Relgion and belief

We are currently undertaking a project to investigate the experiences of staff and students in higher education in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in relation to religion or belief. 


There is currently no comprehensive national evidence about the broader experience of students from a diverse range of religions and beliefs in higher education. Part of this project is a survey which aims to develop an evidence base for understanding the experience of staff and students in higher education with a religion and belief.


If you work or study in higher education in the UK we’d really appreciate it if you could take 15 minutes of your time to complete this questionnaire.





Comprehensive spending review


The last couple of months has felt like that moment when Indiana Jones spots the ball rolling down the corridor towards him. We’ve all know that the comprehensive spending review has been coming and we’ve all been running away as fast as we could. But unlike Indy, we weren’t sure what way to run.

So now it is here. Osborne has spoken and we now know the truth – sort of. We still need to wait and see how it pans out and so it will be a while before we know whether we’ve managed to escape with our hats intact. However, on the whole it was probably pretty much what everyone expected.


It is worth putting down, just for the record, that I don’t necessarily buy the rationale for the cutpocalpse. The idea that the deficit needs to be paid back tomorrow is highly contestable as is the idea that this comprehensive spending review will address it. It is equally possible that the cuts will have a damaging impact on the economy as a whole, pushing us back into recession and therefore making the repaying of the deficit less likely. It is also worth noting that there are a number of measures in here that don’t really address the immediate deficit issues and are actually more about a longer term agenda about readjusting the shape of the welfare state. Both changes to pensions and to HE (someone still has to pay up front) are likely to make relatively little difference in the short term but a much bigger one in the long term.


Another issue is that it is much easier to make announcements about cuts than it is to actually make them. Particularly if these cuts are based on things like reducing numbers on benefit or reducing benefit fraud. Undoubtedly there will be vulnerable people who will lose the money that enables them to maintain some kind of reasonable lifestyle. However there will probably be more who will work out new ways to claim under different benefits. It is difficult to wipe away issues of social exclusion and worklessness with the stroke of a pen.   


So what does it all mean for those in the careers and education sectors? We are seeing cuts to FE, to the Education Maintenance Allowance and a transfer of HE funding from the state to the individual. On the other hand we are also seeing more money for adult apprenticeships and by some accounts more for schools. We are also seeing a relatively light raid on the science budget. For those who are employed by local government things look bad and this is likely to make the already very precarious position of Connexions even more difficult. However there was some support for the All Age Careers service.


All in all education hasn’t been hit as hard as it could have been. This isn’t to say that things are going to get pretty difficult, but rather that there are other bits of the public sector that are going to hurt more. There will be redundancies, restructuring and a decline in quality, but there will also be continuity. The education system as a whole will broadly endure. How things pan out in higher education will be particularly interesting/terrifying. Essentially we’ve seen the government make a very bold move in shifting the cost of higher education to individuals. Apart from my political perspective on this (I don’t agree with it) this also seems to be a pretty risky move as there are lots of possible implications (Will people pay? How much will they pay? Will they pay for the same kinds of degrees? Will universities be able to respond to changes in demand? etc etc). However even these radical changes aren’t likely to sink higher education as some were predicting.


The Guardian led with “Axe falls on the poor” and the paper is probably right. Despite attempts to convince everyone that the broadest shoulders bear the largest burden the bulk of cuts are going to hit those at the bottom of the labour market. While we should be wary about seeing this as a done deal and accepting the figures given at face value we also can’t pretend that nothing has changed. The public sector is still there, the apocalypse hasn’t happened, but the world does look a bit greyer, a bit more unfair and those of us in the public sector are probably in for a pretty bumpy few years.


There is still an opportunity to book a place on the iCeGS/Vitae Storyboarding workshop. The workshop is particularly aimed at people who work with researchers, but might be of wider interest to other higher education careers and training professionals. We are ideally looking for people who would be interested in piloting the technique with researchers in their institution.


Bill Law’s three-scene storyboarding is a narrative-based technique for setting down experience. By reflecting on ‘before, during and after’ movie-like scenes of a particular turning point in a person’s life processes encompassing thoughts and feelings are elicited and clarified. Such reflection ultimately promotes a greater self awareness, leads to a clarification of career goals, and aids decision making and transitions.


