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Covid and knowledge regions: what’s changed?

How has the global covid pandemic affected economies? Well, the evidence seems to be that – as one outstanding NBER paper seeking to understand the effects of the virus on economic life puts it – ‘no country is immune to the economic fallout of the pandemic because of interconnections’, so that even economies that have been relatively successful in halting the direct effects of the pandemic will feel the effects. Oxford Economics forecasts ‘long-term [global] GDP losses of 5%, or US$4.9tn.’, while the World Bank describes the effect of the pandemic as ‘a global recession whose depth was surpassed only by the two World Wars and the Great Depression over the past century and a half’. Even with a hypothecated rebound in growth with vaccine rollout, the effects will be long lasting: lowered interest rates, possibly upward nominal wage pressure, disrupted supply chains, delayed investment.

Is, though, the effect of the pandemic evenly felt within our economies? Obviously the experience of living with the virus will differ between economies, and we know that agglomeration centres (typically cities) tend to be hard hit, but what of the regional economic differences in impact? A recent summary paper in Regional Studies argues, convincingly, that ‘A regional analysis is essential to fully understand and manage the unequal impacts of the current pandemic, not least because Covid-19 is unlikely to be the last of its kind’. The authors show a number of effects on regional economies, but one is particularly compelling for those of us interested in building regional competitive advantage through research. It is that the pandemic will ‘irrevocably transform the role and meaning of proximity’.

If proximity means anything in the economic life of knowledge regions it is surely positive: proximity yields spillovers, the anticipation of network[ed] externalities, economies of scope in the generation of new knowledge. If, though, proximity is no longer defined by information technology (the speed of a fibre optic broadband connection to a supplier on the other side of the world) but much more the transportation and buffer stock location specific safety net of continuous supply, what does that mean for knowledge regions? Well for one thing, as the Regional Studies paper suggests, a lot will depend on how quickly we rebound from covid, repair interconnections between regions and national economies and swap resilience for growth. Supposing, though, that the exposure experienced during covid – that even vaccine supplies experienced ‘realtime cross-border supply issues’, however high-tech vaccine manufacture was itself – leaves a permanent mark on the collective psyche of regional economies, what might it mean for us?

Well for one thing, one suspects that national resilience will turn to localisation. Hubs will become strategically vital, shoring them up and protecting them essential. Building networks and ensuring the percolation of spillovers will become less important, even though these are the very effects which in a knowledge-driven economy raise growth. If ‘proximity’ is seen rather less as a potential for spillovers from agglomerated centres and more as a watchword for security of supply, how will that change the language knowledge regions will need to use?

In one sense, not much needs to change. Spillovers will occur; information rich network effects will be felt. Agglomeration tends to sit comfortably with diffusion. However, it may be in the interests of knowledge regions to think again about how they describe the strategic national case for their being. a ‘gene tech valley’ as a national security resource. An ‘ICT corridor’ as an insurance against the fracturing of global information networks. ‘Logistics and supply centres’ as a guarantee against JIT failures and last mile bottlenecks. We may need to start talking, too, about ‘proximity’ meaning something very immediate – as an emotional comfort blanket.

All of this many come to pass, or global growth (now, in 2021, set to rise with vaccine rollout) may render these effects transitory. For a generation, though, it may be the case that exposure to the experience of covid has made people more keenly aware of regional centres as insulation against the cold wind of economic fragility.

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Younghusband courses and Middlesex

