Finances, Universities

Bums on Seats: Regulating the UK Higher Education Sector

Gold Leaf carries out a great deal of research in and around universities, both in the UK and in many other places in the world.  An issue that several of its recent research projects has highlighted is the heightened competition to which the HE sector is now being subjected globally.  In the UK, this was largely caused by the decision taken by recent governments – of both main political persuasions –  to create a ‘market’ within the HE sector; unfortunately, in the minds of students and their parents, it has also become linked with the rapid hike in fees that took place at around the same time.  This has had the unforeseen (and presumably unwanted by the government) effect of causing some students to believe that they are ‘paying for’ their degrees – i.e., paying for the actual grades they are awarded, not just the tuition fees.

It is perhaps unfortunate that during the same period the activities of HEFCE [Higher Education Funding Council for England] were wound down, as HEFCE was replaced by the OfS [Office for Students].  A certain hiatus resulted, as the OfS seemed to be relatively slow in getting into gear and for a while little regulatory work seemed to be being carried out in the sector.

This has now changed.  The OfS has flexed its muscles by publishing a series of important reports and directives, one of the most recent of which is entitled Financial Sustainability of Higher Education Providers in England.   The report states that, as part of the registration and ongoing monitoring process, all higher education providers are now required to demonstrate to the OfS that they are financially viable and sustainable. 

Some Vice-Chancellors of even well-known and very well-established universities may have quailed at learning this, as their seeming failure to be able to balance the books has frequently been dissected by the Press over the last two or three years.  The OfS doesn’t explain its methods, however – there are many kinds of capital, for example, not all of them tangible, and it doesn’t say which kinds are acceptable in boosting universities’ perceived solvency – but it does say “our analysis suggests that the sector overall is currently in reasonable financial health”.   Better news than might have been thought, then. But, sounding a greater note of caution immediately afterwards, the OfS adds that “the general picture masks considerable variations in financial performance between individual providers”.  Not really a surprise, but perhaps some Vice-Chancellors should start quaking, after all.

Although some providers are predicted to do less well next year than initially expected, the OfS says that this is mainly because the forecast growth in student numbers has been over-optimistic in the short term; but apparently universities’ student recruitment ambitions now stand a greater chance of being realised.  Of the 183 registered UK HE providers, 122 are assuming growth in student numbers of more than 5% – the students are expected to come from the “UK, EU and overseas” – in the next four years.   The OfS notes that most of these providers are not reliant on this projected growth to reduce their projected costs (i.e., their calculations are not based on what economists call ‘margin’) if their student recruitment ambitions are not met, so the OfS will continue to monitor them closely for financial stability.  Good news for students and their parents, then.  Vice-Chancellors still under pressure!

However: “Collectively, providers forecast the number of overseas students to increase by approximately 56,000 full-time equivalent (FTE)(20.7 per cent). Fee income from overseas students is projected to rise by £1.7 billion (37.9 per cent), suggesting an anticipated increase in the average fee charged to overseas students. The government’s recently announced international education strategy aims to support the sector to increase the number of overseas students.”  Is this a cunning element of the government’s Brexit plans?

Almost as an afterthought, the report acknowledges that the higher education sector continues to face uncertainties, “including the UK’s future relationship with the EU; potential changes in government policy following the review of post-18 education funding; and as a consequence of student choice following a continuing decline in the 18-year-old UK population to 2020.” 

Aside from the fact that the last statement appears to blame the decline in 18-year olds by 2020 on “student choice” (were the first-borns so obnoxious that they deterred their parents from providing siblings?), the report fails to inspire confidence.  The cautious optimism it demonstrates in the face of almost certain adversity seems almost reckless.        

Nevertheless, it is an interesting document: it produces some useful financial detail about where the university sector in the UK is heading, and as it is only 23 pages long, offers both information and entertainment (infotainment?) at the expense of not too great an outlay in time. 

