SMEs are not the same as large firms

Much of my work at the moment is focused in two different areas – the training and professional development of teachers and trainers for the use of technology for teaching and learning and the use and understanding of labour market data for careers counseling, guidance and advice. However as data increasingly enters the world of education, the two areas are beginning to overlap.

This morning I received an email from the European Network on Regional Labour Market Monitoring. Although the title may seem a little obscure, the network, which has been active over some time, organises serious research at a pan European level. Each year it selects a theme for research, publications and for its annual conference. Over the last year it has focused on informal employment. Next year’s theme is Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) which they point out can be viewed as perhaps the most vibrant and innovative area of the European economy. However, when it comes to researching and understanding SMEs it is not so easy

A number of European or national statistics exist to analyse SMEs’ but they generally use the same categories as for large firms and are, in general, constructed from a large firm perspective or in any case not from a framework based on SME characteristics. Many academic papers focusing on SMEs show that they cannot fully be understood using the same categories as with large firms. The general idea is that firstly, SMEs are same as large ones, just smaller. Secondly, the assumption that they will grow up to become Midcaps, then large firms, is incorrect. Torres and Julien (2005) start their article explaining that “Most, if not all, researchers in small business have accepted the idea that small business is specific (the preponderant role of the owner-manager, low level of functional breakdown, intuitive strategy, etc.)”. A 2019 French publication directed by Bentabet and Gadille tackles the issue of SMEs focussing on their specific “social worlds”, their “action models and logics”, while elsewhere the influences of institutional logics and multi-rationalities of SMEs have been considered. The entry of social worlds highlights the great diversity of micro-enterprises and SMEs, which often makes it difficult to analyse them. As a counterpoint, specific knowledge of these companies is required because they are at the heart of the debates on flexibility, labour market dynamics, skilled labour shortage and disruptions in the vocational training system.

SMEs will be the focus for the next Annual Meeting of the Regional Labour Market Monitoring to be held in September 2020 in Sardinia

Travel to university time a factor in student performance

My summer morning’s work is settling into a routine. First I spend about half an hour learning Spanish on DuoLingo. Then I read the morning newsletters – OLDaily, WONKHE, The Canary and Times Higher Education (THE).

THE is probably the most boring of them. But this morning they led on an interesting and important research report. In an article entitled ‘Long commutes make students more likely to drop out’, Ana McKie says:

Students who have long commutes to their university may be more likely to drop out of their degrees, a study has found.

Researchers who examined undergraduate travel time and progression rates at six London universities found that duration of commute was a significant predictor of continuation at three institutions, even after other factors such as subject choice and entry qualifications were taken into account.

THE reports that the research., commissioned by London Higher, which represents universities in the city found that “at the six institutions in the study, many students had travel times of between 10 and 20 minutes, while many others traveled for between 40 and 90 minutes. Median travel times varied between 40 and 60 minutes.”

At one university, every additional 10 minutes of commuting reduced the likelihood of progression beyond end-of-first-year assessments by 1.5 per cent. At another, the prospect of continuation declined by 0.63 per cent with each additional 10 minutes of travel.

At yet another institution, a one-minute increase in commute was associated with a 0.6 per cent reduction in the chances of a student’s continuing, although at this university it was only journeys of more than 55 minutes that were particularly problematic for younger students, and this might reflect the area these students were traveling from.

I think there are a number of implications from this study. It is highly probable that those students traveling the longest distance are either living with their parents or cannot afford the increasingly expensive accommodation in central London. Thus this is effectively a barrier to less well off students. But it is also worth noting that much work in Learning Analytics has been focused on predicting students likely to drop out. Most reports suggest it is failing to complete or to success in initial assignments that is the most reliable predicate. Yet it may be that Learning Analytics needs to take a wider look at the social, cultural, environmental and financial context of student study with a view to providing more practical support for students.

I work on the LMI for All project which provides an API and open data for Labour Market Information for mainly use in careers counseling advice and guidance and to help young people choose their future carrers or education. We already provide data on travel to work distances, based on the 2010 UK census. But I am wondering if we should also provide data on housing costs,possibly on a zonal basis around universities (although I am not sure if their is reliable data). If distances (and time) traveling to college is so important in student attainment this may be a factor students need to include in their choice of institution and course.

 

Is manufacturing finished in the UK?

The Guardian newspaper highlights a report by Cambridge University for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), showing that Britain’s manufacturing sector is much larger than official figures suggest.

The report argues that official statistics, which estimate that manufacturing output accounts for 9% of national income, are based on “outdated and inaccurate methods of counting” and the figure is much higher.

The report avoids putting a fresh figure on the proportion of GDP accounted for by the sector, but one of its authors said it was nearer 15% once activities tied to the sale of UK-made products, including engineering support and contracted services, were included.

“It is essential that policymakers have accurate information on the size of manufacturing sectors in order to develop an internationally competitive industrial strategy,” said Eoin O’Sullivan, one of the report’s authors.

“In particular, policymakers need to be able to measure manufacturing in a way that better reflects how firms actually organise themselves into value networks.”

While the Guardian news spin on the report focuses on the threat to the manufacturing by tariffs on exports resulting from a no deal Brexit, the report has wider implications. Manufacturing has long been seen as in decline and is accordingly unattractive as a careers option when compared to the growing service sector. Yet the report shows the continuing importance of occupations like engineering.

Where do graduates come from and where do they go?

I’ve written too many times about the problems in sense making from data – particularly where the labour market and education are involved. This presentation from the UK Centre for Cities makes an admiral attempt to use the data to tell a story about where students are coming from to study at Glasgow’s Universities and where they go afterwards.

It has its drawbacks – mainly due to the lack of data. For instance most of the slides fail to show movements in and out of the UK. Also, I would have loved to have more detailed data about what jobs students go into after university, but this data just is not available from UCAS at a more disaggregated level. And I am not very sure about the click bait title: “the Great British Brain Drain.” If there is a brain drain, nothing in the analysis points to one.

It is interesting to see that manufacturing still accounts for 44% of new graduate employment is Glasgow, despite manufacturing only constituting 30% of total employment in the city. This is much more that the 19& of new graduate working in the much heralded knowledge intensive business services sector.

One of their conclusions is very important: its not just about the student experience or the quality of nightlife in a city but more importantly “Ultimately it’s the jobs available to graduates which determine if they stay. By offering more, and better, opportunities the city will attract more graduates, both those who have studied in the city and those moving in for the first time from elsewhere.”

Young people living with parents for longer

WONKHE reports there has been a significant rise in the number of 20 to 34-year-olds living with their parents in the UK, according to analysis of the Labour Force Survey by think tank Civitas.” The analysis, covered by the Financial Times, finds an increase of 791,600 under 35-year-olds living with their parents between 1996-8 and 2014-15. The rise has been noted in all UK regions, with the most pronounced results in London. Civitas puts the increase primarily down to the cost of housing, and suggests that HE participation could be a factor, as more young adults are financially dependent on their parents for longer.”

Th8s brings UK more into line with other countries in Europe, where young people tend to live at home with their parents until tehy are much older than has been in the UK. It also would be interesting to look at the figures (if available) for numbers of people studying at their home town university, rather than following the ‘rites of passage’ to move to college in another twon or city.