All is fair….. is it?
Strikes me that fairness is an issue, whether we are talking about yesterday’s announcement of where, upon whom and how heavily the carbon tax (‘non tax’ according to the President?) will ‘fall’ or how a student submitting work later than colleagues may be treated. I recall well enough a discussion with my ‘External Examiners’ at Bournemouth University (for those of a French disposition for whom the term is unknown, ‘External Examiners in the UK system are imposed upon all courses at all levels by the government paymaster: they are other academics and industry representatives who examine all areas of teaching and learning including watching classes, listening to student grievances, speaking to hard-pressed staff and sitting in no little judgment on the final examinations and certificates to be awarded [to ensure that they are ‘in line’ with other such qualifications]. If ‘Externals’ don’t like what they see, they can suggest [ie politely demand] changes to students marks or to course content….) an issue concerning students who had written well over the 10-12000 dissertation or 20,000 – 24,000 thesis word limit. One ‘External’ took a commercial view: ‘they’ve not complied with published limits – if they did that in industry it would be wholly unacceptable – so penalise them severely’, whereas the other suggested that ‘word over-run is its own worst enemy – it is there because the student cannot edit efficiently and is probably merely describing superficially and uncontrollably when he should be analysing and evaluating, so just mark what is there, it will almost certainly be poor anyway, there is no need to add a further penalty’. 1 x ‘simple’ question + 2 x experts = 2 diametrically opposed responses. For the students, however, it is always simpler: ‘He /she had more time / more words than me. I stuck to the limits. He didn’t. He got away with it.’…… Wherever there is a limit, a margin, there is inevitably friction on the borderline. Those closest to the ‘fire’ feel it most acutely. I am not sure we have really caught hold of this in society, whether we are talking about imposition of taxes, availability of subventions and subsidies or the mark given. Perhaps we are happy to take decisions but not so comfortable with taking responsibility for our decisions. As a Brit in France for some years, I find this distinction rather more stark. Perhaps it is a matter of being born with the typical British inclination in favour of the ‘underdog’, faced with the predeliction for imperiousness on the part of the French administrative system which seems quite content with producing oft-times indefensible and incomprehensible decisions on the basis of the facts because the administrative ‘playbook’ has no ‘page’ that covers the particular situation and the people in the system are often unwilling or unempowered to do anything rational or sensible. Doesn’t end there, though does it? What of the coffee and milk we drink??? We pay the earth to many retailers, yet the actual producers get a pittance? Why has it taken us so long to get around to Fair Trade? Perhaps we are too busy screwing others for the extra margin because we can, because the poor nation producer can’t sell direct to the rich nation consumer. Well, that is changing with the internet and...read more
France, out of Recession: Think Again!
OK…. so it’s official (whatever that is!), the crisis is over in France and Germany, or as the BBC put it: “The French and German economies both grew by 0.3% between April and June, bringing to an end year-long recessions in Europe’s largest economies.” No-one seemed more surprised, apparently than the French Minister for the Economy, Christine Laguarde, who seemed (if you will forgive the pun) to have been caught off-guard: “The data is very surprising. After four negative quarters France is coming out of the red.” Not sure I believe it, even if the statistics are scrupulously accurate: I don’t feel it….. ….. and folks around here still have their hatches battened down, some very...read more
Ok, let me own up: I think the title is a bit ‘cute’… but there is a point here that arises from research on Sustainability (Developpement Durable, as it is termed here) that I have undertaken over the last two or three years with my university students in France and Germany: they seem to have quite readily assimilated a reasonably sustainable approach to their personal consumption activities in their daily lives – but when it comes to thinking about Tourism consumption choices, they were, themselves, somewhat shocked to find that it is as if the synapses shut down almost 100% and the thought of sustainability applied to Tourism consumption choice just does not register. Tourism appears to be cause to escape normality and to forget normal constraints and concerns altogether. To me this seems particularly significant for the following reasons:- these are students in their early 20s. They were born at about the time of publication of the Brundtland Report : ‘Our Common Future’ / ‘Notre Avenir à Tous’ (World Commission on Environment and Development) published in 1987 and the subsequent ‘Rio Conference’ that launched sustainability upon the world political stage. Chernobyl, Ozone Layer depletion, global warming and the disappearance of the ice-shelf at the poles have been part of their immediate and present history. They have theoretically been living and learning in a world