  1. Social work and disability
    Imagine a time when, if disabled, if you looked to local authority social workers for assistance you might find social workers unequipped to help. That was the position in 1955 when Eileen Younghusband (pictured above) began chairing a Ministry of Health working party looking for ways to reform and improve social worker training. The ‘Younghusband Report’ produced four years later in 1959 reported that in 1956 93% of staff were unqualified and pitifully small numbers of social workers were actually in training.
    Younghusband was particularly concerned that all social workers should be qualified, not just social work leaders (the beneficiaries of professional courses at LSE and Liverpool), in social work delivery. Subsequent to the report four new ‘Younghusband courses’ were set up which, in time, led to an integrated Certificate in Social Work.
    Middlesex’s forerunner institutions – the constituent colleges that became Middlesex Polytechnic in 1973 – were part of that movement toward professionalised social work. It was a movement that had a profound effect on the lives of many disabled people, notably the physically disabled who for this first time perhaps could count on professional support enabling them to stay in their homes. Social work, including social work and disability, became a vital part of work at our own Enfield campus in the 1960s and 1970s. It has continued to be a vital part of our teaching programme, and the broad range of our work in social care includes areas of real subject and practice leadership. In 2007, for example, we set up a Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) Mental Health and Social Work at our Archway campus, and mental health has continued to feature in both our research and teaching. In practice support, too, we’ve led on the development of the My Care Academy (https://mycareacademy.org/) platform which hosts a lively practice community’s learning about mental health and social work. A lot has changed since the Younghusband Report but one thing hasn’t. The care system needs help – including help from universities – to incubate and development the skills and knowhow in a profession that can help our whole society.
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Living in lockdown

[This piece was originally written for MODA Museum’s ‘That Feels Like Home’ series (https://moda.mdx.ac.uk/conversations/). In it I muse on the experience of working from home during lockdown in a Victorian semi].

My home is a late Victorian 3 floor redbrick affair in Berkshire. As a one-time historian I wanted to know more about the house’s history so I did a fair bit of digging – and that has shaped my sense of the house I now live in, and how I think about it as a place to ‘work from home’.

It was built to be light on ornament (by Victorian standards) and functional for middle class owners. One of the first of those was an educational administrator, a job not far distant from the one I do today, albeit removed in time and geography. He worked for the School Board in Reading, I work in a university in London. He and his family seem to have used the home in the classic Victorian way. The front room with bay window – despite the 1930s addition of a window seat which got stripped out pretty soon after my arrival – was spacious enough for him, his wife and four children; the dining room is smaller but cosy and airy. There were marks on the wall from a large bookcase (undoubtedly his – his successor was a market gardener with a business-minded approach to almost everything he touched, even getting married). My educational administrator predecessor it was who blocked off the cellar, and he was probably the one who built the shelves in the Victorian pantry.

How has all of that shaped my perception of this house during lockdown? First, while our jobs are very similar – and I have no doubt he brought at least some of his work home after hours – no room fits the requirement for a study. The 3 bedrooms would have been fully occupied, the lounge large enough for a bureau but only in a recess and unless he sat at the dining room table to peruse his work, I can’t imagine a shirt-cuffed late Victorian carrying ink and papers having a particular place to do his work. I do. It’s the kitchen table, and I’ve chosen it for the most prosaic of reasons. It’s right next door to the router. Would a Victorian have taken so mercenary approach to where he worked? Possibly, but somehow I doubt it. Work would have been sacred, almost. There would have been a sense of duty in doing it: his time working at home would have been reverently reserved and Papa would certainly not have wanted to be disturbed. I am. All the time. Every time a cup of tea or coffee is made. And when the washing machine in the utility room next door starts up and finishes.

Then there is the layout of the downstairs rooms themselves. In typical style they are a bit of an unnecessary warren. That means that if I want peace and quiet to work I can close a door. But I’ll hear other doors being closed too. I grew up in a 1960s new build house (we were the first people in it, and after my father’s death last year it is now mine so still in the family). That house has doors to the bedrooms, and a door from hallway to kitchen, but everything else is open plan. So I grew up NOT hearing the close fitting clunck of Victorian doors. That, though, is the rhythm and sound of the working day and, although my educational admin predecessor would have heard it too as the daily servant we know he and his family had went about her work, he probably wasn’t looking up from work when he heard it.

Finally there is the way we use the space out of doors. During lockdown, recreation has been limited (until this week anyway) so I’ve used the garden more for that than I might normally have done. He wouldn’t have thought of it as a place to laze about, but as a place to work. We know he was a bit of a gardener (he won prizes) and, a few years ago, I dug up in the corner of the garden a hallmarked silver mount to an expensive wallet that was probably his – which rather suggests he was vigorous and perhaps careless. Now I am not a gardener except when the superabundance of nature claims attention (i.e I cut the grass when it is overgrown and weed the borders when I have to do so). Mainly, I will be quite content lazing about in a chair. I doubt he did. This Victorian garden is surrounded on all sides by a massive yew hedge (the bane of my life, actually) planted by his sucessor, a clerical gentleman whose name I curse whenever I have to trim the thing. Before it came the garden would have had deeper borders and I imagine my educational administrator predecessor would have worked hard on them, kept cold frames against the garden wall to bring on flowers to stock them and have planted vegetables. I doze in a chair.

