China halts new enrollments at Jack Ma’s business school: FT

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Beijing authorities have forced an elite business school backed by Alibaba Group Co Ltd founder Jack Ma to halt enrollments, the Financial Times said on Friday, citing sources familiar with the matter.

The clampdown on the school, founded in 2015 by Ma to train China’s next generation of entrepreneurs, comes as his business empire faces government scrutiny.

Hupan Academy, based in the city of Hangzhou, where Alibaba has its headquarters, suspended a first-year class set to begin in late March, the newspaper said.

Alibaba and Hupan Academy did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

Tuition for the three-year program amounts to 580,000 yuan ($88,500.98). Students listed in the incoming class of 2019 included executives from Keep, a successful Chinese exercise company, and fast-growing domestic chip firm Horizon Robotics.

The school is among the initiatives launched by Ma related to education, a sector the erstwhile English teacher has committed to since stepping down from his role as Alibaba’s chairman in 2019.

The enrollment halt comes amid Beijing’s crackdown on Ma’s businesses. Late last year Ant Group, a financial affiliate of Alibaba, abruptly suspended a planned $37 billion IPO in Shanghai following pressure from the authorities.

The botched listing came after Ma made comments in public criticising China’s financial regulators. He has yet to make a public appearance since, save for a brief 50-second video clip broadcast to a group of teachers.

($1=6.5536 Chinese yuan renminbi)

Reporting by Josh Horwitz; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

ENA: Macron to scrap French leaders’ elite training school

One of France’s top colleges – the Ecole Nationale d’Administration – will be shut down, French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to announce, under plans to boost social mobility.

A degree from the ENA has been the passport to the upper echelons of French politics for generations.

Its graduates include Mr Macron himself and ex-presidents François Hollande and Jacques Chirac.

However, it has become the target of populist anger at perceived elitism.

The entrance exams are notoriously tough, and the ENA’s intake is dominated by students from privileged backgrounds.

It admits fewer than 100 students a year, who are fast-tracked into prestigious civil service jobs. 

Speaking in the western city of Nantes in February, Mr Macron said it was time to open up access to top colleges for students from modest backgrounds. The aim, he said, was that “no kid in our republic should say: this is not for me”.

He deplored the current state of social mobility in France, saying it was “worse than 50 years ago”.

A picture shows the building of the Ecole Nationale d'Administration (National School of Administration) (ENA) on January 14, 2013 in Strasbourg, eastern France.
image captionThe ENA in Strasbourg is world-famous for intellectual rigour

His announcement is expected in a video conference with several hundred top civil servants. But he first suggested closing the ENA in 2019, after months of gilets jaunes (“yellow vest”) street protests which severely challenged his presidency.

Those protests were triggered by a rise in fuel tax, but morphed into a much wider social protest against a perceived Parisian elite neglecting the needs of provincial communities.

Before becoming president, Mr Macron attended the prestigious Sciences Po university, then the ENA, before obtaining a plum job at the Financial Inspectorate – part of the finance ministry.

The ENA was established in Strasbourg in 1945 by then-President Charles de Gaulle, whose aim was to rebuild a modern French state from the wreckage of World War Two.

But while designed as a meritocracy, research shows that ENA students’ parents are often senior civil servants themselves or CEOs. Very few come from working-class backgrounds.

“It’s the school of the elite,” said Prof Jean-Michel Eymeri-Douzans, a political scientist who has studied the ENA extensively and now works with it.

Mr Macron is under pressure to improve his ratings ahead of next year’s presidential election, and France’s painful struggle with Covid-19 has exposed shortcomings in the state administration. 

France’s vaccination rate remains relatively sluggish, and its long-admired health service has looked vulnerable in the crisis, especially intensive care.

French Europe 1 news says Mr Macron aims to attack what is widely seen as a French civil service job-for-life culture, dominated by academic qualifications. 

The reforms could mean more staff turnover, job mobility and a sharper focus on pressing issues such as French secular values, poverty and the environment.

Ulster University: Fortnite creators endorse courses

The creators of the world-famous Fortnite video game have endorsed courses at Ulster University.

Film set

The university becomes the only facility on the island of Ireland awarded partner status to Epic Games Unreal Engine.

An investment of £1m has also been made in the university’s Ulster Screen Academy.

Students will be trained at a new virtual production facility at the York Street campus in Belfast.

The new facility will feature technology including an LED wall with camera-tracking technology, full-body motion capture, facial capture, a large green screen and virtual cameras.

Those studying on the course will be trained using the Unreal Engine to develop real-time 3D skills.

The engine is used by developers across all platforms to drive some of the most popular video games around the world but is also used in sectors such as film, television, architecture, transport, live events, as well as training and simulation.

Global demand

Linda Sellheim, education lead at Epic Games, said the facility will prepare students for opportunities across the world.

