Jiva Technology

How we consume education

Education is all about school, right? And university? And maybe some professional education if I want to become a lawyer or an accountant. Or maybe some vocational educational if I’m a nurse or a plumber or a digital marketing maven? Once we’ve mastered the basics of reading and writing and some basic maths, it’s all about acquiring higher level skills. And there was a time when those skills had a proper shelf life, like a lifetime. How long do they last now? Even if I train as an accountant, will I need to be proficient in artificial intelligence in 20 years as the software robots take over the profession.

It used to be said (and maybe it still is) that one of the most important aspects of university was learning how to learn. As a narrative, that works well for the people who really love to learn (which generally correlates pretty closely to those who find it easy) but we need to think about the rest of us. What if you don’t love to learn, but you realise it’s an increasingly necessary evil. It sounds almost heretical to talk about education in that way, but perhaps we need to be just a little less uptight about acquiring skills, about getting an education.

Given that everyone seems to have little problem being a consumer and buying stuff, maybe it’s time for skills-acquisition to take the weary path down from its ivory tower and just let people consume education. ¬†Some universities are already heading in that direction, even if they won’t admit it. 3 years at uni: tick. Choice of accommodation to suit your budget: tick. Ready made student activities: tick. Okay, maybe I’m pushing things a little far, but you get the idea.

Britain needs people with the right skills more than ever. The market for jobs is actually a myriad of smaller markets with their own dynamics, some with shortages, some with massive over supply; some with good prospects, some with a dire outlook. It isn’t easy to shift between those markets, but if we apply what we know from mainstream marketing, we know that if we want people to consume we just make it easy to buy. Amazon have famously made it so easy to buy things without moving much more than your finger(s) that it’s turned them into a scary 1 trillion dollar behemoth. How many people have bought things on Amazon by mistake.

About the last thing that you’d say about education is that it’s easy to buy. After the formative experience of being forced to consume our basic education (its against the law not to), there is then almost no way to easily identify what to buy, let alone how to buy it. Sure, many of us all out of school and into university; I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the 50 years that current graduates will likely spend in the work force post-graduation. Want to become the aforementioned digital marketing maven? Where do I pick up the skills? How do we afford the time away from work without an indulgent employer?

These are serious issues, not only for individuals, but for society as a whole. As our economies shift with the advent of longer working lives, climate change and adoption of artificial intelligence, the need for flexibility in the workforce will become ever more important. Maybe it’s time to get our act together?

Venture Capital: what does it mean to me?

The finance industry is a funny thing. A Schrodingers cat type of industry that is simultaneously seen as both villain and prestigious place to work. I put that down to the fact that there’s no such thing as the finance industry¬†in the way that there is an aerospace industry or a pharmaceutical industry; just many different loosely connected activities that are brought together under the same roof.

Perhaps the image of an industry is unimportant, but you increasingly hear questions about the role of finance in our society, the financialisation of industries and whether or not finance is a good thing. In the UK, there are loud voices that proclaim we have “too much finance”. There’s the threat of action and when that happens, there’s always the possibility of the baby being thrown out with the bath water.

The venture capital industry is a single segment of the global finance industry, but it bears little resemblance to retail banking, re-insurance or hedge funds. Beginning in Boston in the 1940s, venture capital has become and enormous industry that invested over $170bn in 2017. It backs companies around the world in everything from immunotherapy to green tech and provide the oxygen for startup economies from London to LA and Bangkok to Berlin.

Its easy to forget that the fashionable status of working in a startup is a relatively recent thing. It wasn’t that long ago that established ‘blue chip’ organisations were the preferred home of the best and brightest. Thats no longer the case. Working ‘in a startup’ is a socially acceptable, even desirable thing to do without any reference to what the startup actually does. Cities are rated according to the vibrancy of the ‘startup scene’. A new report sheds some light on how certain cities have become global hubs for venture capital deals and its no coincidence that these cities have been the economic winners of the last twenty years. Over half of VC investment goes to just six cities worldwide: San Francisco, New York, London, Beijing, Los Angeles and Boston. Some cities not traditionally associated with the technology industry, like Bangkok, have seen investment grow dramatically.

