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Sector news, 18 - 22 February 2013

University students pay £550,000 fines in a year Guardian, 18 February, 2013

Universities across the UK issued disciplinary and administrative fines totalling more than £550,000 to students last year. Freedom of information requests from the Guardian have shown students were fined a total of £551,237.30 for offences such as smoking, drunkenness, and unauthorised parties in the last academic year. One institution said it used the money collected to fund the annual staff outing. There were a number of peculiarities in amounts fined. At Brunel University "assisting students with online tests for money" landed one student with a £250 fine but another was fined just £50 for "hitting a member of staff". Warwick University issued fines totalling £350 last year to students who were "drunk", with no further reason given. Middlesex University issued the most fines, charging a total of £61,400 for "late payments", with students paying a £200 penalty for failing to pay tuition fees or provide confirmation of sponsorship on time. A spokesperson said if there were no late payments the university would save money spent on credit control staff. Thirty-four of the 128 institutions questioned said they did not fine students for disciplinary matters. The National Union of Students president, Liam Burns, condemned the lack of support for students who could not afford to pay, and added that fine money should be reinvested to benefit students, in hardship funds and library resources.


Should students be encouraged to set their sights on Russell Group universities? Guardian, 18 February, 2013

A fierce row has broken out over new pressure on schools to focus on getting students into 'big brand' universities. The article gives the example of a student who wanted to study marine biology at Plymouth University while her school tried to persuade her to go to a more traditional research-intensive university. She persisted on Plymouth and has now gained a post-grad research post there. Last summer the Department for Education decided to collect data on how many pupils each school was sending to Russell Group Universities, which has now sparked a big row behind the scenes with leading figures in education hoping to get it overturned.


Why Gove's 'ABacc' could exclude students who don't fit the mould Guardian, 18 February, 2013

Former London teacher and now Fulbright scholar Laura McInerney criticises education secretary Michael Gove’s decision to publish a league table detailing the number of sixth formers achieveing AAB in three ‘facilitating subject’ A levels, which are English, maths, sciences, modern foreign languages, history and geography. She says when the measure was published the media reported that a quarter of English sixth forms and colleges failed to produce any pupils with the top A level grades sought by leading universities. But she writes that it is important that students study relevant A levels, such as art or music, if they know what subject they want to study at university.


Costs 'outweigh tuition fee rises’Daily Telegraph, 18 February, 2013

Changes to the way universities are funded will cost the economy six times more than any savings the Government makes, new figures suggest. The Treasury expects to save £1.17bn by moving to higher tuition fees and ending subsidies for teaching. But the loss of potential earning power, as students choose not to take a degree, and the impact of fees on inflation will increase public borrowing by an extra £3.6bn, the university think-tank million+ said. They say the decision to raise tuition fees will cost 6.5 times more in today’s money than the Treasury’s estimated cash savings in 2012-13.


Students equate cheap courses with poor qualityThe Independent, 18 February 2013

Thousands of the cheapest university places are not being filled following the introduction of varied fees, which the Independent thinks is due to potential students worrying that their cut-price status means the courses are not worth the money. Figures show that 7,000 of the 20,000 places earmarked for students opting for courses costing less than £7,500-a-year have remained unfilled. Academics and lecturers’ leaders blamed the shortfall on students not rating the courses because they were being offered at a cheaper price, as well as debt-averse students from poorer homes being reluctant to take on the still significant cost of courses. The number of unfilled places was discovered by Labour’s higher education spokeswoman, Shabana Mahmood, through a Parliamentary question.


The principal ready for the challenge of 19,000 students TES, 22 February 2013

This article looks at the formation of the second ever federation between two colleges which could save £1m next year. Marion Plant, principal at North Warwickshire and Hinckley College, was interviewed for the top job at nearby South Leicestershire College, and after suitably impressing the governors there was offered the job of joint principal of the colleges’ federation. The colleges have a joint income of £45 million and more than 19,000 learners. The colleges had previously cooperated on a shared services project, and after what Ofsted described as a “significant” decline in success rates and two years under an interim principal South Leicestershire governors were keen to find a lasting solution. North Warwickshire and Hinckley already had a trust running four academies. The University and College Union warned against the colleges seeing cutting staff as a way of making savings. Each college is expected to save £100,000 this year through shared staffing, catering and cleaning contracts, which will rise to £500,000 each in 2013-14.


We will make careers advice a priority, Wilshaw says TES, 22 February 2013

Ofsted Chief Inspector Michael Wilshaw has indicated that schools’ careers provision could be formally inspected as part of the Ofted framework from September. Colleges have long argued that schools fail to provide pupils with information about their options in the FE sector. Inspectors currently have to take into account the extent to which pupils have gained a “well informed understanding” of the career options available to them but there is no separate grade for careers provision. Critics have said schools are not being properly monitored to make sure they comply with their duty to provide impartial and objective advice on qualifications at nearby FE providers. When speaking to the Commons Education Select Committee last week Sir Michael said there was a need to "recalibrate the schools framework to focus more on careers advice".


'Collapse' in trainee numbers threatens computing plans TES, 22 February 2013

The government’s plans to revolutionise computer science in schools are in jeopardy after a “collapse” in the number of applications to teacher training courses, experts have warned. Graduates are not applying for courses designed to prepare teachers for a new curriculum backed by technology giants including Facebook, Microsoft and IBM, figures reveal, despite scholarships of £20,000 for the best recruits. The numbers applying for computer science PGCEs in England is down by a third compared with applications for the old ICT course at the same time last year, when figures were again down by more than 50 per cent on 2011. There has been uncertainty about the subject after the announcement in January 2012 the ICT curriculum would be scrapped, and then computer science was not originally included in the English Baccalaureate performance measure. By the end of January this year, only 125 people had applied for more than 800 places on courses starting this year.