The ongoing decline in part-time higher education in the UK

Figures released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency confirm that the number of people studying part-time has continued to fall. While the number of part-time higher education students in further education colleges is buoyant, the numbers at HEIs have fallen substantially.

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Over five years, the higher education sector has lost over 14% of its undergraduate degree students, and over 50% of its ‘other undergraduate’ students ( a category which includes people on Higher National Certificates and Diplomas, as well as since modules and accredited short courses).

This continuing decline reflects badly on governments, whose tuition fee policies have slashed demand for a mode of study that allows people to combine work with learning. It also reflects badly on the higher education sector, which has preferred to recruit young school-leavers onto full-time courses (largely because, in my experience, this enables more accurate mid-term planning) and to close down adult education programmes.

Effectively, the four national governments of the UK are presiding over the dismantling of one key plank of the lifelong learning system. The fact that they seem to be stumbling blindly into this policy by default is neither an excuse nor a help.

 

Be cautious of the European Journal(s) of Education Studies

Another day, another crop of emails inviting me to submit papers to conferences and journals. Most are obviously dodgy but occasionally one appears that might – just might – tempt the unwary researcher. The latest to hit my inbox comes from the European Journal of Educational Studies – which at first hand sounds like a potentially decent journal, and claims an extremely impressive Impact Factor of 3.719.

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A quick look at the journal’s website reveals that it is one of seven education journals belonging to the Open Access Publishing Group, a Romanian outfit included in Jeffrey Beall’s “list of questionable, scholarly open-access publishers” (link). The email purports to come from a “Dr Monica Ilva”, but a search on Google produces no results for that name. The impact factor comes from something called Research Bible, which I’d never heard of before; their website claims that ‘Journal Impact Factor is from Journal Citation Report (JCR), a product of Thomson ISI (Institute for Scientific Information)’ (link).

The journal charges a publication fee of 30 US dollars. According to the website,

The submission, as well as the review process, are not subject of any charge. When a paper is accepted for publication, the author(s) is issued with an invoice for payment of a publication fee. . . . The payment of this charge allows Open Access Publishing Group to recover its editorial and publishing expenses and generates a pool of funds that will consent free access to the published research in the future.

Rather unusually, the journal also offers authors the opportunity of receiving a certificate of acceptance, and even a certificate of publication. I can only wonder what kind of bureaucratic requirement this is supposed to meet.

After the article is successfully published, a certificate is issued as a proof of its publication. The certificate of publication contains the name of the author, the article’s title, the name of the journal and its identification (ISSN) and the date and the place where it is issued.

As in any journal which sends ‘cold calling’ emails inviting you to submit papers, it is most unlikely to be widely read and respected by peers. But the European Journal of Educational Studies and its stable mates are far from the top of my mental league table of dodgy academic publishers.

Like many researchers outside the comfortably affluent west, Romanian academics are working in tough circumstances. I have no solid reason to suppose that they are merely predatory publishers. At $30 the charge is comparatively low. And the papers themselves have to be understood and judged on their merits. All that said, I  would of course advise any colleague to treat this journal and its stable mates with caution.

 

Does Britain need a new national institute for lifelong learning?

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The Institute’s membership forms are still listed in the URL as ‘NIACE Membership’

I’ve been participating in a lively email debate recently about the way in which adult learners and providers ought to be represented. The debate was triggered by the Learning and Work Institute’s announcement that it had appointed Stephen Evans as its new director, someone with considerable experience in the areas of employment and skills, but less well versed in some other areas of adult education.