increasingly rife with the sustainability message running through all media since their birth: they are, surely, the most likely to be aware of the ‘message’ and to have ‘bought-in’ to it….. yet when it comes to Tourism, there is a surprising disconnection: sustainability almost doesn’t figure at all (‘though it does feature significantly in other aspects of daily life). the Tourism industry seems to be waiting (not entirely unreasonably) for Tourism demand to shift significantly in the direction of Sustainable Tourism products and services. After all, what industry or corporation would make an investment in something that its market did not seem to be actively demanding? Some do target small niches admittedly, and successfully so, but commercial history is littered with organisations that dive over the ‘leading edge’ and find themselves on what is often termed ‘the bleeding edge’. For example, Click Mango was a website with the right idea (everything natural, eco and bio) but just a little before it’s time – when the early online eCommerce ‘bubble’ burst, investors pulled out in the light of past losses just at the point that Mango was close to break-even and heading in the direction of solid profit. The industry is not, by and large, addressing sustainability in the mass market because the mass tourist still appears to be broadly happy with the existing ‘fare’ on offer. If my students are anything to go by, this produces a big, fat ‘Catch 22’ situation: consumers are not automatically thinking of sustainability when it comes to Tourism and they are not by and large being presented with sustainable alternatives in the marketplace for that very same reason. Result: nothing changes. Presently most attention to Sustainability in Tourism is aimed at new products and services that are green and ‘eco-friendly’ which can be designed from the ground up. In most cases these are responses to a niche lying beyond the ‘mass’ where premium prices are possible in the...read more
Crisis Spawns Co-operation and Co-opetition
Travelmole.com reports today (7th July ’09) that a company called ‘The Holiday Team’ is calling for far more co-operation in the teeth of this crisis in which company budgets are under such pressure (because, as we all know, the fastest way to produce a profit is to cut costs): “At a time when agents are reviewing costs on every level suppliers to the travel trade need to be innovative and offer something extra to help agents increase their profit in difficult times. Now is the time for businesses with shared commercial interests to work together to develop plans which will help to boost sales. This week we launched a commitment to our travel agency partners to assist them with marketing advice and support. And on a selective basis we’ll even offer a financial package to help with marketing.” Although glad that this sort of approach is finding greater favour nowadays, it is somewhat galling that it hadn’t ‘caught on’ in the industry far earlier as there have been no end of good examples and templates. For donkeys’ years we have been stuck on a roundabout (or ‘in a rut’, as you prefer) of cut-throat, dog-eat-dog competition where the thought of co-operation or ‘co-opetition’ is anathema. We are belatedly realising in this crisis that there are other avenues open to us, largely because we are discovering how wasteful all-out competition can be and that we have little alternative but to cooperate at some level because the budgets are no longer there at the level of the individual business. Good to see this cooperative approach stimulated, in this example, by the private sector, because, in fact, (and perhaps somewhat surprisingly), the public sector has, for some considerable time, been leading the way in developing Tourism partnerships and cooperative ventures and offering opportunity for the private sector tourism industry to get involved. Take the Dorset and New Forest Tourism Partnership, for example: a visionary partnership initiated by all the local authorities of the region with the intermediary assistance of Bournemouth University and other NGO partners providing considerable ‘seedcorn’ monies up front over a period of years now, then securing EU matched funding to generate a considerable range of opportunities for the Tourism industry to engage in projects such as: skills audits and improvement / training, benchmarking, co-operative marketing and market research, ICT innovations etc. The regional Tourism industry has more than begun to realise that working together, sharing data, pooling budgets etc the area can compete more effectively as a macro-destination. In-region competition is then, of course, ‘fair game’, but there should be a bigger slice of the ‘cake’ to compete for courtesy of the preceding degree of cooperation. It is even catching on in France. That is not strictly true, actually, it has always been here. Here the local government unit is the ‘commune’ and can be (and more than often actually is) comprised of little more than a thousand or few thousand inhabitants. This makes the ‘base’ for Tourism development very small indeed and would clearly prevent the development of marketable tourism destinations, websites and other resources were it not for the work of ‘co-operative overlays’. The French are used to this in the sharing of all sorts of services banding together in ‘communities of communes’ or CoCos (just...read more
Crisis…. what crisis?
