Policy: Why a List of Power Shows the Real Winner to be Volatility

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I had a quick look at the Higher Education Power List 2016, over at Wonkhe. I soon realised I’d need a longer look, as the list is a different beast to last year’s offering.

27 out of 50 entries are new to the list. More than half. Let that sink in for a second.

Volatility is a big part of HE right now. It’s no wonder the short-term focuses more than long-term plays.

Only seven entries rise in the list, with three in the same place. 13 entries fall, meaning that most people who remain on the list since last year aren’t seen to be as influential as they were.

Richard Brabner says that judging who shapes the sector with their power and influence, “is not a science. It is subjective“. What we can see here is how consistency isn’t currently on higher education’s side. The HE Power List is an example of a lively—perhaps erratic—situation.

Higher education is not shielded from current events and wider politics either. Aaron Porter explains:

“For higher education the politics are significant. Not least because the Higher Education and Research Bill is making its way through Parliament, but also because it provides the crucial context and backdrop for the sector.”

Porter adds, “The world is a very different place, and so is the political composition of the 2016 list”.

Jonathan Simons echoes this. He concludes that, “making predictions as to what will happen over the forthcoming year is a mug’s game”. While David Morris talks of “The strange and sudden unravelling of the ‘Osborne Supremacy’” that has seen George Osborne go from top of the Power List to not in it at all from one year to the next.

And what about the student angle? Smita Jamdar says that “the student-university relationship [has] been pulled in many different legal directions”.

Jamdar explains that while students aren’t new to protest, they are focusing on more targets and looking more widely around the world. When you add social media power and the need for institutions to listen to their ‘consumers’, students are in a position to make things happen.

Student influence is not currently in the direction of paying lower fees (or getting rid of them in favour of another model). Their current influence is in changing the layout, experiences, and atmosphere of student life.

Although students have not made the Power List this year, is it only a matter of time before we see the student collective making an appearance?

The HE sector is being pulled in all directions. Perhaps volatility should top the Power List. Unlike George Osborne, chances are it would stay at the top of the chart the next year too.

How To Read Your Set Texts, Even When You Don’t Want To

Read Set Texts, Even When You Don't Want To

This has probably happened to you. It’s certainly happened to me.

You love your course. But there’s a book you’re meant to read.

Most books are fine. But this one…Oh, this one is a stinker.

You try, you fail, you try again, you fail again, you fear the book, you eventually stop trying.

Because not all books are fun to read.

And the more you put off reading the text, the less time you have to consume it.

Then you’ve only got a day left to read it.

Lifehacker has an article to help you read a book in a single day. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to wait until the day before a seminar to read the book you’re meant to be working on. Especially if you’re not engaging with the way it’s written.

So you’re worried about it, or bored by it. And as soon as you feel like that, you break out in a rash of procrastination. It happens to all of us!

What you need are new tactics. Methods that you don’t normally use when reading. But now it’s time to bring out the big guns. If you don’t, you’ll just panic and end up not reading the book at all.

That’s no good for your class and it’s definitely no good for you.

No matter how long you’ve got left, it’s time to tackle the reading.

Here’s what to do:

  • Work out how much time you’ve got left and in your schedule;
  • Break the text down into sections, so you don’t have to read in one go. This could be divided into something like equal numbers of pages per day, or chapters per session;
  • Put those chunks into your schedule, spaced out between now and when you need to have finished.

You can vary your methods, depending on how long you’ve got to do the reading. Hopefully you’ve still got several days, if not weeks, to do the reading. Even if you don’t have that luxury, there’s some advice below.

When you have several days/weeks to do the reading…

The earlier you start, the more time you have to space out the reading. You can casually read a small amount each day without much hassle.

Imagine you have two 50-page documents to read for a seminar in a week. That’s 7 days and 100 pages.

Maybe you don’t want to read on each of those seven days. We can make it five days instead. 100 pages spread equally over five days is…drum roll…20 pages a day. Much better than 100 pages in a single session.

A focus on fewer pages will also keep you in the mood to make notes and comments as you go through the writing. You may also get so involved that you’ll want to carry on reading.

Better than anything, though, is that you’ll find the challenge of 100 pages less scary when you space it out in smaller chunks.

You may be tempted to do the reading in a single session, but that’s where most people fall. Five pages in, you realise how huge the task in front of you really is. Without a backup plan, you add further stress to the mix. One hundred pages only works in a single session if you’re truly engaged in the reading.