One reply to LWI’s email came from a retired university adult educator who used to hold a senior position in the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education.While he remains a keen supporter of liberal adult education, he no longer wishes to continue his life membership of NIACE’s successor organisation.A number of other senior adult education supporters and professionals responded to his original message, some of them also resigning their membership.Some have even suggested that a new organisation is needed.
It has been an informative and thoughtful conversation, in which I’m firmly on the “remain” side.Partly this is because of the excellent work that LWI continues to do in support of adult educators of many different varieties, including those involved in areas such as prison education, citizenship education and literacies. I value the work LWI does in promoting adult learning at the main party conferences and in its lobbying, as well as its contribution to European policy debates.
For me, there is far more continuity with the work undertaken by NIACE than some colleagues are suggesting, and far less discontinuity. Of course there has been a shift, and it is clearly in the direction of skills and employability as well as towards younger learners.
But this shift has taken place across the board, including in the field of practice. Many universities have pulled out of extramural type provision, local adult education services have been slashed, and some liberal adult education providers have vanished.While new providers are flourishing, from private initiatives to voluntary and self-help providers, they do not necessarily identify with the adult education tradition.
A profound change in the field, though, is no reason for the adult education tradition to go off and die. I can’t see any reason why adult educators – and their representative organisations – should not engage with labour market training.
Perhaps I am partly influenced in this view by coming from a slightly different corner of our little forest from some other colleagues. My early days in adult education were spent at Northern College, which tried to weld together the best of the liberal tradition with social purpose adult education, and deliberately recruited working class students.
As others were very happy to point out, this separated us both from the numerically dominant mainstream of local authority adult education, and the culturally dominant world of the extra-mural departments. And when I moved to the new continuing education department at Warwick, working in the areas of access and second chance education, plenty of extra-mural specialists were happy to tell us that we were selling their tradition down the river.
So I’m used to hearing how crap employability is, usually by people in comfortable  employment themselves. And when the proposed merger between NIACE and the Centre for Economic & Social Inclusion first came up I was fine with the choice of partner (link). I’d known colleagues from the Unemployment Unit (CESI’s predecessor) from its early years, and had enormous respect for some of its specialists such as Dan Finn and Paul Convery. They undertook project work and research with marginalised and stigmatised groups – as did NIACE, particularly through its REPLAN team.
Over time the Unit evolved and changed, as did many other bodies. It merged with YouthAid in 2001 to form CESI, and it sharpened its focus on research. CESI struck me as an appropriate partner, and in the circumstances as a very good one. Others took a different view (see here for Stephen McNair’s critique). To sloganise a bit, unemployed learners and young disadvantaged adults are adult learners too.
And as Paul Stanistreet pointed out at the time of the merger, the circumstances were dire. Carrying on as before was not an option. First, the field was changed and continues to do so, and NIACE’s role was always to represent the field as it is (rather than as we would like it to be). Second, the national policy context changed and is shifting rather quickly as we write these messages; the context after 2010 was always likely to be much tougher for adult learning, with serious implications for NIACE. Third, and closely related, the money dried up. Member subscriptions and book sales won’t fund a national representative body, so the options are limited.
As some of you will know, I’m committed to and proud of the social and civic purpose tradition of adult education. It isn’t the only significant part of our field, nor should it be, but I’m glad that it survives and in some cases thrives. I don’t see resigning my LWI membership as in any way helping to strengthen and maintain that tradition, or even contributing constructively to the future.
And even if a new association is needed, it will have to appeal beyond the old adult educators like myself who look back yearningly to better days. It will also need to engage with colleagues outside England, especially in Wales where NIACE and now LWI play a major role.
I don’t think LWI is perfect, but it’s what we have. My preference is to work with it and help it succeed. One thing it needs to sort out soon is why it has members and engage in them in debate about what it would like them to do and where we all want the future priorities to lie. But it also has to get on with negotiating its place in a world that has become much less hospitable to an open, broad and generous view of publicly funded adult learning. And we shouldn’t blame LWI for creating that world.

Taking the German citizenship test after Brexit: here’s how I fared

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Following Brexit, the parliamentary leader of the Green Party has asked the German government to adopt a “generous” approach to British immigrants. Usually, immigrants must wait eight years, or six for someone has made a special contribution to German life and three for those married to Germans, before aplying. Katrin Göring-Eckardt has asked the government to to allow applications from those who have lived here for less than six years.

Regardless of the waiting time, British immigrants would still need to take the citizenship test and prove their command of the language. So far as the language is concerned, you can take a standard test, or you can present other evidence, such as a degree from a German-speaking university.

The language test aims to see whether you can speak German well enough to handle everyday situations, including work. For those who know their language education, it involves demonstrating that you have reached European Language Proficency Level B1. I took a written test, missing out the oral and spoken sections as I did it from home, and found B1 reasonably easy.

Given their backgrounds and occupations, most Brits should easily pass the citizenship test. Since 2008, the test has been administered by the Federal Bureau for Migration and Refugees, and developed by educationalists at the Humboldt University of Berlin. It comprises a battery of 310 multiple-choice questions; each applicant has to take 33 questions and must pass at least 17.