Several things strike me the moment anyone talks about ‘the crisis’ or ‘La Crise’: things seem to be going on to all intents and purposes pretty ‘normally’ outside the office window the irresistible urge to say ‘Crisis? What crisis?‘ after the title of a famous 1975 Supertramp album (Not that I can remember anything about the album, bar Roger Hodgson’s rather squeaky voice and his sneakily simple piano melodies that go round and round in your head whether you like it or not). with remarkable prescience, Captain Edmund Blackadder (with no little help from Messrs. Rowan Atkinson, Ben Elton and Richard Curtis) got it about right in the trenches in 1915 when he put it most elegantly that: “This is a crisis, a large crisis. In fact, if you’ve got a moment, it is a twelve-storey crisis with a magnificent entrance hall, carpeted throughout; twenty-four hour porterage and an enormous sign on the roof saying: ‘This is a Large Crisis’. And a large crisis requires a large plan. Get me a ruler, two pencils and a pair of underpants.” Blackadder Goes Forth. Final Episode: ‘Goodbyeeee‘. (1989) The Tourism industry is worried. Already there are rumours of large airline collapses and suggestions and projections of $9bn losses for the airline industry worldwide this year (I personally think that will prove to be an under-estimate). Ryanair posted a loss of some $239m in June. If that is for a June-June period then it includes 4 or 5 months before the ‘Crisis’ fully hit (if to the normal April year end, then 6 or 7 months)- and that is one of Europe’s two most successful low-cost operators who have generally been outperforming the flag-carriers for a number of years. Ryanair’s principal competitor, easyJet posted a 6 month loss of some £129.8m in April this year. If the fastest-growing, most popular and lowest-cost operators are performing at this level…. what are we likely to see of the others? For years Tourism has been considerin g itself a ‘necessity’: in a busy world, where the pressure is mounting on employees in a globally competitive environment run by technologies with which we are not equipped to keep up, then ‘downtime’: holiday, clearly becomes precious. The World Tourism Organisation in one of its early pontifications on Tourism, stated that the economic and material elements of Tourism should never overshadow the fundamental ‘spiritual’ dimension (yes, they really did use the word ‘spiritual’) and spoke of the need for ‘recreation’, literally re–creation and the resorative effect of travel. Who can argue with that? At one level, no-one; but ask me at another level whether Tourism is ‘a necessity’ and I will inevitably have another answer altogether. If the going gets tough, will I cut back on having a car, a fridge, a washing machine, a dish-washer, the odd meal out with the kids, buying a few books, CDs or DVDs….? Hardly. But Tourism…. well perhaps, yes. Maybe I will not go at all, go for a shorter period, trade-down on quality, choose a type of tourism that is lower cost (like camping), curb shopping and other tourism expenditure….. perhaps Tourism is the the biggest, most expendable and easily-targetable expenditure to face the ‘chop’. The same goes for Business Tourism. In a crisis and down-turn there may well be...read more
Le Tourisme, Les Nouvelles Technologies et l’Alsace
[A draft article I wrote for the British Tourism Society focusing upon the point that it is the contexts and cultures in which ICT is to be embedded which determines how it looks, feels, is used and the degree to which it is successful rather than the technology itself.] Le Tourisme et les Nouvelles Technologies: TNT – just about says it all, really – it has considerable explosive potential. However, as ever, it is not technology that is the important issue here, so much as the context in which it is employed; a realisation that dawned upon me most emphatically on the evening of my 17th birthday on the old Homesley Aerodrome in the New Forest some thirty-odd years ago when my Dad set me behind the wheel of the car for my first unofficial driving lesson with the words: “This is the first time you’ve had a loaded weapon in your hand – you can kill someone with this if you are not careful”. The car is not the issue so much as the driver. In information and communication technology (ICT) terms it is very much the same: it’s not what it is, so much as what you do with it that counts. In 2003, whilst still teaching Tourism at Bournemouth University, as part of the role of my Learning and Teaching Fellowship, I was engaged in talking to other universities about the potential involved in the use of the internet as a support tool for learning in a university ‘attendance’ (rather than distance learning) mode. As part of this endeavour I was invited to the Université d’Haute Alsace (Mulhouse, France) to address and work with a faculty upon the development of a vision and a strategy for the application of ICT in learning and teaching. Certain things became immediately apparent: the degree of Faculty and individual lecturer autonomy (sovereignty, even) were very much stronger than in England in the light of such independence, the University ‘centre’ found it difficult either to lead or to impose new ICT initiatives and was looking for something to emerge from the faculties themselves. the largely collegiate nature of operation within Faculties and their Departments made it ‘difficult’ for coherent ICT initiatives to come about. although there were ‘lab-style’ ICT oases, generally speaking, both staff and student access to ICT was very much lower than I had been used to seeing in the UK. The overall result appeared to be (on the basis of this institution at least) that the French Higher Education system was finding it tough to get to grips with ICT whose hardware and software needs and pedagogic issues & principles ran across the piece and needed leadership and to be addressed systematically. It appeared to me that the context was perhaps holding back the potential contribution of the technology. On the upside, however, was the voracious appetite of the staff for genuine discussion and debate and for the needs of learning and teaching to ‘drive’ the future use of technology. Cutting a long (and as yet still incomplete) story short, the university faculty concerned seemed to have a rather late ‘start’ in the application of ICT, but to benefit from an intense involvement of the front-line staff in the development and utilisation of bespoke technology in learning and...read more
