Five key points that could impact on the success of the TEF

shutterstock_233717407In part one we looked at five key points from the HE White Paper and how these herald a transition to the next version of the Higher Education sector. A large part of these reforms is the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and ever since it was unveiled, many in the sector have been working to understand the various inputs and outputs.
WonkHE have created a very useful diagram and notes representing the TEF after five years of operation. (Click on the image below to read their thoughts).

WonkHE
Now that the dust has settled a little from unveiling of the TEF, let’s look at five key points that could impact on the success of the TEF and what it tells us about the future direction of Higher Education in the UK.

1. Student Interest

With BIS’s own research raising doubts over how much students will consider the outcomes of the TEF and many suggesting that although useful, it probably wouldn’t change their choice, will students use it?
Nobody knows for sure but perhaps making sure the information sits in league tables will help, which around 60 per cent of students use. However, the government doesn’t have the power to dictate this. Another possibility could be through the use of learning analytics to inform choices at the enquiry stage. Learning analytics can help institutions to understand the skills and qualifications required for the labour market, monitor student destinations and reasons for gaining successful employment.
This information can then provide students with expected salaries, job opportunities and prospects, following the successful completion of their chosen course and the skills and qualifications required for a career in that field. All of this provides powerful evidence of the results achievable for prospective and future cohorts of students.

2. Good practice

The whole idea of the TEF is to identify good practice and highlight the bad. However, it appears that BIS have already crunched the numbers and aren’t expecting any major shocks. They predict a bell-shaped distribution, with expectations that 20-30% will receive an ‘Outstanding’ rating and 50-60% ‘Excellent’. With the difference between ‘Excellent’ and ‘Outstanding’ indistinguishable to all but an expert eye, we shouldn’t expect the TEF to have a massive impact on good practice.

3. Quality Improvements

The difference in uplift between those ‘Meeting Expectations’ and those who are ‘Excellent’ or ‘Outstanding’ is just 50 percent. This could equate to around £100 per student and the intention is that those delivering the best quality teaching continue to invest in this. However, we must recognise that for some this isn’t enough to incentivise or fund excellence, or they simply don’t have the resources to invest in better quality.
The core metrics also don’t include teaching qualifications, which recent research by the Higher Education Academy has shown to be important, and there is no plan to incorporate an element of peer review which would genuinely support learning in the system.

4. Recognising Diversity

Ofsted ratings have often suffered from accusations that they favour certain types of provider, and this also applied to HE in the case of Subject Review, where the most prestigious universities came out on top. While there is currently no explicit reference to use of earnings data, the White Paper does say that the TEF will draw on the new LEO dataset in time, with potential risks for some subjects if this does come about.

5. Cost

It’s almost certainly going to cost with the introduction of new staff and TEF teams created at institution-level to support the framework. There will also be the cost of the various different panels, particularly when things move to subject and potentially postgraduate level. Undoubtedly, these costs will be passed on to students.
Let’s remember that the TEF is trying to move away from league tables, which academic research shows are a poor indicator of quality. So perhaps one of the biggest risks to its success is the continued use of incomparable degree classifications by employers and students, which will drive their inclusion in league tables.
Only time will tell if the TEF is successful but there is still a lot more work to be done and convincing to do, before the sector can be confident in the TEF’s success.

Five key points from the HE white paper

HE WhitepaperIt started as a Green Paper in November 2015, asking for the views of the Higher Education sector on the next steps for reform. Then in May 2016, the White Paper was published setting out decisions on market entry reform in England, changes to sector infrastructure and changes to the research funding landscape. The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) technical consultation has also been published, demonstrating a strong commitment to its delivery.

It’s good to note that the responses to the Green Paper have clearly helped shape the way these core objectives will be taken forward. For example, a revised timetable for the TEF has been put forward, called for by the sector, which will facilitate a more measured implementation.

Now that the dust has settled a little from the publication of the paper, we look at five points from the White Paper and the TEF and what it tells us about the future direction of Higher Education in the UK.

