the new qualifications in key sectors here in England. And if people again are given the right choice at the right time. They’ll be able to choose whether they opt for this particular route over a different route. And. If they’re able to do that in accordance with. Labour market information from the area in and around where they’re from. Then they might do it knowing that they might stand a chance of getting an appropriate job that really really relates to what they want to do rather than having to take something that is hundreds and hundreds of miles away in an area that isn’t something necessarily that they want to do. And it gives people a choice and that’s the most important thing. So all of these things I think to interconnect and the more responsive further education and higher education institutions can be in the way that the Open University has been innovating for the last 50 years. I think the better really. Because we’re only going to see an increase over time. In the demand for particularly higher education spaces but also we really want to see our college market not trained by the market respond accordingly to create those fantastic opportunities for young people. Absolutely. And whilst there is more autonomy in different states in the USA it doesn’t mean that we can’t be creative with our system here in England. So we partnered quite recently with the Foundation and the Northeast local enterprise partnership and a number of schools in the northeast of England and we worked with Ford next generation learning who piloted this back in. Over 10 years ago in Nashville in Tennessee. And this approach was quite innovative. It’s known as the Academies of Nashville. And by virtue of teaching the subjects that were core subjects over there but through the lens of careers that are actually relevant to that particular area. Not only did they see graduation rates improved from the late 50s up to 90 per cent we also saw massive improvements in behaviour in attendance and capability and then employers in the region started wanting to sponsor the schools because they saw great. This is actually where we get our talent from and this is where we’re gonna inspire young people in areas of work that we never saw possible. So we want to bring that model to England and pilot it and transpose it and make it relevant to here. And it’s actually going from strength to strength in the Northeast and I think pockets of this could easily be replicated in other parts of the country and we’re proud to be supporting that at City and Guilds.

Priyanka: So how do you think that Connect2Teach is helping bridge this industry-academia gap?

Jake: It’s very simple. It’s an innovative platform. It allows the business to talk about what business needs and talk about from an expert point of view. How educators and how people within schools and colleges and universities can better develop skills that they require in order to help with real-world learning. So for me, it’s an absolutely fantastic way to get potentially people from business into every classroom in the world.

Priyanka: Lastly how do you envision higher education in 2030?

Jake: In terms of numbers it’s been interesting here because despite student fees coming in and demographics showing that the population is decreasing slightly. The numbers of students in higher education have increased. And over the next 10 years or so it’s likely to increase even more as we have I think a 23 per cent increase in the population of young people in general. So looking at modelling we could be looking at a demand for up to 300 350000. Higher Education spaces. This comes at a time when we’re for all the right reasons making it really clear to schools and to young people that there are many many alternatives to higher education and it’s more important that a young person makes the right informed decision at the right time as to what route is best for them. And then to make sure that those routes are commensurate. And are fantastic whether that be through T-levels or institutes of technology or further education colleges or training providers private training providers or indeed higher education. Whatever happens, we know that there are going to be more young people. Entering. Education in that space. We know that the skills gap between what they think they need and what employers really need is growing exponentially.

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