Friday, December 31, 2010

What mattered in 2010

"The future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed" William Gibson famously remarked. And in 2010, it did feel that the future crept a little bit closer. In the spirit of the season, it's worth reflecting on what was significant in the longer term in 2010.

I believe I was the only blogger in the Milky Way who didn't write about iPads this year. I do think in the long run the tablet wave is indeed significant. It creates casual, mobile access to the web without the screen size problems of mobiles and smartphones, and the 'open the lid and lean forward' requirement of a laptop. That is really important, especially when combined with the continuing spread of good fast mobile networks. Tablets make knowledge properly mobile at a reasonable price point, and I think that's a significant step ahead. Progess like that, while it seems incremental, brings us closer to the next phase change in our behaviour and relationship with knowledge. Next step in the stairs is gesture controlled wearables, but probably not mainstream until late in the decade when the Tablets market is saturated and commoditised.

The Browne report, and the rapid implementation of it's financial changes was also a big story this year, with substantial local effect in the UK. It basically shifts the UK from having the current taxpayers paying for Higher Education to having future taxpayers and workers pay for it via loan repayments (and bailing out loan vehicles with tax money when they go sour). Some countries have had this model for years with loan schemes of one sort of another, with mixed results (thinking of the US and New Zealand). I suspect the UK move might finally put that model over the top as the global standard.

Also in the UK, Pearson announced they were moving to offer degree level qualifications. My perception of Pearson is as a very mature, serious operation. From Ladybird books to The Economist, they produce good stuff. I'd certainly take a qualification from them seriously.  The move represents, I think, a maturing of the for Profit HE sector. Meanwhile Kaplan, probably the most famous trailblazer in for-profit HE, seem to be having difficulties with a number of business ethics related legal cases. Early entrants to new frontiers do often tend to have, shall we say, flexible ethics, but in time the frontier grows up, a sheriff arrives and things settle down to business as usual. I think we're seeing this here.

Meanwhile, while the first world, and particularly Ireland where I write, wallows in economic mud, India and China, and the world overall continues to grow richer. In 2011 I'll really need to learn more about higher education works in these places, as it's there the future will be defined. By sheer weight of numbers as their middle classes pour into HE, how it's done in Chonqing and Calcutta becomes the world standard, perhaps wearing the European University model as a skin, if at all.

Predictions for 2011? Off the top of my head:

  • Cheap, ubiquitous tablets become a commodity and overtake the laptop as the standard information device
  • Building tempo of mergers, acquisitions and bankruptcies (or similar) in the UK higher education space as the sector shakes out the implications of the changes.
  • Universities in India, China etc continue to fight their way up the rankings and grow.

But I don't really do short term predictions...


  1. Two minor points: the Browne report relates to England, *not* the UK. And you *did* write about the iPad in 2010: you did so in this post...

  2. I'll give you the first one, as it was sloppy of me. That said, when the English HE sector goes Browne, there will be substantial displacement effects in the HE sectors in Scotland, Wales and Scotland.
    I'll have to give you second one as well, the alternative being splitting hairs over tenses.
    I will endeavour to be more precise.