Developing the University for Industry Concept
An Evaluation of ADAPT Round 3 Projects
Hillage J, Atkinson J, Barry J, Dewson S, Stevens M, Walsh K, Kettley P
Research Report RR304, Department for Education and Skills, October 2001
research commissioned by the DfES
This summary was published as the Department for Education and Skills Research Brief RB304-5.
This study examines the impact of a series of development projects funded by the ESF-sponsored ADAPT Initiative on the development of the University for Industry concept in the UK. While the Ufi policy was being developed, organisations were encouraged to submit proposals for the final round of ADAPT funding for projects which both met the aims of the ADAPT Initiative and would contribute to developing Ufi-related policy. This study tracks the development of ten of the successful projects and examines their policy contribution in terms of the outcomes of the projects themselves, the factors affecting their achievement, the implications for Ufi/learndirect, and the processes in place for these lessons to be communicated.
Individual findings are reported in a series of case study reports and the overall findings are drawn together in a final report. Two other project reports (which are not published) set out interim findings.
- While for a variety of reasons the projects helped fewer beneficiaries than they had planned, they did generate a valuable range of learning aids such as new learning materials and resources; learning access points and databases; qualifications; and on-line learning platforms.
- The projects have improved the infrastructure for delivering Ufi-related activities, eg through cementing effective partnerships and developing relevant skills and expertise.
- ADAPT funding had the effect of bringing forward work in time and had the effect of allowing ideas to be developed on a larger scale and implemented more professionally than would have otherwise been the case.
- Key lessons for Ufi centre around the problems encountered in using ICT as a platform for learning; ways of overcoming difficulties in driving up the demand for learning (especially among groups not favourably disposed to participating in learning activities); the implications for the structure of qualifications of ‘bite-sized’ learning elements; the importance of learner support; and the value of linking across policy initiatives and building synergy between them.
- Although communication channels between the policy centre and the projects improved, a number of projects still felt that they could have been more effective.
Most projects had put more (sometimes significantly more) effort into the design, development and implementation of learning tools than into their use in actually delivering learning. Thus, although substantial, and usually sufficient, the number of immediate beneficiaries actually engaged had often been less, sometimes significantly so, than envisaged in projects’ original proposals.
There are a number of purely contingent reasons for this, deriving from the complex and perhaps restrictive rules and procedures associated with the original ADAPT framework. However, more endemic problems encountered included:
- difficulties engaging non-learners.
- poor ICT capability among the target groups.
- over-reliance on college-based staff for recruiting.
- difficulties engaging SMEs’ interest/commitment, and
- tightening labour markets.
By contrast, these projects had developed a set of physical and tangible additions to the learning infrastructure, many of which will have a productive life long after these projects have closed, representing a formidable and valuable range of learning aids.
Capacity building had been an important output too, and many of the partnerships formed and tested within these projects seem likely to survive. Most of the partnerships were in better shape on finishing the project than they were on entering it.
Less tangible, but nevertheless important, outcomes perceived by these projects related simply to the experience they felt they had gained in how to achieve their various ends. Such experiences were both internal (about how they might have operated more smartly) and external (with generic relevance in the wider learning milieu). Projects were concerned about the lack of any formal means of formulating and passing on such lessons to Ufi.
Although many of these projects would probably have happened in some form or another without ADAPT funding, what this funding opportunity did for most of them was to bring forward the work in time, and allow the ideas to be developed on a larger scale, and implemented more professionally, than would otherwise have been the case.
Factors influencing project progress
Projects that were progressed best were those with:
- a combination of strong intellectual and administrative leadership at the centre
- sound formal project management procedures, including good intra-project communications
- a solid, often ready-established, partnership in which each member had:
- a clear role and is geared up to be involved at the right time in the project plan
- a commitment and interest in the project goals at all levels of their organisation, and
- the capacity and interest to extend their involvement if required beyond their contractual obligations
- the capacity to respond constructively to developing circumstances.
Federal partnerships seem to have been particularly prone to partnership problems, particularly where different partners, each with different and fairly independent bits of the project, simply wanted to go their own way, or dropped out altogether.
We identified four features of the ADAPT origins which seem to us to have been particularly problematic for these projects:
- the narrow ADAPT beneficiary targets
- complex and opaque regulations which hindered project flexibility
- an over-emphasis on the need to work with and through SMEs
- time and effort-consuming administrative arrangements, particularly concerning funding.
Project evaluations had generally reported fairly late in the day, and had been almost exclusively post-hoc evaluations, with little evidence that they have influenced the course of the projects during their lifetimes.
Most projects had sought to disseminate to their immediate constituency (of like projects, similar institutions, and similar markets), but few had published significantly beyond it. The more serious and well-managed the project, the better and more substantial had the dissemination been.