‘Speed is Everything’ and ‘Small is Beautiful’
Well it is! The Tonyversity site had been woefully slow for a while and I couldn’t work out why – neither dared I launch it in such circumstances. However, my good friend and all-round technological genius, Haider, had a good rummage about in the ICT undergrowth and tweaked the necessary buttons (no doubt taking out any coding mistakes I made and being too nice to tell me!), such that things should be working considerably faster now with a five second load for the front page and three or four for subsequent pages. Although I’d like to shave a bit off even that, I don’t want to take out the pictures and interactive elements that give it some ‘style’… so the only alternative seems to be a more costly subscription to a much faster server – and that will come with a little time. I have tried the site with different browsers: Firefox, Explorer and the new Google Chrome. The latter seems by far the faster. Firefox seems to have a small ‘bug’ somewhere and doesn’t like something called ‘gg.google..’ on my page /tab: ‘About’. Not quite sure why this is… but there it is! Will endeavour to find a fix. Probably the problem will evaporate anyway with the next Firefox update. Hope so. Well, I am about to launch the site and cross my fingers. Wish me luck!...read more
An Illustration of a Tonyversity Learning Programme
A Typical Tonyversity Learning Programme Nature of Enquiry. Contacted by a Senior Manager / Account-Handler of an online marketing consultancy. Request for a relatively intensive programme of higher-level, Business English to be delivered over two months to a key, junior manager / technical specialist in web-design who was being groomed for a promotion to Account Handler. Already I was beginning to see a need for something rather more than the delivery of English teaching, as the leap from technical specialist to presenter, negotiator and relationship-builder would require the development and enhancement of a range of different capabilities (even if English would be the primary language through which these skills would be demonstrated. Initial Meeting with Potential Learner. (Free of charge) I consider that a good relationship between tutor and learner is of critical importance: the better the relationship, the faster and the more enjoyable and productive the learning experience. Accordingly I invited the junior manager to come to meet me and spend some time in English discussing his job, his career aspirations and his specific needs and targets for learning and those of his employer. The meeting was carried out in an informal atmosphere, after work and away from the office, over an apéro. There were no ‘tests’, just relaxed conversation wich developed into drawing together a programme outline that fit both learner and employer targets within the broad resource ‘envelope’ available. Speaking and discussing a little in English also enabled me to establish the existing degree of language confidence and capability. This process took some two hours. In this case (and every case is necessarily different: a Tonyversity programme is tailored to the learner’s individual and distinctive needs & constraints), a programme of 21 hours of face-to-face learning was determined on the basis of 7 weekly sessions of 3 hours duration, timed to complete prior to his Account Handler interview. These sessions took place in the evening at Tonyversity in Bruebach (just South of Mulhouse). In the event, some sessions lasted over 4 hours and some only 2 given the energy level of the learner after a hard day at work. This programme outline (see below), was then costed and submitted with an estimate to the company for approval. Programme Outline Inevitably, grammar, syntax, punctuation and the general rules of the English Language were to appear at certain times and in certain places, they were sub-text rather than structure. The learner in this case already had a TOEIC score of some 745 (a ‘Blue’ score – just edging into the upper middle of the TOIEC range), so the first priority was to develop the maximum ‘returns’ to the capability he already possessed. Developing Language Capability. I asked him to bring with him examples of projects he had worked on and was still working on: reports, powerpoints, letters, memos, meeting minutes, ‘thinkpieces’, web content etc and to ‘talk me through’ them, sometimes reading, sometimes explaining the content. This enabled a number of learning outcomes: I could help him to question and reflect upon his own written work: to critique it in terms of English and presentation technique etc. Between sessions and after the course, this self-delivered, reflection and critique would be essential to ‘fuel’ improvement. The reading and writing enabled me to assist him, gently, with issues of grammar,...read more
Client Review of a Tonyversity Learning Programme
