Higher education is explicitly a commodity now. It is explicitly open to market forces and for-profiteering. This exposes it to risk, hedging, venture capitalism, and the treadmill of competition. This means that all of the social relationships we develop and nurture within higher education are subject to the rule of money. There is no outside this exchange mechanism that frames how we relate, as Capital turns back in on what it terms ‘the developed world’, in order to accumulate [our mutual futures] by dispossession through debt-driven consumption. - Richard Hall, You have not been paying attention: putting students at the heart of the system
Providence Equity is an investment banker; the firm’s goal is profit. To maintain Blackboard’s stock price at Oracle price-earnings ratio of 20—equivalent to an annual 5% return on investment (ROI)—earnings would need to increase from 2010’s $16.6 million to $74.9 million. That is, net revenue increases and cost reductions—typically reduction of staff—of at least $58.3 million are needed to be comparable with other public software companies. A reduction of 290 positions would achieve only half of the needed increase in net income. This would be 16% of the Blackboard work force. The average annual ROI of private equity firms for buyouts is 19.6%, though they may accept a less aggressive figure for one or two years. Assuming a market capitalization of US$ 1.5 billion, earnings would need to be $292 million. This is $271 million more than current projections for 2011. To meet their expectations software prices would increase 52.3%. — Jim Farmer, Investment Bankers and Blackboard’s Future, Part One: If …
“We have some concerns,” says Sam Segran, chief technology officer at Texas Tech University. “Any time somebody goes into private equity, one of the concerns we have is profit motivation and less motivation in terms of meeting educational needs.” — Inside Higher Ed, Blackboard Gets Bought
I’ve thought about Richard Hall’s rich and provocative post a lot since reading it last week. Not so much in the context of Blackboard (though my university is ready to buck the trend and move to its system), but in the wider discourse around the fields of educational technology and open education.
If we knew we had a gold mine on our property, we would do whatever it took to get that gold out of the ground. In education, by contrast, we keep the potential of millions of children buried in the ground.
Fortunately, we have the means at our disposal to transform lives.
The same digital technologies that transformed every other aspect of modern life can transform education, provide our businesses with the talent they need to thrive, and give hundreds of millions of young people at the fringes of prosperity the opportunity to make their own mark on this global economy.
…Finally, with digital we can bring the world’s greatest thinkers to every student, anywhere in the world, at a very low cost.
Even long-time critic Michael Wolff, while noting Murdoch’s endless record of demonstrable contempt for education and for the digital revolution, is smitten with “the new and gentler Rupert”. Maybe we’ve won?
Then again, I think about Mr. Murdoch’s contribution to the art of journalism, and have to ask what exactly his contribution to the field of education might look like?
It was an unusual topic for the News Corp (NSDQ: NWS) CEO. In November, News Corp hired New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein as an advisor, and bought 90 percent of ed-tech provider Wireless Generation for $360 million. In January, Klein got his own education division in News Corp and a $2 million salary.
Judging from his keynote to the eG8, which was assembled by France’s president Sarkozy to hear tech business’ views to be fed to the French-hosted G8 summit, Murdoch is both passionate and excited about what he sees as both a duty and a business opportunity.
This could encompass both e-books and learning materials and group learning platforms, and could be a gauntlet thrown down to one of the digital learning sector’s big beasts – Pearson.
There is no reason why all children shouldn’t have access to great symphonies or lectures from Stephen Hawking, Murdoch told eG8 delegates – no reason why, if a particular teacher has developed the best lesson plan in a field, that lesson shouldn’t be shared across a school system.
And us yokels in the education sector will never figure out how to share a lesson plan, not until we bust the teacher’s unions and sign an assured distribution contract with a serious content provider… If only there were means to easily share resources, tools, strategies and reflections openly and freely, using commons-based technologies that easily scale up for millions of users?
So when I grumble about an open educational discourse that “favours” commercial use, it’s because I am probably thinking about how that aligns with the interests of Rupert Murdoch and his wacky pals. There are already enough useful idiots ready to serve the forces of fear, and life is too full of quiet desperation, degradation and exploitation as it is. Then again, there is joy and learning to be had, and I know what that feels like when I experience it. The question is how to preserve, nurture, and share that feeling…