Russell Group

15 Ways to Get a Fresh Perspective On an Old Topic

How do you give yourself a fresh pair of eyes when you’ve seen it all before?

I pondered this after the announcement that David Eastwood–someone deeply involved in HE–had been made Chair of Russell Group.

In a time of difficulty for the sector, it is obvious that a top role needs someone with a lot of experience and influence in order to be heard and to make a further mark.

To show the extent to which Eastwood knows the sector, here are just some of his current roles:

  • Vice Chancellor of the University of Birmingham;
  • on the advisory board of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI);
  • a member of the QAA board;
  • Chair of the UCAS Board.

What, you want more? Fine. Eastwood’s past experience includes having been head of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), chief executive of the Arts & Humanities Research Board, and he was on the panel of the Browne review of HE.

Let’s just say he knows a bit about HE…

Having loads of experience sounds great, but it’s just as important to look at each situation from a fresh perspective. Without new ideas, you face getting set in your ways.

You can’t forget what you know and become a novice again, so you need another way to look at things differently.

"I've Seen It All Before..." (photo by ZeroOne)

“I’ve Seen It All Before…” (photo by ZeroOne)

Below, I’ve got fifteen tips for getting new views. They aren’t designed to change your opinion (although they might!). These tips will help you to see further, to understand why not everyone sees things from your point of view, and to give you greater strength in your own views.

  1. Read stuff that you don’t agree with – It may not change your own opinion, but it will help you see how other people view the situation.
  2. Think about the issues you don’t know so well – Learning never ends; it just gets more specific. Look beyond what you already know and keep discovering even more.
  3. Ask for other opinions/options/ideas and work with those you hadn’t considered or acted upon before – I often say that you should listen to advice, and then choose whether or not to make use of it.  Over on Twitter, @Mandlovesgeeks recognises how tough this can be. Mand suggests that you should “ask for feedback from someone else – & try to listen to it, even when it’s painful”.
  4. Play ‘what if…?’ and see how your view changes – When faced with alternatives, it’s easy to dismiss them out of hand without considering them. They sound wrong and that’s the end of that.
    Instead, think ‘what if…?’ and work out some pros and cons to different ideas. You may find something positive after all, or you may have a useful list of cons to use in future discussions.
  5. Imagine what it’s like to be an outsider looking in for the first time – When you don’t have all that experience, what does the start look like? If you had to explain things to a child, how easy would it be?
  6. Imagine what it’s like for an insider in a very different position to your own – People are great at working together, but they regularly take on very different roles. You may be working toward the same goal, but is everybody travelling toward the goal in the same way?
  7. Play devil’s advocate on your own long-term opinions – After years of sticking to your guns, it’s worth nudging yourself once in a while and arguing with your own opinion. Pick great holes in your well-worn perspective and argue back with just as much conviction.
  8. Don’t take anything for granted. ANYTHING. – It’s easy to forget that you know so much about the topic and that you have no doubt developed lots of short cuts and assumptions. Scrap them. Start afresh. If you haven’t done something the long way round for a while, it’s worth reminding yourself.
  9. Go somewhere else. Do something new – A new perspective on other things around you will get you thinking in new ways. Use this to your advantage. If you can’t get away from your physical surroundings, listen to some music you wouldn’t usually choose.
  10. View from a different medium – Used to doing everything on a screen? Print it out. Tired of text? Try an infographic. Bored of the same textbook? Find a new book on the same subject.
  11. Sit on it – When you’ve been over-thinking, fresh thoughts are hard to come by. Put it down for an hour, a day, a week, a month…whatever. Come back to it when you’re no longer obsessing over things.
  12. Stay curious – Auto-pilot is dangerous. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but can boost your career
  13. Write about it (mega credit to @emmielouli) – Get words out on the page and your view may look different to the shorthand version in your head. If your view stays the same, you may notice gaps in your knowledge and questions you can’t quite answer. These aren’t reasons to be ashamed. These are areas to explore!
  14. Look across different sectors/subjects (mega credit to @helencurtis) – You don’t have to stay on your own turf. Find out what happens elsewhere. See what’s different. How could it work in your context?
  15. You tell me… – I need a fresh perspective. What do you do to get a fresh view of something? Let me know in the comments!

Making student places available and how to fund them

Channel 4 News last night provided a debate on the number of students going in to higher education and whether more places should be provided to meet demand.

