Formal end of Unbundled University research project

The Unbundled University project has formally come to an end. The project was funded by the ESRC (UK) and NRF (South Africa) with funding ending in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Therefore, this website will be archived over the coming months, and the only additional resources added will be research outputs as they get published.

We are uploading the video resources from the Unbundled University online course to the website, to provide on-going access to these materials. Other outputs such as talks and reports from the projects will also be added.

The project team continue to work on the project in their spare time, and continue to speak about the intersection of unbundling, digitisation and marketisation at national and international conferences as well as other events. The discussion about new forms of teaching and learning provision, unbundling and the role of external private companies in the growth of online education at universities is going strong, and it is critical that it continues to receive scholarly attention. We feel privileged to have been able to conduct research on these topics over the last few years. In particular, we hope that the question of how inequality in higher education is shaped and reformed by the intersection of these forces will continue to be on the research agenda of higher education scholars.

To keep up to date with research and outputs from the investigators on the team, you can follow us on Twitter:

Laura Czerniewicz @Czernie

Neil Morris @neilmorrisleeds

Sukaina Walji @sukainaw

Bronwen Swinnerton @bronswinnerton

Alan Cliff @alan_cliff_CILT

Rada Mogliacci @RadaMogliacci

We are grateful to all members of the research team who have worked with us on this project, and to the dedicated members of the advisory board who have actively supported the work. Heartfelt thanks to the many educators, researchers, commentators, private companies and interested parties around the world who have engaged with the project as interviewees, respondents, reviewers, writers and in many other roles

We remain committed to the important issues that have been surfaced through this research project and hope they will be taken up by the wider community.

With best wishes for the future

Laura & Neil

October 2019

Leeds Digital Festival: The Impact of Digital on the Future of the University: A Panel Discussion with Employers

Monday 23rd April 2018 3.30 pm – 5.00 pm

Room 1.08, Parkinson Building, University of Leeds, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds LS2 9JT

Click to book your place

The event will commence with a short presentation from the project team about our ESRC-sponsored research project The Unbundled University and how UK Higher Education is changing and the role of digital technology in this. This presentation will describe the proliferation of ‘non-traditional’ courses and qualifications that UK universities now offer, using digital technology to offer online and blended learning provision.

This panel will include representatives from a number of private and public sector employers from the area and will engage employers and the larger audience, including members of the public, with some of the questions and topics we cover in our project.

In a round of short provocative questions from the panel chair, Professor Neil Morris, the panel presenters will share their views on, and experiences of, the changing nature of higher education as employers: how they perceive the changing higher education provision with the introduction of digital technologies and increasing online learning options; and how they anticipate that the new developments in higher education will impact on the level of education and skills of their future employee. After this initial round, the audience will be invited to engage in discussion with the panel and to share their own views and experiences of the questions posed by the chair.

Perceptions of the impact of digital technology on unbundling in Higher Education

In this blog post, I unpack some of the key themes that have emerged from our first phase of interviews with higher education leaders in South Africa. Having interviewed 26 individuals, a number of common issues have been raised in relation to the impact of digital technology on unbundling (defined as the disaggregation of provision and services) in higher education.  As we explore the data, and continue our analysis, it is useful to reflect and explore these key themes.

Ubiquity of digital technology?

We know that South Africa is a hugely unequal country, and this pervades the higher education system as much as general society. In this regard, we should make a distinction between educational inequalities as shaped by structural factors, and the economics of unequal technological access in higher education. While the former are tied to the historical trajectory of South African higher education, the latter are mainly concerned with unequal patterns of supply and demand of devices, bandwidth and expertise.

A stark picture of structural inequality in the South African HE sector is painted by official data, for instance the fact that between 2007 and 2012 [1], universities increased fees by 8.4% p.a. in real terms. This was a response to strong growth in enrolment (6% p.a.,) coupled with slow growth in government funding (5.4% p.a.), and nearly no growth in so-called “third stream” income (0.2% p.a.), where funds are sought through liaisons with the private sector, knowledge exchange, donations and, increasingly, on-demand online education. NSFAS, the financial aid scheme, is also underfunded (31% of eligible candidates were rejected in 2014) and the eligibility cut-off figure of R122,000 household income left many students unable to cope with the fee increases.

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Unbundling and Marketisation

In this first blog post, I want to briefly explore my interpretation of this project, and the terms ‘unbundling’ and ‘marketisation’ as they relate to digital technology. Higher Education is in a time of rapid change globally, partly due to marketization and digital technology, but also due to a number of other factors, outside the scope of this project. Whilst the focus of our project is on the impact of these factors on changes in the Higher Education system in South Africa, this project is relevant in many countries across the world, including the UK.

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