The energy and momentum being generated by the startup/venture capital combination is quite breathtaking, but with it comes the responsibility to understand the dynamics of whats going on. Its not enough to simply celebrate the winners; it becomes imperative to support the success of these global hubs whilst helping to share the benefits more widely. It would be a shame if the purpose, global reach and growth provided by the startup/vc ecosystem descended into a battle between perceived winners and losers. There’s an opportunity for this relatively recent and unique phenomenon to help us all, but it perhaps requires a more nuanced approach from all parties.




With all that’s happening in the world at the moment …

With all thats happening in the world at the moment, it would be easy to overlook the fact that we’ve lived through a remarkably benign period in most western democracies these last 60-70 years. Economic growth has moved up and down, there have been some serious issues that we’ve had to face, but not the whole, things have been pretty stable. It seems that is about to change and its worth pausing for a moment to think about those skills that will become progressively more valuable and those that won’t. By the same measure, are there areas of study that move from the backwaters to centre stage.

Politics is definitely back. And not just in the sense that big political changes are underway. As the nation state reasserts itself, does that mean that students of political science or international relations will become increasingly valuable? If business has to take greater account of political risk in an era post-Brexit, will they be hiring more PoliSci graduates than MBAs? What if the entire post-WW2 world order starts to unravel as some have forecast; does that mean that language students or those with International Relations on their cv will become sought after? And then there’s climate change. Will an appreciation of environmental science be something that gets baked into business and political decisions?

I suppose the honest answer is that we don’t know, but perhaps it would be wise advice to expect the unexpected. One thing is for sure, whilst its usually a safe bet that tomorrow will be much like today, there are occasions when tomorrow is nothing like today. One of those days may well be around the corner. A wise student will keep one eye on current affairs over the next few years and think through the permutations that could happen. It seems likely that we entering a period of less international co-operation, with climate change as a reality and with certain technologies moving into the mainstream that will have a profound impact on how we live. Understanding the flow of events is a good way to recognise the signposts, the markers that things are changing. It feels like a good time to be nimble, a time to be on your toes. Because more than anything, change brings opportunity.


The BIG ISSUE on education

I’m a regular reader of the Big Issue. There’s obviously the part about ‘a hand up, not a hand out’, but it’s also about the journalism. They naturally seem to have a different angle on a story; perhaps its down to journalistic freedom or maybe they just start from a different place. The late August issue was about education and there’s a fabulous section where famous people talk about what school meant to them and the impact it had on their lives. Most were moderate or even low achievers at school, but it didn’t stop them from going on to achieve great things in business, entertainment or culture. A feedback loop like this is strangely absent from school life.

Most of the time we hear about school life from one of three places: teachers, family or the star pupil who comes back to tell you how great they are. Pretty much everyone has a memory of a family member telling them what it was like ‘in their day’, usually at exactly the point when you least want the advice. Cue rolling of the eyes. Teachers don’t count because they’re, well teachers. And star former pupils should discount themselves immediately on the basis that they are the outliers. The ‘lessons you can learn from my personal brilliance’ speech doesn’t go down well whether you’re 16 or 60. Which is where the Big Issue comes in. Just hearing an actress you might have have heard of tell you that she had to be good at acting because she was so poor at everything else can be a boost. Desperation is an awfully strong motivator.

Perhaps the Big Issue should expand their story. A website of people telling their stories about school and what it meant to them is a nice idea. A place to look and compare and make you realise that if you’re a stunning success in year 12, it doesn’t mean you’ll be a star in life, or where everything looks bleak and surely my life is over. Maybe its something we should start doing here at Tutorhub. Now there’s a thought.


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