I understand why it’s so tempting to get the reading done in one go. Your brain convinces you that one session of work is better than five sessions.

But as soon as you set yourself smaller doses, the task feels easier. You’ll be more open to spacing the work out as opposed to slogging through an exhausting marathon. Little and often trumps the overwhelm every time.

When you only have a day or two to do the reading…

You’ll never do yourself justice, but there are ways of cushioning the blow. Once in a while, you can probably get away with it. All the time, however…That’s a different story.

When time has got the better of you, here’s the drill:

  • First off, read the Lifehacker article. It covers most of what you need.
    In short, it’s about location, the right kind of noise (or silence), intervals with short breaks in between, making notes, the right food and drink, and using physical books where possible.
  • Know what you’re reading for. Is this for general seminar discussion, a major set text for a module, due to be part of a future exam or piece of coursework, for an overview or to discuss a specific point in the text? The reasons make a difference.
  • If the text is for discussion now, but is most important for an exam or an essay further down the line, you’ve already bought yourself more time. You won’t be able to work so well in a seminar session, but at least you can properly schedule reading time before it’s time to complete the marked coursework.
    Get a good overview (consult a cheat-sheet summary or synopsis first if you must…just don’t rely on it ongoing!), find answers/discussions for any set questions you’ve already been given, and concentrate on the major points expected.
  • If the text forms part of a module that’s about to start, you may have a little more time than you think.
    Sure, the first lecture is up tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean you’ve only got one day to get through the entire text. Instead, get that overview, at least start reading the text, and schedule more realistic reading sessions as discussed in the section above when you have several days to get the reading done.

The more time you have, the more you can space out the reading. It’s less daunting. You just need to develop the habit of committing to a bit every day. Yes, it feels strange at first, but you get used to it. Spacing out the work is preferable to doing all the reading in one go.

Finally, don’t make things too complicated. It’s just reading. Some stuff is a slog to get through. I know, I’ve been there. Despite all the Shakespeare I did for GCSEs and A-levels, I still found the process of reading it tough at university.

What type of reading bothers you the most?

Three Years To Tick A Box – Small Goals and Why Your Degree is the Minimum Requirement

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Three years to get your degree. That’s a big win.

You could wish that it was only two years. Or a week and half. Anything less than three years would be an advantage, wouldn’t it?

Not necessarily. Because you’re not at university *just* to get that piece of paper and the highest possible grade.

There’s even more value available in being distinctive.

My last couple of posts on TheUniversityBlog have looked at thinking beyond your grades and getting the most value from your student experience. Let’s wrap things up here by celebrating all the little plans while you’re working toward that big moment of graduation.

You may feel like there’s loads of time left.

Trust me, it’ll be over quicker than you’d like it to be.

Lots of Small Goals TUB

Lots of small goals

Your journey is full of lots of smaller wins. They may even add up to much more than the one big win of graduating.

Here’s the way Fast Company describes it:

“How do you prevent the intimidating big picture from dragging you down? Simply by finding ways to push yourself higher to more creative, more innovative levels that make you feel proud and give you the strength to make it through the tough days.” [SOURCE]

There’s so much happening right now. But with so much thought of the future and that one big goal of graduating being the driver, it’s easy to neglect where you are at this moment.

Your relationship with higher education can quickly swerve off-course.

That’s not your fault. There’s a lot to think about.

And because you’re thinking about so many things, you may forget to define your smaller goals.

A focus on getting a degree is understandable when the degree is another box ticked. Another step up the ladder. But it’s not enough.

Three years spent on a single box ticking goal isn’t a good use of time. I’m sure you completely understand that.

But that doesn’t mean the goal doesn’t get in the way.

Even when you make it a goal among many goals, it’s paired with that big future goal of getting a job after you graduate.

Degree as Minimum Requirement TUB

Degree as minimum requirement

Ticking the box is always at the back of your mind. And unless you see all your non-degree related skills and experiences as relevant in the long-term, you may still put the emphasis on ticking that box before anything else.

As you enjoy the club you joined, casually volunteer, and fill up your free time with fun, it could all mean something big. Notice that. Don’t leave everything to chance; make a bigger plan to fit in smaller goals, while you’re pursuing your big box-ticking goal.

No need to trust luck to get you further. You can spend a little more time and effort making a better bet for your future?

The degree isn’t the ultimate goal.

The degree is just the start. It’s the baseline. It’s the minimum requirement.