“As the global demand for real-time 3D skills continues to increase, Ulster Screen Academy’s digital media, virtual production, and games design and animation programs will prepare students for exciting new career opportunities in Northern Ireland and beyond,” she said.

Dr Declan Keeney, director of Ulster Screen Academy, said it would help to train students in “skills gaps identified by our industry partners”.

Film set

“We have embedded virtual production into the curriculum, teaching students high-end production skills for games design, animation, film and broadcast,” he said.

“We cannot understate the importance of the Unreal Academic Partner endorsement – it’s the industry telling us that the Ulster Screen Academy is on par with the best institutions around the world yet available here on our doorstep in Northern Ireland.”

Economy Minister Diane Dodds said the move would help “to provide the highly skilled graduates needed to attract investment and high quality jobs in the creative industries”.

“This technology will add significantly to the sector’s potential contribution to Northern Ireland’s economic recovery,” she added.

Source: BBC

‘Degree inflation’: How a university degree became required at job posts

How did a four-year degree become compulsory for nearly every job – and could the need to reboot the economy help tackle this problem?

(Credit: Alamy)

Eleven years ago, Allie Cornett realized she wasn’t ready for college, and had lost interest in the geology degree she was pursuing at a university in Hawaii. She left school, and went to work in the hospitality industry as a tour guide. For the next decade, she found herself repeatedly running into the same wall.

“I have been told multiple times that I have a great resumé, and lots of experience, but no degree… so no potential for upward movement,” says Cornett, 33. At the last company she worked for, she applied for open managerial positions constantly over five years, “only to not get them because someone with less experience, but who had a degree, did”.

Cornett is a victim of a phenomenon called ‘degree inflation’: the rising demand for bachelor’s degrees in jobs that didn’t always require one, and probably don’t actually require one now.

It’s a widespread problem, says Manjari Raman, director of Harvard Business School’s project on Managing the Future of Work. According to a 2017 paper Raman co-authored, “the degree gap – the discrepancy between the demand for a college degree in job postings and the employees who are currently in that job who have a college degree – is significant. For example, in 2015, 67% of production supervisor job postings asked for a college degree, while only 16% of employed production supervisors had one.”

In other words, the people currently doing the work don’t have degrees, but as they retire or leave their positions, their replacements will be expected to. This creates a system where companies struggle to fill jobs and incur unnecessary costs, all the while leaving experienced, willing workers out in the cold. Degree inflation has been a major problem in the labour market for decades, but the issue is even more pressing as we face a post-pandemic economy in need of a serious – and swift – reboot.

“I have been told multiple times that I have a great resumé, and lots of experience, but no degree… so no potential for upward movement" – Allie Cornett (Credit: Zachary Gorski)

“I have been told multiple times that I have a great resumé, and lots of experience, but no degree… so no potential for upward movement” – Allie Cornett (Credit: Zachary Gorski)

Same jobs, new competencies

Degree inflation is most evident in what Raman calls “middle-skills jobs” – those requiring more than a high school diploma, but less than a college degree. Many listings for such positions now ask for a four-year degree, which only a third of American adults have. Globally, it’s even more stark. Less than 7% of the world’s population holds a Bachelor’s degree.

Experts who study the phenomenon say it’s due, at least in part, to the widening role of technology. “The seeds for degree inflation were planted as the nature of jobs was changing,” says Raman. “More and more automation created jobs that are called the same thing but require different competencies.”

She gives the example of a lineman working for a utility company. “Two decades ago, you were talking about somebody shimmying up a pole. You needed to be physically strong and able to work in all weather conditions, and that’s what made you successful,” she says. “Now, that job is very different. You’re in a pneumatic machine. You use a smart device to connect with the central headquarters to figure out the problem. You’re still using your hands, but also a lot of data inputs coming at you through technology.”

The people currently doing the work don’t have degrees, but as they retire or leave their positions, their replacements will be expected to

A version of this shift is present in just about any other industry you can name. “As more automation came in, there was more demand on these workers to display social skills. What you now needed was someone who could talk to a customer, who could articulate the problem and problem-solve,” says Raman. But rather than look for candidates with those specific qualifications, “many companies took the easy route of using the four-year college degree as a proxy: ‘I know if they have a degree, they’ll be able to use an iPad. They’ll be able to use Excel’.”

Those positions then become difficult to fill, because even middle-skill workers with experience are excluded by automated application tools that cut out those without degrees. “Many middle-skills jobs synonymous with middle-class lifestyles and upward mobility – such as supervisors, support specialists, sales representatives, inspectors and testers, clerks and secretaries and administrative assistants – are now considered hard-to-fill jobs because employers prefer candidates who are college graduates,” according to the Harvard Business School paper.