The questions are concerned with establishing the candidate’s knowledge of Germany society, culture, and political arrangements. A small number of questions will concern the Land in which you live. There are four possible answers to each question, and you have to select the correct one.

As an example from the current catalogue, here is a question about the constitution:

Which right belongs to the constitutional rights in Germany?

  • owning a weapon
  • the right to fight with fists
  • freedom of opinion
  • taking the law into your own hands

And here is one from recent history:

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Which was the coat of arms of the German Democratic Republic?

None of these is likely to trouble the average British immigrant. I took the test and passed with 31 out of 33. My incorrect answers were to do with constitutional matters (how long between elections in North-Rhein Westphalia?) and I guessed some (how many MPs in the federal parliament?). I should add that I took the tests out of interest, and won’t be applying myself.

So for Brits this is likely to be a straightforward process. You have to pay €255 per person for processing your application; and if you go to an adult education centre or similar for your language test, they will charge you a small sum, usually €25. And then you wait. At the moment there is a bit of a queue, but at least citizenship applications are dealt with a lot more quickly than asylum applications, which can drag on for over a year.

Why the Greens have made an issue out of British immigrants is something of a mystery. There isn’t a clear issue of principle, as Britains in Germany are hardly seeking asylum from persecution; for the most part they are highly educated middle class professionals who are here to work.

Moreover, the Greens’ request will have no practical impact on government policy, not least because the processing of citizenship applications is devolved to the sixteen Länder. And even if all British immigants became Green voters overnight (improbable), there are too few to make much difference in elections.

Frankly, there are many more pressing and deserving groups of migrants in Germany right now than the Brits. My personal view is that the Green intervention was a bit of self-indulgence; but in fairness the Greens have consistently pressed for faster and more effective processing of asylum applications as well as citizenship applications. I’ll save writing about why I think asylum processes in Germany are in such a mess in another blog.

Work camps: disciplining the body – a review

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There’s a new review of Working Men’s Bodies on the humanities and social science website H-Net. The author is Jihan Abbas, who is both a disability activist and a scholar of disability and inclusion in the labor market and social policy. She summarises the book as covering ‘a broad range of sites and colonies that were used to enforce work and discipline of various and diverse bodies’.

Here is her conclusion:

The book discusses important strands concerning the meaning of work and constructions of male bodies, and it will be of interest to a broad and interdisciplinary audience. It not only provides a rich and thorough history of work camps but also highlights the experiences of those living and working within them and the impact of policy decisions and labor practices. Field illustrates public understanding across space and time, the role of training, and the influence of labor policies. It is an important contribution to shared understandings of how bodies are shaped and managed through public discourse and policy interventions.Working Men’s Bodies will therefore also appeal to readers interested in sociology, labor policy and the gendered nature of work.
If you want to read the full review, you can find it here.

Teaching adults dancing- it’s murder!

I enjoy a good crime novel, or sometimes even quite a bad one. My most recent read was a novel called Ostseetod (Death on the Baltic) by Eva Almstädt, a popular writer who sets her stories in the North German port city of Lübeck. Some of you will already know that I enjoy spotting scenes that occur in an adult education context, and Ostseetod provides a great, if brief, example.

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Lucie Warnke, a middle aged mother married to a furniture dealer, is a dancer by occupation. Because the family live in a small and remote town in Schleswig-Holstein, the opportunities for dancing are few and far between, so she makes a living from teaching local women and children. The passage is set in a morning class, with Lucie (‘for the hundred and fifty thousandth time) telling the women: ‘Chests out, tummies in, legs higher, ladies – higher!’.

The seven participants, we are told, are aged between their mid-20s and mid-60s, and are hoping to stay supple with a mix of dance and gymnastics. Privately, Lucie thinks the class is good but useless for the woman, and imagines herself telling them that they just need to eat less. ‘But this type of class was the bread under the butter that Lucie at present needed’, for not only does she need her own spending money, but her husband charges her rent for the dancing space.

I can’t go much further without spoiling the plot, though that might not matter much to people who don’t read German, as German and Austrian crime fiction – which can be absolutely excellent – is rarely translated; the only exception seems to be Nele Neuhaus. What is interesting here is what adult education does for the novel.

