Over £310,000,000 a Year Misspent on Tuition – and one Fellow’s attempt to change this

August 26, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Fellowship, Uncategorized 

This is a guest post from Fellow Stephen Parkes. Stephen was awarded a Catalyst Grant for his project Go Enrol, a website allowing potential students to compare higher education opportunities on the issues that matter to them. Stephen is particularly keen to find Fellows who can introduce student career advisors, teachers and parents of students who looking at going to university.

With average tuition fees in England of £8,448 per annum, students are making one of the largest financial commitments of their life. With an expected drop-out rate of around 37,000 students from this year’s cohort, this means that around £310 million will be misspent on tuition alone. This is before we even consider the time wasted of all involved, along with the other costs. When you consider also that an estimated 26% of undergraduates wished they had done more research before applying, we end up with a lot of students wishing they had made a different decision. With cut backs on career guidance in schools, more support is needed to be given to students. Go Enrol is building an online scalable form of support which can be used by students easily, for free anywhere the student is. Read more

Pioneering social innovation in Malaysia

Genovasi Malaysia logoThis blog was originally posted on the news page of the RSA Student Design Awards website on 4th August 2014.

I am pleased to announce that nine emerging Malaysian innovators have won in the inaugural RSA Genovasi Malaysia Awards, winning a range of prizes worth a total of RM260,000. In addition, the winners all receive admission into Genovasi’s Innovation Ambassador Development Programme, complementary RSA Fellowship for a year, providing the students with access to the RSA’s Catalyst Fund and Skills Bank to further develop their projects.

The RSA Student Design Awards team partnered with Genovasi, a transformative learning institution focused on cultivating innovation skills in young people to develop and deliver the RSA Genovasi Malaysia Awards, which launching in September 2013. Genovasi offers a human-centred learning experience to learn and use innovation for social inclusion, active citizenship and personal development for future transferable skills to face challenges in life. The RSA Genovasi Malaysia Awards focused on three project briefs for this pilot year: Active Citizens, Encouraging Social Entrepreneurship, and Citizenship and Communication in a Digital Age.

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Systemic leadership: it’s about noticing, navigating, understanding and caring for the fish-tank as well as the fish

‘What is the system doing to me, and what am I doing to the system?’ and ‘what are the social forces to which I am exposed at work that shape my leadership performance?’ were two of the many questions that Surrey Fellows were recently invited to explore, as part of a workshop run by Dr William Tate, Director of the Institute for Systemic Leadership.

Participants were invited to work on the systemic ideas in the context of their own organizations – challenging stuff, particularly when the implications are subject to deep reflection and challenge by supportive peers.

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Design innovation: new ways of thinking can change the world

June 30, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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From beeswax packaging to paint that pours only one way, tomorrow’s designers show huge promise but they need support

Many people think that design is about prettification. But those people are horribly, dreadfully wrong. Design is much more than that; it’s a superpower, and with it you can change the world.

Through the RSA’s Great Recovery project, I’ve spent the past couple of years looking at the role that design plays in moving us from a linear economy – where we dig up elements in Africa, process them in Asia, ship them to us, then throw them in a hole in the ground a few months later – to a circular economy, where valuable elements are kept in play and reused or preprocessed. Read more

Emerging Ecologies at the RSA

June 24, 2014 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Social Economy, Uncategorized 

A week into my Research Intern post at the RSA and amongst the swarm of buzz words, project titles TLAs, people’s names and lunch recommendations there is already a glimmer of the range and impact of the RSA projects.

I find myself in the privileged position of ‘straddling’ two separate yet, as it appears, deeply connected projects. The projects come underneath the RSA’s Action and Research Centre; one is a new project, with a London Borough Council, that is part of the Connected Communities (ConCom) team and the other is part of the City Growth Commission (CGC). 

Initially the obvious difference in scales of the subject areas delineates the projects very clearly, yet in reality they are looking very similar processes.

