Innovate or Die!


The NMC’s ‘On the Horizon’ Report is one I  look forward to reading at the start of each year.  It’s clearly written, it’s honest and, for me, it’s a pretty good gauge of how successfully and creatively  learning technology is being used in HE.

This year’s report starts big – page one proclaims that there are two long-term trends: advancing cultures of innovation and a fundamental rethink of how universities and colleges work. Those are two pretty big areas, so rather than looking at all of the trends and challenges highlighted in the report I want to concentrate on the first of these two overarching trends.

‘Innovation’ is a word that has been used repeatedly since the effects of the 2008 recession started to be felt in education. It usually boils down to ‘doing more with less’ – though if you need to produce twice the amount of ‘stuff’ with half the amount of resources / staff / money, you’re pretty much forced into being ‘innovative’ in order to survive. As a result of attending many, many faculty meetings with various employers over the past 8 years and hearing the word ‘innovation’ used in the same sentence as ‘budget cuts’ over and over again, I now wince whenever I hear it. It’s just a pretty way of saying ‘We have had our budget cut in half again, so things are going to get even harder this year.  Deal with it!’

Here’s more from the report:

The Innovation Policy Platform…asserts that universities should bolster entrepreneurship courses to attract and accommodate more students, while nurturing faculty that can meet high-quality teaching standards…universities should even encourage faculty and staff to hone their own entrepreneurial skills through professional development and opportunities to participate in start-ups. The IPP recommends that training policies move beyond business development and management to emphasize the challenges of enterprise growth, risk-taking, and building strategic alliances.

Let’s try to unpick what this means. If we read between the lines, is the NMC recommending that we all need to learn how to start up our own businesses so we have something to fall back on should the worst happen; or are they talking solely in the context of business-related courses? Let’s see what the report goes on to say:

There is a growing consensus among many higher education thought leaders that institutional leadership and curricula could benefit from adopting agile startup models.

This is a rather broad statement.  And once I’d finished dry-heaving over the term ‘thought leader’ (which scores double points in Bullshit Bingo, and sounds like something from a George Orwell novel) I found it to be a little sinister too. Business has now, apparently, subsumed education completely. Students are often referred to as clients and curricula are business models.  (Apropos of nothing, I don’t have staff any more either – I have direct reports.)

I get it;  in this endless recession no job is secure (thanks George Osborne). But the students I deal with are training to be healthcare professionals – nurses, midwives, radiographers, and physiotherapists – they have neither the time nor the inclination to start learning about entrepreneurship – it’s not what they signed up for, and there isn’t much space in their timetables (because lectures form only half of their study – their medical placements form the other half).  And let’s face it – it’s hard enough to get staff to engage with embedding technology effectively into their curricula, so asking them to start teaching another subject, or find the time to participate in a startup…it’s too much, and, to be honest, it just all feels a bit sinister.

Maybe I’ve missed the point entirely here.  Maybe this is a positive move, and something that I should be engaging with myself. Maybe the skills learned in ‘How to be an Entrepreneur 101’ are wholly transferable to all educational (and medical) settings – though the healthcare sector is steadily become ‘businessfied’ itself, with patients now also called service users, clients or customers.  All of this seems a little clinical (excuse the pun) and dehumanising.

So what do you think?  I’d appreciate some comments about this one, as I’m not sure what this all means and may well be worrying about nothing!

2 thoughts on “Innovate or Die!

  1. ‘Thought leader’ tends to produce the same response in me, particularly because I see it as having certain inherent values in who does the thinking and leading and who does the following.


  2. Pingback: You’re Tired! | Bex Ferriday's Edutechy Wonderland

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