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Sector News 2 - 6 May 2011

London Met VC explains why he is cutting 400 courses Education Guardian, 3 May, 2011

Malcolm Gillies has spent much of his career supporting arts and humanities, but says that London Metropolitan University must now deal with present realities. Gillies, VC at LMU for just over a year and a classicist and professor of music, decided last month to reduce the university’s course offering from 577 to 160, dropping degree courses including history, philosphopy, performing arts, Caribbean studies and trade union studies. He said the idea was to have students picking more focused courses and employability would be key. Gillies admitted the London Met, which is still having to repay £30m to the Higher Education Funding Council two years after being found to have falsely claimed for students who did not complete their courses, could be at risk of going under if it had not revised its courses.

British Studies, the latest import from the US?  Guardian, 2 May, 2011

British Studies is a growing field in the US, bringing together academics whgo study Britain and its empire, including its history, literature and politics, and put them into critical discussion.. Zoe Corbyn looks at an academic discipline unheard of in the UK, where Britain is studied in humanities and social sciences departments, meaning an interdisciplinary field called British studies does not make sense.

School heads to ballot for first national strike, 1 May, 2011

Members of the National Association of Head Teachers have set themselves on a collision course with the government after voting overwhelmingly at their national conference in Brighton to hold a ballot for their first national strike. 99.6 per cent of those voting wanted a ballot. Teacher unions the NUT and the ATL have already voted to ballot members for a national strike. The action is being considered over proposed pension reforms which would scrap the final salary pension schemes, lead to higher monthly contributions and call for a rise in the retirement age to 68.

Higher education harmed by political system  Education Guardian, 3 May, 2011

Until our political culture changes to something less adversarial, Peter Scott, professor of higher education studies at the Institute of Education, argues that higher education funding will continue to suffer. He says the differences between the government’s proposals for higher fees and Labour’s counter-proposals for a graduate tax are not so great. But because both sides are prisoners of a hyper-adversarial political culture they are not going to compromise, so higher education plus the health service and local govbernment, will continue to suffer.

Universities just cannot afford law suits Education Guardian, 3 May, 2011

Universities must look at mediation to settle disputes rather than spending vast sums of money, time and energy fighting claims by staff or students, argues Paul Randolph, a barrister who also teaches mediation at Regent’s College, London. Recently the University of St Andrews spent more than £200,000 in legal fees in successfully defending a claim for constructive dismissal by a lecturer, 10 times the amount they might have paid in compensation had they lost the case. Randolph argues that mediation is a way of resolving disputes quickly and with an 85% success rate while mainting reputation and credibility, and leeping staff on side.

Why David Hughes is the new head of Niace  Education Guardian, 3 May, 2011

The appointment of David Hughes to head the UK's leading campaigning body for adult education, the National Institute for Adult Education, from August has raised many eyebrows, as he has formally been a senior executive of two national funding bodies – including the Skills Funding Agency - and is associated with some of the harshest cuts to further and adult education in decades. But Hughes started off in the voluntary sector in the late 1980s, training tenants in Liverpool’s housing co-operative movement to speak up for their rights, and has also worked for the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. He says his vision for taking over includes a push on higher education entitlements for low earners and part timers, and a close look at what is happening with apprenticeships and 14-19 vocational qualifications.

Poor English a key diagnosis for failure to make PhD grade THE, 5 May 2011

A university with one of the worst PhD completion rates in the UK has admitted that some of its candidates are not suitable for doctoral study - particularly international students who lack an adequate level of written English. The University of Derby, which began offering doctorates in 1992, was one of 10 institutions contacted by the Higher Education Funding Council for England last summer and asked to explain why such a low proportion of full-time PhD students were completing within seven years and part-time students qualifying within 10 years. A report by Paul Bridges, Derby's head of research, says that there are "some indications" that not all Derby's doctoral students have "the necessary aptitude, knowledge, understanding and commitment to undertake original research, together with the required skills of communication".

Study urges 'equitable' treatment for private providers THE, 5 May 2011

The government might consider offering private colleges cash incentives to encourage them to take over or merge with failing public institutions, a report says. The study by the Higher Education Policy Institute, published on 5 May, also suggests that private institutions could be given greater access to libraries, sports facilities and social centres operated by publicly-funded universities to make treatment of the two sectors more "equitable".

In new world order, overseas institutions could enter UK patch THE, 5 May 2011

Foreign universities attracted to the UK by higher tuition fees could partner with local institutions to offer degrees in this country, according to a former head of Universities UK, Sir Drummond Bone, UUK president from 2005-7 and vice chancellor of the University of Liverpool from 2002-8. This would be the reversal of long-standing arrangements that have seen UK institutions export their activities overseas.