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10 take-aways from our new report on self-employment

May 30, 2014 by · 9 Comments
Filed under: Enterprise, Uncategorized 

Towards the end of last year the RSA and Etsy launched a new project, The Power of Small, which seeks to examine the large growth in the number of microbusinesses, and what this phenomenon might mean for all of us. This week we launched our first report – one of three – which looks in detail at the individuals involved, including what is driving the increase in self-employment, how this community is changing, and what life is really like for those who work for themselves.

Here are 10 key take-aways from the paper:

#1 – Self-employment is rising at a remarkable pace

The UK is experiencing a boom in self-employment. Today there are 600,000 more microbusinesses in the UK than there was when the recession began in 2008, and 40 per cent more than at the turn of the century. Likewise, the number of people who work for themselves is up by 30 per cent since 2000, meaning that 1 in 7 of the workforce is now self-employed. This stands in stark contrast to the growth in typical employment, which is up by only 5 per cent since 2000. If these trends continue, the number of people who work for themselves will soon outnumber the public sector workforce (we estimate this could happen sometime around 2018).

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2014 RSA Student Design Award Winners

Today is a big day.

Nine months ago on September 1st 2013, we launched our eight RSA Student Design Award briefs for the year and thousands of students across the UK, Europe and Asia began applying their design skills to a range of social, economic and environmental issues such as improving hygiene in low-income areas, managing water in urban areas, addressing changing work patterns, and many more. Over 600 students sent their work into the RSA and our judges began the arduous task of reviewing and scrutinising the work, looking for key insights and clever design thinking. Those 600+ entries became a short-list of around 80 and today, after interviews with all short-listed entrants, I am pleased to present the 18 winning projects and the designers behind them.

Today’s impressive list of emerging designers and innovators – some working in collaborative teams and some working individually – represent the best of what happens when good ideas meet good design (and good briefs too, I think!).

This year’s winners include proposals for new packaging made from beeswax, an alarm clock app to improve well-being amongst 18-25 year olds, an affordable sanitary towel for schoolgirls in low-income areas, and a frugally-designed hygiene pack for use in refugee camps. Read more

Time for some clear yellow water: Should all Liberal Democrat ministers resign?

May 23, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Education Matters, Uncategorized 

lib dem manifesto

Yesterday’s predicted and predictable local election disaster for the Liberal Democrats may be meaningless this time next year. If their core vote forgives some of their soul-selling, and no other party gains its own overall majority, the Lib Dems could arrive in May 2015 with a similar number of MPs and a meal ticket to form another coalition.

It will, however, be a different party from the one which formed a government in 2010. International Development Minister Lynn Featherstone confessed on Question Time yesterday that the Liberal Democrats have lost some of their ‘humanity’ since joining the coalition. Her explanation that the party has become too ‘ministerial’, may only partly explain this (it’s not as if the electorate perceives the Labour opposition as having humanity in spades), but there is little doubt that national power has changed the Liberal Democrat DNA.

One of the unintended yet refreshing aspects of this coalition government has been an unearthing of the power of open policymaking. Whilst the Cabinet Office is trying this through sophisticated, design-led processes, politicians have been getting on with it. Cross-party ministerial teams have been prepared to reveal the tensions, debates and doubts that are an inevitable part of policymaking processes.  The disagreements have been substantive, in the best possible way – they have revealed the substance of policy debates, rather than the style of clashing egos – the ‘froth’, as Tony Blair used to dismiss various internecine New Labour squabbles.

When we met with David Laws last week (squeezed between various free school/free school meals rows and rapprochements) to discuss our report into teacher education and research, he was as focused as ever on the job in hand, especially the effective implementation of current policies.  However, with policy development more-or-less concluded for this Parliament (with the important but cross-party exception of the Modern Slavery Bill), there is now a strong argument for all Liberal Democrat Ministers to resign from their posts, in an orderly and non-grumpy way, before they depart for Summer holidays. There have already been rumblings of plans for a  happy divorce, but I’d suggest that it’s up to the Lib Dems to take the initiative on this. If some kind of mutual non-disclosure agreement is necessary to prevent Jerry Springer-like mudslinging between current and former ministers, then so be it (although with Clegg, Gove and advisers involved, any truce is unlikely to hold for long).

