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Sector news, 26 - 30 September 2011

Universities should make lower offers to poorer students, exam board urges The Guardian, 27 september 2011

One of the country’s biggest exam boards has said universities should make it easier to admit A level students with lower grades from poorly-performing schools. Dr Neil Stringer of the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) said that research found that students from less privileged schools did just as well at university as those from “more favourable circumstances”. He said that St george’s medical school at the University of London offers lower A level grades to pupils from poorer schools – BBC rather than AAB – to students who perform 60 per cent better than the average for their school. He said they ended up doing just as well as their peers with higher grades.

New teachers are struggling to find jobs The Guardian, 27 september 2011

In this feature Dorothy Lepkowska looks at the situation facing newly-qualified teacher this year, who are finding there are up to 40 per cent fewer jobs available, and asks if the country is turning out too many new teachers. She interviews Haley Pilkington, a French and Spanish graduate who completed a PGCE in modern foreign languages and has applied for 10 jobs and had four interviews but has been unsuccessful. Between January and August the number of posts advertised across all sectors fell by 2,500 on the same period last year, with the West Midlands among the worst-hit areas, with more than 700 fewer posts advertised than the previous year. Prof John Howson, director of Data for Education, said there are no longer enough jobs to go round. He said the country could expect two or three years of this over-supply.

Labour's tuition fees cap would benefit richest graduates, thinktank claims The Guardian, 27 september 2011

Labour’s pledge to lower the cap on tuition fees to £6,000 would benefit the richest graduates most, according to an analysis by the Lib-Dem aligned thinktank CentreForum. It found that the majority of gains from Labour leader Ed Miliband’s proposal would go to the top 20 per cent highest earning graduates. They said it made no student better or worse off while studying because they do not have to pay up front, but would lead lead to an increase in the number of people who repay their loans in full.

Bleak vision for student imports due to lack of 'oversight' Times Higher, 29 September 2011

A failure by hundreds of independent colleges to join a new accreditation scheme may lead to their closure and may also hit the flow of fee-paying overseas students to British universities. Private colleges were told earlier this year that if they wanted to continue to recruit students from outside the EU they had to apply for “educational oversight” by 9 September. The THE has found figures that suggest about a third of the approximate 1,200 colleges currently licensed to recruit overseas students had failed to do so. It will mean they will not be able to apply to the UK Border Agency for Highly Trusted Sponsor status which they will need from April 2012. It is thought some colleges are trying to redesign their courses for students on visitor visas of up to 11 months.

Lancaster and Liverpool aim to strengthen global hand with 'federal structure' collaboration Times Higher, 29 September 2011

A consultative green paper is being circulated to staff at Lancaster University and the University of Liverpool “setting out a case for collaboration” as other research-intensive universities explore collaborations to secure a place among the global elite. The paper says a single institution, called LLU, would be seventh in the Uk for research power and have a strong international presence. Both institutions are currently looking at planned expansions in China and India. Without action both will suffer a “relative decline” as UK research funding becomes more concentrated and merging nation universities strengthen, the green paper says. Mike Robinson, national education officer for the union Unite, said there were concerns about jobs.

Exclusive elite fails to attract poorer students Times Higher, 29 September 2011

Twenty-three higher education institutions failed to hit their targets for attracting students from poor families, new figures show, including five Russell Group members – Bristol, Cambridge, Warwick, King’s College, London, and University College, London, which did not receive enough applicants or students from poor families or socially deprived areas to fulfil their own targets in 2009-10, the Office for Fair Access said. Others that failed to reach their goals included the University of Durham and University of Exeter. Universities and science minister David Willetts said “social mobility in this country has stalled”.

Academic life unfair, say women of a certain age Times Higher, 29 September 2011

The Principal Investigators and Research Leaders Survey, conducted by the research career development organisation Vitae, has shown a big dfference in the views of male and female academics about whether their university treats staff fairly. Of 2,600 respondents, a third of whom are women, 77 per cent agree that staff are treated fairly regardless of gender. But only 22 per cent of women strongly agree, compared with 42 per cent of men. That falls to 19 per cent for women aged 41-55. In the same age group, 30 per cent report having been discriminated against in their current post, compared with nine per cent of men and 26 per cent of women of all ages.

Penalty for early repayment of fee loans is wrong, says Which? Times Higher, 29 September 2011

The chief executive of the consumer rights organisation Which? has written to the universities and science minister David Willetts to ask him to withdraw proposals for an early repayment penalty fee similar to those used by the mortgage industry. Peter Vicary-Smith says the early repayment penalties are contrary to current advice to borrowers, which encourages them to pay off loans as quickly as possible.

Colleges emerge as leaders of the UTC era TES, 30 September 2011

Colleges may have been worried about the new wave of university technical colleges that were announced by Chancellor Osborne in March, fearing they may take away their lead on vocational learning. But FE Focus has discovered, before the announcement next month about the latest batch of UTCs to get the go-ahead, that of the 37 applications received about three quarters involve a college, and in many cases the FE institution is the UTC’s lead sponsor. With many more expected in the next few years, the FE sector’s influence over the 14-19 schools could then grow stronger. The article then looks in detail at the Black Country UTC, whose sponsor is Walsall College.

Swords are drawn as sectors do battle over post-16s TES, 30 September 2011

A study by the Association of Colleges found that secondary school pupils are sleepwalking into A level courses, without apparently knowing what other post-16 options are open to them. The AoC says this comes from poor careers advice and widespread ignorance among students about the qualifications they could get in the FE sector. Another report by the Camden Education Commission also suggests schools are going to considerable lengths to keep their students for themselves, including excluding colleges from careers fairs, refusing to let them in for a careers talk, and being asked not to send course literature.