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UK Degree Shake up: shorter degrees will benefit students

The long awaited radical proposal to shake up the way degrees are taught is finally being implemented by the UK government. I have personally advocated for a number of years to reduce the time it takes to complete a degree from 3 years to 2 years as it makes a lot of sense in many ways. With the spiralling cost of tuition fees students want value for money from higher education.

Graduates face a lifetime of debt – 6.1% interest,  and pressure is growing to rethink on tuition fees itself. So even before starting their careers, graduates are burdened with enormous debts. It seems a different age when I started my degree back in 1981 having received a massive maintenance Grant to cover my living and study costs. What a great incentive to go to university!! My generation was fortunate. For decades the vast majority of students have studied for three years or longer often packing up their belongings and moving from home. I remember helping to pack my younger brother Belal’s  “worldly belongings” as he finally left home to start a computer science degree at Kingston University back in the mid 80s. He never came back home!! 

Too shorten degrees to 2 years appeals to many students to broaden horizons, but it shouldn’t be the only choice they have. It’s dominant says more about the financial incentives of Higher Education Providers than the needs of the students. The shorter accelerated degree offer the same teaching, the same contents ; typically 2 years of 45 week study rather than 3 of 30. This will mean lower tuition fees as what is proposed is a 20% reduction for all the degree courses and have significantly lower student debts which is good news for the students and the taxpayers.  Also more significantly,  a graduate can enter the job market a year earlier which is such an attractive option for the students. If they wish they can complete a 12 months masters degree or a one year teacher training course so by the age of 21 they could even become qualified teachers which we desperately need in this country.

Evidence clearly shows that employers value students who have shown the focus, drive and commitment to learn at this fast pace.  For  taxpayers they mean smaller student loans that are more likely to be paid off in full.

Yet despite all these advantages and even though for many years it has been advocated by various  vested interests, two-year degrees are  very rare. University of Buckingham ( which is a leading independent university in the UK)  is one of very few universities who offer a two-year degree. The Buckinghamshire entrepreneurship degree has been particularly attractive that has good industry and corporate links. The reason why it is rare is partly because universities are concerned about the cost of change of extra teaching hours or lost revenue from broom that can no longer rent over the holiday. In today’s competitive market there will be a huge first mover advantage for universities who are prepared to offer these courses. It is now time to push this proposal forward,  remove the barriers and make them a real choice for future students and for the future productivity of the UK as we leave the EU in 2019. 

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Book Launch

My new book “Fish Out Of Water” will be published this forthcoming September 2017. It’s a comprehensive and startling exploration of my own multicultural journey starting from the period my parents’ generation arrived in the 1950s “hostile Britain” to my own adolescence and adulthood straddling two cultures (British and Bengali) and trying to shape my own cultural identity and belonging. 

“A Job for life” no longer exists

At the start of my career, I was working for BP Amoco Oil & Gas company based in West London. The Oil exploration sector has always been volatile as you would expect. If a company as large as BP failed in a single strike on a particular field, it meant widespread redundancies. We all “held our breath ” to see if the “grim reaper” had come for us! However, this was during the 1980s and most of the Senior Managers were exempt from the dreaded chop! There were many of them that had been working at the company for at least 15-20 years. I thought “Blimey 20 years working here” !! It was spending your whole career with just one company. Company loyalty was the norm as long as the company looked after you. Employees would be able to live comfortably in retirement on the income they had accumulated in their final salary pension schemes during their careers.

Those were the old days. We live and work in difffent times now. The notion of a job for life is little more than a myth in many areas of the labour market. Employers keep their staff if they feel they need to and dispense with them if they feel they don’t, or if economic circumstances change. However, a recurring theme of recent years since we went through the global financial crisis of 2008, has been the changing economic circumstances. Today, CEO’s are judged on short term results at the cost of long term investment. Hence to many companies experiencing these volitile business environment have to focus on short term cost cutting measures which translates to firing people!!

Hence, in today’s business world, employers and employees need to strike a meaningful and mutally deal or cooperation. Employees are now more likely to work for a number of employers. I went into self employment back in 2008, teaching and consulting for at least six different Educational Insititions!! It gave me a great deal of flexibility but also committment. Semester contract were signed (6 months duration) which suited both parties.

