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Sector news, 12 - 17 May 2013

EU graduates' unpaid fees top more than £50m in past five years The Guardian, 12 May 2013

More than £50m of tuition fee loans to EU graduates have not been repaid over the last five years, according to the Student Loans Company. The SLC has hired specialists to track down hundreds of overseas graduates from UK universities who have gone off the radar. A reply to an Independent on Sunday freedom of information request found that more than £15 million of loans for graduates from Cyprus are not being repaid, and the SLC does not have information about where some European graduates are living or whether they are working. Kevin O’Connor the head of SLC repayment said "international trace agents" were being used to find both UK and EU borrowers who are known to live overseas and are in arrears, with a view to issuing further legal proceedings against those who do not respond.

Rise in tuition fees brings 18 minutes' extra teaching a weekThe Guardian, 14 May 2013

University students in England are taught for just 18 minutes more each week than seven years ago, although tuition fees have gone up from £1,000 to up to £9,000 a year in the same period, a survey has shown. Undergraduates are putting in 79 minutes more independent study every week than they did in 2006, and there is a huge variation in the hours they have to work to get a degree at different universities. Which? and the Higher Education Policy Institute carried out the poll of 26,000 undergraduates from 103 universities and compared it with a similar one carried out in 2006. The schedule contact time with lecturers has gone from an average of 13 hours and 45 minutes to 14 hours and three minutes a week. Students say they spend an average of 14 hours and eight minutes of private study a week, an hour and 19 minutes more than in 2006. In the same time period the income of universities has risen £17.4bn to a projected £23.9bn, but much of the extra income has been spent on improving facilities. The poll also revealed that undergraduates at some universities study for 20 hours a week, while their peers studying the same subject at different institutions study for more than 40 hours a week.

Gove plans to change GCSE gradingThe Guardian, 15 May 2013

Top GCSE marks of A* and A could be replaced by a one to four numerical scale, education secretary Michael Gove told MPs on Wednesday, as one option to distinguish between high achieving candidates and make a break with the previous grades awarded. He said it would “help refix the level at which people could recognise outstanding behaviour”. A government sources said Ofqual would be consulting on a range of options shortly. Gove also announced that some plans for controversial reforms to the national curriculum and GCSEs could be watered down, as he acknowledged that criticism of the changes from teachers and experts was being taken into account. The education secretary told the Commons education select committee that he was considering scraping plans for single, tougher, GCSE exams and that he might bow to arguments favouring retaining a tiered system with two exams aimed at pupils of different abilities. It would mean the department would avoid an embarrassing row with Ofqual which has defended the use of tiered exams.

GCSE and A-Level grading this summer could be as chaotic as last year because quality of marking is still poor, leading school heads warnThe Independent, 15 May 2013

A crisis over marking standards threatens this summer’s GCSE and A-level exams, says a leading independent school headmaster. Dr Tim Hands, who becomes chairman of the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference in September told a conference in London there was “an unresolved crisis of instability at the heart of our currency exchange (exam) system.” Research by the HMC had shown that one in four teachers believed at least a quarter of their pupils had been awarded the wrong grade, In addition, enquiries about remarking paper had soared from 171, 400 in 2010to 204, 600 last year. It also found that 38 per cent of teachers lacked confidence in the GCSE and 27 per cent in A-levels.

Coventry principal to leave after Ofsted inadequateFE Week, 16 May 2013

The principal of City College Coventry, labelled inadequate by Ofsted, is to leave as soon an interim replacement can be found, FE Week has revealed. A college spokesperson said Paul Taylor is expected to have been replaced by July. The college got grade four results across each of Ofsted’s main inspection fields last month, but Mr Taylor had told FE Week he wanted to stay, after 16 years in the job.

Degrees of success for Btec and A-level studentsTimes Higher, 11 May 2013

Students who use a Btec qualification to progress to a degree are slightly more likely to gain employment than their counterparts who take A levels, but will be paid less per hour, research has found. The study, commissioned by Pearson, the company that owns Edexcel, which offers the qualifications, looked at data from the Labour Force Survey from between 1996 and 2011. It found that 89.8 per cent of people who had both Btecs and degrees were in employment, compared with 88.1 per cent of those with A levels and a degree. In full-time employment the difference was greater: 80.4 per cent compared with 73.6 per cent. There was a significant gap in hourly earnings: A-level students on average earned £22.4 per hour, compared with £18.2 for Btec students. However, these differences “are driven by sector of industrial activity, occupation and especially region of residence”, the report says.

Top grades equal success? It's a 'lie', politician says TES, 17 May 2013

Telling disadvantaged young people that gaining top grades will inevitably lead to success in high-flying careers, including law and banking, is a “lie”, according to one of Britain’s most prominent black politicians. Speaking at the launch of the new Social Mobility Foundation’s new City Talent Initiative in London, David Lammy, MP for Tottenham in North London, said that older students from poor homes need extra help near the end of their schooling and at university to help them break into the corporate world. Without it they can be left feeling “shell-shocked” and “out of context” when starting work, he explained.