The report may be found at https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/media/cf54b6ee-714e-45c3-ade9-56bc685b861d/report-on-financial-sustainability-of-higher-education-providers-in-england.pdf

Conferences, copyright, London Book Fair

Copyright, Books and Progress

This year’s Charles Clark Memorial Lecture at London Book Fair, entitled Copyright, Books and Progress, was delivered by Professor Daniel Gervais, Milton R Underwood Chair in Law and Director of the Vanderbilt Intellectual Property Program at Vanderbilt Law School. 

Professor Gervais said that copyright is more about intermediation than authors; it is meant to help create value in the marketplace.  Today, the power of online users has eclipsed many of the discussions on the rights of authors and professional users.  The new intermediaries are not copyright owners, but companies such as Facebook and Google who generate revenues by selling advertising.  Their aim is to pay as little as possible for creative works.     

Copyright implies “one size fits all” – but now this doesn’t work.  Allowing the re-fragmentation of rights materials to create a single protected object does work.  The ability of the Internet to disseminate worldwide at little cost is a powerful leveller; but saying no to a user online is the least desirable option.  If copyright can be aligned with purpose, the need for more limitations and exceptions will be reduced. 

The nature of content should matter to us all; progress doesn’t necessarily mean “new”, because new doesn’t always justify progress. Does copyright law incentivise the right things? In order to achieve its aims, new content must not only be created but made available, while finding ways not to disadvantage those who have spent their lives perfecting their creative craft. Spending time on creativity is essential for humanity to reach maximum levels of achievement. 

In the knowledge economy, creativity has replaced the value of material goods.  Human emancipation through science and the arts is progress; the role of governments is to promote progress by ensuring that the “greater proportion” of change is for progress. Good governance of human progress is about promoting conditions for business to thrive across borders and for humans to develop their potential. 

 Professor Gervais offered a few “concrete” suggestions:

  • In the face of the takeover of human creativity by a small number of large technology companies, we can either take a laissez-faire approach, or we can use copyright to foster creativity more proactively. 
  • OR we can regulate dissemination.
  • OR we can implement a policy that implies some regulation.

Internet users certainly need filters; but for many forms of enterprise, the Internet is “it”; and the Internet is also the only means of revenue for many companies. 

Copyright law therefore matters: it is the main policy tool we have to effect financial flows to professional creators and publishers – highly desirable goals for the future of progress.  “The Internet’s purpose should be to foster, not hinder, rights.”

Editing, General

Ten top tips from Gold Leaf’s academic journals editor, Jim Bennett

Jim has been editing academic journal articles at Gold Leaf for almost a decade. In his experience, authors don’t seem to understand that their submissions should be as perfectly crafted as possible. He says he is constantly surprised that authors are so careless about how they express themselves; he adds that even his meticulous editorial commentary doesn’t guarantee subsequent improvement. Perhaps the following will help as an aide-memoire.

Here are Jim’s top tips to save at least some of the time spent on revisions by authors, editors and reviewers.

  • The language and tone of the article must be appropriate to context and purpose.
  • Consistency, consistency, consistency! (For example, if you establish a particular tense sequence, you must adhere to it; if you give an acronym with first usage of, say, a group’s title, use the acronym throughout – don’t revert at random to the full title.)
  • Try to achieve readability for the ordinary alert educated reader – avoid jargon where possible and don’t use long words where short ones will do.
  • Avoid metaphor, especially clichéd metaphor. (You might think your ‘emperor has no clothes’ is appropriate – it isn’t, as it’s terribly hackneyed!). And, if you really must use metaphors, don’t mix them!
  • Avoid long and complicated lists; keep all lists to a minimum. (Your reader doesn’t need to be swamped with ‘comprehensive’ detail – no list is ever comprehensive! 😉 – just because you wish to demonstrate your wonderfully broad command of a topic.)
  • Aim for clear English, generally expressed in short sentences and, wherever possible, use active verbs, not passive.
  • Religiously eliminate all information extraneous to your article’s main thrust.
  • Apply appropriate citation protocols and, in your reference list, conform exactly and consistently to the practice of the publisher. If a ‘style sheet’ is provided, follow it!
  • Discoverability is your watchword. Help your reader by always providing relevant and correct URLs, ISBNs, ISSNs and DOIs.  Ensure that the url both functions and takes the reader to the cited page(s), not home pages.
  • Read the document aloud (in your head!) to identify unwanted solecisms, repetitions and stylistic infelicities.