Our experience of the space I now use – more than a century on from him – is quite distinct, and working here has brought home to me just how differently he and I conceive of it. For him, the use of space in the house reflected contemporary views of work, the separation of functions (he’d be shocked at my working in a kitchen) and my reticence to make the space outside of it work for the household. My garden yields cut flowers, but no vegetables.

Do I enjoy working where I live and living where I work? Yes, and for the strangest of reasons I suppose. I come from a small Wiltshire town in which cloth working was, until the 19th century, the mainstay of employment and social life; most of the work was done by outwork, that is people working from their homes. I’ve always been fascinated with what it felt like to do that. Well, now I know. It requires no travel, is comfortable, ‘knowable’ and – vitally – lets me work in space over which I have almost total control. No, I can’t reconfigure it easily (I am not going to knock down any more walls) but I can shape it and adorn it. Above my ‘desk’ in that kitchen ‘study’ is a painting by a 19th century watercolourist I just adore. Since I collect 18th/19th century watercolours and drawings, having my choice of art and a token of my hobby in my workspace is just lovely.

 

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Is there a post-pandemic zeitgeist?

Where on earth do we go from here?

I have always been suspicious of the notion of zeitgeist, but will there be a ‘post-pandemic’ one and what will it mean for the arts?

Coming out of epidemics and pandemics is problematic for one very obvious reason. Until herd immunity through vaccination or exposure, or virus mutation to a much lower level of infectiousness (with strategies for containment and suppression requiring patience and focus) there won’t be much time to consider the ‘post-covid world’. Moreover we won’t know when we will be ‘through this’. Epidemics come in waves, and the periodicity of those waves may be measured not in weeks or months but in years. In short, we won’t know when we’ll be through it until we are all through it. Think about the post-pandemic future, though, we simply must. The pandemic has raised – and continues to raise – so many questions about how we organise our world and how we live our lives.

For one thing there is the matter of the salience of health itself. We construct our sense of what matters not based on some fixed hierarchical Maslowian set of ‘needs’ through which we move with life experience but, perhaps, by excited response to what seems to matter now slightly more than what will matter for our future happiness. Ipsos Mori report that, on February 7-9 some 9% of Britons polled thought that coronavirus was a threat to them personally. By April 23-26 that figure had nearly quadrupled to 35%. Personal health is, perhaps predictably, more to the front of our minds than before the coronavirus hit. A concern for personal health in lockdown has driven an increase in online fitness classes, sales of vitamin supplements and outdoor exercise. So what will this mean for our mental lives? Possibly that the presence of such a public reminder of our mortality will drive more thinking about our physical lives and how they shape our mental ones. That in turn may mean that the balance of consumption in the arts may shift from the conspicuous and hedonistic to the life affirming, comforting and participatory.

The pandemic has also engendered a sense of social connectedness as only an infectious disease in transmission can. This is not so much ‘fellow feeling’ or a sense of community solidarity (debateable in any case since race hate and discrimination, for instance, do not seem to show signs of abating during lockdown) as it seems to be a sense of shared exposure and risk. A sense, in fact, of our common frailty. When the dreaded R rises that means something very direct for how we live, socialise, behave. It means that we are more likely to share the virus through exposure, and that in turn means the growth of worry. The social dimension of this disease may have engendered a feeling for how risky ‘social being’ can be for us. Of course this sense may die with the virus, but what if it doesn’t? If it fuels suspicion of neighbours, of the social, of ‘the other’, it will be vital that the arts addresses the logical flaw in that construct – that all human living is frailty and it is the frailty we have in common. Send not to ask for whom the bell tolls, indeed.

