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Sector news, 28 December 2012 - 4 January 2013

Education expert cautions Michael Gove over heavy reliance on exams Guardian, 28 December 2012

An American scientist who Michael Gove whose arguments Michael Gove has used as the intellectual inspiration for his move towards a more exacting exams programme has warned that an excessive reliance on tests can harm a child’s education through a focus on narrow, rote learning. Daniel Willingham, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Virginia, who used laboratory findings about the way people learn in a book entitled Why Don’t Children Like School? and was mentioned three times in a recent speech by Gove on his educational philosophy. Willingham said when testing was instituted in the US in 2002 teachers took it as meaning sit children down and teach them facts, and he was concerned that was how it could become in the UK.

Lawyers and accountants need not have degrees, says ministerGuardian, 28 December 2012

The government has announced plans to allow school leavers to become lawyers and accountants without first gaining degrees. Matthew Hancock, the minister for skills, said he wanted to expand the apprenticeship scheme to offer qualifications at the same level as a master's degree without years of university study, he wrote in an article in the Daily Telegraph. The government has funded about 30 employers, including the accountancy firm PwC and construction company Balfour Beatty, with £25m to provide new qualifications for their apprentices. At the moment apprentices can reach the level of a foundation degree after four years. The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills announcement envisages apprentices continuing study for up to eight years to gain the equivalent of a master's degree.

Teachers' morale at all-time lowThe Independent, 1 January 2013

Morale among teachers is at an all-time low, according to a survey from the National Union of Teachers. Performance pay proposals, pension reforms and public sector cuts led to 55 per cent of teachers saying morale was low or very low, an increase of 13 per cent since the last survey in April 2012. More than 77 per cent said the Coalition government’s impact on education had been negative. Christine Blower, NUT’s General Secretary, said the survey was a damning indictment of Coalition policies.

Doctoral-level thinking: non-PhDs need not applyTimes Higher, 3 January 2013

UK universities are increasingly pushing for academic staff to hold PhDs, an investigation has revealed. Almost 30 per cent of the 113 universities that responded to a Freedom of Information request by Times Higher Education say they have aims or commitments to increase their proportion of academics with doctorates, whether by hiring new staff or by providing training for existing employees. The proportion of staff with PhDs at UK universities has already risen significantly in the past decade, figures show. Among universities in the survey, Cardiff Metropolitan University aims to raise its level to 50 per cent of academic staff by 2017-18, Anglia Ruskin University to 60 per cent by 2014-15 and City University London wants 68 per cent by 2016-17. Across all responding institutions, the average current figure for academic staff holding PhDs is 51.6 per cent.

Year-on-year fall in applications continuesTimes Higher, 3 January 2013

University applicant numbers have continued to fall for the second consecutive year - with about 18,000 fewer people applying to higher education compared to the same time last year, new figures show. The number of people applying by 17 December for undergraduate study at UK universities fell 5.6 per cent, according to statistics from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. If figures for early applications for Oxbridge, medicine, dentistry and veterinary courses, applications are down by 7.2 per cent according to analysis by the Million+ group of new universities. The figures follow last year's 6.4 per cent dip in applicant numbers at the same point in the applications cycle.

Troubling FX as Falmouth forces staff to go private Times Higher, 3 January 2013

Cornwall's first university has been accused of attacking staff pay and conditions by transferring its academic support services to a private company. About 130 employees at Falmouth University, which was granted full university status last month, are to be moved to a company jointly owned by Falmouth and the University of Exeter known as Falmouth Exeter Plus (FX Plus). The company currently employs 235 people at the two universities, mainly in catering, estate maintenance and campus services. Those whose contracts are now being transferred include library and IT services staff, academic skills assistants and disability support teams. It is believed to be the first time a UK university has moved its whole academic support service to an external company. In December it emerged that the University of Warwick had abandoned its plans to pool IT and administration staff with five other unnamed universities via an outsourcing company. In a joint letter, the University and College Union and GMB claim that new recruits to FX Plus will have between seven and 10 fewer days of annual leave than employees transferred to the company. It also says FX Plus staff will be removed from the national pay framework for higher education, with salaries pegged against much lower pay levels in Cornwall.

Providers receive £91m for students who don't enrol TES, 4 January 2013

Colleges have been paid tens of millions of pounds to teach students whom they then failed to recruit, figures from the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) have shown. The end-of-year positions for 2011-12 showed that a net £91 million was given to providers for training that never took place. Colleges were responsible for a total of about £78 million, with local authority adult learning accounting for most of the rest. In the worst cases, 23 per cent of some colleges' adult skills allocation went unused. Providers that were more than 3 per cent under their recruitment targets will have to pay some of the money back, and the SFA is also trying to prevent continued under-delivery in 2013-14 by offering greater allocations to the better performers.

Colleges risk dispute over workload, union warns TES, 4 January 2013

Colleges across the country risk industrial action in the spring as a result of their "extremely disappointing" failure to deal with rising staff workloads, the University and College Union (UCU) has warned. Barry Lovejoy, UCU's head of FE, had written to all principals in England and Wales in November, reminding them of procedures for altering working hours that had been agreed by the FE unions and the Association of Colleges (AoC).But he said fewer than 40 of about 260 colleges he wrote to had replied, and of those fewer than 10 gave a satisfactory response. He said the union would consult with its branches to discuss whether members were prepared to ballot for industrial action, with a decision expected to be made at UCU's FE committee meeting in March. Emma Mason, the AoC's director of employment policy and services, said its members took their responsibilities for the welfare of their staff seriously, and it was disappointing that UCU intended to call a national dispute about an issue for local discussion.