Is a study on admission systems to higher education relevant to #edtech?

Yesterday a comparative study written in co-authorship between Alex Usher, Cezar Haj, Graeme Atherton, Irina Geanta and myself was published by the European Comission. It looks at the shape and consequences of higher education admission systems across Europe – comparing key information on 36 countries with in-depth studies in 8 of them. A network of people from these countries helped us compile the necessary information and carrying out the case studies vital to this enterprise.

In 21st century society, the ability to access and succeed in higher education is central to social mobility and economic security for European countries. The question of who goes on to higher education and who does not, who is steered towards it and who is steered away from it, is thus a major issue in forming dynamic and progressive societies. Whilst admission systems have the task of selecting those who have the potential to succeed in higher education, they can also limit such opportunities for certain social groups. Therefore, admission systems can be assessed on their capability to provide an efficient and effective route to study success, but also on the inclusiveness of this process.

The central idea on which the study is built is that an admission system is both technically and socially constructed around the answers to the following three questions:

  1. How do schools choose people who can become students?
  2. How do universities and colleges choose the students they enrol?
  3. How do students choose higher education institutions?

The study closes with 9 direct recommendations for improving the equity and efficiency of higher education admission.

If we are focussed on #edtech, probably the 3rd question is most relevant. We carried out focus groups with young people making decisions on where to go. One of the more extreme complaints was that access information (and I quote directly): “was as boring as the bible”. Information and advice systems are vital and perhaps we can have some hope that recommendation systems might be able to simplify this challenge a little.

It is imperative to improve the information, advice and guidance available to young people on their options for higher education. In particular, students require contextual information and advice which is personalised and goes beyond their social-proximity network (i.e. their parents, relations and friends), which is where they otherwise tend to receive this information.

This is a major challenge for the future, which requires ‘joined up thinking’ between the various layers in the higher education admission system (between schools, advice services, parents and higher education institutions). It could be an area for thoughts on solutions using open data and recommendation systems too.

See study here:

Comparative report (including executive summary):

National case studies:



#edtech in higher education – beyond the slogans

One of the main topics of my presentations and the ensuing conversations this week at the University of Mainz and the Teacher Training Institute Berlin/Brandenburg was getting beyond the rhetoric of #edtech and the digital agenda. We had a lot of fun with a one-armed bandit which produces #edtech slogans on the fly – some of these are ridiculous, some quite familiar (unfortunately it is only available in German).

So what is the practice at the present? Our OOFAT study for ICDE looks to capture established uses of technology in higher education. We have been looking to the flexibility and openness of three core processes in higher education – (i) delivery of content and student support, (ii) development of content and assessments and (iii) recognition of learning. A first look at the interim results is sobering, but not surprising.

The cases in the current data set – but we need more – show a high level of flexibility in providing access to content and student support. We also see that many respondents state that much of their content is being developed collaboratively in partnership with external partners. But we see much less openness in terms of use of learner-produced content, and relatively fixed assessment and recognition practices.

But… we would like more participation from higher education leaders, who describe their innovations using our standardised survey. Please contribute so we can get beyond the slogans!

See our survey here (also available on the first page as pdf to download and send by email):



Business models of universities adopting digital solutions

(updated 20.6.2017)

One element of the OOFAT study commissioned by ICDE and being carried out by FiBS Germany (Dominic Orr, Lene Wrobel) and IET from the Open University UK (Martin Weller, Rob Farrow) is looking at the business models being adopted by universities across the world in their implementation of technology-enhanced content development, delivery and learning recognition.

For this element of the study, we have adopted a framework for our survey from Taran, Boer & Lindgren (2015)* which looks at 7 elements of a business model and contrasts for each an approach to extending market position with one developing a new market position. Currently we have data from 37 higher education institutions from across the world (25 countries), which can be used to provide a first insight. Since the categories have been formulated dichotomously, it is interesting to see where more than half of the institutions have set their focus.