The virus has also had disproportionately adverse effects – on BAME communities, on men, on the elderly, on those with (horrid phrase) ‘underlying health conditions’. These are evidenced differences in effects that ought to force us to ask deeper questions. Why are BAME healthcare workers at so much greater risk of death from this disease than their majority counterparts, for instance? Now is the time to answer those questions – now while the knowledge can make a difference in lives saved. Of course the answers will matter after the pandemic, too, but perhaps just as importantly we’ll keep in our minds how those differences made us feel during the covid19 emergency. Will we have a new sense of regard for age? Will we care more about inequality itself more? Will differential risk provoke more kindness or more ‘othering’? The arts have a role to play here in shaping public consciousness. Does age mean weakness or wisdom, does it suggest that honour is due or frailty should earn protection? The themes in this space – inequality, duty, honour, care, identity – are among the biggest themes in western art. Perhaps we’ll see a return to them as never before.

Finally the zeitgeist may coalesce around the use of the motif of infection itself to explore the human condition. Camus’ La Peste (1947) is perhaps only the best known in a long history of cultural responses to the life around us using ‘infection’ in this way. While, though, for Camus plague was an heuristic device to explore contemporary political fears infection might, this time, become a common window into human nature and human lives in a less cynically metaphorical way. Will we generate an art about how infection shaped us, how illness made us different, how death and loss through the capriciousness malevolence of an arbitrary virus challenged our sense of who we are? Direct experience of this pandemic may become for us what plague was for the late middle ages and early modern period – the starting point for self-reflection and art making. Lots of artists have started producing responses to covid19; will any move beyond it to explore how they themselves are now changed in its wake?

Big themes, seismic changes. When Burkhardt in the Civilisation of the Renaissance in Italy (1878) came to characterise the ‘spirit of the age’ in a well-known passage he thought the Renaissance saw ‘a new spiritual influence which, spreading itself abroad from Italy, became the breath of life for all the more instructed minds in Europe. The worst that can be said of the movement is, that it was anti-popular, that through it Europe became for the first time sharply divided into the cultivated and uncultivated classes.’ What will a later Burkhardt say about the post-pandemic zeitgeist? Will it be generous and humane or brooding, selfish and introspective? New themes – or perhaps immortal ones rekindled – will be in front of us, and it is for artists to interpret them.

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Covid19 and knowledge exchange: a personal view

What have I learned from the past two months from directing, encouraging and supporting knowledge exchange projects during covid19’s seemingly relentless assault on us all?

First, I think, that my colleagues – both in academic departments and among professional services staff – adapted to the new conditions remarkably quickly. Universities can move very quickly. I’m not sure that comparisons with war are as helpful as some journalists seem to think, but it is telling that universities in both world wars reacted more slowly to the emergency than have my colleagues to covid19. That’s not to denigrate the universities of the past – for one thing in August 1914 and September 1939 universities were fewer in number, knowledge exchange (although happening) was a minority pursuit and the ‘long vac’ mentality that reigned in those summer months went with the season. In 2020, though, in my own university we went from lockdown to response within a matter of days, turning our focus outwards and sharing techniques and methods for doing KE rapidly almost (if not quite) overnight. Of course that’s partly because digitally enabled remote working technology – the background to the way we work now – was already in place, but teaching was still sashaying from face-to-face to online mode, managers were seeking to rethink support and operations from the ground up and the stress of news was taking its toll on some. So were we resilient? Yes, but I think something more than resilient. We managed to prove inventive and creative under pressure while continuing to focus on knowledge exchange. Partly, of course, that was because of the humbling experience of seeing what others were doing – like the 500 or so staff and student nurses returning or heading for the very first time to the frontline of the outbreak or hearing about colleagues we knew, liked and cared about wrestling with this awful disease.