And just a couple of general points:

Computer software has eliminated the need for a double space after a full stop, which typists using conventional typewriters were taught to apply. Use one space only – and certainly DON’T use a mixture of one and two and even three spaces! (Consistency again! 😊)

It’s unhelpful to apply formatting to a journal submission – the publisher imposes a format for the journal and shouldn’t have to unpick the author’s. Use plain Word.

Brexit, Deutsch, Digital Publishing, General

Brexit und Verlagswesen. Eine persönliche Stellungnahme einer britischen Deutschen

(This blog post has been written in German. To see an English translations, click here)

Heute ist „Brexit“-Tag. Eigentlich. Und was bedeutet das für dieses Land?

Heute sollten wir aus der EU austreten, hieß es. Nun also doch nicht.

Als die Briten vor 3 Jahren für ein Referendum an die Wahlurnen gebeten wurden, war vorher klar, dass das Ergebnis knapp ausfallen würden. Das tat es dann ja auch (52% zu 48%) – warum es in so einer Entscheidung keine Zweidrittel-Mehrheit brauchte, wundert mich noch heute. Viele Briten hatten die Nase voll von der EU, von seiner Bürokratie und Inflexibilität. Die Flüchtlingskrise hatte ihren Höhepunkt erreicht und es gab Angst vor Überfremdung, die zwar irrational und unabhängig von der EU war, aber von den sog. „Brexiteers“ wunderbar geschürt wurde. Einem maroden Gesundheitssystem wurde die magische Transformation zum Besseren versprochen und auch an anderen Stellen wurden der Bevölkerung Versprechungen gemacht, die niemals hätten gehalten werden können. Von Wirtschaftschaos, steigenden Preisen und Fachkräftemangel erfuhr die Bevölkerung erst, als es zu spät war. In der gesamten Thematik – angefangen von David Cameron’s Einberufung des Referendums, über die darauf folgende Kampagne, bis hin zur Durchführung – ging es immer nur um eines: Parteipolitik. Um Status und Macht von Einzelnen. Um das Wohl des Volkes und die Zukunft des Landes hat sich niemand geschert. Die Bevölkerung hat es nun endlich begriffen und das Parlament sitzt in einer Zwickmühle, aus der es nur schwer – wenn überhaupt – herauskommt.

Mehr und mehr meiner britischen Mitbürger sehen ein, dass es das Chaos, die Unsicherheit und das Risiko nicht wert war. Ja, die EU hat ihre Schwächen. Ja, es wäre manchmal einfacher und vielleicht auch wünschenswert, Entscheidungen ohne Abhängigkeit von Brüssel treffen zu können. Aber die Zeiten des britischen Empires sind vorbei, und Änderungen kann man nur bewirken, wenn man Teil des Ganzen ist.

Die Stimmung im Land ist anders als sie es vor 3 Jahren war. Die Bevölkerung wurde durch diesen Prozess aufgerüttelt und besser informiert. Aber leider ist die Regierung von ehemaligen Elite-Schülern dominiert, die in ihrer eigenen Wolke leben und zu ihrer Wählerschaft keinen Bezug mehr haben. Das wahre Leben ist den Meisten von ihnen fremd.

Heute ist „Brexit“-Tag. Eigentlich. Und was bedeutet das für mich?

