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Sector News, 8 - 12 August

Can the private sector play a helpful role in education? Mortarboard blog

Henry Patrinos, a lead education economist at the World Bank, who is on secondment as a visiting research fellow at the CfBT Education Trust in the UK, argues that the private sector can play a helpful role in education, but only if it targets disadvantaged areas and gives schools plenty of autonomy.

NUS president says non-violent tactics of UK Uncut should be model for students The Guardian, Tuesday, 9 August

The new president of the National Union of Students, Liam Burns, has called on its seven million members to take part in a non-violent "national manifestation of anger". Speaking before this week’s spate of unrest around the country, he said that college and university students were becoming increasingly angry and frustrated by cuts and reforms to education, and he urged them to learn from the tactics of the controversial protest group UK Uncut. The group has gained notoriety by staging sit-ins at high street stores whose owners it accuses of tax avoidance. In his first interview since he took up the role 26-year-old Burns advised students to copy some of their methods rather than use violence and destruction to get their voices heard.

Open University raises fees to £5,000 a year The Guardian, Monday, 8 August

The OU is raising its fees from September 2012, with a full-time degree (120 credits) going up from about £1,400 a year to an average of £5,000, with a part-time degree (60 credits) rising from £700 to £2,500. The rises are in England, with prices in the rest of the UK still being discussed. This article questions whether this will be too much for those who want to learn for fun or gently get back into education. The OU’s Vice Chancellor Martin Bean says that the new fees structure need not change the reputation or balance of the student body, though he admits it might put off some hobby learners.

New museums bring local history to life The Guardian, Monday, 8 August

The Guardian highlights six new museums and galleries offering plenty of fun and learning programmes for families over the summer, all of which have opened in the past few months. They are: The Cardiff Story, Riverside Museum, Glasgow, Roman Frontier Gallery, Tullie House Museum and Art gallery, Carlisle, Museum of Liverpool, Turner Contemporary, Margate and Hepworth, Wakefield.

 A vocational course is not a 'dead end' The Guardian, Monday, 18 July

The Wolf report says 350,000 young people are on 'dead-end' vocational courses, but this charge is never made of university courses, writes Andrew Thomson, former CEO of the Quality Improvement Agency. He says people are quick to condemn vocational qualifications if they fail to lead directly to jobs, but have rarely said the same about A levels and degrees. This could change though as degrees become more expensive, and people ask whether the qualification is worth the cost.

Plans for Hefce hegemony spark sector fears Times Higher Education, 11 August 2011

Universities might opt out of the state-funded sector over proposals to hand greater power and responsibility to the English funding council, claim critics. The government this week published a “technical consultation” which included proposals to make the Higher Education Funding Council for England the “lead regulator” for the sector and “consumer champion” for students. Hefce would gain more powers including overseeing the granting of degree-awarding powers and university title, being able to fine universities that fail students, and entering into a legally-binding agreement with any institution that wants access to student loans. The government is also proposing to liberalise the system by easing restrictions on taught degree-awarding powers and is considering making it easier for universities to become profit-making companies. Geoffrey Alderman, professor of politics and contemporary history at the University of Buckingham, suggested that some elite universities may consider opting out and finding other ways for their students to borrow money.

Head urges staff to go easy on postgrad applicants Times Higher Education, 11 August 2011

A leaked email sent to staff at the University of Birmingham’s School of Philosophy, Theology and Religion by head of school Helen Beebee urges academics to be “VERY generous" when assessing postgraduate applications, warning them that they "simply cannot afford to be very choosy". She goes on to say that she “CANNOT STRESS ENOUGH" how important it is that all academics "try as hard as we possibly can" to recruit postgraduates for the coming year. Professor Beebee warns in the memo that the College of Arts and Law of which her school is part is facing a financial penalty of getting on for £1 million for under recruitment. Malcolm McCrae, chair of the UK Council for Graduate Education, described the email as "unfortunate and ill-considered".

Union accuses employers of 'trickery' as pension pot proves far from empty Times Higher Education, 11 August 2011

Changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme, set up for academics and senior administrators in pre-1992 institutions, have led to a bitter dispute between employers and the University and College Union. University employers say that the £30 billion pension fund is performing better than expected – and the USU, which is balloting for further industrial action in the new academic year over the issue, says it proves big changes were not needed.

'Malcontents' must do better Times Higher Education, 11 August 2011

A leading teaching expert has issued a withering response to an article by the head of the Higher Education Academy, Craig Mahoney, on the need for consistent teacher training in academia. He said there was plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that those with professional teaching qualifications were better at the job. In a letter to the THE Graham Gibbs, former head of the Oxford Learning Institute, describes the article as “extraordinary” and Prof Mahoney was wrong to suggest there was no hard evidence for the benefits of such qualifications. He said teachers improve after a one-year part-time teaching programme, developing a more sophisticated understanding of teaching, teach better and their students study in more effective ways.

200 posts set to go as NI looks to save £28m Times Higher Education, 11 August 2011

Queen's University Belfast plans to shed about 200 jobs as part of a £28 million "efficiency saving" in Northern Ireland's higher education sector. The university said that the losses would come from "academic and academic support" roles, and has offered voluntary severance and voluntary early redundancy to staff in a bid to make the cuts without forced redundancies.

When I grow up, I want to be spoon-fed Times Higher Education, 11 August 2011

Instead of sermonising about the need for more contact hours, ministers should stop infantilising students and listen to what they actually want, argues Paul Ramsden. He writes that the government appears to have embraced the populist line that students who pay more in fees will expect extra lectures. But he argues there is meagre evidence that students expect more teaching, and NUS surveys show nearly eight out of 10 students think they get the right amount of contact time.