Beyond work experience and other well-worn paths, there are other things you can do. Things that don’t always take up too much of your time either. Schedule wisely and a few minutes each day may be all you need to create an empire of awesome.

Planning With or Without a Plan TUB

Planning, with or without a plan…

You may not even know what your future career plans are. Even uncertainty can come in useful:

  • You can explore new skills and experiences that aren’t limited to a single area of work;
  • You can find a new dynamic to help you see things differently and, perhaps, more clearly;
  • You can get some first-hand experience of different fields, allowing you to decide whether or not you want it to have a place in your future working life.

So while it may take you three or more years to get that stamp of approval from the university, that should give you time to build a bigger picture of yourself at the same time. The more you can do that, the easier it will be to sell yourself when you finally do graduate.

More than just a degree, you’ll have a lot more to show at the end of those three years.

Note it down as you go along. Big and small, document your achievements and experiences. They could come in handy later. And it’s better to have it set out as you go along, rather than wracking your brains later and getting a blank.

Over these years, what will you achieve and proudly show off as part of the story of you?

Is Your Degree Really Worth Less Now? You Can Make Sure It’s Not By Being Distinctive.

Is Your Degree Really Worth Less Now

I’m sure you’ve heard people saying that a degree is worth less than it used to be. Maybe you believe that yourself.

I don’t think that’s quite right.

There are different types of value you can put on a degree:

  • How much your life is changed as a result;
  • How the extra experiences push you in different directions and/or challenge your attitudes;
  • Securing better earnings based on your higher qualification;
  • The amount potential employers respect the qualification.

You’ll have other values to add.

For now, let’s look at views on your qualification, graduate premium, commuter students, and employer attitudes.

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More About the Qualification than the Challenge?

In recent years, there have been more stories of academics under pressure to go easier on students.

Students are prone to feel unhappy if their grades suffer, especially when they’re encouraged to challenge themselves. Instead of working to improve, some students want top grades right from the start.

Some of this is anecdotal and some is based on average grades creeping up over time.

The academic side of university life is just one aspect of the experience. You’re almost certain to be challenged to some extent, and you’re bound to find other surprises along the way outside of the lecture theatre.

With more people graduating, the challenges can help you develop and achieve unexpected things.

Ultimately, the main person to rely on if you want to grow is yourself.

New experiences are what you need to bring greater depth to who you are and who you want to become. More and more people are graduating, so it’s crucial to focus on more than just the qualification.

Sometimes, getting top grades from the outset means you’re not being challenged enough.

If you’re going to demand anything, don’t make the demand an easy ride. If you do that, you can’t find so many ways to distinguish yourself. And the whole point is to be distinctive. More on that below…

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Value For Money & Graduate Premium

You can’t work out for sure how your future earnings will differ had you not gone to university. Unless you end up working in a role where your degree is an absolute requirement, you can only use guesswork to reach a conclusion.

An IFS study has found that, despite growing numbers of students over recent decades, relative wages have remained pretty steady. Graduates can still expect a premium compared to school-leavers without a degree.

At the moment, that is. The study doesn’t predict this good fortune can last and has found school-leavers catching up a fraction.

For now, it’s only a small change. The IFS concludes that it’s possible for some new changes to come to light that will keep the graduate premium rolling along, albeit for different reasons. On the other hand, the gap may continue to close. That’s a long time in the future, however, so you have no need to panic about that today.

Whatever the case, looking at trends over a period of time across the board isn’t the same as your personal story. It’s totally different to look back at a year, ten years, fifty years later, and make a personal value statement.

Who knows what a different life could have looked like? If the sole focus of going to university is on making more money, there are other ways to make far more money without setting foot on campus.

Many students go to university in hope of improving their future life prospects. A big chunk of that means looking for a better salary. There’s no escaping that.

Future prospects improve when you can be distinctive. More on that below…

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What About the Off-Campus Experience?

More people are commuting from home to get to university. Many won’t hang around campus so much or be so involved in the social and extra-curricular activities.

Traditional routes into higher education used to mean living on or around campus. So how can commuter students manage without missing out or feeling overwhelmed?

A piece on ChangeSU recognises that commuting students haven’t been considered differently to other students, even though many will have different needs:

“An unfortunately high number of commuter students felt isolated, either because of their age, or because of being a commuter; deeming most people to have become good friends from their time spent in halls; making it difficult for commuter students’ to make new friends.”

This is a problem. It’s not easy to replicate the campus experience when you’re commuting, so alternatives should be arranged and other social events planned to suit longer-distance students.

