Bob Harrison: Six Years With Ufi
Article by Kate Atha, Head of Communications for Ufi VocTech Trust
After more than six years on the Ufi VocTech Trust board, Bob Harrison retired from his role as a Trustee this Spring, amidst the unfolding challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic bought to the vocational learning and training sector.
Bob has played a crucial role in the development of Ufi from its inception on its journey to become an organisation with a clear mission to catalyse change and development in technology which can support vocational learning.
In the past six years, Ufi has developed from a team that can be counted on one hand into a team of nearly twenty - alongside a network and community of digital innovators, education enthusiasts, and advocates for the positive impact that technology can have on vocational learning.
Here, Bob talks about some of the highlights of his time at Ufi, the challenges for VocTech and his hopes for the future of vocational learning. His messages have perhaps never been more important than they are now.
Ufi VocTech Trust is in such a different place to when I first started. When I joined the board, one of the things initially to do was to make sure that the charity wasn’t risk adverse. Risk, and being able to take some risks in what the project supported, is a driving force behind our charitable aims.
In the first call we held we ended up supporting three projects and I am hugely proud to say that now we have supported more than 100 and in this year, the trust is spending 5m a year funding in the funding projects.
It’s a mark of the progress we have made.
Bob says he is very proud to have been part of the process that has developed an organisation from one that hardly existed to one which now gives this level of grant support.
Most people would think giving money is easy but it’s not. It would be easy if it didn’t have a purpose and wasn't accountable.
What Ufi has been able to do is make sure that the infrastructure that delivers this purpose and accountability is responsive and flexible, without being top heavy and I am pleased to say that the majority of the money has goes into active work and not on offices, for example.
Bob also believes Ufi’s ability to act without fear or favour, is a major asset to the work it can deliver and the impact this can have.
I am also very pleased that we have always been able to pick our way through the quango minefield and politics generally. Ufi is not bowed by any other organisation and as a result, it can respond to the situation as it finds it.
While we can’t change the vocational learning environment on our own, we have shown we can act as a catalyst by funding projects which will challenge status quo, and which in turn will also act as a catalyst to change that status quo.
One particular point of personal pride for Bob is his involvement in what has become a very successful Ufi-funded project - Blended Learning Essentials.
Reflecting on Blended Learning Essentials, Bob said
It took a few years to sow the seed that teachers in FE needed training and CPD, but in the end, there were more than 100,000 registrations and learners. This has had a profound effect on the development of learning through digital tech.
I am very proud to have been part of this work.
I think the FELTAG report recommendations still stand today and can still be the nudge the sector to make the changes necessary. We said that 50 per cent of vocational learning should be shifted to online provision by 2019/2020 and while this is clearly provocative, in terms of the challenge, it still stands.
What Ufi has continued to do is to promote that mindset and challenge the idea that learning has to be a group of people in a room at a certain time.
The question is how we change the paradigm to see new technology as doing thing in a different way.
This is a journey that really has just started – questions here for Ofsted and Ofqual about what technology can do.
There’s been amazing progress in the private sector - the education and training system has not seen that yet.
According to Bob, the biggest challenge facing VocTech is to carry on doing this work.
This is not fit for purpose anymore and what we need to be doing is flip the thinking. The system is still geared to classrooms so we need to challenge that mindset.
The work of Ufi, through the projects it supports, is to prod, poke and innovate. Ufi needs to be subverting thinking.
What about the future for Ufi VocTech Trust?
I sincerely hope there will not be a need for Ufi in ten years time as the further, adult, and vocational sector will have evolved and will be making effective use of technology and exploiting its true potential to improve teaching, learning, and assessment.
That is what I hope...but experience teaches me that is unlikely and the work of Ufi will carry on for the foreseeable future.
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