1. Market Reform

Although teaching excellence continues to be a priority, the White Paper places an increased emphasis on market reform. The paper seems to show resentment towards an established university sector apparently not able to develop the kind of flexible, diverse provision the Government wants. It sets out additional competition through challenger institutions, high-quality providers who can genuinely disrupt the established provision, rather than alternative providers.
The Green Paper proposed accelerating existing processes, so that a startup could receive Degree Awarding Powers within four years and the university title within six. However, the White Paper suggests giving Degree Awarding powers to a startup immediately at inception. So who can we expect to take advantage of this? It’s very possible that large US institutions and corporations, such as Google and Facebook, may be enticed into the English sector by opportunities that are not available in the States, or Middle and Far East branch campuses.
Radical reforms indeed and perhaps this is where the merits of the TEF will help. Insights generated from this should inform radical regulatory and sector reform. Trying to do everything outlined in the White Paper at once, without any evidence of the benefits of alternative providers, could create poor quality provision for marginal students.

2. Office for Students

The White Paper brings the creation of Office for Students (OfS) a step closer. OfS could in practice look and feel a lot like HEFCE under the bonnet, with proposals for it to take on roles in relation to sustainability, efficiency and health of the Higher Education sector. Many of the powers and duties OfS will have, such as those for quality and data, will be similar to HEFCE.
Degree Awarding Powers and the University Title processes will be moved from Privy Council control to the new OfS. The White Paper indicates that those entering the system and applying for Degree Awarding Powers, would not have to meet specific and separate Degree Awarding Powers criteria (p.21) and entry on the basis of their ‘potential’ would be enough ‘as soon as the OfS is satisfied that the conditions of being an Approved provider have been provisionally met’ [Box 2.1]. Although OfS is going to be arm’s length from government, it will be important that the absolute independence of this process is upheld.
Effective coordination between OfS and UK Research and Innovation will be critical in avoiding a piecemeal approach. The culture of the new organisations and how effectively they work day to day will be crucial as they support Higher Education.

3. UK Research and Innovation

The White Paper also sees the creation of another new body – UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), which will draw the seven research councils, Innovate UK and HEFCE’s quality-related funding under a single strategic umbrella.
How UKRI will work in practice will depend largely on the leadership style and precedent established by its first chief executive. The announcement that John Kingman will move from HM Treasury to become UKRI’s inaugural chair has been welcomed by research leaders, who recognise his consistent support for science and innovation through successive spending reviews. It is expected that he will steer UKRI through to mid-2018, before handing over to a new chair and CEO most likely drawn from the business world.
UKRI will quickly start to influence the future size, shape and direction of disciplines, departments, and individual research careers, and there is growing optimism that the arrangements set out in the White Paper will create the right kind of enabling framework, and could overcome some of the problems that have hampered earlier efforts at cross-disciplinary working.

4. Say hello to LEO

Who or what is LEO? The Longitudinal Education Outcomes dataset or LEO will link Higher Education and tax data to chart the transition of graduates from Higher Education into the workplace.
This rich new data source will give students the information about the rewards that could be available at the end of their learning, alongside the costs. By increasing transparency and making better use of public data, the light can shine on the employability outcomes of courses and institutions for students to evaluate alongside other considerations. All of this provides powerful evidence of the results achievable for current and future cohorts of students.

5. TEF Incentives

The TEF introduces three outcome grades, ‘Meets Expectations’, ‘Excellent’, ‘Outstanding’, and these will lead to differential fee caps and tuition fee loan caps from 2019/20.
From 2017/18, all institutions that ‘Meets Expectations’ will be allowed to apply for a Retail Price Index (RPI) uplift to the maximum tuition fee they charge. The same will apply again in 2018/19. At this point there will be two levels of fee cap – a £9,000 pa limit for those who do not ‘Meet Expectations’ and a second limit to which two lots of RPI uplift have been applied.
From 2019/20, the ‘Meets Expectation’ cap now only rises by half of RPI each year, while a new cap is introduced for those who achieve ‘Excellent’ or ‘Outstanding’ in the TEF, one that continues to increase fully in line with RPI. If an institution fails to ‘Meet Expectations’ subsequently, it must drop down to £9,000 fees. Thus, there will be three tuition fee caps in operation for the established sector.

These are just some of the key proposed reforms that will herald a transition to the next version of the Higher Education sector. A more diverse, complex, and inclusive idea of the university with multiple aspirations and objectives is emerging, which should cause already-established universities to give some real thought as to how they might thrive in a more open and diverse system.

