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Sector news, 10 - 16 August, 2014

National Student Survey 2014 results

The National Students Survey 2014 results have been released, and widely reported on. The Times Higher Education reported that students are most satisfied with teaching, least happy with assessment and feedback. They also said that campus universities have continued to perform highly, and undergraduate satisfaction scores hit a 10-year high. A total of 86 per cent of the 321,000 final year undergraduates who responded said they were satisfied overall with their course, up from 85 per cent last year. Just 5 per cent said they were dissatisfied and 2 per cent were strongly dissatisfied. The University of Bath, Keele University and the University of St Andrews were top with a 93 per cent approval rating, excluding small and specialist institutions. Coventry University was among eight universities in joint eighth position, up from 90 to 91 per cent, and the University of Warwick’s satisfaction rating went up from 87 per cent to 89 per cent. Overall, 86 per cent of students said they were satisfied with their course. The Guardian reported the survey but also ran an article asking Is the National Student Survey fit for purpose? It asks whether the survey questions are too vague to gain meaningful answers, and whether universities have pressurised students into giving positive answers.

The Telegraph chose the line that a quarter of students at some universities and colleges are not satisfied with the standard of their course, with Edinburgh the lowest-ranked of any Russell Group university with a satisfaction rating of 82 per cent, making it joint 174th out of 267 universities and colleges, and Stratford-upon-Avon College the lowest ranked institution of any type, with a satisfaction rating of just 59 per cent.

FE Week chose the angle that learners had put 12 FE colleges among the top 20 higher education providers in the 2014 National Student Survey. Tyne Metropolitan College came top of the FE institutions, recording 100 per cent of students satisfied with their courses, above Keele University (11th) and the University of St Andrews (ranked 17th) which were both at 93 per cent. Other high scoring colleges were Boston College, City College Plymouth, Uxbridge College, Lesoco, North Lindsey College, Trafford College, Calderdale College, Carshalton College, Dudley College, Myerscough College and Sussex Downs College. Nick Davy, higher education policy manager at the Association of Colleges, said: “Student satisfaction is high on any college’s agenda, and it’s particularly gratifying to see 12 of our member colleges in the top 20 in this league table.”

The key to solving the skills gap is to let colleges deliver higher education Guardian, 10 August 2014

In this article, Carole Kitching, principal of Newcastle College, argues that there is a clear role for colleges in the higher education market in developing vocational and technical degrees for local and regional economies. She says the CBI, employers and ministers agree the country needs to make inroads into plugging the skills gap to gain long-term economic recovery, but the solution is not with new policies or training institutions. The FE sector can deliver higher education, but needs support. This could include colleges with awarding powers for their own foundation degrees being able to accredit them for other colleges, which would enable more colleges to run courses specifically aimed at the local job market.

Cut fees for the poorest, public says Times Higher, 13 August 2014

A majority of adults in England support reduced tuition fees for students from lower income families, according to a survey for the Sutton Trust. The Times Higher reported that 53 per cent of those surveyed said they supported the idea, and a quarter opposed it. Support for the idea of lower fees for poorer students was highest those aged 35 to 44, educated to degree level, and with children aged 17 – 19. Those more likely to oppose the idea came from the highest social classes and those aged 16 to 24.

Apprenticeship starters should be no older than 23, says new IPPR report FE Week, 13 August 2014

Apprentices should be no older than 23 at the time of starting their course, a new report from the left-of-centre Institute for Public Policy Research thinktank has recommended. In a 52-page report, Remember the Young Ones: Improving Career Opportunities for Britain’s Young People, it says that only in exceptional circumstances should people aged 24 and over be allowed to start apprenticeships. Three years ago it said the maximum aged should be 25. The report also says all apprenticeships should be at level three and above, and last, like current government policy for a minimum of one year. The report found that the number of apprenticeships in England had almost doubled between 2008/9 and 2012/13, but much of that was for people aged 25 and over, and the number of apprentices aged 24 and under had increased by only 30 per cent. Steward Segal, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said removing the level two programmes would reduce the opportunities for many young people.

University tuition fee rise has not deterred poorer students from applying Guardian, 13 August 2014

The raising of tuition fees to £9,000 has not put off students from disadvantaged backgrounds from applying to university – although the gap in applications between those from wealthy and poor backgrounds remains wide, according to new analysis from the Independent Commission on Fees. The Guardian reported the results in the same story as a report on the Ipsos Mori poll commissioned by the Sutton Trust showing the majority of voters would support students from poor backgrounds being charged lower tuition fees. The Commission found university application rates for 18-year-olds in England have continued to recover from their post-rise lows, with application rates for 2014 entry almost two percentage points higher than in 2010. The gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students (measured by eligibility for free school meals) going to university has narrowed from 30.5 per cent in 2010 to 29.8 per cent in 2013.

One in seven students have full-time jobs during degree course Independent, 11 August 2014

The Independent reported that 59 per cent of students had at least a part time job during their university studies, and one in seven had a full time job. The article by Richard Garner said the rising cost of higher education could be undermining the university experience. The figures came from a survey of 2,128 students by insurance agency Endsleigh. The majority of students surveyed said the money they earned was to help them socialise as well as making ends meet, 38 per cent said they were working to save for the future, and 41 per cent said they worked to improve their employment credentials on their CV.

New data reveals progression of adults after FE FE Week, 12 August 2014

New data revealing what happened to adult learners after taking part in further education was published for the first time today. The experimental data publichsed by BIS looks at the destination and progression of adults in FE in 2010/11 and shows whether they moved into work or further learning. Out of 1.5 million post-19 adult learners on publicly-funded skills or apprenticeship courses, 72 per cent had a “sustained positive outcome”, either into employment or learning. The government is launching a consultation on how outcome-based success measures can be used in future. The Association of Colleges said success could rarely be summed up in a single measure, but anything that helps students make more informed decisions was worthwhile. David Hughes, chief executive of adult education body Niace, said the publication of the data was “an impressive move” from Bis that would reveal the real value and impact of FE.

A-level results: record numbers get into university but pass rate falls Guardian, 14 August 2014

The Guardian reported that record numbers of pupils had been accepted into university this year while the overall A-level pass rate fell for the first time in more than 30 years. A higher proportion of students achieved the highest grade, A*, but the proportion of students achieving all other grades slightly fell. The proportion achieving A* to E dropped from 98.1% to 98%. The figures also showed that more students opted to take traditional subjects increasingly demanded by universities, such as the sciences and maths, and fewer opted for general studies and political science. This year's A-level results come after a fall in the top grades awarded in 2012 and 2013, with the government and exam regulator Ofqual seeking to bear down on accusations of "grade inflation", and reforms that changed the structure of courses. UCAS said 350,000 applicants had got their first choice and a record 400,000 overall had been given places at university this year. The total number of applicants was expected to be over half a million for the first time.

FE Commissioner questions future of cash-strapped college that saw governor resignations over principal’s appointment FE Week, 15 August 2014

FE Week reported that the FE Commissioner has questioned the future of Stratford-Upon-Avon College amid financial problems, after governors resigned when a new principal was appointed without a competitive application process. Dr David Collins was sent in to the college by former Skills Minister Matthew Hancock in May after the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) rated its financial health as inadequate, having posted deficits for the last five financial years running. A new principal, Nicola Mannock, is in place, and the college is getting rid of 40 full-time posts to save £1.2 million a year, but Dr Collins said there was still a question mark about the long-term viability of the college as an independent institution. Ofsted gave the college a grade three inspection result in November, and said the governing board’s decision to appoint Mrs Mannock as principal without a competitive process was “questionable”.