The concept of job hopping is shaking off its negative connotations of old and is now seen as an economic necessity. One of the best ways to achieve pay progression in your career is to move from one job to another, and that’s important to the individual and it’s also really important on a macro level because it’s the best way for companies reallocating productive capacity. Hence companies become more productive through the staff they take on who are a better fit for the organisation. Consequently, job mobility helps to drive profitability and hence keeing Shareholders satisfied. Business leaders know only too well the importance of creating alliances that engage, motivate and inspire employees, whatever their role and level of commitment to the business.

Humanising the World of Work

The major challenge for companies is that they must become more Human centered, encouraging diversity, engagement, well being, openness and fairness at work and in society.

We are living in a very uncertain and unstable time and more and more businesses are facing a very uncertain future as a result of political, economic, societal and technological changes. We are also hearing more on a number of high profile corporate scandals that are eroding our trusts in business. Hence, it is those companies that respond to these changes by undertaking a more proactive strategy by continuing innovation of new products and services that will succeed in this fast changing world. The old paradigms of doing work such as structure, process, hierarchy, rules and regulations are not driving the outcomes we want, from behavior to productivity. There is an old age adage that “your people are your best assets”. Work environments in the past have not got the best out of, and for people. This has led to higher levels of disengagement, mismatch of skills, stress levels at work and opportunity, equality and fairness has taken a “back seat” in pursuit of profits. Certainly the traditional ways of “doing business” has been challenged and superseded by what is termed the “gig” economy and innovative work practices such as flexi-working hours, automation and its impact of the lob role and having a more diverse workforce. Certainly these are the challenges that many business are facing. The new challenge now if how many different ways we can now connect and work.

Hence, human resources (HR) will be playing a much wider role to ensure traditional workplace processes and procedure are challenged, innovation of new practices are implemented and ensuring positive change. Traditionally HR was more rule-centered, process and control rather than being human-centered. HR should focus on ensuring that the organisation, managers and the company workforce to collaborate more in a more harmonious environment to achieve the best outcomes for all the stakeholders that have a vested interest in the organisation.

There are now an array of new ideas and thinking around the future of work and in HR itself. The primary professional organisation, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has grown its membership considerably over the past decade as the importance of HR and new practices are widely been discussed in social media outlets such as Linkedin and Facebook. Traditional processes such as strict performance appraisals/management and ranking employee have now been discarded in favor of more positive practices rather than these entrenched processes. Basic questions are now posed such as what outcome are we trying to deliver? When we start asking questions about purpose rather than process, we come up with different solutions. We’ve known for decades that you can’t Just write rules and regulations and expect these to determine the right behavior. Historically, the focus has been on inputs and costs instead of output and value. It should not be on how many hours you have spent at work (input), as traditional time sheets have always documented. But more on what quantifiable outputs have you achieved. We need different definitions of value and a more consistent understanding of the people dynamics of business. This is as important for business leaders as it is for HR and now is the time to define more of a common language. What gets measured gets done. The future of work, management practices and HR will be helping organisations to build the right business model. Strategy, workforce and culture that will help them to achieve that purpose.

Fish Out Of Water

A fish only discovers its need for water when it no longer is in it. Our own culture is like water to a fish, we live and breathe through it.

Culture is not static. It is ever changing and evolving. For most people there is a constant paranoia of losing their own cultural identity if they move to seek a new life abroad. Some of us can identify this from our own lives. This tethering on the brink of losing our own culture causes people to be vigilant about the threats to it. In some cultures, religion is intertwined with cultural beliefs that at times it is difficult to distinguish the difference between the two beliefs.

Migration is a disruptive process. It scoops up lives, traditions and histories, and deposits them somewhere else. But how cano you be ever severed from the place you call home? The wreckage of your former life is always somehow present, a vital element of personal and collective histories. The life before, the former lives in a distant land and place that has shaped you, remain a sensibility, a style , an influence on life begun again in a new place. Who are our forefathers? How did they live? What did they teach us? What was left behind in the Sub-Continent is just as part of the British Asian experience as how we live and who we are in Britain.

My own identity and belonging have been shaped with these differences and diverse assumptions. I am a product not just of my life here in Britain but also the life my parents left behind in their homeland. What the British did in the Sub-continent, where my family began, has a direct bearing on my existence here and now, where I live. What Britain thinks of me and out community is as important of what we think of Britain. Belonging is not just about where you end up. It’s a two way process. The British Asian experience is not solely about what people from the sub-continent brought with them. It is also what they found, what they made of themselves, as well as what Britain made of them. Are we comfortable with multiple identities? To belong you must be included; to feel included, you must be accepted with all your differences and identities. We 2nd and 3rd generation have struggled at times with identity and where we truly belong.