Seit über 13 Jahren lebe ich nun als Deutsche in Großbritannien, seit knapp 7 Jahren mit einem britischen Pass. Diesen hatte ich mir damals zugelegt, weil ich meine Zukunft hier sah, und als Steuerzahlerin wollte ich auch volles Wahlrecht haben. Und weil Deutschland einen Zweitpass neben dem deutschen problemlos erlaubt, solange es sich um einen EU-Pass handelt, habe ich auch gar nicht lange gezögert – höchstens die damit verbundenen, relativ hohen Kosten haben mich mal kurz zweifeln lassen, ob es sich überhaupt lohnt. „Ich bin doch eh EU-Bürgerin, und somit ist so ein britischer Pass doch eigentlich gar nicht nötig. Ein ziemlich teuer erkauftes Wahlrecht, aber mehr eben nicht“ – so dachte man noch damals. Und damals ist gerade mal 7 Jahre her.

Ich hätte nicht gedacht, dass ich nur 4 Jahre später heilfroh sein würde, dass ich mir um Aufenthaltsstatus, Arbeitserlaubnis und Gesundheitsversorgung als EU-Bürgerin keine Sorgen wuerde machen müssen. „Brexit“ hatte die Situation verändert und noch bis heute ist die Situation für viele meiner EU-Mitbürger unsicher.

Heute ist „Brexit“-Tag. Eigentlich. Und was bedeutet das für das Verlagswesen?

Seit ich in dieses Land gezogen bin, war ich im wissenschaftlichen Verlagswesen taetig – ich habe mit Bibliotheken weltweit gearbeitet, für und mit großen, kleinen und Kleinst-Verlagen, mit Organisationen rund ums Verlagswesen, Technologiefirmen und Non-for-Profit-Organisationen. Die meisten davon sind britisch und für sie hat der Brexit direkte Implikationen.

Vor allem im wissenschaftlichen Verlagswesen sind die Auswirkungen immens. Durch die immer wachsende Globalisierung von Wissenschaft beschränken sich Autoren und Leserschaft nicht auf den englischsprachigen Markt, sondern sind international. Natürlich spielt die EU hier eine große Rolle: nicht nur in Bezug zu Kundenbeziehung – die Unklarheiten über Handelsabkommen, Verzollung, Mehrwertsteuer etc. bremsen den Vertrieb und die mit dem Brexit einhergehenden Schwächung des britischen Pfundes bedeutet direkte Umsatzverluste – aber auch, und vor allem in Bezug zu Autoren. Ein Großteil des wissenschaftlichen Publizierens basiert auf Forschung; Forschung, die zu großen Teilen von EU-Geldern gefördert wird. Für britische Wissenschaftler ist es bereits seit dem Referendum 2016 schwerer geworden, an internationalen Projekten teilzunehmen, da ihre Finanzierung unklar war und ist. Die britische Regierung stellt nicht annähernd genug Geld zur Verfügung, um dieses Finanzloch in Zukunft zu stopfen. Inwiefern europäische Wissenschaftler in einem Nach-Brexit Großbritannien werden leben und arbeiten können, ist ebenso unklar.
Copyright-Direktiven finden auf EU-Basis statt – keiner weiss, in wie weit die erst in dieser Woche verabschiedete EU-Urheberrechtsreform in Großbritannien greifen wird. Von einer internationalen Kooperation bei der Durchsetzung von geistigem Eigentumsrechten außerhalb der EU ganz zu schweigen.
Die EU setzt Richtlinien – sei es im Bereich von Open Access (Plan S), der Angleichung von Mehrwertsteuern für digitale Bücher und Zeitschriften, oder den internationalen Markt von Online-Gütern und Datentransfer. Wenn dieses Land kein Teil der EU mehr ist, stehen alle diese Themen in den Sternen und die Unsicherheit, wie es in diesen Bereichen weiter gehen wird, ist in den Verlagen deutlich zu spüren.

Heute sollten wir aus der EU austreten, hieß es. Nun also doch nicht.

