Sunday, April 19, 2009

Time flys when you are having fun!!!!

Well now, I cannot believe that 4 months have gone by since my last post. Lots of good intent, but the old blog did not quite come to the top of the priority list. I think I made a fatal mistake in taking a break over Christmas - lost the rhthym, so to speak. Anyway, better late than not at all. 
It was not as though there have not been things to write about, because there have been plenty. But the topic really occupying my mind at the moment is that ongoing problem of polytechnic funding - or should I say, the lack of it.  It is now clear that the current government will not be doing anything to address the problems which the polytechnic sector faces - at least not for some considerable time. In a way I can understand this - the world wide recession has taken its toll on NZ, and the government is facing multi billion dollar budget deficits for many years to  come.

On the other hand, government is still actually  spending multi billion dollars each year, so it is and will be making choices about where spending is directed. There is no such thing as not enough money - it is simply about priorities. And the polytechnic sector is apparently not a priority, and this in spite of the very real positive role we can play in helping the country get the most out of the recession. If there is a silver lining in every cloud then that lining in the cloud of recession  is surely the opportunity to boost the skills of our work force. Now is the time to invest in training and education - both in terms of funding people to upskill - especially those made redundant - and to invest in educational infrastructure. But we are more likely to get a cycle way the length of the country than to have a world class polytechnic sector!!! How sensible is that?

However, complaining about what government is not doing will not solve the problems the sector faces, nor the specific problems facing Otago Polytechnic. So, I have decided to see the funding issue through the lenses through which I usually view the world: the lenses that show the glass as half full, not half empty. So, I am grateful to government for the more than $30m of funding that they do provide. The $5m pa shortfall is merely an opportunity for us to try something different. How hard can it be for a business with a virtually guaranteed revenue stream of over $40m (including student fees) to earn another $5m?  Well, up until now we have found it very hard, but that is probably because we have been trapped by our historical mindsets - mindsets which have not allowed us to function as the business we really are. Yes, a business! Do I hear some cringes already? But to be a business is not to throw away our values, nor to devalue the teaching and learning which we hold so dear. Rather, it is for us to apply with more vigour some basic business principles: you cannot spend what you do not have, nor provide services that do not cover all of their costs. Nor expect to develop and improve if you do not set aside funds each year for that purpose. 

What does this mean for Otago Polytechnic?  Mainly it will be about a shift in approach towards a stronger sense of business discipline. So much which is nice to do will just have to wait until it is economic to do. We will have to take the discipline of cost - benefit analysis more seriously than ever. We will have to focus much more strongly on market realities , and on what our "customers" value. So, interesting times ahead - I am looking forward to engaging with the polytechnic community about how we can seize the opportunities and truly take charge of our own destiny. We have waited too long for government to do the right thing!!
 

8 comments:

Leigh Blackall said...

Wow Phil.. here we were thinking it was a dead duck.. who knows, maybe you'll be coming along to the social media workshops on Tuesday evenings soon!

In 2 courses we run in EDC, we have tentatively shown around about a 30-50% increase in enrolments since making them open access. It seems as more and more people become familiar with how the model works, more and more people are taking advantage of it. Our completion rates are much higher as a result of the open access, assessed when completed model as well.

The 2 courses I'm referring to are:

Facilitating OnlineFlexible LearningWith a number of others coming online soon.

I think there are a number of subject areas that have market things in common with these 2. Business studies, art and design, some health sector subjects.. and I think they could demonstrate even bigger returns.

The down side to this model is that it is radically different to our standard business model, with significantly different skill sets, and a number of barriers (one of which you have already referred to). We are reluctant to recommend the model too widely until we have had a chance to trial it wider, with the time required with staff to develop skills in facilitating courses this way. Hopefully the next course to try this model will be the Planning for Sustainable Business (pending SMF funding in June). This course will test the model in many other ways besides, but I worry about staff skills...

Running the Polytechnic more like a business makes sense (in the context of the national economic model following the global rationalisation of the public service sectors), but it is said that business' are running very differently these days compared to 10-20 years ago. Some point to participatory models...

How about calling for staff to present models to each other and the leadership team? A bit like the Staff PD days, focused on business models. Open to all.. compulsory to all? (I think the PD days are doing great things for staff moral and motivation btw).

Leigh Blackall said...

woops, Facilitatig Online and Flexible Learning are 2 seperate links there

phil said...

Thanks Leigh, and it is good to hear that the open access model is working for these courses. You are absolutely right that this is a radically different business model, and it takes some serious thinking to get your head around it. But the essence of the open access model as I see it is that we are not "selling" content - rather, a range of services related to and building off that content. It is this that we need to understand, together with the ramifications for how we design and market these services. Once we wean ourselves off "content is king" we will start to make some real progress I am sure. I am interested in what you see as the different skill sets that are required.
As for different business models, consider the call as having been made - lets hear what people think!!
Personally, I think the essence of more "modern" approaches to business is that the centre of attention is the "customer". For us that is the student, and what should matter most is what matters to the student. Of course, recognising that when students "buy" teaching and learning opportunities they are not buying a TV. Rather, they are engaging ina n activity in which they have genuinely to participate, and one which they may not necessarily appreciate the "best" way forward. But command and control is not the answer for students who do not share or appreciate our views as professional educators, nor is command and control the business model we want to pursue. Other aspects of "modern" business approaches are the integration of decision making with work, rather than separated from work; and motivation which is essentially self driven - intrinsic rather than carrot and stick. But we hhave a long history of carrot and stick, so change will not come easily and probably needs to work with these "tools" initially.
Further, the management ethic is to act on the systems within which work is organised.These, more than anything else determine whether people will be more or less effective/successful.To do this we have to recognise the systems we work with, to understand them, and to understand whether or not they add or diminish "value" to customers - internal and external.
Finally for now, I agree about the PD days - but herein lies a bit of a paradox: we had to mandate them for them to happen!! A bit of "command", if not "command and control".
Cheers

Leigh Blackall said...