Liberal Democrat Ministers deserve some time out of office to create some clear yellow water between themselves and the administration they have been part of. This is not just about the development of catchy pupil premium-like ideas for the next manifesto. Next time, the concept of coalition does not need to take them by surprise.  Liberal Democrats need to rethink how their approach to their next possible coalition needs to be underpinned by a clearer set of principles which return the party to their historical roots and traditions, especially relating to localism.

What was most surprising about Nick Clegg’s ‘free school meals for all’ policy, apart from its shaky evidence base and partially regressive nature, is the lack of commitment it revealed to the principles of school autonomy. Schools could not be trusted to make their own budgetary decisions on this issue. Similarly, less excusable than their unavoidable climbdown on tuition fees (they are the minority party, after all) was their blind rubberstamping of the government’s top-down health reforms – I say blind , given that Nick Clegg allegedly did not even read the proposals before giving them his blessing. One Liberal Democrat 2010 Manifesto proposal which has been barely mentioned since is the idea of a local income tax. Given current concerns about regional disparities in wealth and growth, and the Conservatives’ half-hearted attempts to devolve power to local communities (look and laugh at the front cover of their 2010 Manifesto), this idea is worthy of proper reconsideration.

conservative-manifesto-2010

A period of reflection, on deckchairs, backbenches, and constituency surgery chairs, could enable the Liberal Democrats to use their experience of holding office to think pragmatically about how their commitment to localism should manifesto itself in both manifesto and in future negotiations about the next coalition. Otherwise, to adapt an old phrase, ‘Whoever is in office, the centralisers are always in power’.

Joe Hallgarten, Director of Education    @joehallg

#ToryBingo: the ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality of British politics

March 20, 2014 by · 2 Comments
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I imagine Grant Shapps had a bit of a political hangover this morning. In a fit of misplaced triumphalism, his thoughtless piece of Conservative propaganda went viral on Twitter last night. The Bingo poster lumps all ‘hard working people’ together as a monolithic and stereotyped ‘they’, who presumably are something separate from more sophisticated politicians. Now in the clutches of the internet, in the hands of no-one and everyone at the same time, it shows that the Tories are disconnected from a large portion of electorate they claim to representative. But, this is not just a problem of the Conservative Party. The positioning of a ‘them’ and an ‘us’ is endemic within the political system.

torybingo

Think for a moment of the words we use to describe British MPs. They’re known as the political elite, who are vacuum-sealed from the rest of society in the Westminster bubble. Now, I’m not here to say we shouldn’t be using these terms. Statistics from the Smith Institute show that they’re pretty accurate: 43% of MPs went to private schools (compared with the national average of approximately 7%), nearly a quarter are Oxbridge educated, only 4.1% are from non-white backgrounds, a mere 22% are female, and there are possibly as few as 4 disabled MPs. Our political house is not representative of the society we live in and our language reflects this. But this isn’t the whole picture.

One of the reasons the system remains a hotbed of elitism, which is stagnant in its appeal but also in its variety of ideas, is the way those of us who are not part of this political elite see ourselves and the way we’re told to see ourselves. While we’re attempting to unveil the unrepresentative nature of contemporary politics by using the word elite, we, the electorate, are referred to as ordinary or normal.

These words slip out of politicians’ mouths without a second thought. As I’ve written recently, they’re used by people across the political spectrum for different reasons but regardless of the intention behind these words, they’re disempowering. In our everyday lives, at home, in the workplace, at school, how acceptable would it be to call each other ordinary? Used so openly in the political context, what they tell us is that if we’re ordinary, politicians are extraordinary. These words, and the dichotomy they create, imply that you can only effect change if you qualify as part of the elite. Unless, that is, you’re one of the special ones who can work to overcome their ordinariness. Understanding ourselves in relation to politics and politicians in this way reinforces most people’s feeling that politics isn’t a place for them or a world that represents them.