Given the results of the European Referendum where does this leave the Higher Education and Research Bill? Read the views of the Higher Education sector here.

Look out for part two, when we look at five key points that could impact on the success of the Teaching and Excellence Framework.

A vote to leave – what’s the outlook for the education sector?

shutterstock_442032913Britain’s decision to leave the European Union was a shock to many, and will certainly have significant and far-reaching implications for the future of our country. In a previous post we looked at the differing views for those who wanted to leave and those who wanted to remain, and what a Brexit would mean for education.

Now we have the result, what has been the reaction from the education sector, and what could this mean for the future?

Higher Education

Universities UK , a strong supporter to remain in the EU, has said the result of the referendum will create significant challenges for universities and, although the exit process will be gradual, will be an opportunity to influence future policy.

Others have called for calm heads. Whilst the result will come as a bitter blow on a personal as well as professional level for many within the higher education sector, there will be a point when the dust settles on government changes, the value of the pound stabilises and work will begin to make the positive case for Britain’s future outside of the European Union.

As Ant Bagshaw wrote for WonkHE, “We need a strong higher education system now more than ever. We need universities to apply their expertise in the period of Brexit negotiation to unpick the consequences of the thousands of micro decisions lying beneath the macro headline.”

The Russell Group also recognised that leaving the European Union has created significant uncertainty for their leading universities. The free movement of talent, the networks, collaborations, critical mass of research activity and funding from EU membership have played a crucial part in the success of Russell Group universities. They will be working closely with the Government to secure the best deal for universities from the negotiations to come so that they can continue to form productive collaborations across Europe.

What about the Higher Education and Research Bill? Best case scenario: there’s continuity of the ministerial responsibilities in BIS and the Bill receives parliamentary scrutiny which shapes it into a better piece of legislation. Worst case: the whole thing is shelved and the sector is faced with the attention given to the Brexit fall-out in addition to the disappearing prospect of overdue legislation for the advancement of the sector.

Universities in Scotland will now no doubt be bracing for impact having the added uncertainty caused by the prospect of a second independence referendum. Scottish universities receive over £500 million of EU research funding, nearly half of which goes to the University of Edinburgh.

UK higher education is in good health and, although there may be justified short-term disappointment, it seems that universities will play an essential role going forward.

Further Education

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “Specific areas of concern relate to the money pledged for training via the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Skills Minister Nick Boles’ comments that the apprenticeship levy may need to be postponed.”

Given the Skills Minister’s comments, doubt is being thrown on the viability for the levy due to be launched next April. This has led to sector leaders calling for clarity on whether the Government will still press ahead with apprenticeship levy plans.

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), said:

“We believe that the scheduled April 2017 start for the apprenticeship levy should not be delayed. If anything, the referendum result means that a skilled British workforce will be needed more than ever, so the target of 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020 takes on a new significance.”

David Hughes, chief executive at the Learning and Work Institute, said “we are in a period of great uncertainty across many areas of society and the economy. It is too early to properly understand what this might mean for the FE sector although there are clearly some obvious questions about transition from funding through the European Social Fund and Erasmus as well as critical issues about EU students and their status in the future. Prior to the vote there was already some unease about the lack of details about apprenticeship reforms; now we need decisive action from BIS to provide certainty about the reforms. More delays will lead to more caution by colleges, providers and employers and the result will be people missing out on apprenticeship opportunities.”

There is also wider concern about education and skills funding. Chancellor George Osborne published a draft budget before the referendum reflecting on what would happen with public finances in the event of Brexit, which indicated education funding could be drastically cut by £1.15bn.

A great deal of uncertainty and perhaps it is a little too early to tell what will happen. For the time being it will be business as usual.

Schools

Questions have been raised about the impact of today’s vote to leave the European Union on the Government’s education policies. Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, told Schools Week: “The result of the EU referendum and change in Number 10 will have huge ramifications for the country. For school leaders, there will be concerns around the gulf in aspirations between the generations. School leaders will of course do their best to discuss the result calmly and clearly in schools.

“They will also be worried that time, energy and attention will focus on the EU at a time when the education system needs attention. The Government will be distracted from dealing with the chaotic assessment system, the unfair funding arrangements and the crisis we are seeing in recruitment.