This is a really exciting opportunity to work with Bill Law and to expand the range of tools and techniques that you have to work with clients. I hope to see some of you there.

The Browne Report

For those who haven’t heard about it yet the Browne Report (Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education) is a new policy document that concerns itself with the future of higher education.

Essentially the issue that it deals with is the balance between UK HE as an equitable mass system in which all universities are more or less equal and the creation of a handful of elite institutions that can compete (in terms of students, research income and prestige) with the other best institutions in the world. Essentially it is about how an elite and a mass higher education system can co-exist.

Broadly the report recommends that the diversity of UK HE is recognised and that the top ranking institutions have more opportunity to raise fee income to support their attempts to compete in the top flight of world universities. The report also recognises that higher education is under-resourced and that new money needs to be injected into the system. It imagines that this money will come in the main from the direct beneficiaries of higher education (the students). Because there is a recognition that increasing fees up front limits the market the cost of higher education will be paid for in the form of a semi-progressive but finite graduate tax.

Although this represents a big change is it not an unanticipated one. There have been various movements towards introducing greater tiering in the HE system and the cost of degrees has been gradually transferring to students over the last twenty or so years. The outcomes of this are likely to be that rich universities get richer while others close and that graduates are a little poorer. On the plus side it might mean that at least in places some academic pay and university resource levels can increase and that the limits that have been placed on the expansion of higher education will be removed. This means that almost everyone will have to go to university to do almost anything with their life. The price of entry to the labour market just got higher at the same time as graduate salaries are likely to get lower and more in hoc to the graduate tax.

One thing that I’ve never understood is the argument that graduates earn more and therefore should be able to pay via a student loan or a graduate tax for the added benefit that they’ve got from the system. If this is correct surely the same result could be achieved via the use of a universal progressive taxation system. Are graduates paying for the privilege of receiving higher education or are they paying for the extra income that it brings them. It seems to me that you can’t have it both ways. Either treat education as a commodity in which case people should pay the market rate for it whether or not it provides them with an income or treat it as a social good in which case it could be paid for through the taxation system. Having said this Browne’s version is a reasonably manageable tweak of the usual compromise between these two positions. What we used to call an “Income Contingent Loan” back in the days that I was in the student movement and we used to spend time fighting about such things.

As an aside I remember the right wing of the Labour students organisation printing T-shirts that said “I’d rather have MICL than FUC’L”. MICL stook for maintenance income contingent loan. I’ll leave you to work out what FUC’L stood for, but it helps to say it out loud.

Anyway, back to Browne. For those of us in the careers world there are a number of things in this of particular interest. Firstly is that the report makes clear recommendations that information and advice services which support the transition to HE need to be improved. The report places great emphasis on the idea that it is increasing the choice of student and potential student and that this invisible hand will ultimately guide the sector to a better place. Obviously one of the things that enables a market to operate effectively is an informed consumer who weighs up lots of different options carefully. Browne recognises that left to their own devices young people and their parents are unlikely to have the relevant information to do this. Therefore they are likely to need information and advice.

So who is going to be giving this information and advice. Well Browne says 

Every school will be required to make individualised careers advice available to its pupils. The advice will be delivered by certified professionals who are well informed, benefit from continued training and professional development and whose status in schools is respected and valued. Similar careers advice will be available to older people as well.

Which is interesting to me as it is not clear that schools are really positioned to do this at the moment – particularly with the current challenges for Connexions services. This suggests that there needs to be an expansion of career learning in schools and possibly with families etc to help them understand the educational market and its relationship to young people’s prospects in work.

So the report looks like it offers a greater role for careers work and for many careers professionals this will be a positive development. However the report also rehearses the usual criticisms of careers advice (out of date, low status, unloved by pupils and teachers). Also some of what the report says will be challenging reading for careers professionals. The role of guidance is not just to find the best opportunity for the individual but rather to sell the brands of high status institutions to young people who are current immune to their charms.

The role of better guidance will be to encourage talented pupils from all backgrounds to make more applications to higher education, and in particular to selective institutions.