Unreliable signals

This focus on degrees creates exclusionary conditions, the “worst-case scenario” of which, says Ray Bachan, a senior lecturer at the University of Brighton’s Business School, “is a lack of intergenerational mobility. It all has social connotations”. Less affluent parents are less likely to have children who go to college, he explains. And when those children struggle to find jobs, the result is a generation failing to be more successful than the one before it.

Crucially, degree inflation has a significant impact on populations that are less likely to graduate from a four-year programme. In the United States, black and Latino students are conferred just 11% and 14% of annual Bachelor’s degrees, respectively.

Many employers now require four-year degrees for jobs that didn't previously need them, in part because of the increased role of technology across all industries (Credit: Alamy)

Many employers now require four-year degrees for jobs that didn’t previously need them, in part because of the increased role of technology across all industries (Credit: Alamy)

And all these socially detrimental practices don’t even result in a better-performing workforce. When people who do have degrees end up in middle-skill jobs that don’t actually require the specialisations they studied, they tend to be under-productive and quick to become “disenchanted”, says Raman. “There’s high turnover, because they were not happy doing what a middle-skill worker could and should be doing.”

Turnover adds to companies’ costs. Add to that the fact that employers pay college graduates as much as 30% more, and it’s clear a system of degree inflation benefits neither worker nor employer.

In fact, the only ones who do seem to benefit from degree inflation are the world’s academic institutions, which saw enrolment more than double between 2000 and 2014. In the UK, where degrees are ranked based on academic performance, there’s another dimension to inflation. Not only have universities there increased the overall number of diplomas by five times since 1990, but the students leaving school with first-class honours (the highest-rated degree) skyrocketed from 7% in 1997 to 30% in 2019.

Degree inflation has a significant impact on populations that are less likely to graduate from a four-year programme

“It could be due to better teaching methods, better facilities, more comprehensive libraries, the internet,” says Bachan. But more likely, changes to grading algorithms mean “it’s easier to get a higher degree than it was in the past”. That leaves workers who don’t have any degree at an even greater disadvantage in a workforce crowded with applicants with top-scoring degrees.

But this, too, is ultimately bad for both employers and their prospective employees. Academic credentials are meant to be a signal to employers of how good applicants are. Degree inflation, says Bachan, makes those signals unreliable. “There are so many people now with good degrees, it’ll be difficult for employers to select the people who actually do have the highest level of skills.”

‘Stop doing that’

There’s no reason to expect the number of people getting degrees to drop significantly; while enrolment at US institutions did fall by 2.5% overall in 2020, there’s evidence of an increase in people – many of them older than the average college student – returning to degree programmes over the course of the year. In the UK, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service recorded a significant jump in the number of applicants 35 and older this past summer.

Allie Cornett is among these returnees; when the California vacation destination where she was working shut down due to coronavirus, she moved to Oregon and was accepted to a Bachelor’s degree programme in outdoor adventure leadership at Southern Oregon University. The pandemic, she says, “gave me a chance to really focus on what I wanted from school and out of my future career”.

Degree inflation has a significant negative impact on populations that are less likely to graduate from a four-year programme, including black and Latino students (Credit: Alamy)

Degree inflation has a significant negative impact on populations that are less likely to graduate from a four-year programme, including black and Latino students (Credit: Alamy)

Yet she could graduate into a different recruitment environment because, while degree inflation is a problem decades in the making, the pandemic may have opened the door to big changes. “In general,” says Raman, “we find Covid is like an X-ray machine. It starkly exposes the issues in the economy.” To survive in a post-pandemic economy, companies may find doing away with degree inflation gives them an influx of talent and saves them money. It’s a direction major companies were moving before 2020, but now, Raman says she expects to see degree inflation reversed even quicker.

“It’s almost a no-brainer once you point it out,” adds Raman. “The first thing CEOs do is call their HR person and say, ‘Are our job postings slapping on a four-year college degree? And if they are, stop doing that.’ There are very strong financial reasons for right sizing. It’s not just salary – you reduce the cost of turnover, increase productivity, increase retention. These are important for companies, and they understand this. They’re seeing that by following degree inflation they’re only hurting themselves.”

Raman notes that mammoth corporations, including Amazon and Walmart, recognised the issue long before the pandemic. Amazon launched a $700m (£512m) programme in 2019 to provide education and training to its existing degree-less workers, with the idea that it’s more cost effective to train incumbent workers for management positions. (Walmart started a similar programme in 2017). Raman says those companies, and others, have also begun removing arbitrary degree requirements from middle-skill jobs. The policies adopted by major corporations tend to trickle down to medium and small ones. Preliminary data, she says, suggests that’s already starting to happen.