“We will be working constructively with the Government to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible and that the interests of schools, colleges and young people are safeguarded.”

Perhaps these worries and frustrations can be channelled into positive action. Schools are the places in which we shape our future. Teachers and school leaders can help young people make sense of these dramatic changes and help to build new plans.

Overall it is a picture of uncertainty, there is a need for clarity, and many have genuine concern for the future. With David Cameron announcing he is stepping down as Prime Minister and that he wants a new Conservative leader and Prime Minister by the start of the Conservative Party Conference in October, a leadership contest has begun.

The race to be the next Prime Minister and the fallout from the decision to leave the European Union are sure to dominate not only our headlines but much of the Government’s time and energy, leaving little remaining to progress some of the huge and fundamental changes to our education sector already in motion. We all need to be prepared for delays and further changes over the coming weeks and months.

Without data student information is nothing

photo-1434030216411-0b793f4b4173The recent From Bricks to Clicks: the Potential of Data and Analytics in Higher Education report highlighted the enormous opportunities available to higher education organisations if they can make sense of the data behind all of the student information they collect.

It suggested that all universities should consider introducing a learning analytics system so they can respond to changing students’ needs and the growing trend to see ‘students as customers’.  Every time a student interacts with their university – be that going to the library, logging into their virtual learning environment or submitting assessments online – they leave behind a digital footprint. What is learning analytics, what makes up a student’s digital footprint and what could the future hold?

What is learning analytics?

Analytics is the systematic computational analysis of data or statistics. Learning analytics is the process of using data to improve learning and teaching and enabling students to discover or learn something for themselves, for example it can provide insights into how and when an individual likes to learn.

So learning analytics helps students and practitioners to monitor progress, and discuss any changes or problems that might put the student at risk of dropping out. It can also help the practitioner tailor and personalise their approach in supporting retention, satisfaction and attainment.

A student’s digital footprint

MIS

A typical student has many touch points with an institution. As all of this data is collected learning analytics can allow institutions to monitor activity and interactions at all touch points and understand the patterns, relationships and trends in the data to create predictive models.

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If you can predict student outcomes then you can set meaningful targets for students. If you can identify students at risk of dropping out, then you can monitor and check they are performing as expected. Once you have the data behind the student information you can share the findings with key teams across the institution so effective interventions can be made and it can inform and manage the entire student lifecycle.

At Kent, for instance, the university will be able to see when students are using the library, whether they’ve been logging onto the VLE and if they have they been submitting their course work on time. “We have nearly 20,000 students, and much of the university operates in siloes. So you need to have intelligent ways to be able to spot the students who are struggling,” says Nicholas Thurston, senior projects officer, University of Kent.

Using learning analytics across the student lifecycle

Analytics has been recognized as a key differentiator for the private sector that is helping organisations understand their customers better. In the same way, learning analytics can collect a great deal of data about students and what those students are doing and it can be used as a key differentiator for institutions, enabling them to understand students and their needs much more clearly.

Learning analytics can be used for much more than just monitoring progress, or identifying students at risk of dropping out. Let’s look at some key stages of the student lifecycle and how learning analytics can help make sense of the data behind your student information.

MIS 2

Student Recruitment

There is increasing competition between institutions to find students that are the right fit. Learning analytics can help institutions to understand the patterns in enrolment and optimize student attraction, recruitment and progression.

It can bring into focus what is best for a student’s success so informed decisions on recruitment strategies can be made that increase enrolment numbers and secure revenue. By understanding which types of students enrol at an institution can help identify which groups of students to target with future marketing and recruitment activities.

Student Support

Students expect a seamless support experience. As the education and technology landscape changes it can be a challenge for institutions to deliver the levels of support that students’ experience elsewhere.

Effectively supporting students can improve student retention and learning analytics can identify students at risk of not meeting expectations and suggest interventions that optimize student outcomes and target precious resources much earlier than would otherwise be possible. By monitoring and tracking which interventions are successful these can be implemented for future cohorts of students.

Employability

Learning analytics can help institutions to understand the skills and qualifications required for the labour market, monitor student destinations and reasons for gaining successful employment.