Background Tonyversity recently developed and delivered a bespoke learning programme for a rapidly-rising, young French manager working for a company with a global client base and a requirement for excellence and confidence in English to support client contact, relationship development, contract negotiation etc. The task was therefore to sharpen and apply his English language fluency in all forms and contexts whilst also developing and honing presentation and negotiation technique. The programme lasted 21 hours spread over some seven weeks. The principal (but by no means the only outcomes) were: the raising of his TOEIC score by approaching 200 points, putting him in the ‘gold’ or ‘excellent’ category greater day to day confidence working with clients in English such that he has now received significantly extended management responsibilities and feels well prepared for interview for promotion (also in English). Tonyversity posed him some basic questions upon programme completion, and his ‘open’ responses are as follows: Tonyversity: from our initial meeting – how did you feel the relationship developed? Did we manage to ‘hit it off’ together and did you leave with some confidence that you would be getting what you wanted? Response: yes for sure! The first meeting gave me the feeling that I can reach my objective because you understood my needs and provided me with a roadmap to meet them. Tonyversity: how did you feel about the idea of being able to discuss and agree together your targets and work on them flexibly? Response: that worked because I didn’t feel like a student… your key to success is definitely your flexibility to follow the needs of your client… Tonyversity: how did the idea of us working together on your own workplace materials and projects work for you? Response: It’s good to work in an environment I already know well, so I prefer to work on materials I’m used to seeing every day (like Powerpoint presentations…). Tonyversity: how was the support between timetabled sessions? Response: Sure that’s been a help and gave me the confidence that if I’m not sure, I can ask you to help me! Tonyversity: how did the atmosphere here help relax you into learning? Response: Yeaaah, you know my feeling, it’s more than a relaxed learning session: you became a friend! Tonyversity: what did you feel about the added value of being able to talk Management AND English at a high level and to ‘bounce’ ideas around .. ie ‘Its not just about English… it is about how to think in clearer management terms’…? Response: This is where you score compared to your competitors… your management skill helps to understand how to manage a situation in English, where the English is just a tool to reach the objective… So I would recommend that you to keep and develop that aspect of understanding the field your client is in to best answer his needs. Tonyversity:to what extent did you feel you achieved your objectives over a relatively short time… as exemplified by your results (TOEIC) plus your confidence and development and your company’s confidence in you? Response: thanks to you, I’m now sure that confidence is the key to progress not just in English but in work too… Regarding the short time we spent working together, I can say that I felt really motivated to work...read more
French Universities and Strikes
I’d better put my neck ‘on the block’ I suppose… I don’t like strikes. They strike me as a failure in the system of managing change. But how else can one express a strongly-held view when the other party is not listening, has little or no intention of moderating its stance and is evidently trying force through ill thought-through, half-baked ideas? In the early 90s, new to university lecturing, I resisted being called out on strike (I wasn’t a union member then anyway), because I had been very strong on making a ‘professional’ contract with my students: I would invest in instant feedback, availability for consultation and support between classes, swift return of work if, for their part, the students would attend, participate, work professionally and meet deadlines. I felt that if I then instantly threw all that up in the air I would never regain my credibility with my students. I felt I was right at the time – and I was, in principle, but I don’t think I had fully appreciated the changes the British government was about to impose on the Higher Education sector and the consequences that would produce in terms of poorer staff-student ratios, less class contact time, massively overworked students trying to invest fully in a degree whilst holding down a significant part-time job to be able to pay the dramatically increased fees and claw back against the inevitable student loan (after the withdrawl of grants). Neither had I foreseen what the pressure for universities to generate their own income would do in marginalising teaching: the ‘gods’ became revenue-earning (consultancy / applied research) and pure research to up the research rating of the University and teaching appeared to be fast becoming a tertiary activity. I should have seen that that was worth manning the barricades for. Some 20 years on and the fiercely independent and collegiate academics in French Universities find themselves on the cusp of the same agenda. Those who are research-focused don’t seem to mind the prospect, but I doubt they have seen all the picture. The Universities remain state-funded but now, under a law from 2008 have a significantly greater measure of autonomy. Naively the Vice-Chancellors felt that this much expanded role in managing their affairs would come with a much expanded budget, but are faced instead with cuts in budgets to be achieved principally by cuts in staff. The Vice-Chancellors are on the warpath. Staff are too, faced with dramatic (and non-negotiated) changes to programmes which demonstrably work well: after spending careers developing such programmes, staff are loth to see them sabotaged when no indication is being given as to why or how such changes are to be made. “We must have change… therefore we will have change…” appears to be the mantra and the French state seemed draconian enough to want to force it through regardless. But this time it is not the staff demonstrating and striking and the Vice-Chancellors and students annoyed at the lack of ‘normal service’: even the students are appalled at changes which might devalue the learning experience whilst increasing its cost in fees. One example, the government has cancelled a placement year for all those emerging from teacher training through the CAPES national competitive examination programme. Up to now they have completed their...read more