Students’ unions are making headway into these issues. But the work may take a while and is unlikely to suit all those who commute, given such varied circumstances.

To gain the most value without the same extra-curricular activities, one of the most effective situations would be to take on a degree that’s based on your current employment and career trajectory. When the degree really is the missing piece for getting from A to B, the other aspects of university experience won’t be quite so important anyway. Still a shame, but not with the same potential change in value.

When you still want (or need) the full experience package as a commuting student, find as many ways as possible to get a taste of as much as you can:

  • Ruthlessly schedule: Limit less important activities and only give them space if they don’t get in the way of university activities.
  • Seek out alternatives: Speak to your students’ union and find out what they have to offer by way of support and activities to suit your specific circumstances.
  • Create your own alternatives: If nothing else is on offer and your location is more of a problem than time is, create your own movement. Find out if other commuting students are looking for more. If your idea gains traction, it may be the success you need to differentiate yourself and stand out from the crowd after you graduate.

There’s value in showing commitment to getting the most out of your wider university experience despite having to commute. Make it part of your story once you graduate if you can. Highlighting your ability to triumph over struggle is a great way to make yourself distinctive as a graduate. More on that below…

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Employers Respecting Your Qualification

When employers judge your suitability for a job, what if they also judge your qualification?

Every now and then, stories pop up in the media that express surprise at how hard it is to find jobs. They mention Oxford and Cambridge graduates who can’t find work, despite applying for many jobs. Some don’t even get to interview stage.

So what’s going on?

All drama to one side, one thing has definitely changed.

Employers can no longer just filter candidates based on whether or not they’ve got a degree. In the past, fewer people went to university, so employers could easily limit the number of people for selection by looking for graduates only.

Today, with roughly half of school leavers going on to university, it is no longer possible to filter in this way. It’s easy to be inundated with candidates who all hold an undergraduate degree.

I’m sure you know how important it is to stand out in other ways. But how much of a lowdown have you got on how to do this?

You might think that everyone will become practically impossible to impress. The more people achieve, the more you have to do to stand out.

But that’s not true. It’s a mistake to think that you have to impress employers more than ever. You’re not superhuman.

So how do you make your play?

Instead of thinking more, think:

  • Specialist;
  • Niche;
  • Unique;
  • Narrative;
  • Individual.

In other words: You must be distinctive.

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Getting From Graduate to Distinctive

Standing out means being noticeable. When you’re memorable, you’ve got distinctive qualities right there. It’s got nothing to do about ticking every single box. It’s got everything to do with ticking a box that nobody else has. Find your unique.

Here are a few thoughts:

  • Show how you went the extra mile to achieve something;
  • Explain how you solved a problem and improved a situation;
  • Demonstrate what you have done in your subject (or in your chosen field of work) to set yourself apart. It could be a blog, a presentation, a talk, specialist volunteering, fundraising for something they’re invested in;
  • Describe how you accomplished a special feat despite your demanding situation. Show how you overcame those personal struggles.

Your job is to tell relevant, memorable stories. The focus isn’t on the qualifications or the institution you attended. The focus is on you and what you’ve done.

You can do all sorts at university. You’re probably already exploring what’s possible. While there’s still time, push yourself even further.

 

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What Does “Value” Mean Anyway?

You may be thinking by now that half of this isn’t related to your degree anyway. So where’s the direct value in that? Why should it count as part of the overall experience?

That’s where the confusion comes in. The more you think about tuition fees, the more danger there is in forgetting to look outside of the academic work.

Treat the fee as part of the whole experience, otherwise you’ll go mad working out how expensive every seminar is.

I’m not trying to justify how you feel about the money side of things. But it’s important to separate finances from your thoughts about the future. They both matter; they just don’t always gel together. When you try to link them up, it gets messy.

In other words, trying to work out the true return on investment of a degree is practically impossible. That’s why your job is to make the most of your time at university in as many ways possible.

Which areas are specifically paid for through your tuition fee?

It doesn’t matter.

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At university you’ve got access to so much at your fingertips. It’s there for the taking, so make use of the resources. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking that high tuition fees mean you must use all your time to ensure you graduate with a First Class Honours. University is an experience of experiences.

The more you embrace what’s on offer, the more you can excel when it’s time to show off your distinctive qualities.

Your degree has not lost value.

You just need to extract value differently to the way it was done in the past.

Look forward, not back.

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