Institutional Context

The University of Wolverhampton is based in a highly multicultural region of low educational attainment and a much reduced industrial base. The university has a largely teaching-focussed and vocational/professional mission with a large number of inbound international students, delivering courses across three major campuses. Its student population is around 22,000, very largely local rather than national, embracing both urban and rural areas. The possibilities for using MOOC in the University of Wolverhampton to help refugees in education and employment are the consequence of various national, local, historic and institutional factors. Whilst these are difficult to unpack and unpick, the headlines are

  • the instability of the UK HE sector caused by Brexit, the deteriorating research funding climate, the ongoing bad press of HE and its politically high profile, and the changing HE fees regime, all leading to a growing aversion to risk or change, a focus on running the business and an emphasis on regulation and documentation
  • the pre-occupation with the targets implicit in the various national measures of academic performance, at the moment REF, shortly TEF and eventually KEF, and thus for example with research income, research publications, student satisfaction, academic progression, first employment statistics, recruitment publicity, postgraduate enrolment
  • the entrenched division between university academics and university managers, and the evolving division between teaching academics and research academics, leading to a disconnect between decisions, resources, ideas and practice

Whilst the causal relationships are clearly difficult to unravel, the professional press reports management based on short-term  metrics alongside the rise of managerialist cultures and an aversion to initiatives perceived as a distraction from serving the priorities outlined above. In some institutions, student satisfaction now likely to be used to close courses and thus render lecturers liable to redundancy, whilst publication output is used as metric of research performance and thus render professors liable to demotion. This significantly inhibits or constrains the kinds of innovation and initiative that might have characterised the UK HE sector in the rather different political, ideological and economic climate a decade earlier and could be seen as indirectly responsible for the difficulty encountered in divining a straightforward mechanism to organise a MOOC for refugees that would lead to accreditation or enrolment within the UK HE context.

The University did receive financial support from Google to develop a programming MOOC. The initiative was not pursued beyond the development phase because, as with most MOOC, there was not a clear business model. The team involved considered mounting the MOOC on the FutureLearn platform but the 15,000 GBP fee was deemed prohibitive. Those UK universities investing in MOOCs on the FutureLearn platform have mostly been high-status research-intensive universities providing short courses that expose their expertise and resources.