Implications for Ufi
Four important meta-themes stand out from our findings as having important implications for Ufi.
- All the projects, to a lesser and generally to a greater extent, encountered a range of problems in using ICT as a platform for learning. A common difficulty was the worse-than-expected capacity within the target community to embrace on-line learning, and the common lesson was the importance of correctly assessing the extent to which the projects were able to lead their prime clientele without getting too far ahead as to be over the horizon and lose touch altogether.
- Driving the demand for learning involved important promotional considerations as well as overcoming learning-barriers
- Promotional lessons included the need to ensure that promotional messages are concerted and are given over a long period of time and on a number of levels. Projects also generally found it more effective to target any promotional effort directly at the target audience, than through widespread mass marketing.
- Perhaps one of the most striking lessons to come out of the projects is the importance of personal support to learners, particularly those most distant from a learning culture.
- We observed at least two important implications for the general structure of learning provision:
- the provision of ‘bite-sized’ segments of learning presented difficult issues(for the way qualifications are accredited - eg should modules be certificated in their own right or merely serve as a credit towards the final qualification?
- most projects demonstrated the importance of providing human support to learners, ie people who could help others become engaged in and maximise the benefit from learning.
- Another theme underlying a number of the projects was about the importance of linking across policy initiatives and building synergy between them.
We observed a slowly improving dialogue between these projects and Ufi during their lifetimes, and found that a positive relationship had significant effects on the commitment of partners and the general tenor of the projects. Nevertheless, despite an apparent effort from the Ufi centre halfway through our evaluation to re-energise the cluster groups, a number of projects still held the view at the end of their time that they were ineffective.
All of the projects, to a greater or lesser extent, have directly benefited a range of learners and intermediaries and produced a wide variety of outputs. In so doing they have been able to make a number of direct and indirect contributions to the development of Ufi. Specifically they have contributed to the development of a national e-learning infrastructure both technically and in terms of content. Not all of the outputs generated have been taken up by Ufi, although there are signs that more will in the future.
More generally, these projects have geared up learning providers, agencies and other intermediaries to be more aware of Ufi and have the skills and capacity to become involved. They have also helped, albeit modestly in some cases, to generate interest in on-line learning among individuals and small companies. On their way, they have hit some of the inevitable hurdles that Ufi has faced at an earlier stage than Ufi did itself. It is not clear, at least to the projects themselves, whether these experiences have been effectively taken on board at the centre, although Ufi may not have developed in a radically different way if they had, as its course had largely been set before the projects were able to report.
The extent to which the projects have been able to influence the Ufi agenda has been affected by a number of factors including:
- the ADAPT rules: which meant that the projects were not totally aligned with key features of Ufi and were therefore always having to face in a slightly different direction
- project design: as it is not clear that projects effectively geared themselves up either to identify lessons for Ufi through evaluation or communicate them effectively
- project management: most projects ran late, several were badly squeezed towards the end, some ran into difficult partnership problems, etc. All of these problems would have been helped by more initial guidance from ADAPT about the internal management conventions and procedures rather than external administrative procedures.
- duration: three years may be too short a time in which to establish, deliver and evaluate projects of this kind
- communication channels: the situation was compounded by initially ineffective relationships between the projects and Ufi. Staffing pressures during its set up phase, meant that Ufi had limited capacity to spend time listening to projects and understanding the implications of what they had to say.
- parallel development: the projects and Ufi were developing simultaneously and not sequentially. The Ufi timetable meant that decisions had to be taken before lessons emerged from the projects.
Finally, it is clear that an effective balance needs to be struck between the formal conventions and procedures through which the commissioning body defines and monitors these projects and their activities, and the flexibility it allows the projects as circumstances unfold. In our view, the ADAPT approach leant too heavily on the former, and allowed insufficient scope for the latter. Furthermore, in so far as ADAPT procedures were strongly rule-led, such rules were generally designed to serve the purposes of the commissioning body, and not the development project. In this case, UfI inherited ADAPT procedures which it might not have invoked itself. In any future development projects which Ufi might undertake, we would hope to see an altogether more liberal and administratively easier set of procedural arrangements, coupled with a lot more guidance to projects about how they should manage themselves.
Developing the University for Industry Concept: An Evaluation of ADAPT Round 3 Projects. Case Studies
J Hillage, J Atkinson, J Barry, S Dewson, M Stevens, K Walsh, P Kettley. DfES Report RR305, 2001. ISBN 1 84185 598 7.
Developing the University for Industry Concept: An Evaluation of ADAPT Round 3 Projects, Hillage J, Atkinson J, Barry J, Dewson S, Stevens M, Walsh K, Kettley P. Research Report RR304, Department for Education and Skills, 2001.
ISBN: 978-1-84185-594-3. PDF Download only: £free