Google Big Tent 2012: Ministerial Keynote: MP David Willetts

This year is only the second year of the annual Google Tent Event but it touched vital issues like copyright, future of news and online safety for children. Among the speakers was also Rt Hon David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science. He shared his views on development of teaching in universities across the country by the means of interaction, collaborative research and open access to data.

Written by Galya Dimitrova


 “How in a mobile society you end up with people needing a physical meeting to discuss ideas?” – that rhetorical question was Mr Willetts starting point of explaining the planned new approach for better education. According to him there is a vital need of places where students can gather and exchange ideas.

“We do cluster together to be innovative and creative”, he added.

What he and his panel do is investing in different universities like King Cross in London, and thus help them with their infrastructure and businesses. He explained that these issues are essential for the clusters’ growth and well-being. He gave an example, the request for one more fast transport link between Oxford and Cambridge. This is one of the benefits for universities’ collaborative work.  As Mr Willetts pointed out namely universities are “the heart of these clusters”.

Intellectual Commercial Challenge

 The main pursuit of next generation will be research – another issue Mr Willetts put stress on. That actually will be the outcome of the clusters because the future of scientific inquiry is writing of software and specific skills in algorithms, gained through interaction between universities.

MP Willetts compared the situation with data to the legend of the chessboard and the Persian king who was asked to provide one grain of wheat on the first square of the chess board, two on the second square, the square of two on the third square, and so on until all sixty-four squares were filled with the square of the amount on the previous square. The outcome – there were not enough grains in the whole kingdom to cover the board.

“We are now on the second square. A huge amount of data is coming out”, explained MP Willetts.

But before a change is introduced in universities, it has to be done in schools. MP Willetts described current IT teaching as “boring” and “putting people off”, which covers the opinion of MP Michael Gove. He pointed out there is a need of introducing a new model of teaching IT – creative constructive computer model, which is expected to appeal more to students due to its engaging and productive scheme.

Mr Willetts also shared that academic administrator Janet Finch will be advising his panel how to proceed in establishing a framework within academic research. He mentioned there are two routes of providing certain required data and the decision will probably be a mix between them. Otherwise he said he is “in favour of open access” and although there are still challenges in that area of education, important steps forward are to be made.


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