For me this period has also reminded me sharply of the experience of some of my own knowledge exchange practice as an academic a few years ago. It reminded me of work undertaken in, frankly, uncertain and even hostile conditions for high quality research-driven knowledge exchange – like reshaping CPD curriculum in the midst of a cholera outbreak in Africa or providing consultancy and contract research to a finance ministry in the midst of an economic crisis with runaway inflation, a coupon currency, 85%+ unemployment and no functioning central bank in Asia. My mode of operation then was akin to that of a development project director. I needed to tailor what I had to an utterly unfamiliar situation, rapidly, and use appropriate and scaleable technology to deliver it. There have been, for me, lots of comparisons between the world of development projects and KE during covid19. Uncertainty abounds, contexts are very different (how do you collect survey data when you can’t interview people? how do you make engineering prototypes when your bench supplies company folded last week and your workshops are shut?), and above all the problems are as extreme. Moreover, the payoffs are as great: make the wrong decision in relation to labour market reform in that fractured economy and you exacerbate the pain, and similarly give the wrong advice or consulting opinion in relation to that covid19 policy development and lives might be lost.

The second significant difference has been the liberation and potential that has come from there being more open data, open access, open source, open IP than ever before. Solution portals akin to open innovation platforms have sprung up, data sharing projects are ubiquitous and open IP in various forms featured at a very early stage. That’s encouraging for the responder to this emergency in two ways. First, there is a ready market and above all plenty of examples of how to make openness mix with rapid response to maximise effectiveness. But there is also the matter of, as it were, supply: some of our responses have depended on, even relied on, open source elements from elsewhere. A mundane example explains the point: much of the work in responding to the need for PPE was smoothed by open source specifications and open licences for designs. And where we improved on IP in the pond we put the improved version back into the same open source pond. The main stumbling block to incorporation of open source data, designs, IP and much else has been the limits to discoverability. That’s something society needs to address beyond covid19 if the promise of openness is to be made a reality.

Thirdly, there has been the enthusiasm – and it has never been higher for exchanging knowhow and exchanging research knowledge. Purposeful transfer is seen to be beneficial at almost all times, but the proximity of benefit to contribution has been telescoped in time, and the resulting energy and purpose has been wonderful to witness. One colleague sent me an email persuading me that her work would be beneficial in the context of mental health resilience with such crystal clear conviction allied with an equally clear plan within moments of our both seeing a twitter post about a problem arising from covid19 in the context of social care. That immediacy of response is equalled by the pertinacity: this is stripped back, focused, ready-to-go KE. We haven’t been shoehorning what we know into problems, we’ve been doing very focused designing of solutions to researched and understood problems, or using analogy to get us there, or forming virtual huddles to do it.

Finally, the covid19 days have been haunted by a hangover from an earlier time – the debate over ‘Why universities matter’. We have ready made stories to tell as KE practitioners and are telling them (Oxford’s vaccine moving to production is KE in action; Leicester’s testing activity is KE in action). We have, though, to make sure we manage this narrative rather better now than when we struggled to engage with it. Yes, some of the debate has seemed to descend to the level of popular myth (‘why are universities charging fees when they are not open’, thundered one unthinking columnist), but those of us working in KE have a chance to improve the quality of it. We have stories to tell, yes, of vizors made and gowns delivered – but so do junior schools. I don’t want to suggest for one moment that vizor making isn’t important (it is) or impressive (my university’s team are hitting 2,000 a day, each one of which will protect someone and help them return safe to their families). We, though, have to tell stories about how we responded to the unfamiliar, the semi-formed or barely comprehended problem, with speed and inventiveness – like some of the big rapid reaction projects from LSHTM, UCL, the Turing Institute and (a lovely non-British example) the Instituto de Empresa in Spain where institutions have anticipated a need, responded to it, and created the space and place to find solutions and the tools to deploy them. We need to explain not just why vizors aren’t enough, but why big thoughts about major problems can come out of universities with (relative) ease. Universities are part of society’s resilience infrastructure and not just ‘nice to have around’.

I’ve learned a lot. We’ve all learned a lot, and travelled far. Like all good travellers we’ll have memories. This time, our memories have to count. From this we can learn a lot. And may we all survive to implement what we plan to do based on what we have learned.

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Knowledge exchange strategy with purpose

In 2017 in Berlin I offered some thoughts on how purposive strategy formation in knowledge exchange might take place. It built on earlier work on whole institution approaches to creating value through intangibles (published in Portuguese) and considered ways in which, as the Berlin paper put it, one could ‘make strategy happen in an area of conflicting objectives’ (maximise income, maximise impact, maximise reputational benefit for a start). The result was a toolkit, neatly summarised in these slides on the Challenges and opportunities in income generation

The aim of the tookit was to provide a simple way of evaluating options and framing intentions, and we used it in Berlin to look at the options facing a fictional university first. My fictional university of choice and go-to name for similar exercises in seminars for HE leaders is Isaac Newton University.