It is by playing upon these ideas that Nigel Farage is making such good ground. By claiming to represent ordinary people, he’s tapping into this sense of disenfranchisement in a perverse way. Pictures of him, pint in hand on a weekday lunchtime, are a crude attempt to make him seem like an ordinary person (despite the fact he was once a commodity broker and in many ways is cut from the same expensive cloth as Cameron and Osborne) but they have an eerily similar echo to Shapps’ Bingo (and Beer) poster. Although Farage’s tactics may prove electorally effective, he’s continuing to disempower people by speaking for the ordinary electorate, who, these pictures suggest, he also sees as a homogenous beer guzzling mass. Ironically he’s playing on his own self-professed ordinariness to get himself a pass into the Westminster bubble, instead of helping ordinary people to create a platform where they can speak for themselves.

A likely response to what I’m saying is that no one needs to buy this ‘ordinary‘ line anymore. Not now we have the internet, potentially a key plank to achieving true democracy, where everyone can make their voices heard. But what this implicitly means is that if we still feel voiceless, or in a world where we’re judged by our Twitter followers, if we don’t feel we have enough, it’s our own failing. The tools are there, we just aren’t using them in the right way.

We won’t create a political system in which no one is described or seen as ordinary by telling individuals to go forth and shout over each other on Twitter. It will be done by moving past this ‘them’ and ‘us’ dichotomy. To begin, we need a truly representative parliament, a place where everyone in society feels like they have a stake and where we realise no human being can or should be called ordinary.

Can today’s Subpostmasters be tomorrow’s community gurus?

February 27, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Enterprise, Social Economy, Uncategorized 

This week the RSA launched a new report exploring the potential for Post Offices to transform themselves into Community Enterprise Hubs. You can view the report here. And you can view the Twitter coverage here.

Tanya

The Post Office is an organisation like no other. Local branches contribute enormously to the life and soul of their communities, are an essential vehicle for delivering public services, and provide the vital infrastructure that our businesses need to prosper. Yet we have only scratched the surface when it comes to realising their potential.

In the RSA’s new report, Making the Connection, we argue that Post Offices could do more to support local residents and businesses. They have a presence in nearly every community, are widely trusted and have a resilience and continuity that few other organisations can match. Close to 93 per cent of people live within a mile of their nearest branch, and it is estimated that a third of residents and a half of SMEs visit one at least once a week – the kind of footfall that other organisations would give their right arm for.

A number of Subpostmasters up and down the country are already capitalising on these opportunities and showing what can be achieved with limited resources. Win Morgan from Llangadog Post Office in South West Wales provides packaging and technical support for home-based businesses, while Tanya Vasileva (pictured) from Belzise Park Post Office in London provides shelf space for local businesses to sell their wares. Danielle Barnes from Port Clarence Post Office in Stockton has gone as far as to host a health centre, crèche, training rooms and café next to her branch.

Yet these are the exception rather than the rule. Most Subpostmasters are some way away from running the type of Community Enterprise Hubs called for in our report. This is a loss not only to the community but also to the bottom line of Subpostmasters. By doing more to support local residents and businesses Post Offices could tap into valuable new revenue streams and drive up all important footfall. Indeed, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that Post Offices are first and foremost commercial businesses, and as such need to stand on their own two feet.

Tomorrow’s world also presents more opportunities for Post Offices than many would currently believe. The growth of microbusinesses, self-employment and homeworking presents Subpostmasters with an opportunity to make them­selves indispensable hubs for local business communities. Likewise, their ability to understand community dynamics is an attractive trait for potential public service partners seeking to support an ageing society, implement demand management (see another report we published this week) and create bottom-up responses to social problems. Whether it is in smoothing the transition to Universal Credit or improving access to affordable finance, there is nearly always something the Post Office could bring to the table.

With this in mind, the RSA has set out several new proposals designed to encourage and enable more Subpostmasters to make the transition to a Community Enterprise Hub. This includes nurturing a more entrepreneurial culture across the network, rewriting the underlying narrative of the Post Office, and attracting new talent into the cohort of Subpostmasters. In practical terms, this might mean creating a new Subpostmasters Apprenticeship Scheme to bring in fresh faces; or fast-tracking the serial Subpostmasters who want to run multiple branches. The RSA has also suggested inviting social entrepreneurs to become the next generation of Subpostmasters.

In 2014, the RSA and Post Office Ltd will work together to realise some of these proposals.

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