“Compared to 2015, in 2021 there’s far greater acknowledgement and understanding that packing more BAs into your company is not positive,” she says. “Pre-Covid, we knew degree inflation was something that’s not good for companies and not good for workers. Post-Covid, we have to remember that and rebuild the economy in such a way that it doesn’t just work for people who have a four-year college degree, but also for the many hundreds of thousands of people who don’t, but who have experience, qualifications and are eager to work.”

By: Kate Morgan

No need ‘fighting’ over who introduced free SHS, answer is clear – Prof Agyekum

There is no need wasting time, fighting and arguing about who introduced the free senior high school (FSHS) education policy.

It is very clear and every Ghanaian knows it was President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo who touted it whilst seeking power and went ahead with a universal introduction when he was elected.

If we were to hit the streets and randomly sample views, I am sure every Ghanaian will tell you it was Akufo-Addo who introduced it.

These were the words of Professor “Opanyin” Kofi Agyekum, a linguistics professor at the University of Ghana, when he joined the radio panel discussion on Accra based Peace FM’s Kookrokoo morning programme on Thursday [November 26, 2020] monitored by Graphic Online.

The discussion and Professor Agyekum’s statement followed Daily Graphic’s front page story, “Battle over free SHS – Will it be the game changer?”

Akufo-Addo’s disbelief

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo on Wednesday expressed disbelief over claims being made by the presidential candidate of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), former President John Dramani Mahama, that he (Mahama) began the free senior high school (SHS) policy.

Last Tuesday [November 24, 2020], while on a tour of some constituencies in the Upper East Region, former President John Mahama stated that “we started the policy [free SHS] and the NPP came and continued it”.

But, addressing a gathering at Odorkor Wednesday [November 25, 2020], President Akufo-Addo described the statement made by former President Mahama as “something which shocked me”, reports Donald Ato Dapatem.

Expressing disbelief over Mr Mahama’s claims that he (Mahama) began the free senior high school (SHS) policy, President Akufo-Addo said when he [Akufo-Addo) promised free SHS in the 2008, 2012 and 2016 campaigns, “they [Mr Mahama and NDC] said that I was deceiving Ghanaians, and that it was a vote-buying gimmick and that even if it would be possible, it would take about 20 years”.

He continued: “Not long ago, he [Mahama] said that if he had GH¢2 billion, he wouldn’t use it to pay school fees, but rather he would use it on something profitable. Today, he says that he introduced free SHS.”

President Akufo-Addo then asked the gathering: “ Are we going to allow the former President to come back to power through lies and deception?”, to which the crowd responded with a big “no”.

Mahama’s position

Insisting that the free SHS was his baby, Mr Mahama, while addressing a rally in Navrongo last Tuesday, accused the Akufo-Addo administration of messing up the policy reports Kester Aburam Korankye.

He said if the NPP administration had continued with the plan for a progressive free SHS, the policy would not have been saddled with the double-track system which was causing frustration for both students and parents.

“If they had listened to us and continued with our plan for the free SHS, which we started with day schools in 2015, this traffic light system could have been avoided,” the former President said.

He pointed out that the Akufo-Addo administration poorly implemented the policy without consideration for the lack of infrastructure to support it and that had rendered it ineffective.

“We were building 200 new SHSs. We didn’t finish all before we left but this government came and abandoned all of them. So this is what we will do: we will fast-track the completion of the 200 schools we were building, so that children can have enough vacancies in SHSs to have quality education,” he said.

“I have made a promise to Ghanaians and I will repeat it here in Navrongo: within a year in office, I will abolish the double-track system,” he added.

Prof Agyekum’s statement

Speaking in the Twi language on the Peace FM’s morning programme monitored by Graphic Online, Prof Agyekum said personally he does not waste time over unnecessary fights, fights that do not have substance.

He said a dream that is not revealed or discussed or exhibited, will continue to remain a dream, adding that it will still remain a dream when the dreamer does not really remember what he or she dreamt about.

Prof Agyekum insisted that if Ghanaians were to be asked who introduced free SHS, everybody will say President Akufo-Addo.

He said if former President Mahama said he introduced it in 2015 before the 2016 elections, it should have been felt before the 2016 elections, which he said was not felt.

For him, whether it was introduced in 2015 or not, either by “Kwaku” or “Akosua” it is meaningless now and that the important thing is that, it has come to stay and students are enjoying from it and every Ghanaian knows who introduced it.

He said that was why some were suggesting that, the campaign messages on free SHS in the past should be replayed.

Speaking proverbially, he said a sweet whistle, always resounds in the mind and encourages the whistler to repeat it or change it when it does not sound sweet.

He said his wish was that, after every election, politicians, especially flagbearers would commission researchers on their campaign messages, concentrating especially on the last one month before the election and review their messages on whether or not they were truthful in their campaign.

Concluding on the subject, he reiterated that Ghanaians were well aware of who introduced free SHS and so he wouldn’t want to make long speeches on that.