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Sector news, 28 January - 1 February 2013

Could the free university movement be the great new hope for education? The Guardian, 28 January 2013

In this article Harriet Swain looks at the range of learning opportunities being offered for free, focusing on a scriptwriting course being offered by the new Free University Brighton which advertises “education for love not money”. The university has a list of subjects people want to study and is appealing for potential tutors, who will use free spaces in local libraries, community centres and cafes. Funding changes in higher education have been encouraging alternative ways of looking at learning for a couple of years, and there are also projects operating in Lincoln and Liverpool.

Universities welcome small rise in applications The Guardian, 30 January 2013

Universities have welcomed a 3.5% increase in the number of students applying to start university this autumn, but warn applications are still not back on trend. A 2.8 per cent increase in the number of UK and 4.9 per cent rise in EU and 9.6 per cent rise in non-EU overseas students overseas means application rates have recovered slightly on last year, when higher fees prompted a 8.7 per cent fall in applications. But Pam Tatlow, chief executive of university thinktank Million+, said that applications were still 4.2 per cent down when compared with this time in January 2011. The proportion of school-leavers from disadvantaged backgrounds applying in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland has increased to record levels, but fell slightly in Wales. Women aged 18 are more likely to apply to university then men, and in disadvantaged areas the gap is as high as 50 per cent. Applications from over-24s were down 8.4 per cent on last year, though Ucas pointed out that many mature students apply later in the year.

The Independent reported on the same story under the heading University applications rise 3.5 per cent after last-minute surge

Ebacc condemned as MPs take issue with whole Gove reform programme The Guardian, 31 January 2013

The government risks destabilising the entire school exam system by rushing through plans to replace GCSEs with the Ebacc, the education select committee of MPs have warned in a damning report. The investigation challenges almost every justification education secretary Michael Gove has given for phasing out GCSEs in favour of the new qualification, saying there is particular worry the change could disadvantage less academic pupils. It questions Gove's wider programme of rapid change, warning of a "lack of overall coherence" in how the government is approaching several key elements of education. It calls for a delay in introducing the Ebacc

Few colleges are ready to recruit 14-16s in September TES, 1 February 2013

Delays by ministers in announcing new powers for colleges to directly recruit 14-year-olds in September mean that only a dozen are likely to take advantage of the freedoms this year. But among the colleges with advanced plans for 14-16 education, some are expecting to recruit between 100 and 150 students in their first year - roughly equivalent to the annual intake of a new secondary school. At a 14-16 conference of 100 colleges organised by the Association of Colleges last week many more said they were hoping to recruit the following year. Some college principals said capital requirements could stop them from recruiting in large numbers, as many refurbished colleges are having to work in smaller spaces than before. Some have also tried to reassure schools they would not have a disproportionate effect on their intake, with the principal of Bedford College saying he planned to recruit from a catchment area including 15 schools.

League tables favour 'school' A levels, colleges say TES, 1 February 2013

New A-level league table measures are failing to recognise the achievements of thousands of FE students who gain places at top universities, prompting concerns that college performance is being significantly underrated. Performance measures published last week gave central position to a new calculation looking at how many students in 2012 got three A levels at AAB grade or above in subjects such as maths, English literature, biology, physics, chemistry, history, geography and languages, generally seen as a route into Russell Group universities. High achieving colleges have found that although 25,000 students nationwide got that result, 75,000 won places at Russell Group universities last year.