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Sector news, 7 - 11 November 2011

Pensions dispute gives academics work-life balance The Guardian, Monday 7 November 2011

Around 40,000 members of the University and College Union (UCU) in 67 pre-1992 universities have been “working to contract” since 10 October as part of a dispute over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pensions. The union says they have been inundated with reports from members about how they say for the first time in years they are having a normal life, after realising they had been putting in 50-plus hours a week in some cases on their work. This article interviews several lecturers who talk about the joys of being able to read the paper or play with their children.


Universities seek last-minute tuition fees cut The Guardian, Monday 7 November 2011

A total of 24 universities and three FE colleges have applied to reduce the fees they plan to charge next year to gain access to an extra 20,000 student places. That is a fifth of English universities which want to cut their average tuition fee for 2012 to £7,500 or less, weeks before the deadline for applications to most courses. Each institution charging more than £6,000 next year has to have an access agreement approved by Offa. Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the colleges union the UCU said the changes to fees at this stage would leave many students in limbo.


Topsy-turvy ranking in social science teaching Times Higher Education, 6 November 2011

An in-depth examination of pedagogical quality in sociology and related degrees at four different types of institution has found that rankings are not a good guide to teaching quality. Teaching in universities that are usually towards the bottom of higher education league tables is more consistently of a high standard than instruction at institutions towards the top of the rankings, the study suggested. The study was carried out by researchers from the universities of Nottingham, Lancaster and Teesside who interviewed students at four other unnamed institutions over the three years of their degree courses. They also surveyed 700 students, interviewed lecturers and observed teaching as well as analysing assignments and each department's curriculum documents.


£20k bursaries for schools; nothing for FE TES, 11 November 2011

Lecturers’ organisations have warned of a recruitment crisis in colleges and training providers if fees of at least £6,000 for training are imposed. The Institute for learning says candidates for FE teaching are more likely to be put off by fees, and are also older, with an average age of 37 for new FE teachers, and many have mortgages and families. They also often have previous student loans and would be expected to accept lower salaries as teachers in colleges and training providers than in industry. The £400 grant for FE trainees is due to end in March, and lecturers’ organisations say the last route to fully-funded FE teacher training will end within two years. Teacher training in schools is going to attract £20,000 bursaries for priority subjects. In September 2012 there will be the introduction of HE fees of at least £6,000 for candidates training at universities or university-accredited colleges, and a year later colleges accredited by awarding bodies will have their funding replaced by a fees and loans system. The AoC recommended adding FE teaching qualifications to the list of protected subjects which continue to receive HE funding. The Department for Education said bursaries for FE teachers were a matter for BIS.


Learning and Skills Network goes into administration TES, 11 November 2011

The Learning and Skills Network has gone into administration, amid shock from many as last year’s £8.8 million expansion has ended in failure. The LSN had got rid of more than 100 members of staff and sold off millions of pounds in assets. The charity’s income had halved to about £13 million as contracts with the government continued to dry up, but in March 2010 it had reserves of £11.2 million, which the TES said it presumes have now gone. The crisis leaves the LSN’s programmes in doubt, including concerns for the National Extension College which has 20,000 students.


Women returners shunned TES, 11 November 2011

Stephen Hillier, the chief executive of the Training and Development Agency for Schools, said headteachers are “out of date” and their old fashioned attitudes are stopping thousands of talented women from working in schools. He said heads were reluctant to offer part-time and flexible jobs to women, and preferred to employ newly trained graduates instead of experienced mothers wanting to return to work. Hillier said schools could not afford not to bring back returners, particularly those trained in shortage subjects such as physics and chemistry; 20 years ago, 15,000 teachers used to return each year, but now that has dropped below 9,000. Headteachers have disputed his claims.