This information can then provide students with expected salaries, job opportunities and prospects following the successful completion of their chosen course and the skills and qualifications required for a career in that field. All of this provides powerful evidence of the results achievable for future cohorts of students.

What could the future hold?

Learning analytics can enable us to go beyond the MIS and use all the data collected across the entire education lifecycle to inform institutions which students are the right ones for them, and inform students which career is the right one for them.

Driven by analytics and historical data it can inform recruitment strategies, plan curriculums, predict student outcomes, intervene earlier, set meaningful targets and ensure future student outcomes.

So for students at school, what career choices do they make? Do they pursue further education, or vocational training? Learning analytics can inform the choice or next step in their education journey.

For students at college once a qualification has been achieved do they continue with further studies at university or enter the world of work? Learning analytics can identify which course, college or qualification is the best fit for the student and help institutions ensure students are competent and ready for work. Historical data from the sector, jobs, and employers that students are matched with can be used to provide evidence and predict typical outcomes for the curriculum or course a student is studying.

For students at university they can assess their options.  Is it worth doing a placement? What are the outcomes of this based on previous student choices? Will it help them gain the employment they seek?

Should they take a gap year? What will the outcome be if they do take a gap year based upon historical data for that subject or course?

Learning analytics can make sense of the data to inform decisions and student outcomes. It could be used to provide students with expected salaries, job opportunities and prospects following completion of their course. At each stage of the student journey it could identify students at risk and intervene to ensure successful outcomes and that students are competent and ready for work.

There are certainly enormous opportunities available not just to higher education organisations but all education establishments if they can make sense of the data behind all the student information they collect. Without learning analytics to understand the data, student information is nothing. Data is everyone’s responsibility, and can be everyone’s asset.

If you would like to discuss the learning analytics projects we are currently working on please contact us, or find out more about Student Insight.

Taking support to the next level – Sussex Downs College

photo-1457612928689-a1ab27da0dadOver my two and a half years in support I have dealt with quite a few incidents for Sussex Downs College, mainly in my areas of specialisation (ILR, SLC), and for this very reason I was looking forward to meeting Janet Hawkins, our main contact for the college. Unlike my first visit to a college, when I was with a colleague, this time I was alone; however it was a challenge I was looking forward to. Thanks to my previous college visit I had some understanding of how ebs is being used by customers, and during my time in support I have learned that not all colleges are the same and therefore I was eager to learn more.

During my visit to Sussex Downs I was able talk to various members of staff who use ebs every day within their role at the college. Due to the amount of modules within ebs I do not support every aspect of the product and for this very reason I was interested in seeing how the college use the modules which I do not see very often –  in particular exam and also timetables and registers. Whilst with the exam team I was taken through their set up from the generation of candidate numbers to the production of exam seating. I found this to be beneficial as I previously had very little knowledge on these subjects – I was also able to make notes and bring these back to support. Spending time with timetables and registers was also useful as once I again I have limited knowledge on these modules. Most, if not all tutors use e-registers so there is little time spent having to mark these on windows. Usual tasks included adding learners to registers as well as working through the task list within ebs.

I also spent time with the enrolment, admission and curriculum teams – these modules are more familiar to me. Currently staff members are still inclined to use ebs central web whilst using central as well, so I pointed this out to Janet who also thought that this might be case and was keen to use some of their training days for ebs central refreshers.

Sussex Downs have recently started to use the Transfer+ component to integrate enrolments created through UCAS progress into ebs. This solution was configured by our professional services team.  UCAS progress is a website where students are able to create profiles and apply to courses at various colleges in the country. The admissions team advised me that this has reduced the amount of learners they have to manually add into ebs.

I also spent some time with Janet looking at the SLC import process; this is another module which I support however due to export and import of live data on the student loans company website, I have not had the opportunity to see the whole process. I believe that this will help me in the future when I am assigned these calls as I now have a deeper understanding of the college procedure.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my week at Sussex Downs College. Sometimes within support you can easily forget just how many people at a college use the system and how the support you give can really help to improve use of the system. The chance to meet staff at the college who use ebs was invaluable, not only have I met Janet face to face but I have been able to meet the rest of the MIS team and many others. This has been a great experience to build my relationship with our customers.  From my observations staff members used ebs is in an efficient and effective way and this was also evident in the positive feedback I received regarding the product, especially in areas such as ILR and workflow.  Once again this process has been mutually successful and l hope that in future more of my colleagues also have this opportunity!