I wonder if the "business model" of a cooperative would work?

I was watching the doco about Argentinian workers who were laid off in the 2003 economic collapse there (a little like some factory workers in Dunedin and NZ these days are) taking over the dead factory and running it as a cooperative. It had me wondering if an educational institution could run like that. Much more equal, far less bureaucracy, zero hierarchy, participatory democracy and all that. I can already guess the response from almost everyone to the idea, and I agree that OP worker culture is very accustomed to the normal structures.. so its a bit unrealistic. The doco is well worth a watch if nothing else: The Take

Minhaaj said...

Great Post Phil. I agree to most points and the model they seem to allude to. So i guess Leigh isn't wrong when he says he's working the best Bosses in his life. In addition to your IP policy and digital proliferation of you might want to consider swedish model of education although it would be a good question as to how it would be applied to an individual institution as opposed to a government funded educational empire. As Leigh mentions in his comment about increase in enrollments by making access open to these resources. OERs not only make education more sustainable, accessible, universal and modifiable as per Richard Stallman's guidelines for free softwares which can be more or less morphed for educational resources, it also turns into a marketing tool for your organization. You might want to automate procedural work in your institution to save time for staff. For example, a centralized online admission process is a good idea where applicants can apply and print out the coversheet and send the documents scanned. a real life example would be www.studera.nu the website for swedish admission portal. Probably the most cost-effective, simple and easy to use interface for admissions without absurd enrollment fees and application fees which are to be found in western countries except for more socialistic ones e.g sweden, finland, germany, norway etc. Pardon me, if you already have something equivalent in use. I have never read your blog before, thats a pity but i guess its never too late. Its a pleasure to know you through Leigh and applaud you for your work in OER domain.

phil said...

I watched the video,Leigh - or at least most of it. There is no doubt at all that having a stake in an enterprise changes the way one views that enterprise. The perspective of "owner", is vastly different from that of "employee".
Actually, I have long believed that we should drop our (implicit) assumption that in tertiary education we are training /educating people to be employees in the work force, and train them instead to be self employed. How much better would they then be as employees, if that is the role they did take on?
But back to being one of the owners of a business - would it really make a difference if our staff were "owners" of the Polytechnic? I think so! I believe we would be more focused, have a greater sense of priority and be less likely to do things that were interesting but which did not contribute to our financial sustainability - either in the short term or , via our reputation, in the long term.
So, could we create that sense of "ownership, knowing that our staff cannot be "owners" in the true sense, nor even "shareholders" in the legal sense. But we could all be shareholders for all intents and purposes - working shareholders at that. It should be possible to set up processes for shared decision making, and ultimately for sharing financial rewards if the Polytechnic made a sufficient surplus.How could we make that happen? Worth thinking about - there might be a hybrid model hidden away there somewhere, waiting for us to find.

phil said...

Nice to meet you on line , Minhaaj. I will do some surfing through the Swedish model, as you suggest. The Swedes do so much that is admirable and enviable, and certainly so when it comes to matters of sustainability, which I am very interested in. But I must confess to knowing relatively little about their approach to tertiary education. Time to find out.

Minhaaj said...

Thanks Phil. I do understand that at a national level it might be hard or to be honest, impossible to replicate the swedish education model because of the whole governmental structure, but at micro level humans can endeavor to follow the best practices. Tertiary Education and almost all educational levels below are government funded and swedes are heavily taxed for that, guess not something swedes would mind being compensated in such a way. I have been looking at qualifications framework in different countries like Aus, NZ, UK and Ireland and i have seen a very strong similarity between how OPT's online courses work and how NQF could be designed in a same way. From Level 1 to 10 the contents of a degree/profession can be put onto a wiki and then further pipe links can be linked from those 'contents' to the actual learning material on the internet which are freely available online. I would be the last person to only use OER for these purposes but i know western audiences are strangled into IP laws way more than here, but you could link those degree's requirements to learning materials which are openly licensed to create open learning.
To mould it for your organization, you could list the course contents of your courses on an official wiki and link it to learning materials. Imagine, all your courses you teach at OPT and the course content is available on wiki along with the work of all alumnis on their specific userpage through a sandbox or pipelinked. I have read your recent posts and i know employees are stressed and overworked and this is one great way of taking load off them and students at the same time. Teachers would have to teach less and students can learn on their own pace too. They also will have an idea of expectations from them and specimen of 'good' work through alumni pages. Initially you could password protect that wiki to keep it experimental if you have slightest hunch that it'd fail, which i don't think would fail. Your IP policy gives you a flying start because most of your content is digital and already openly licensed. wouldn't be hard to transfer it onto the wiki.

Imagine yourself being the pioneer of such a wonderful system, although i hate it to be password protected and restrictive i would love to see that work. Also if you make them available openly, imagine the number of students from all over the world doing that course on their own pace and subsequently might want to enroll to get formal accreditation. Your market is just not NZ now. I know from a fact that people from all over the world take these courses for credit and pay across border. e.g people paid for connectivism course and that wasn't half as cool as your courses. atleast i didn't take it for free :)

Like Morpheus said in Matrix, 'I can only show you the door, you are the one who have to walk through it'.

goodluck :)