The problem for Issac Newton University is that it wants it all: money, impact, reputation, staff engagement, political leverage. The list goes on. It wasn’t that the VC of INU, in my scenario, couldn’t see the wood for the trees; it was that she wanted the next tree and the next one and the one after that, and didn’t think about forests.

Well, the toolkit was intended to help her. INU’s VC would consider a few dimensions of benefit (9 main ones) against 3 broad base parameters – status/capacity, circumstances, culture – and prioritise through a simple weighting/scoring matrix the main deliverables. The method though wasn’t so much about leading her to a conclusion as it was about engaging INU in a dialogue about trade offs and (vitally) how small changes could open up opportunities for benefit.

Add to this consideration of market development from INU’s current offer, and consideration of new ways of doing the work through collaboration and technology, and INU’s top team would have a simple, portable tool for strategic thinking. It’s not a heavyweight toolkit like many others, but it does seem to work. Or at least when we moved, in Berlin, from applying it to INU to using it with real universities at the conference, it seemed to perform well.

If it’s of use, do have a play with it. It’s neither proven in the field with more than a handful of universities (though I used variants of it in both Brazil and Kazahkstan, and in a workshop for KE managers in 2018), nor does it come with any updated research behind it.

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Imagination and knowledge exchange in the covid19 moment

When a pandemic stalks the world mere human activities (commercial, personal, collective, social) pause, so the arrival of the novel coronavirus (or SARS-CoV-2) among us causing a disease that has locked down advanced societies, cost lives and created a sense of dread and fear in many was bound to affect universities. The REF has been put on hold, the Office for Students has decided on ‘a reduced requirement for reportable events‘ from institutions while lots of universities have moved teaching online. KEF apart (and as I write no decision seems to have been taken, and the webinar briefings on narratives are planned for 1st April), what impact can we expect covid19, as we are getting used to call the disease, to have on knowledge exchange.

First there must be an impact from the economic effect of the virus. The government’s response, which includes £330 billion of guarantees (equivalent to 15% of UK GDP) suggests it will be massive. Guarantees and loans together will have the effect of saving many businesses, but at the same time possibly pushing the business debt to GDP ratio above that of France. The sheer scale of the intervention suggests one thing above all. As full lockdown of the UK begins, shops and businesses close and customers retreat to their homes, many non-service businesses will have no opportunity to preserve their revenue streams. Turnover that finances R&D, training and technical development – much of it sourced from university KE – will falter. Plans may also be put on hold amid uncertainty so great that businesses up and down the land can have no clear expectation of when they might start trading again.

The social impact too is huge. Case fatality rates in the UK appear high, but that may reflect the way in which testing (the denominator) is carried out as much as the age structure of the population. While about 80% of those getting the disease will have what the government describes as ‘mild symptoms’, about 20% could be hospitalised and a proportion of the total (between 1 and 3%, the estimates vary) will die. This excess mortality over predicted, even in a year of moderate seasonal flu, will have a significant impact on the population. Covid19, though, also has an effect on survivors – scarring lung tissue, affecting mental health and interrupting other treatments – while its effect on the mental health and wellbeing of all is significant. Socially it will, it seems, have differential effects on social classes, on age classes, on groups with different health states. It will eat into opportunities for community physical togetherness and challenge the social compact.

In the light of all of this is there any conceivable benefit to KE from covid19? Well, yes – albeit of smaller proportion than these mammoth costs. We will find new ways to do KE. We’ll have to. Universities are driven to engage with business and the community; it isn’t a ukase that makes us do it, its part of what makes us the sector we are.

Just as lecturers have spent the last few weeks and days turning their classroom experience for students into an online, digital one – and finding just how transforming the effect is on everything from learning to engagement – we’ll need to jump off the deep end too. KE practitioners and their supporters will have to find new ways to engage, transfer knowledge, partner and add value. Examples? Here are some suggestions.