Written by Emily Crowdle

For more information on ebs, please email sales.technology@tribalgroup.com

Should we stay or should we go?

shutterstock_406192174Should we stay or should we go? On Thursday 23rd June Britain will decide whether it should leave or remain in the European Union. Over recent weeks we have heard many arguments from both sides of the campaign. Our holidays will cost more, our house values will plummet and thousands of jobs would be put at risk, or we would be billions of pounds better off, have full control over our borders and not be held back by the rules and regulations imposed on us from Brussels.

Whichever side of the debate you stand on it is clear that it is a big decision and one that will have an impact on education. So when it comes to Education what is the debate, and what are the views for those that want to leave and those that want to remain?

The debate

  • National governments are responsible for education but the EU promotes co-operation between member states
  • The EU plans to spend €80bn on research between 2014 and 2020 under the Horizon 2020 programme with a slice of this funding research here in the UK

Leave – Main views

  • Only 3% of total R&D spending in Britain is funded by the EU so we could continue to fund the vast majority of research projects already in progress
  • The UK will be able to increase funding to science out of savings from not paying for EU membership potentially leading to more research been conducted
  • Britain could set its own immigration policy which could fast track scientists and graduates making it easier to work and study in the UK

Remain – Main views

  • UK universities receive millions in research funding from the EU and without that could lose out on conducting valuable cutting edge research
  • 85% of UK Higher Education Institutions received funding from the EU in 2014/15. Without this income stream universities would need to source revenue from other areas, potentially student fees
  • Many of the UK’s top scientists come from elsewhere in Europe with the help of EU grants contributing to outstanding research in their fields
  • The Erasmus programme allows British students to study abroad across education, training, youth and sport

What would a Brexit mean for Higher Education?

Much of the debate around the EU referendum and higher education has been focused on research. This is understandable given the amount of UK research that is funded from EU sources – the UK benefits directly from £1.2 billion annually in European research funding.  But what would be the impact of a Brexit on admissions to HE?

In 2015 29,300 accepted applicants arrived from the EU; an increase of 11% from the 2014 cycle. EU students make up 5.5% of the total accepted application population to full-time courses. However, there is significant variance by institution, with 25% of the annual intake at some institutions coming from the EU, bringing in an estimated £8M of tuition fee income per year.

Although the full implications of a Brexit remain unclear, it is not difficult to imagine the process for recruiting EU learners becoming more complex and closer to that already in place to recruit international students. This could lead to increased costs to recruit these students.

Changes to fee status, increases in tuition fees and removal of student support would probably impact on the attractiveness of UK HE to EU students. If the UK were to leave the EU, outward mobility programmes, such as Erasmus or international placements, would become harder to operate, potentially leading to a reduction in the number of UK students choosing to go abroad.

Universities UK, which represents university principals, has argued that membership of the 28-nation bloc has had an “overwhelmingly positive” impact on the standard of higher education and has helped to cement the strong global reputation of Britain’s universities.

brexitSo strong arguments from the higher education sector to remain, however by leaving we would gain more control over how funding to science was distributed with the potential for more to be available from the savings of not paying EU membership.

What would a Brexit mean for Vocational Education?

Some questions still remain over what the impact will be on cash from the European Social Fund (ESF) if the UK votes to leave the European Union. What is the ESF? The ESF is cash that the UK receives, as a member state of the EU, to increase job opportunities and help people to improve their skill levels, particularly those who find it difficult to get work.

The current funding round, which runs from 2014 to 2020, is worth about £2.3bn across England.  Projects delivered through the SFA focus on learning and skills, with a particular emphasis on young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEETs). A leave vote would lead to the UK no longer having access to ESF cash.

One expert in EU funding, said that “the people who would be losing out would be the people who need a lot of support, who have complex needs, who are battling all sorts of issues like homelessness, addiction, who are further away from the learning”.

Food for thought on remaining in the EU, however some of the savings made by not paying EU membership could be allocated to the SFA to continue to fund the programmes already in place and possibly create more.

