Miapetra Kumpula-Natri is the rapporteur for the industry committe for European Parliament’s own-initiative on data strategy and a standing rapporteur on the World Trade Organization e-commerce negotiations in the European Parliament’s international trade committee.
Building a human-centric data economy and human-centric artificial intelligence starts from the user. First, we need trust. We need to demystify the data economy and AI: people tend to avoid, resist or even fear developments they do not fully understand.
Education plays a crucial role in shaping this understanding and in making digitalisation inclusive. Although better services—such as services used remotely—make life easier also outside cities, the benefits of digitalisation have so far mostly accrued to an educated fragment of citizens in urban metropoles and one of the biggest obstacles to the digital shift is lack of awareness of new possibilities and skills.
Kampula-Natri draws attention to the Finnish-developed, free online course, ‘Elements of AI’. This started as a course for students in the University of Helsinki but has extended its reach to over 1 per cent of Finnish citizens.
Kampula-Natri points out that in the Nordic countries, the majority of participants on the ‘Elements of AI’ course are female and in the rest of the world the proportion exceeds 40 per cent—more than three times as high as the average ratio of women working in the technology sector. She says that after the course had been running in Finland for a while, the number of women applying to study computer science in the University of Helsinki increased by 80 per cent.
The Centre for London, a ‘think tank’ for the English capital, has released an interesting new report on further education in London.
The report finds that further education in London is hampered because:
It is underfunded: there are more learners in Further Education than in Higher Education in London, but spending on adult education, apprenticeships and other work-based learning for over 18s has fallen by 37 per cent since 2009/10.
There are not enough learners: the proportion of working age Londoners in Further Education has fallen by over 40 per cent since 2014 – only one in 13 Londoners were in further education in 2019.
Funding can be restrictive: grants for learners and colleges have been reduced or replaced with loans, and providers continue to be funded by annual contracts based on the number of learners in the previous year.
Making savings impacts teaching: As of February 2019, 29 per cent of London’s colleges were Ofsted rated as requiring improvement or inadequate, compared to just six per cent of London’s schools.
Courses are not advanced enough: 99 per cent of learners are taking courses at level 3 or below (equivalent to A-Level) and three quarters at level 2 (equivalent to GCSE) or below.
There are not enough new apprentices: Despite government investment in apprenticeships, London has half as many apprenticeship starts as the rest of the UK, and many of these new starters are not new to the labour market.
It has not responded to employers’ needs: the number of learners and apprentices in areas with skills shortages has barely changed since 2014/15.
The fall in the number of learners is worrying, but only to be expected given the sharp fall in funding for FE. Nevertheless a better understanding of what exactly is going on would be further data regarding how many people in London are participating in learning. It is possible that part of the fall is due to people pursuing online programmes, although I doubt that this accounts for all of the shortfall.
I am not convinced by the finding that FE has not responded to employers needs – in the long time I have been involved with vocation education and training employers have always said that (although I suppose it is possible that VET provision has never met employers needs).
The point about courses not being advanced enough is one that I have heard in other parts of the UK. I wonder if it is because it is more expensive to provide more advanced courses, or simply that many learners are not equipped to start on more advanced provision.
In our work on Labour Market Information Systems, we frequently talk about the differences between labour market information and labour market intelligence in terms of making sense and meanings from statistical data. The graph above is a case in point. It is one of the outcomes of a survey on Graduate Employment, undertaken by the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).
Like many such studies, the data is not complete. Yet, looking at the pay by gender reveals what WONKHE call “a shocking picture of the extent of the pay gap even straight out of university, and how different subject areas result in a diverse range of pay differences.”
Understanding why there is such a gap is harder. One reason could be that even with equal pay legislation, employers simply prefer to employ male staff for higher paid and more senior jobs. Also, the graph shows the subject in which the students graduated, not the occupational area in which they are employed. Thus the strikingly higher pay for mean who undertook nursing degrees may be due to them gaining highly paid jobs outside nursing. Another probable factor in explaining some of the pay gap is that the figures include both full and part time workers. Nationally far more women are employed part time, than men. However, that explanation itself raises new questions.
The data from HESA shows the value of data and at the same time the limitations of just statistical information. The job now is to find out why there is such a stark gender pay gap and what can be done about it. Such ‘intelligence’ will require qualitative research to go beyond the bald figures.
Interest in Vocational Education and Training (VET) seems to go in cycles. Its always around but some times it is much more to the forefront than others as a debate over policy and practice. Given the pervasively high levels of youth unemployment, at least in south Europe, and the growing fears over future jobs, it is perhaps not surprising that the debate around VET is once more in the ascendancy. And the debates over how VET is structured, the relation of VET to higher education, the development of new curricula, the uses of technology for learning, the fostering of informal learning, relations between companies and VET schools, the provision of high quality careers counselling and guidance, training the trainers – I could go on – are always welcome.
Whilst in some countries like the UK deregulation seems to have created many jobs, most of these are low paid and insecure.
Higher productivity requires innovation and innovation is in turn dependent on the skills and knowledge of the workforce. But in a time of deregulation there is little incentive for employers to invest in workforce training.
There are signs that some companies are beginning to realise they have a problem. There has been a notable interest from a number of large companies in supporting new apprenticeship programmes and not just in the German speaking countries. In Spain the recently launched Alliance for FP Dual is making slow but steady progress in persuading companies to support the FP Dual alternance or apprenticeship programme. There remain many obstacles, not least the continuing austerity programme, political instability and the perilous financial position of many small and medium enterprises. I will talk more about some of these issues in forthcoming articles on this web site, coming out of the findings of a small research project in Valencia sponsored by the International Network on Innovative Apprenticeship (INAP).
But to be successful initiatives like the Spanish FP Dual and the wider EU backed Alliance for Apprenticeships have to be linked to wider programmes to promote innovation. Without some degree of labour market regulation this is going to be hard to achieve.
One of the best things about Twitter is the ability to follow links to all kinds of things you probably would never have been to without it. And so I find in my notes somewhere the link to an article in Quartz – an online magazine (?) about which I know nothing. The link is to a loosely researched article about entrepreneurism – making the point that there is not much thing as an entrepreneurial gene but rather propensity to take risk and to set up new businesses is more like to be related to access to money – in other words to class.
The article, attributed to REUTERS/Allison Joyce, quotes University of California, Berkeley economists Ross Levine and Rona Rubinstein who “analyzed the shared traits of entrepreneurs in a 2013 paper, and found that most were white, male, and highly educated. “If one does not have money in the form of a family with money, the chances of becoming an entrepreneur drop quite a bit,” Levine tells Quartz.”
Entrepreneurship is all the trend in Europe at the moment, especially in the recession and austerity hit southern countries, where setting up a business is seen as one of the few ways of getting a job. However the rhetoric seems to overplay the potential of technology (everyone can be the next Steve Jobs!), whilst ignoring sectors of the economy such as tourism which probably represent better opportunities within the existing labour market.
At the same time programmes such as the EU Youth Guarantee fund are being used to set up support agencies for young people wishing to set ups their own business and we are seeing the increasing emergence of co-working spaces for new enterprises. But anecdotal evidence – and some reports although I cannot find them at the moment – suggest that many of these businesses are struggling to survive beyond the first one or two years. In austerity Europe bank capital remains hard to come by and most young people do not have access to their own funds to consolidate and explained their business. Although initiatives like the EU SME programme are very welcome, access to such funding is not simple and anyway the amount of grants on offer are simply insufficient. As European politicians slowly wake up to the disaster austerity policies have wrought, then establishing better support for new businesses should be a priority, tied to easy access to small business start up capital.