Many young people are finding it difficult to find a place at uni, despite outstanding grades.  Rejections may come down solely to a flawed personal statement, or some minor issue that’s become a major block.  In all this uncertainty, it’s clear that the current system of allocating places at university is not supporting all those who would benefit from higher education.

photo by id-iom

photo by id-iom

Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group of universities, was first to speak on the Channel 4 debate.  She said huge increase in applications forces the question of whether the economy needs this many graduates and, if so, how can we afford them?  Due to world competition, Piatt argued that quality should be maintained.  Why short change students by spreading a limited pot of money too thinly?

Piatt went on to say that the current system does not support greater numbers of students.  Rather than have everybody pay the same amount of money, Piatt said there should be variation, especially as some people earn much more than others.

Strangely, this last point reminded me of an argument for graduate tax, which the Russell Group opposes.  They would rather see the cap on fees raised, if not abolished altogether.

It’s no surprise that the Russell Group want higher fees. They would be able to charge much more, yet maintain a full quota of students.  If any set of universities can stay strong based on their history and prestige, it is this set.

photo by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino

photo by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino

Professor Leslie Davies, vice chair of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said that HE currently caters for different purposes, needs and lifestyles. However, there needs to be further diversification to meet learner’s needs.  For instance, not all students want to move away from home for three years now.  A big shift is happening with better informed students looking more closely at career prospects.

Davies explained that employers are looking for a wide range of qualifications and skills from the workforce, with many companies recognising A-levels as a way in, as well as Diplomas and vocational routes.  A “one size fits all” approach is no longer helpful, so young people require better advice and guidance to suit their personal situation.

NUS President, Aaron Porter, warned of greater costs for the government unless more places were created for students.  The burden on jobseeker’s allowance with many people out of work could be huge, he argued, with the number of jobs drying up and fierce competition for apprenticeships.

In terms of debt, Porter disagreed with Piatt that degree costs should be variable based on course studied.  Some people choose to study law & economics and want to be a teacher.  Why should they be saddled with more debt if they go on to that totally different vocation?

Porter said that both individuals and the state will lose out if the state continues to set an artificial cap on places.  Students should be able to attend university if they wish and demonstrate the ability and grades.  Compared with OECD countries, the UK is slipping down the tables fast.  More people are entering higher education in other countries compared with here, which could severely limit the UK workforce.

photo by garlandcannon

photo by garlandcannon

How did the students see all this?  Also in the studio was a mix of young people either going to university this year or who had missed out on a place at uni despite good grades.

A selection of comments:

  • Students are a burden, but they are also the next workforce who need the right skills and training;
  • University may not be the only choice, but why stop people who DO want to attend and who have made the grade?
  • Looks like re-stratification. Fine if you can afford Cambridge, otherwise forced to do something else like get a diploma from a ‘random college’;
  • Graduate tax is a good idea. However, differential rates do pose a difficulty and it’s not easy to argue the best solution;
  • If you want to go to uni and have your mind set on it, you should have that right.  University is not the only way to kickstart a career.
  • Social perception needs changing before we can better engage public on benefits of HE.  Students are still seen as a lazy bunch who do precious little, but it’s a misconception;
  • Student debt is a growing issue for those looking at future options.  More potential students being turned off now there’s a greater chance of debt skyrocketing further.

The debate made clear that everyone agreed on certain points:

  1. University isn’t the only valid option available to further career prospects;
  2. Better advice and guidance is required to help people make better choices;
  3. Current numbers of students are not sustainable unless some form of change is introduced.

The third point is where much of the agreement breaks down.  The debate rests on where change should be made.  Should diversity naturally lower the number of people filing in to universities?  Should fees be raised and students/graduates shoulder the burden?  Should the artificial cap on places be lifted and funding be sourced from other savings?

I feel the first two points are crucial in assisting the change required in the third point.  Luckily, there is so much agreement on those two points.

Student numbers and funding provision are still the big issues for the government.  In the process, individual choices and the widening of opportunity falls deeper to the background.  What if the way forward was actually moving further away from view?  This is even more pertinent after Nick Clegg’s recent speech on social mobility:

“This is a complex and contested area of both research and policy. And action to improve social mobility will take many years to take effect. In policy terms, it is like turning the wheel on an oil tanker.

“Promoting social mobility is a long-term business. And it is precisely for that reason that it is vital to establish now, at the beginning of our time in office, that promoting social mobility is at the top of our social agenda.”

Social mobility involves more than money and affordability.  This is just the same for universities. Funding may be the problem, but that doesn’t mean it’s also the solution.