So, should we stay or should we go? Well that’s a decision for each and every one of us to make for ourselves on the 23rd June. Education in the UK is going through a rapid period of reform, whatever the outcome of the EU referendum is, with area reviews and the apprenticeship levy in vocational education to the HE white paper and Teaching Excellence Framework in Higher Education.

You can find out more about the work we are already doing with our customers around area reviews, the apprenticeship levy and the TEF.

To Cloud or not to Cloud, that is the question!

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Nick Stanley, Cloud Pioneer, Startup advocate, and Tribal Campus co-founder explores some of the myths, moors and misconceptions of “the Cloud”.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

That is the general sentiment that the novice has when it comes to “the Cloud”…the reality is that it’s actually not something to be scared of and is actually pretty easy to get your head around once you get past the TLAs and the JARGON!

As we forge a path into this exciting and sometimes mystifying new world, pretty much all new platforms are being built on the cloud or are designed at the very least to be compliant with the cloud, and so it’s becoming increasingly more important to better understand what it’s all about.

This blog is designed as a bit of a cheat sheet for the uninitiated and for those looking for a simple reference that hopefully helps to clarify some of the concepts and also dispel some of the myths!

Before we get going though, it might be useful to first form a working knowledge of what the cloud is.  As ever, first stop is Google!

The cloud is a network of servers, and each server has a different function. Some servers use computing power to run applications or “deliver a service.” For example, Adobe recently moved its creative services to the cloud

mashable.com/2013/08/26/what-is-the-cloud/

Whilst this is essentially true, this could also be used to describe a bunch of servers sitting in a room.  The cloud, or the public cloud, could be further described as a distributed network of servers that are connected, in real-time, and allow instantaneous, distributed computing power via the World Wide Web.

So, now having formed the basis for what we are terming “the cloud” in here, let’s get on to some of the basics.

Getting started then on this little journey of understanding; first cab off the rank, let’s look at some of the hyperbole and some of the misconceptions…

1. Cloud does not mean SAAS

For many, the concept of cloud seems to have a direct correlation with the delivery model of an application.  Whilst this is sometimes the case, it’s not always the case and does not necessarily have a direct correlation in this way.  A cloud-based application does not immediately imply “Software As A Service” (SAAS).  SAAS is a way of delivering software BUT also of licensing that software and SAAS could also apply where the cloud is used to deliver or not to deliver the software.  Moreover, licensing the software is independent of the delivery model and so SAAS and cloud are not intertwined / the same thing at all.

2. Cloud doesn’t always mean cheaper

It seems that there is a promise!  The cloud will set you free, the cloud will be cheaper, the cloud will be better…it can, and it can’t.  At the end of the day, the cloud is just a method and an approach and so it’s important you plan for it, use it properly and use it accordingly.  It’s also a good idea to understand what you are doing with it, because if you don’t, it could actually cost you more.  That said, it will only cost you more if you don’t know what you are doing or do the wrong thing (or both!).

3. Cloud does not always mean scalable

Elasticity, flexibility and scalability are all catch-crys of the cloud.  Advocates love these as the go-to reasons why the cloud is so good, and the reality is that they are all true BUT ONLY if you plan for them as part of your application and infrastructure and only as long as your platform can make the most of the native components of the cloud.

4. Cloud does not mean insecure

Using the cloud can result in as secure an architecture, and in some instances more secure, than more traditional “on premise” (i.e. installed at your location) and / or hosted.  It’s just a matter of making the most of the sophisticated tool-sets that are now available and ready to support this.  As an added bonus you generally also have superior fault tolerance, redundancy and general disaster recovery coverage than you would with any other architecture.

5. Cloud may not always be cloud…

And the last, but potentially most important aspect, covers the situation where you have more traditional “client-server” applications that are then just hosted inside virtual servers in the cloud.  This is not to say that it’s wrong or inappropriate, quite the contrary actually (as I’ll discuss later), but it’s important to understand if the platform you are looking at is a true native cloud solution or if it is in fact a solution that has been designed for a client-server environment and is then just being replicated in the cloud.  This is fine and in some circumstance a good solution, it’s just important to understand this as not all of the benefits of the cloud will be available to these platforms.  The ideal scenario is a platform vendor who can ultimately offer both.

