In late October, I visited the Educause conference at the Indianapolis Convention Centre/ Center. Held over four days, the event is a first-pick for US higher education CTOs and CIOs when they review their conference budgets. Over 7,000 higher education IT professionals attend on-site in Indianapolis, and this year more than 400 registered for the online conference representing nearly a further 2,000 individuals.
On leaving the immaculate airport, visitors are welcomed by the sight of the winning 1987 Indy 500 car. Driven by champion driver Al Unser (in his last competitive race at the age of 47), the March Engineering car is a British engineering success story – the chassis was made in Bicester, England, powered by a Cosworth engine, made in Northampton.
Warming up in the Educause exhibition area, I spoke with plenty of booth workers who had clearly spent a lot of effort and money to be there. I particularly liked the Start-up Alley where new businesses had great ideas and innovation, while trying to reach this particular audience without the meaty marketing budget. Publishers, ed tech big beasts and IT behemoths alike were all present and correct.
The US university and community college sectors are witnessing seismic changes with international students, pathways and funding as key issues needing to be addressed. Despite the turbulent nature of the sector (especially with a US election next November) and increasing competition for students, it was surprising to hear that some activity is behind the curve with the European experience.
For example, the US has fewer in-progress apprentices than the UK, which is surprising given the relative scale of the countries. With industries such as car manufacturing suffering significant trauma due to outsourcing, affected cities such as Detroit see vocational training as a way to not only boost job creation, but reinstall pride and higher skilled careers.
The Obama administration has pledged almost $200M to encourage better access to community colleges and on-the-job training. However, with both public and private entities being awarded Apprenticeship Grants, the dash for students with efficient programmes, powered with education technology, is now on.
Equally, if the Heads Up America campaign for two years of free community college comes
to fruition (with $60bn of funding), we should expect to see learning and assessment providers move quickly, using technology and methods that we’ve been using in Europe for
Talking with the Educause CEO, John O’Brien, it seemed that the numerous Educause conference sessions are tackling a wide variety of subjects, but this year learner engagement and the use of outsourcing for non-core activities are two receiving a lot of delegate attention. I mentioned to John how the National Student Survey (NSS) scores we have in the UK HE sector are shining a light on both of these areas (as well as assessment practices) and how students have insight, but are now active consumers, challenging their educators in many different ways.
As England’s FE sector rides through choppy conditions with the traineeship/ apprenticeship policies, the US experience not only wants to give a pathway for success, but seeks to tap into a progression mind set (or the American Dream, if you prefer) of high-value careers, and creating intrinsic worth/ pride for the home country.
Taking the night-flight home, I thought about these differences. The sense of pride in the United States for showing the iconic, winning English-built Indy car to visitors. The technology expertly developed and created back in Northamptonshire that seems to go unheralded back home.
While there’s no doubting the skill of the driver and his team, the English car is being displayed as an all-American success. If we start recognising and celebrating successes like this, it will help to change mind sets to recognise vocational accomplishments (World Skills Days aside) and high-scale achievement.
Policy makers would do well to engage with vocational, global success stories like the March Indy car to provide inspiration, rather than dwell on an industrial process that codifies vocational learning into a one-size-fits-all template.