What about creating more open innovation platforms for micro-level solution-finding (‘Your company has staff in lockdown, so how can you produce widgets?’).

Collaboration communities of organisations large and small to address the social problems and social compact issues that will have to be addressed in social reconstruction after covid19.

‘App Ateliers’ and coding solution libraries to turn the move of our economy to an effectively ‘online only’ one not just smooth but creative and developmental.

And what about using our knowhow to power community level change – via WhatsApp groups for streets linked to researchers who can offer solutions to community problems?

Let’s roll up our sleeves and give it a try.

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The future of higher education

I’ve been toying with thoughts about which models for HE hold the most promise for traditional providers – like my own university. My own short list, culled from a variety of sources, consists of a kind of ‘awards list’ of innovators in HE – here it is.

(i) In first place, Cranbrook Academy of Art –  for developing an apprenticeship model for HE in the arts that mixes the best of atelier and conservatoire with a genuine commitment to high quality, research-led teaching and learning. Why not the same model in the sciences and the social sciences?

(ii) In second place Hyper Island – for developing a project focused, consulting led, university education in new media for a new age. HI is a revolutionary model that is simply crying out for extension into other domains.

(iii) In third place, CalArts Community Arts Partnership (CAP) – a co-curricular program of the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) that offers free, after-school and school-based arts programs for youth ages 6-18 in every discipline taught at CalArts by CalArts students. Getting students themselves involved in delivery, and in community extension, is something of a return to the original land grant universities extension action of the early 20th century but with a twist. Why not grant credit for the action itself?

(iv) In joint fourth place Coursera/EdX/Khan and others – for new models of massive online programming (‘massive open online courses’ – MOOCs), which are shaping the way in which individuals IN universities consume HE, as well as those outside of it. This suggests that content can be neither king or servant but rather a pillar for a tutor-focused programme of HE.

(v) Also in joint fourth, MIT and fellow members of the Open Courseware initiative – for the encouragement of a ‘mix and match’ approach to learning by autodidacts via open courseware offerings. Whoever says that all learning has to be for credit, has to take place within the academy and has to be lecturer-led?

(vi) In fifth place, the reformulated hybrid ‘new CE’ models of HE in our few remaining continuing education departments (e.g. Oxford’s 96 online programmes, for which students can gain Oxford HE-level credit at sub-UG, UG or PG level). For too long we’ve supposed that CE is dead or dying; perhaps it is, in fact, the future for HE after all?

No actual prizes for the winners – but recognition from within HE that their approaches are powerful and persuasive may be reward enough.

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IP and the cyborg future

The article in the WIPO magazine of August 2012  on innovation in Paralympic and disability sport started me thinking about how far the intellectual property system encourages ‘cyborg’ developments – of which there are more than enough in play currently. My own humble cochlear implant is one of a growing number of implantable devices which bring technology into the human body to supplement or even supplant common motor or sensory functions. There are of course issues about the extent to which innovation can be fostered at pace when implantation or limb attachment is required, since the trial period and the ethical process will be (rightly) protracted and careful. However, there is another issue. A growing number of these devices use generic technologies (for example in implanted pulse generator design) and emerging technologies (nanotubes, for example) may come to play a greater role in the development of new forms. If those new technologies – possibly the bigger prize for businesses and researchers – are slow to develop, the applications will be slow to incorporate them. What can the IP system do? Perhaps ‘peer-to-peer’ can help. It might be possible to flag areas of genuinely rapid development in applications to applicants for base technologies, and encourage thereby co-development.

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Traditional knowledge and the public domain defence

This case discussion from South Africa, in which the ‘Traditional Knowledge Act’ is discussed, contains several interesting points, but none so striking as the statement that, once the TKA is passed, “the claim that [traditional songs] are in the public domain may be a short lived illusion…’, so that the public domain defence may become seen as one of remarkable simplicity and clarity in hindsight. Whether or not the TKA replaces this with a defence based on novelty or even variant form, the fact remains that African tribal songs and other cultural artefacts are receiving protection here which, others would argue elsewhere in the world, should be extended to them too. The issue for an academic is more prosaic.How on earth will we acknowledge/attribute the rights in citation or use?