I’ve speculated previously about why adult education classes are such ideal sites for crime writers (read more here). In this brief scene, Almstädt tells us something about two characters: Lucie, with her best years of dancing (and life?) now behind her, and her more-or-less useless husband Florian, as well as the relationship between them. She also communicates something about the local community and its limitations.

Almstädt can assume that her readers will see nothing unusual about a woman earning a few euros by teaching a class in a spare room. Germany has a thriving public adult education sector, as well as a lively voluntary sector. But it is also very common to see opportunities for private educational activities. On a short walk home last night from the football, between the bus stop and my home, I spotted a firm offering yoga classes for busy professionals and a flyer for a series of comedy workshops.

Almstädt belongs to an association of women crime writers called Mörderische Schwestern, the German chapter of Sisters in Crime, which provides mentoring and support for less experienced authors.Now I think about it, Mörderische Schwestern provides a kind of adult education. It surely can’t be long until someone writes a murder story set in their ranks  – or perhaps they have already?

Should we mourn a UK exit from Erasmus?

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Image created by the Erasmus+ project Home Sweet Home

One consequence of the Brexit decision is that our educational institutions will at some stage have to withdraw from ERASMUS+, the European Commissions’s scheme for staff and student mobility. Or so says the Guardian, in a report that has been widely circulated – and lamented – on social media. The Guardian quotes Ceri Jones, formerly the Commission’s Director General for Education, describing the UK exit from ERASMUS+ as “a tragedy of staggering proportions for universities throughout the country”.

As usual, the reality is more complicated. First, although Guardian story describes ERASMUS+ as a scheme for university student mobility, it is of course much broader in its reach, encompassing schools, adult education and vocational training. Second, the UK remains part of the programme until the actually UK leaves the EU. Third, if and when the UK does leave the EU, its membership of ERASMUS+ (and other educational and research programmes) can continue, if the UK and rest of the EU so decide. Fourth, the UK can replace ERASMUS+ with new partnerships, but with different countries.

So hardly a “tragedy of staggering proportions”. Of course, continuing membership of EU programmes or the development of new exchange programmes will cost money. The simplest solution would be to use the resources currently allocated to ERASMUS+ to fund the new schemes. In practice, I imagine that a few Vice Chancellors (including those publicly lamenting the UK’s departure from ERASMUS+) will then start lobbying to have direct control over the funds, and then promptly switch it to other activities. But that’s no reason for not having exchange schemes.

My own preference would be the development of an entirely new exchange scheme. I’m not a great fan of ERASMUS+, mainly because it is yet another case of public funding being directed towards the most privileged. A HEFCE report in 2010 found that UK participants were “disproportionately young, female, white and middle-class, and are academic high-achievers”. A subsequent House of Lords enquiry reported that “students from ethnic minorities; with a disability; who were older; or who had parents from a non-professional background, were less likely to participate in the Erasmus programme”.

These are not new findings, of course. And neither is it surprising that an attractive but costly education opportunity appeals most to the socially and culturally best endowed. Nor is it surprising that part-time students, those with caring responsibilities, and those with best reason to be concerned about racism are largely excluded.Then there is the whole question of language competence, which in the UK is tightly tied to the school which you attend, which in turn is of course socially biassed towards the middle class.

The House of Lords report also confirmed that the European Commission had limited data about the effects of the scheme, and didn’t even know much about who took part in it and what they did. Again, this had been known for some years.

As I say, then, ERASMUS+ is deeply flawed. I found it something of a tragedy (though not of staggering proportions) that the European Commission did not take the opportunity to reform and modernise it. But then an organisation that is happy with the Common Agricultural Policy is unlikely to be dissatisfied with ERASMUS+.

Leaving ERASMUS+ offers some attractive possibilities. First, it allows for a bit of attention to equity and justice when designing new programmes. Second, it allows for an expansion of bilateral partnerships, which might differ by country rather than all taking a standardised shape. Third, it allows for an extension of partnerships beyond the limits of EU membership (though it could certainly include EU members). Fourth, we could rebalance the distribution of funding, so that it no longer strongly favours higher education.

All of which would be no bad thing. If we recall the intentions of the scheme’s founders, European student mobility was designed to foster a European identity. It seems to have done that rather successfully among one part of our population, but it did little or nothing for those who are the losers from globalisation. The consequences are with us now.