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Sector news, 5 - 9 December 2011

Higher education reforms: anger is growing The Guardian, 5 December 2011

Peter Scott looks at the government’s reform of higher education, and says universities are becoming increasingly angry about the government’s assault on academic values and its indifference to the consequences. He says anger at the reforms is not abating, with fears for the future of universities growing.

Truancy report reveals uncomfortable truths The Guardian, 5 December 2011

The Rathbone Charity has carried out the first national survey of persistent truants, by asking 300 young people why they regularly missed school, and what types of intervention might have persuaded them to turn up regularly. In the summer david Cameron asked his social policy review to look at the idea of cutting benefits to parents who failed to make their children go to school. But seven out of 10 respondents in the survey said this would make no difference at all. Over 50 per cent said their parents knew they truanted, and just under that said friends encouraged them to skip lessons. A fifth had been stopped by police while truanting, and 55 per cent excluded from school at some point. A quarter had missed school to care for a relative; many were coping with chaotic family backgrounds, and most had the feeling that school just really wasn't for them. Rathbone runs a programme called Choices which is an alternative to mainstream school, and the article looks at how it engages pupils in the way schools have failed to do.

Study while you work with distance learning The Telegraph, 6 December 2011

Antonia Bremner looks at a possibility being considered by more canny students in the light of increased university fees next year – studying by distance learning. She quotes Carrie-Ann Rice of Resource Development International, the largest independent provider of UK university qualifications by distance learning, who says it best suits certain subjects and an ultra-motivated student. The benefits include getting a degree at the same time as spending three years earning. An increasing number of institutions are offering flexible distance learning, including the University of Warwick and Durham Business School.

One in four new courses attracts no students, i-Map finds Times Higher, 8 December 2011

A quarter of all new undergraduate courses do not attract a single student, with the proportion rising to half for joint-honours programmes. The figures were discovered in a two-year research project financed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, and involved an analysis of Universities and Colleges Admissions Service data from 2005 to 2008. The project estimates that the start-up costs of course are around £20,000, even before they are marketed to students. A number of experts have called for a more market-led approach, and more research into the courses students actually want.

Contempt for vocational study is led by the well-to-do, administrators hear Times Higher, 8 December 2011

The chair of the University of Sussex's council has spoken out against the idea that widening participation inevitably leads to a drop in standards. Simon Fanshawe, giving the Association of University Administrators' annual lecture in London last week, defended what have been called “Mickey Mouse” degrees, saying those criticised in some of the media as “basket weaving and golf-course management" can be "bloody difficult". He said 52 per cent of people in the country thought too many students go to university – but that was not the half whose children don’t go, and many were from the most privileged social classes.

What does £9bn get you? One in 4 can't figure it out TES, 9 December 2011

This article by Stephen Exley looks at how more than £9 billion has been spent on improving basic literacy and numeracy among adults since 2003, but the results are not spectacular. More than five million adults have a level of literacy no better than that expected of a child aged nine to 11, and the increase in literacy since 2003 is “not statistically significant” says the Skills for Life Survey. A total of 17 million adults have maths skills no better than those of a primary school child. Niace is calling for a special fund to be set up to help provide training for adults with the lowest skills. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, last week announced plans to reform the funding structure for basic skills training.

Blame game begins over riddle of the disappearing places TES, 9 December 2011

The government expects 462,000 places in funded education to be lost by 2013, when FE loans are introduced, according to the skills investment statement. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said the fall is a result of “longer and more comprehensive programmes” such as apprenticeships which are more expensive, so fewer people can be funded. BIS also said only 40 per cent of people taking out FE loans are expected to pay them back, which happens when their income rises above £21,000

Cuts look set to call last orders on drink advice TES, 9 December 2011

A report commissioned by the Association of Colleges has warned that funding and policy changes could jeopardise the quality of guidance given to vulnerable teenagers in colleges. Advice about alcohol consumption is usually given through enrichment time, but in the current academic year the entitlement was cut from 114 hours a year to only 30, saving the government potentially £640 million a year. The AoC are concerned advice on drinking could be lost in the other things that have to be covered.