 Again the first questions is who is going to be doing this and in what context? Are we going to be seeing all students individually or does Browne envisage a greater role for career learning within the schools curriculum. However an important second question is whether this kind of cheerleading for Russell group institutions is really what careers work is all about. The report also sets out a number of very useful bits of information that students can use to judge the relative merits of different institutions. Presumably this list has also been picked up by the newspapers who produce league tables and their algorithms are probably being adjusted as we speak. Employability statistics (for which we can probably read DLHE) are picked out as being particularly important.

The report also makes a number of suggestions about how the information base on HE choice can be made available (essentially put it on the UCAS website). It also instructs institutions to set up student charters, presumably so that user entitlement will be clearer. This pre
sumably increases the opportunity for litigation to develop if these entitlements are not delivered upon.

So there you go. Welcome to the future. The government seems to be endorsing the report, higher education will be able to see both pros and cons in what is proposed. NUS will complain, and some edges might get knocked off, but my guess is that it will happen. I have my own opinions on the overall aim of the report, but what is worth commenting on here is that the careers advice bits of what are proposed are seriously out of kilter with what the current system can provide. However, they also play a key role in Browne’s conception about how the new market will work. Anyone got any ideas about how this is going to be resolved?

What I learnt about India from IAEVG/JIVA 2010

We live in a globalised world – right? We hop on and off planes around the world like we pop to the shop for the paper? We are all part of the global village?


Well maybe you, but generally not me. Although I work at the International Centre for Guidance Studies I actually don’t spend my life jet-setting round the world as the name might suggest. What is more I although I am in web-based contact (global village style) with scholars from around the world these relationships are confined to certain bits of the world ( Canada and the US, Europe and to a lesser extent Australia and New Zealand). So heading off to the IAEVG conference in Bangalore was a big deal for me and it didn’t disappoint.


I’ve got enough material from the conference for about a million blog posts, but I’ve got to start somewhere so I thought I’d try and write something about what I learnt about India while I was there.


In some senses international conferences are the ultimate global villages. People fly in from all over the world, head to a conventional centre and talk about their pet obsession for a few days before flying back again. Generally (he says on the basis more of hearsay than experience) the context isn’t that important. We’re in a global village after all, we’ve got to be somewhere and here is as good as anywhere. However this was not the case at the JIVA conference. The context loomed large and informed the thinking that was developed through the conference in a major way.


Essentially this happened for some fairly obvious reasons. The conference organisers made the decision to concentrate most of the keynote speeches on the Indian context and they also managed to mobilise the fledgling career guidance profession from across India to attend in large numbers. All in all this meant that although I spent most of my time in hotels and conferences centres I also felt like I’d visited India rather than just the global village convention centre. There was loads of time to talk to Indian practitioners about the context of their work and the nature of their practice which was hugely interesting.


India provides some very interesting lessons for people interested in the field of career guidance. What is particularly interesting is the way that the context is informing the way that the idea of career guidance is developing. In some ways the country is in a similar situation to the US at the time when Frank Parsons kicked the whole thing off in 1909. India is urbanising, industrialising and inventing new and different jobs at an amazing speed. This means that they are experiencing waves of migration from rural to urban and a strong need to help people navigate an incredibly dynamic labour market.


What makes the current generation of thought leaders in the Indian guidance movement different from Frank Parsons is the sophistication of their critique of modernity and capitalism. Whereas Parsons saw modernity and capitalism as pretty much immutable processes the conversation at the JIVA conference was focused on the contingency of these processes and critically about the role of guidance professionals within them. Is career guidance simply about smoothing the process of urbanisation and economic reordering? Or does career guidance actually provide a space through with the inevitability of these processes can be challenged and counter-cultural values can be explored?


These ideas were dealt with in a variety of ways throughout the conference, but it  was probably Anita Ratnam who set this out most clearly in her discussion about the value of craft. Her argument revolved around a challenge to the idea of industrial modernity as a political ideal and unstoppable narrative. Anita and her colleagues argued that India had an enormous and potentially highly profitable craft sector characterised by high skill, self-employed workers producing excellent products which they could take pride in. These workers, their communities and the whole craft tradition was under threat by mainstream culture which devalued their skills, ignored their lifestyle and sought only to engage them in the mainstream capitalist economy.