The chart above shows that HEIs tell us they are using digital technologies for new communication channels to develop new relationships with their target audiences (learners), whilst using their existing (traditional) institutional structures and networks for provision. They also tell us that they are exploring new approaches to their value chain and looking for new ways to cover their costs or maintain profitability. Around 40% of the HEIs say that they are using new technologies to offer new products or services to new markets.

Although our survey already covers HEIs from across the globe (the results above cover institutions from 23 countries), this is not enough for a fully developed investigation.

We would therefore like to ask you again to consider taking our survey or suggesting survey participation to other HEIs leaders across the world. The survey will close and the end of June 2017. Thank you.

Survey link: here

By the way: the results can be nicely compared to what came out of the McKinsey Global Survey. Asked which digital activities they see as top priority, the largest group of CEOs stated “digital engagement of customers”**. It will be interesting to see whether our results concur at the end of the survey.

*Taran, Y; Boer, H.; Lindgren, P. (2015). A business model innovation typology. In: Decision Sciences, Vol. 46, No. 2, pp. 301-331.


New global survey on digital, open provision of higher education

According to a new statistical tool from the Worldbank using open data, countries tend to spend around 20% of government spending on tertiary education – and this rate has stayed relatively constant since the start of the time series in 2004. Parallel to this, the gross enrolment rate has climbed from 10% in 1970 to 35% in 2014, although there are huge enrolment rate differences worldwide.

This context presents a challenging framework in which both policy-makers and institutional leaders work to provide sustainable, affordable and high quality higher education. The International Council for Open and Distance Education believes that reviewing the practices of distance, technology-enhanced higher education provision worldwide can point to pathways of innovation which work and can provide the basis for global peer learning in higher education.

To this aim, ICDE have commissioned a study systematically collating global cases of open and distance education provision and distilling typical practice models. This study is being carried out in cooperation between FiBS- Research Institute for the Economics of Education and Social Affairs (Germany) and the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University (UK).

We are focussing on three core processes in higher education: content, delivery and recognition and looking at how flexibly these processes are offered to the learner and how open and inclusive each of these processes is. Naturally we want to know how this provision is embedded in an overall business model to make it sustainable over time.

Our main method of collation is through a global survey, which we are launching this week.

  • Please follow the link to our survey here
  • Please also see the blogpost from the colleagues from the Open Education Research Hub here

We would be very grateful if the international community could help us spread the word so that we can capture the great examples of sustainable, technology-enhanced higher education provision form across the world. We need your input! We are hoping to collate at least 70 examples, which will then act as a basis for our work on typologies towards sustainable models for affordable, high quality higher education provision.

Abundance of choice – a challenge for learning

At the start of 2017 I thought it would be fun to think of any red threads that appear to be running through my recent work. Could they lead to interesting predictions or at least goals for the future? My current work in the fields of further education, open education and digitalisation, and on how young people choose to enter higher education and what study programme to pursue suggest one major topic: the need for new types of guidance and support structures for learners. Ask a young person how they formed their decision to go to higher education and what course to take and you will hear a lot about support provided by people in their closest personal network – family, friends and teachers.

If we are going to have more and diverse routes to learning experiences open to us, we will also need advice to simplify the abundance of choice and help evaluate the consequences of choice… and people to trust to give us this advice. Social networks could be helping us more here, but currently most of us appear to be relying on advice from people in our near proximity and learning opportunities encouraged by our local social context. The challenge is to provide advice, support and guidance structures in trust networks which include people we don’t know and haven’t yet met. (In one recent discussion on this we thought of trust and endorsement transactions based on the blockchain methodology.) New trust networks could help breakdown the virtual wall whereby opportunity and choices are partially determined by the socio-economic context of a person. Maybe new immersive software experiences providing virtual and augmented reality have a role here too?

I certainly think that we have now reached a consensus that new technology – digitalisation – should be harnessed to provide social innovations and not simply to offer new media experiences. Lets start 2017 looking for problems to solve in order to make the learning experience better and to support the personal development of as many learners as possible.


(Written Jan 7 2017, since then Erasmus+ proposal submitted on this topic)

(Maze photo by Adam Heath CC-BY-SA, Longleat Safari Park (from Flickr).

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