London Met applicants trapped in limbo by course closures and Ucas deadline THE, 5 May 2011

Students who applied for courses now being shut down by London Metropolitan University face a desperate search for places at other institutions. London Met has cut its course offering by 70 per cent, and some current students will also be unable to complete their courses. By 5 May students are expected to reply to any offers they have received, but the father of one applicant said that to his knowledge students applying for affected courses had not been formally contacted by the university, which had delayed its decision over which courses to offer in 2011-12. Claire Locke, president-elect at London Met Students' Union, said there was "growing concern about the (current) students whose courses are to be deleted".

Cambridge hikes foreign surcharge THE, 5 May 2011

Tuition fees for new overseas students at the University of Cambridge are set to rise by 10 per cent in 2012-13 for the second year in a row - but the institution says it will still have to run a budget deficit of more than £30 million over the next three years. The proposals would see some international science students face fees of about £20,000 a year, while most undergraduate arts and humanities courses would attract annual charges of at least £13,000. Cambridge said the increase reflected a "further rise in university costs and the fees charged by comparable international institutions".

Rankings update: Reputations on the line as survey nears closing date THE, 5 May 2011

The world's largest survey of university reputations, which will inform the 2011-12 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, will close on 20 May. Tens of thousands of academics around the world are being invited to represent their country and academic discipline in the most comprehensive and ambitious attempt to date to gauge university reputations for both research and teaching. So far, the greatest number of responses has come from North America, at 39 per cent of all submissions, followed by Western Europe (16 per cent) and East Asia (9 per cent).The interim results indicate that most respondents thus far are from the social sciences - 21 per cent of all responses - with 19 per cent in engineering and 18 per cent in physical sciences.

Need to save some money? Try private accommodation THE, 5 May 2011

The University of Reading is looking to hand over the running of its campus accommodation to a private company in a £200 million landmark deal being described as "the direction of travel" for a sector starved of government investment. If confirmed, the student accommodation office at the University of Reading and more than 4,000 rooms will be managed by University Partnerships Programme (UPP). Alex Massey, author of a recent Policy Exchange report on how universities can save money by outsourcing, said such arrangements would become "increasingly common" as capital expenditure by government dries up.

Incentivise grant successes, not attempts, says Manchester's research chief THE, 5 May 2011

Universities need to move away from rewarding academics for the volume of grant applications they submit, a senior figure has warned. Luke Georghiou, vice-president for research at the University of Manchester, made the comments to Times Higher Education after the publication of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council's annual report. It highlighted a decline in grant application success rates from 30 per cent in 2006-7 to 22 per cent in 2009-10, despite a fall in applications from 2,240 to 1,865. Universities have been under pressure from the research councils to limit their applications. Professor Georghiou said: "In the past, academics have been assessed not only on their ability to win grants but also on the amount of applications they made. We have to try to incentivise success rather than activity."

Gift of £1m will give wings to entrepreneurs THE, 5 May 2011

A Conservative peer and former head of BMI has given £1 million to Loughborough University to provide "practical help" to local entrepreneurs. Lord Glendonbrook said the gift - one of the largest ever received by the university and equivalent to about a third of the institution's total philanthropic income last year - would help bankroll enterprise education and give an academic underpinning to Loughborough's work in business and entrepreneurship. He said he was impressed by the university’s business credentials.

Hall of mirrors: do college dinners circulate class along with the port THE, 5 May 2011

The system of "formal hall", in which university students dress up in gowns to be served by waiters and learn which way to pass the port, plays a central role in "the maintenance of the British class system", according to a study conducted by academics at the University of Cambridge. Dr Kamal Munir and colleagues found that dining acts as "a kind of social drama that seduces college members into conforming to the norms and values of the ritual" - and those values include class "roles and boundaries".

The fast track is now widening THE, 5 May 2011

New models of degree provision that offer undergraduates a fast track to jobs in accountancy through partnerships with major employers could soon be extended to collaborations with smaller firms. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) is working with universities to design programmes that would allow more students to access the type of high-profile scheme announced recently by firms such as KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers. The institute already runs the Undergraduate Partnership Programme through which students on accountancy degree courses at three university business schools - Cardiff, Manchester and Warwick - can gain work experience with an authorised employer during their studies that helps them towards their ACA.


Systems failure THE, 5 May 2011

Darrel Ince, professor of computing at the Open University, says a scandal involving clinical trials based on research that was riddled with errors shows that journals, institutions and and indviduals must raise their standards. He is writing an account of what happened at Duke University in the US involving trials on cancer patients with the title The Cracks in Science, and in this article he details what happened at the university.

The arts THE, 5 May 2011

In Hearts and Minds Matthew Reisz describes the frank essays on sexual identity, family, jazz, lesbian kitsch and a devastating affair with an older academic which Terry Castle has written about in The Professor and Other Writings, which has just been published in the UK.

Philip Dodd reviews the film Berliner Philharmonoker – A Musical Journey in 3D, which is out on May 9, and there is a preview of the Brighton Festival which opens this weekend. This year its guest director is Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who cannot of course attend, though there are several debates at the festival which look at the fight for democracy in Burma.