Zumindest nicht heute. Vielleicht in zwei Wochen, vielleicht in zwei Monaten, vielleicht in zwei Jahren. Vielleicht auch nie.

Die unsägliche Art und Weise, mit der die hiesige Regierung das Thema behandelt, lässt mich sprachlos. Selten hat das Wort „Fremdschämen“ eine bessere Anwendung gefunden; und ich bin dankbar, dass ich noch diese andere – nicht-britische – Identität habe. Und dennoch lebe ich gerne in diesem Land, das ich seit 13 Jahren mein Zuhause nenne. Deutschland ist mir in dieser Zeit fremd geworden – und ist mir doch so nah.

Annika Bennett, Gold Leaf

Digital Publishing, London Book Fair, Trends in Publishing

Vibes from the London Book Fair 2019

This year’s London Book Fair occurred earlier in the year than usual and was once again held at Olympia – an old favourite for those of us who remember Olympia as the venue for pre-Earl’s Court LBFs. Members of Gold Leaf attended on Tuesday and Thursday.

We were very impressed by the overall attendance, especially on Tuesday: there was a real buzz to the fair, with lots of ancillary activities going on right from the start. We applauded the decision of the fair organisers to ban wheeled laptop cases and suitcases from the aisles this year: it made moving around much less hazardous and increased the feasibility of working to the tight schedules that most of us have to cope with.

So what were this year’s big themes? For academic publishers, Plan S in particular and Open Access publishing more generally probably overshadowed everything except Brexit. (Comments on that, especially from European publishers, were fairly uniform: horrified, puzzled, dismayed by the events unfolding in Parliament while the fair was running.) ALPSP ran a seminar on Plan S and Open publishing on the Wednesday morning, at which David Sweeney, Executive Chair Designate of Research England, was the keynote speaker. Elsewhere at the fair, prominent themes included Fake News – or, rather, how to combat it; freedom of speech; and, on a less abstract level, the rise and rise of talking books (please follow this blog to read more about this in the next couple of weeks).

The PEN stand was mobbed by young authors demanding freedom of speech for all – which until recently would have been a laughable exhibition of preaching to the converted, particularly in such an environment; but recent events in both Europe and the USA, as well as further afield in the world, have now demonstrated very strongly the importance of not taking freedom of speech – not to say the accurate representation of the truth – for granted.

The importance of supporting creativity and allowing authors and other creative artists by maintaining copyright law was also the theme of this year’s Charles Clark Memorial Lecture, delivered by Professor Daniel Gervais, Milton R Underwood Chair in Law and Director of the Vanderbilt Intellectual Property Program at Vanderbilt Law School, which was entitled Copyright, Books and Progress. Professor Gervais’ central premise was that copyright should be fiercely defenced to incentivise the “right things” – i.e., matters central to the progress of human civilisation. He said that it was clear that in order to achieve its aims, new content must not only be created but made available, while finding ways not to disadvantage those who have spent their lives perfecting their creative craft. His message was that rules should be created and observed to maximise access to content, while providing authors with sustainable livelihoods. You will be able to read more details about the lecture on this blog soon.

Stephen Page, CEO of Faber, also spoke of the need to preserve the essential values of civilisation in one of the opening speeches of the fair. Like Professor Gervais, he depicted publishing and the laws and norms that underpin it as central to the development of civilised society. “We need to have the courage to fight for our values we believe in: free speech, respect for ideas and intellectual life, for copyright, and for the right of an artist to make a living; and for our local markets.”

The Author Centre was frantically busy, as usual; and several new amenities were provided for authors, including Author HQ, organised by Midas, which gave pre-chosen authors the chance to pitch to agents in a ‘Dragon’s Den’ kind of way.

Indonesia was the guest country of the book fair this year and some of the Indonesia publications were both exotic and wonderful. However, China seemed to have an even greater representation, and Indian publishers also enjoyed a much higher profile than in the past.

