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Sector News, 13 - 17 June 2011

Is the UCU working for its FE members? The Guardian, Tuesday, 14 June 2011

This article considers whether, five years after it was founded by a merger of the Association of University Teachers and the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, the University and College Union has been a good match for further and higher education. There was the fear that FE would get sidelined, and Janet Murray asks if that has been the case. She finds that the gap between school teachers’ and FE lecturers’ pay has narrowed, and that principals are wary of the union. Future battles may come if more higher education courses are run in FE colleges, leaving the potential for redundancies in universities, and college staff taking on HE roles for less attractive salaries and employment conditions.

HE leaders: Why University of Warwick is sharing services Guardian Professional, Monday, 13 June 2011

In a question and answer-style article in the Guardian Professional service, the University of Warwick’s registrar Jon Baldwin explains how the university’s plan to share administrative services can benefit the sector and potentially become a national model.

Student complaints rise sharply The Guardian, Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Student complaints about universities are up by a third in the past year and are expected to rocket when tuition fees rise in 2012, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), which handles complaints from students at universities in England and Wales, has warned. It says the near-trebling of fees to £9,000 in many cases will mean students will view themselves increasingly as consumers and be more keen to insist on value for money. The OIA has also for the first time named Southampton and Westminster Universities for breaking official rules on how to handle student complaints – one from a student who argued their disability had not been properly taken into account, and another who claimed an exam question and marking scheme were unreasonable.The OIA said 1,341 students had made a complaint in the past year, and the real number was likely to be seven times this because the OIA only dealt with cases when a student had exhausted the university’s complaints procedures. Also see the leader Universities must deal better with complaints.

Climate change should be excluded from curriculum, says adviser, Sunday, 12 June 2011

Tim Oates, the government adviser who is in charge of overhauling the school syllabus in England, has said climate change should not be included in the national curriculum. His review of the curriculum for five-to-16 year olds will be published later this year, but in an interview with the Guardian he called for the national curriculum “to get back to the science in science”, and that it should be up to schools to decide whether, and how, to teach climate change and other topics about the effect scientific processes have on our lives. It is a change from under the Labour government, when teachers were encouraged to place importance on scientific “issues”. Bob Ward, policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, said leaving climate change out might mean a teacher who was a climate change sceptic might abandon teaching the subject, and it would not be in the interests of pupils.

Business time for design and technology teachers The Guardian, Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Billionaire inventor James Dyson is funding a scheme which he hopes will inject passion into design and technology teaching. He James Dyson Foundation is to spend £100,000 on establishing a network of DT Ambassadors who will spend days away from the classroom to go into businesses to see how their subject translates into providing core skills in different industries. They will be encouraged to feed their experience back to other DT teachers at regional workshops. Dyson said he was concerned about the declining number of pupils studying DT. Eight teachers have so far been identified to take part in the scheme.

Michael Gove pushes for return to more rigorous GCSE and A-level exams The Guardian, Saturday 18 June

The Guardian reports on a Times interview with Michael Gove where he says that the exam system in England and Wales needs reform, and in many cases that will mean a return to traditional exams and less coursework. He is also pushing the academy system, and says the government is talking to the new exams regulator about how to make GCSEs tougher, including awarding marks for spelling, punctuation and grammar.

'Very misleading' loan terms: Willetts blames the advertisers Times Higher Education, 16 June 2011

Language used to describe the new student finance arrangements such as fees and loans which were “very misleading” were chosen because advertising experts warned that ministers would look like “shifty politicians” if they did not use them. David Willetts, universities and science minister, gave that explanation in a debate at the start of Universities Week on 13 June. He was responding to a question from Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, who asked why the government did not simply rebrand the system if it "walks like a tax and acts like a tax".

Thinktank puts billion-pound price on sector's social value Times Higher Education, 16 June 2011

The social impact of universities over and above their direct economic contribution to the UK is worth £1.31 billion a year, a report published as part of Universities Week says. The attempt to quantify the sector’s unseen value includes such factors as health and well-being, citizenship and political engagement, and was compiled by the new economics foundation(NEF). The report also focuses on two case studies, at Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Warwick. The Warwick Volunteers scheme was estimated to contribute £954,000 annually to the local community, while the Warwick Arts Centre benefits the area to the sum of £27.7 million a year.

Thanks to cuts, we may not have the tools to finish fees job, Hefce warns Times Higher Education, 16 June 2011

The work of the Higher Education Funding Council for England could be hit by cuts it is facing in its own administrative budget, its chief executive Sir Alan Langlands has warned in the annual report. It was requred to make savings of £2 million in the 2010-11 year, a cut of about 11 per cent of its running costs. It now has to reduce spending by 16 per cent in real terms over the next four years and Sir Alan has expressed concern about whether it would allow Hefce to "attract suitably talented and experienced staff to business-critical posts".

IfL membership remains optional for support staff  TES FE Focus, 17 June 2011

The Institute for Learning (IfL) has said low-paid learning support staff – who voluntarily joined when membership was free – will not be forced to pay to become members of the professional body for FE lecturers. Membership will also be optional for “occasional” teachers, who do no more than 28 hours of classroom teaching a year. The talks came after a backlash from lecturers over the IfL’s plans to charge £68 a year membership fees.

Lower bar to apprenticeships for disadvantaged, says union  TES FE Focus, 17 June 2011

A union is calling for colleges to lower the qualifications demanded for apprenticeships. Unison says colleges should be “less rigid” and relax entry requirements from five GCSEs at grade C or better to allow less academically able students to receive on-the-job training. A motion on the matter will be debated at the Unison Manchester conference.

Inefficient school sixth-forms should be closed, MPs told TES FE Focus, 17 June 2011

The National Audit Office (NAO) has backed claims that small school sixth forms produced worse results for more money than large sixth forms or colleges.The NAO told a Commons public accounts committee that planning of post-16 provision needed to be restored and that inefficient school sixth-forms should be closed. David Bell, the Department for Education’s permanent secretary, said the Government expected that poor or inefficient providers would be weeded out by the market mechanisms of student choice.