There are a bunch more of these that I could go on with but in the interests of keeping this compact, I’ll move on now to consider some of the benefits that are inherent in cloud-based platforms.

Flexibility and Scalability

The cloud is elastic.  This means that it responds according to load and can be flexed up and down.  I like to use the analogy of the pick-up truck (or lorry!) to help explain this dimension.  If you are shopping for a truck and you expect to occasionally cart 5 tonnes but more regularly cart a box of tools, you will still have to buy the 5 tonne truck even though you only need it occasionally.  Same goes for on-premise servers BUT NOT for the cloud, as you can flex your needs on demand.  Also, the cloud can then help you to flex up when you have to carry that 10 tonne load you’d not even factored in!

Costs

As a natural extension of the flexibility and scalability, we then have the cost benefit.  Because your service can flex according to your needs in real-time, the cost can also adjust accordingly and so you only pay for what you need.  In addition, cost models are usually more piecemeal without the higher upfront costs, and you will especially see reductions in capital costs as you don’t need to buy boxes, provision environments with costly up-front licenses, etc.

Disaster Recovery and automation

Disaster recover is one of those things that seems like a really, really good idea five seconds after you needed it (and maybe forgot to enact your fire drill!).  The cloud offers natural redundancy because of the distributed nature of the environment and allows mirroring, balancing, parallel environments, etc, with ease (and in most cases even dispenses with some of these notions because of the mechanics of the cloud).  In addition, automation is a natural capability of the cloud as it supports and allows the availability of environments to be updated in real-time and as needed.  Extending on that, it also allows the automation of other processes and a native habitat for integration.

Big Data and Predictive Analytics

This is an interesting one and probably not something you’ll see if you Google this.  However, as a vendor of large scale enterprise systems, I can say this is front and center for a business like Tribal.  How we serve our customers better is by providing more value from their solutions for less.  The cloud allows us, as a vendor, to normalise information and to then assess trends and to allow customers to then understand what this might mean for their own environments, and to act accordingly, in real-time.  The cloud allows us to do this in real-time with up to the minute information, which is then good for our customers by serving up data models, predictive analytics on customer behaviour, etc (e.g. student at risk because they have missed x-classes).

IOT: Internet of Things

The internet of things is something more intrinsic to the cloud and which the public cloud has made possible.  The IOT is a network connection of everyday things from toasters, fridges, doors and air-conditioners, to cars, TVs and even wearables (i.e. connected clothing!)  The internet of things can then provide valuable information on trends and real-time impacts (such as a threat on a University campus) and allow large organisations to be more informed on their business and also connect with the corners and infrastructure of that business in real-time (e.g. real-time data logging of motor vehicles to track mileage).

Again, and as with the myths, I could go on and speak more on the many benefits of the cloud including accessibility, user access, competitiveness and collaboration, but I think you are getting the picture!

The cloud definitely offers many benefits and exists for a really good reason.  It’s also why nearly all big enterprises are moving.

As of today, nearly every fortune 500 company in America uses the cloud for one or more of it’s enterprise services.

When the cloud first came about, many became nervous as to the security model and the dependability…we sometimes grow suspicious of that which we cannot see.  The reality now though is that the things we feared in the early days of the cloud are actually now counted amongst it’s benefits and the truth is that you are less secure and more open to risk when not using the cloud (all other things being equal).

As with any new concept or technology though, it’s still horses for courses.  Some organisations have invested big money in on-premise solutions; so don’t throw the baby out with the bath-water!

There may also be reasons why the cloud will just not work for you and so it’s important that vendors can offers solutions and pathways that support both on-premise AND cloud-based solutions and ideally also allow customers to migrate from one to the other over the journey.

So, go forth into this brave new world of the cloud, hopefully armed with a little bit more information, or at the very least, just a different view on something you already new a lot more about than me.

Oh, BTW (By The Way) and in case you were wondering, TLA stands for Three Letter Acronym…and old school term still being used now in a new school context!

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dtsj76k5Nick Stanley, is a Cloud Pioneer, Startup advocate, and co-founder of Tribal Campus, a cloud-based student management solution designed for education enterprises, and now part of the Tribal Group of companies.  Nick is a frequent blogger and can be followed via:

 

Twitter: @NickStanleyCEO

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