All in all, the atmosphere was joyful, celebratory and can-do. Although – as indicated in this summary – some of the underlying reasons for preoccupations aired at the fair were deadly serious, the end result was the display of an industry perhaps more united than usual about what it stands for.

Pedagogical Resources, Pedagogical trends, Universities

Flipped Learning and OERs

Of the pedagogical trends identified by the research (commissioned in partnership with SAGE Publishing), by far the most prominent were research-led teaching and flipped learning – the latter often mentioned in conjunction with technologically-enhanced resources. 

Flipped learning, which was practised in schools for some time before it took hold in universities, promotes dynamic learning by encouraging the student to take more responsibility for study.  There is no single accepted definition of what it entails, but as well as technological innovation it often involves pre-class prep by students; more targeted use of lecturer contact hours; and the use of (often online) assessment to enable lecturers to identify students’ strengths and weaknesses (with the intent of enabling them to focus on the latter).  It may be delivered as a form of blended learning; and some of the most successful practitioners combine its use with more traditional pedagogical methods.  Despite the fact that one of the reasons for its development was to enable lecturers to cope with large cohorts of students, there is some evidence that it is more effective with relatively small groups.

Open Education Resources (OERs) have enjoyed quite a lot of media exposure recently and are often favoured by senior university administrators, because they help to fulfil the promise that students won’t have to pay extra for resources; and also serve to highlight the uniqueness of the individual university’s offering.  In addition, they win Brownie points by showing support in principle for the Open Access movement. Some academics are enthusiastic about developing them and there have been several serious experiments with OERs at UK universities; but they come with drawbacks.  From the academic’s point of view, chief among these is the time they take to develop, and even more, to keep updated, when academics’ schedules are already being squeezed to fit in teaching, research and administration. 

From the purist’s point of view, an OER is not really an OER if the university is not prepared to make it available to other institutions and students not enrolled in its own institution – an attitude which many adopt now that HE is promoted by the government as a ‘market’ and universities are in competition with each other.  (Such OERs may be contrasted with MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – which by definition are Open Access.)

However, an OER doesn’t have to be a full-length book or comprehensive study programme: much smaller units of teaching and learning resource can qualify, such as individual ‘repurposable’ units of knowledge; quizzes and notes placed by lecturers on the VLE; academics’ own podcasts and video clips; and Lecture Capture, but again only if made available to a wider audience than the university’s own students.

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Once the report is available online, we will post the link here. So, just subscribe to our blog and you won’t miss the release.

Digital Publishing, Pedagogical Resources, Universities

It’s all in the metrics: Reading List Software and other measures

So, how are libraries measuring the success of a resource?

That’s a tricky question, and all the libraries we talked to used a mixture of “hard” metrics such as usage statistics and “soft” ones like student and user surveys. Even though most online resources provide usage statistics, these often are not particularly user-friendly, and don’t necessarily measure the effectiveness of a resource. Reading List Software can give a much better picture, with metrics providing a better understanding of resource use.  It is being used at all the universities we worked with. However, often academics do not engage with the software; it’s not a seldom occurrence for them to refuse using it because they say it’s not user-friendly or they don’t have time to get their heads round it. In most cases, it’s the Library that administers the software and provides the training – and often actually uploads the titles into the system on behalf of the academics.

There is a wide divergence of opinion about how long a reading list should be, and how much new material it should contain.  In some instances librarians use the software to steer academics and students to resources already held by the Library, rather than investing in new ones.

Overall, the evidence shows librarians have a much bigger impact on resource choice and use than they think. They tend to under-estimate their powers of influence: more academics agree than don’t agree that librarians influence reading list choices.

‘Virtuous circle’ of Librarian Influence, (c) Gold Leaf, 2019

For the last post about key findings of the study “How Are Students and Academics Using Pedagogical Resources Today?” (in partnership with SAGE Publishing), please come back to our blog tomorrow, when we will talk about Flipped Learning and OERs.