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Sector news, 22 - 26 October 2012

'Postgraduate study is the next social mobility timebomb' The Guardian, 22 October 2012

A new report warns the UK is heading for a shortage of academics because too few students feel they can afford postgraduate study. The Higher Education Commission, a cross party group of MPs and representatives from business and academia, says there are grim prospects ahead for the country’s economic future and global position unless postgraduate education is "brought in from the cold" and treated as part of a holistic vision for education. It says postgrad qualifications are increasingly becoming the norm for many careers but higher undergrad fees and banks’ unwillingness to offer loans makes it less accessible for poorer or debt rich students. The report called postgraduate education a “social mobility timebomb” and echoed Labour’s Alan Milburn who said earlier this year everyone agreed nobody should be barred from undergraduate education because they could not afford fees, but it was accepted about postgraduate education. The report agrees with Milburn’s proposals last week that a postgraduate loan scheme was needed.

Universities have unfilled places after clearing scramble for sixth-formers The Guardian, 25 October 2012

About a third of universities in the elite Russell Group have suffered a drop in their undergraduate intake this year, after government changes to the way institutions recruit students. Vice-chancellors at the universities concerned fear they may have to cut spending on widening access to poorer students. Across the group the loss is believed to be about £80 million. Universities can now recruit an unlimited number of the highest performing students who achieve A-level grades of AAB or above, under coalition changes intended to give more students their first choice, but all universities are capped on the number of students they can recruit at lower grades. After A level results came out in the summer there was competition in clearing for a small group of high-performing students and some universities have been left with spare capacity. Southampton University is down 600 students on last year.

Trainee teachers face tougher English and maths tests The Guardian, 26 October 2012

People wanting to become teachers will have to complete English essays and answer questions on maths topics including algebra before they can start training, it has been announced. Ministers have unveiled details of plans to overhaul tests taken by prospective teachers, saying they want to raise the status of the profession. The plans have been recommended by a review group of headteachers and education experts, which was set up in March. The government said at the time they wanted to toughen up the tests taken by trainee teachers due to concerns that many took several attempts to pass.

In 2010-11, 1,903 people took three or more attempts at literacy, down from 2,483 in 2009-10. In numeracy a total of 3,329 took three or more attempts, up slightly from 3,313 in 2009-10.

 Lead providers make 35% profit for 'little work' TES, 26 October 2012

Inspectors have criticised the decision to subcontract more than £430 million of skills funding, saying that it has led to providers taking fees of up to 35 per cent for “little work”. The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) decided to limit direct funding to providers with contracts worth more than £500,000, and there was a subsequent boom in subcontracting to smaller providers. Ofsted visited 17 subcontractors and carried out surveys of 45 lead contractors and the companies they worked with. About half of the lead providers charged more than the 15 per cent fee the SFA anticipated for 2011-12, with some charging up to 35 per cent. Often, they did little to earn their money: one subcontractor, based 100 miles from its lead contractor, had its training observed only once in 15 months. Some of those who charged the most did the least. Monitoring by lead providers was criticised as insufficiently rigorous and tended to focus on the audit paperwork rather than on quality assurance. A high proportion of training seen by inspectors was inadequate or only just satisfactory. The decision to only work with larger providers has damaged the prospects of many effective small providers, Ofsted concluded, and the SFA should reconsider allowing small but outstanding providers to hold their own contracts.

Guilded vision seeks to cement FE's standing TES, 26 October 2012

Lord Lingfield's review of professionalism in the sector has endorsed the creation of an FE guild to set professional standards, which will be led by the employer bodies for colleges and training providers. It also proposed giving the guild new powers, from rationalising the number of vocational qualifications to setting pay scales and replacing Ofsted inspection with peer review. Lord Lingfield also suggested a shift away remedial work on basic skills and the growth in provision for under-16s, instead seeking to define FE as primarily offering vocational skills to develop the workforce and economy.