So, what does a careers professional do when a young person from a village comes to ask advice about heading off to the city to work in a factory or some element of the service industry? Should the professional just facilitate their decision, exploring their personality traits and matching them with appropriate roles in the capitalist economy. Should they provide labour market information which explains the seemingly limitless opportunities for commodity accumulation that await the bright and energetic individual in the city? Alternatively should they talk about the challenges of the alienated industrial workforce and encourage the young person to think about what might be lost in moving away from crafts and rural life in both personal and political terms.


The size of India, both in geography and population, was an issue that came out time and time again. A country that takes days to travel across is not one it is easy to generalise policy prescriptions about. However one speaker pointed out that the different Indias often live side by side. India is rural, urban, tribal, rich, poor, educated, industrial, craft-based, Hindu, Muslim and so on. We talked about the need to reconceive career guidance in an Indian cultural context and yet it is clearly a nonsense to talk about a single cultural context. For the urban middle class something which draws on, but adapts, Western models of career guidance is probably pretty useful. However for the rest of the country the challenge to develop a theory and practice paradigm for career guidance is far greater.


One of the most interesting themes that came across in the conference was the idea that the individual orientation of career guidance might not be the most appropriate mode to work in for the Indian context. There was lots of discussion around alternative orientations that any model will need to engage with (family, community, religion etc) however perhaps most interestingly was the idea that Tony Watts summarised as “can career development be linked to community development”. In other words we are back again to the idea that we might need to challenge prevailing economic and cultural realities and be part of a process of transforming them. This is an idea that seems very important in India, but also something that has huge potential in the UK context that I’m more familiar with. Is it morally possible to continue to train people in employability skills when there are no jobs? Or when the jobs that they go to are hyper-exploitative? In this case do we not also need to find a way to link career guidance and community development.


Career has the potential to be the consideration of how individuals live in the world. The old feminist slogan “the personal is the political” can be dusted off and applied to the activity of career guidance, as long as we are also able to add “the political is the personal to it”. However people relate to the worlds of learning and work, where they conceive of themselves in the economy and what they believe to be adequate levels of reward and control seem to me to be crucial ideas that career guidance needs to engage with.

I got a very strong sense that the Indian career guidance world was taking these issues seriously and considering ways forward carefully. This may mean that career guidance takes on very different professional values and practice paradigms from those that it has taken in the West. However, I feel that we would be foolish to simply label these as a response to local and cultural conditions. There are lessons and critiques which countries with more established guidance traditions would do well to consider.


I think th
at we’ll all be watching the Indian career guidance movement with considerable interest. 


Presentation to JIVA

Here is a draft of my presentation to the JIVA conference. I’m presenting on Sunday so I may still tinker with it. All thoughts and comments appreciated. I’ve realised that lots of the way that I think about the political and social potential of the internet is very Western and that the whole thing is completely reframed by looking at the same issues from India. Obviously I don’t know what the best way for Indian guidance professionals to use the web is, however I’ve tried to at least contextualise what I’m saying in the Indian context a bit. Hopefully it will make some sense.


First impression of India


I’m just on my to the JIVA conference and have now been in India for about 24 hours. India is great but isn’t really what I was expecting. I guess I assumed that it would feel more ‘other’ than it actually does. I should point out here that my experience has been pretty limited so far (a couple of hotels, flicking through the TV, reading the paper, wandering around the shops and talking to a couple of taxi drivers).

So I’m not exactly an expert in Indian culture, but what I’ve seen of Bangalore is has a lot more similarities with southern European cities that I’ve been to than it does differences. I guess there are only so many ways to throw people, buildings, shops and money together.

The biggest thing that I’ve noticed so far is the rules of engagement on Indian roads seem to be very different. I spent about an hour walking around turning left before I got up the guts to cross over the road. There seem to be hundreds of variations of vehicles on the road and everyone honks their horn constantly. Overall the experience as a pedestrian is akin to playing Frogger on the ZX Spectrum.

Apart from the roads I’ve noticed that the country seems to have a really strong customer service ethic and that everyone speaks English. This may be because people wrongly assume that I must have money – but I’m not sure that is it.

Anyway I’m about to go into the first day of the conference so I’ll leave my tourist ramblings for now. I’ll try and post something about the conference tonight.