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Sector news, 17 - 21 October 2011

No frills university college offers half price degrees The Guardian, Monday 17 October

Coventry University has unveiled plans for its new Coventry University College, where students will pay £4,800 or less for a degree they can take while working. The college will offer teaching seven days a week and degrees for about half the price of traditional universities. It will focus on professional courses covering subjects such as accounting, law and marketing. The college will be open 42 weeks a year with classes held from 7am-10pm on weekdays, and 4pm on Saturdays, and is aimed at students concerned about taking on debts to fund HE, as well as catering for employees who want to combine work with gaining new skills.

Off-duty RAF medics take online degrees The Guardian, Monday 17 October

The RAF has teamed up with Anglia Ruskin University to give its medics a chance to use long hours of downtime while on deployment overseas to improve their qualifications. Since last month medical personnel have been able to study on three degree-level courses from anywhere in the world. The courses available to them are BSc in health and social care, BSc in management and leadership in health and social care, or a foundation degree course, and every lecture, seminar and tutorial is delivered online.

Why is there still only one minority vice-chancellor? The Guardian, Monday 17 October

Professor Harinder Bahra, emeritus professor of management and diversity at Leeds Metropolitan University and visiting professor at the University of Hertfordshire, has written an opinion piece about the inequality hindering black and minority ethnic staff. He says despite 40 years of equality legislation a report by the Equality Challenge Unit has shown there are still real barriers faced by MBE staff in universities. Within professorial grades, only 0.4 per cent of black academics, 1.6 per cent of Asian academics and 1.1 per cent of Chinese academics are professors, compared to 11 per cent of white academics. There are 50 black professors, less than one per institution, and one BME vice chancellor, from South Africa, at a time when 20 per cent of students are from the BME population.

English sector may be purposely over-recruiting  Times Higher Education, Thursday 20 October 2011

There are concerns that a number of English universities may have recruited far more undergraduates than they are meant to in anticipation that there will be a fall in demand the following year when tuition fees rise. It is thought there may be several thousand more students starting on courses this year, with universities ignoring the threat of fines. Times Higher Education says this could have big implications for the amount of funding the government is able to award the sector and could force it into cutting places or asking the funding council to give heavier penalties for over-recruitment. Official figures on recruitment will not be out for another couple of months but Times Higher Education has spoken to sources who say more universities have over recruited than last year, when 14 institutions overshot. Universities can be fined £3,750 per extra student they recruit.

Unions divided over pay offer Times Higher Education, Thursday 20 October 2011

Higher education's unions are divided on the £150 national pay offer, as employers predict tougher wage battles ahead when higher tuition fees create a belief that the sector is "awash with cash". The UCU accepted the offer after 57.3 per cent of members who voted backed accepting it, but Unite rejected it and will ballot its HE members on industrial action.

Ucas opens debate on a move to PQA Times Higher Education, Thursday 20 October 2011

Academics will be invited to have their say on plans for post-qualification applications (PQA) later this month. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service will run a consultation from 31 October until January, with a report published in March 2012. The proposals would see students apply to universities after they receive their exam grades, and would involve them sitting their A levels a month or six weeks earlier to get results in July rather than August, giving time after for interviews and selection. David Willetts, the universities and science minister, has spoken of supporting PQA, but some of the most selective universities have express misgivings about having less time to assess students. Terry Hoad, president of the University and College Union, argued that PQA was "fairer" but was concerned about how the altered admissions timetable would affect teachers and academics.

Cuts threaten feeder route to part-time study Times Higher Education, Thursday 20 October 2011

Cutting teaching subsidies could "kill off" evening-class courses, which are a key route into part-time degrees, a conference entitled A New Deal for Part-Time and Distance students has heard. Speaking after the event, Bill Jones, an expert in lifelong learning, said increased access to loans for part-time students would not compensate for an 80 per cent reduction in teaching funding.

Poorest FE students shortchanged TES, Friday, 21 October 2011

The TES has carried out an investigation into why schools and colleges have found they have not been able to provide £800 bursaries for every student eligible for free school meals – they say it is because a flawed distribution of cash risks leaving tens of thousands of poor students with less support than they need. They say in 32 local authorities not enough money has been provided, meaning on average there is £579 for each bursary, but in the other authorities there is an average of £1,168. It is believed 23,000 of the poorest students live in boroughs where too little cash has been allocated, including those in Southwark and Lambeth in London, Birmingham, and Knowsley in Merseyside. A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said the figure of £800 for Year 11 students on free school meals was only meant as an illustration.

Teachers decline to join in queue jumping TES, Friday, 21 October 2011

School staff appear to be preparing to reject a proposed change to school admissions codes which was supposed to benefit them. The plan would have given them priority for having their children attend the school where they worked if there are oversubscription issues, to prevent schools losing valuable members of staff. But classroom unions think the plan should be dropped from the code, with Nansi Ellis from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers calling it a “sop for teachers … doesn’t really work”. One concern is that individual schools would be able to decide which staff the rule applies to, either just teachers or all staff. The NUT also fears the outside community could be angry about staff potentially “jumping the queue”. Other fears are that staff could apply to work in certain schools just to get their children in.