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Sector news, 1 - 6 April 2013

Big fall in mature students comes as shock to universities Guardian, 1 April 2013

In this article Anna Fazackerley talks to a former civil servant who is now a dedicated part-time student fitting in her studies with caring for two children under the age of four, and looking forward to achieving a degree by the time she is 40. However the article then goes on to examine the reasons for the fall in part-time students since 2010-11, and the fact that mature students were significantly less likely to accept a university place than school leavers. Theories include that fees mean more to people who have already been earning, and that older students feel they are getting a raw deal as a few years ago they wouldn’t have been paying so much. There was also a thought people are worried to tell their boss they want to study part time in the current economic climate, and also that they have not got the message about the availability of loans for part-time students. But Claire Callender, a national expert on part-time education at the Institute of Education, says this is only part of the story, as most part-time students are not eligible for the new loans anyway.

Is the proposed new national curriculum too much too soon? Guardian, 1 April 2013

This article looks at the proposed new national curriculum, which seeks to promote higher standards by introducing “harder” concepts earlier in children’s school lives, and whether this will work. The Mathematical Association and Association of Teachers of Mathematics said the expectations in the draft programme were too high. In 2003, Ofsted carried out a comparative study of the education of six-year-olds in England, Denmark and Finland and found that there was much more importance attached in Finland and Denmark to how six-year-olds developed as people, and Finland in particular finished well ahead in international tests given to 15-year-olds. There is also concern among subject experts that ministers will not succeed in raising standards if they do not adequately support teachers' professional development to implement the changes.

Are English students getting a rotten deal? Guardian, 5 April 2013

In this blog entry an English student who has 8.5 hours a week of classes despairs about the fact that she has so little contact time with lecturers, and does so much of her work alone, when she is paying the same fees as natural science students who have 20-28 contact hours a week. She spoke to her head of English at UCL Professor John Mullan, who told her "contact-hour measurement is for idiots". The author says she is left with the feeling she is paying for a degree rather than knowledge gained.

Prospective university students 'swayed by league tables' Guardian, 5 April 2013

Research by economists at University of London has found that university departments that are moving up league tables see rises in applications, with prospective students increasingly influenced by university league tables when deciding where to study. Research by economists at Royal Holloway, University of London, found that individual departments moving up a subject-level league table experienced a rise in applications of almost 5 per cent, with the increase most pronounced among overseas applicants. The influence of standings in league tables has increased since the introduction of tuition fees, suggesting students are now more aware of the reputation and relative standings of university departments. The increases in applications for departments rising in league tables was largest in law and business subjects.

Critics claim technical colleges are going soft TES, 5 April 2013

Critics of the university technical college (UTC) programme have said that the latest announcement of subjects they have chosen to specialise in confirmed fears that they would duplicate the work of FE colleges. The subjects include hospitality, tourism and sport science. The colleges cater for pupils aged 14-18, and from September colleges will also be able to recruit from 14. The University and College Union warned that the UTC programme risked creating a two-tier system of vocational education, with expensive UTCs and underfunded colleges. This week Lord Baker, who helped create the UTC programme, denied that UTCs were losing their technical and engineering focus. He said sport science and hospitality and tourism courses would have a strong technical element, with hotel groups, for instance, increasingly reliant on technology.

FE commissioner to drop in and start troubleshooting TES, 5 April 2013

Ministers have ordered the appointment of an FE commissioner to troubleshoot failing colleges, potentially breaking them up and dividing their provision between free schools, university technical colleges (UTCs) and other providers. A new skills strategy published this week in a document titled Rigour and Responsiveness in Skills, sets out plans to appoint the commissioner, who will report directly to ministers and have responsibility for colleges that are graded inadequate, or fail on minimum standards of performance or financial management. When the commissioner is called in he or she will be expected to review the position of the college with governors, principal and the local community within two weeks before deciding on either a new “administered college” status, the replacement of some or all of the governing body, or dissolving the college. Under “administered college” status, the college will lose the freedoms and flexibilities that release institutions from targets set by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) so they can respond to local economic need. It could result in putting the college’s provision out to competition for new providers. The Association of Colleges said most colleges resolved their difficulties on their own and the commissioner would have to deal with very few organisations.