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Sector News, 9 - 13 May 2011

Plan to let rich pay for extra university places 'will entrench privilege', Monday 9 May

Ministers have been warned they risk turning the clock back to a time when "breeding not brains" mattered after ministers outlined proposals to allow teenagers from the wealthiest families to be able to pay for extra places at the most competitive universities. Universities minister David Willetts has argued the extra places will boost social mobility by freeing up more publicly subsidised places for undergraduates from poorer homes. The proposal has been heavily criticised by the Universities and College Union and the National Union of Students. The Liberal Democrat president Tim Farron has also said he would oppose any move that gave the impression the rich would be entitled to get more university places.

Twittering classes for teachers, Monday 9 May

Twitter is playing host to a group of teachers who meet weekly to swap top tips and advice. UKEdChat is a weekly congregation of teachers on Twitter, started after Colin Hill, a year 2 teacher at Birkdale primary school in Southport saw US teachers tweeting about their work at a set time each week. The UK teachers meet on Thursdays from 8-9pm and a volunteer moderator picks five questions from a poll on the UKEdChat website, and teachers logon to debate.Each tweet contains the hashtag #ukedchat, so participants search that to see all comments all the time. After each session, the moderator uploads all the tweets to the UKEdChat website.

Top universities patronising poorer teenagers, headteacher says, Tuesday, 10 May

Top universities are patronising teenagers from comprehensives by admitting them with lower A-level grades than richer peers from private schools, one of the country's most respected headteachers has said. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of the Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, east London, said bright pupils from poorer backgrounds wanted to get into Oxford and Cambridge "on a level playing field" with those from fee-paying schools. He said it was up to state schools to improve rather than for their pupils to be given special dispensation.

Can you teach creative writing? The Guardian, Tuesday, 10 May

The idea that decent writing was something that couldn’t be taught was something Malcolm Bradbury found himself up against 40 years ago when he was setting up an MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia, but it is now considered to lead the field and has an impressive alumni list including Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro and Anne Enright. A new book from UEA by Andrew Cowan, novelist and director of the university's MA course, is intended to offer an insight into the UEA method. This article asks writers including Andrew Motion, David Baddiel, Will Self and Fay Weldon how well universities teach creative writing and can anyone actually teach it at all.

Deaf children's services cut at one in five councils in England The Guardian, Tuesday 10 May

Almost one in five councils in England have cut services for deaf children, some by scrapping posts for specialist teachers and cutting budgets for radio aids, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Deaf Children’s Society. Cuts have been made in 28 local authorities.

Parents angered by schools' promotion of home tuition schemes The Guardian, Tuesday 10 May

Parents say tactics used by schools are pressurising them into signing up to home tuition schemes. Schools across the country have sent out letters on school headed notepaper signed by headteachers, and in return they receive a payment for “administration costs”. Critics of the scheme complain some parents are signing up to the Student Support Centre’s literacy and numeracy programme, which can cost thousands of pounds, because their school is advising them it "may be of benefit" to their children. A newsletter from one school asked parents to return the letter’s reply slip to school, as the school had an increased donation the more slips were received and “it is an easy source of fundraising for school funds." Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, warned schools to "think very carefully about what they put out on letterheaded paper".

Research reveals true worth of a smile The Guardian, Tuesday 10 May

Researchers at Bangor University have calculated the economic value of a grin – one third of a penny. Danielle Shore, who led the research with her colleague at Bangor's school of psychology, Erin Heerey, says smiles act as a form of "social currency – a valuable reward that people will pay to receive". She says her research suggests they have the power to do anything from luring shoppers to spending more than they intended to creating lucrative working relationships. But she found that positive responses to smiles only worked when they were genuine. Her research involved recruiting students to play a game against computerised opponents with the chance of winning money, and she found that they preferred genuinely smiling opponents to politely smiling ones even when the odds of winning were equal.

Skill, the influential campaigning charity for disabled students is to close The Guardian, Tuesday 10 May

The charity Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities, praised by users, FE organisations and government as a vital information and support service, has announced its closure. It has had relatively generous funding and support from business, colleges and other agencies, plus contracts for research and development which have sustained it for 40 years, and funded a helpline for the disabled and a policy team with influence on government decision making. But there is now not enough funding to continue. Skill is in discussion with BIS to see where they can support other organisations in taking on the services.

Pupils who fail maths and English GCSEs face two years of extra study The Guardian, Thursday, 12 May 2011

Thousands of pupils who fail to achieve a good GCSE in English and maths will be made to study the subjects for another two years or take high-quality alternative qualifications until they leave school at 18, the education secretary Michael Gove said. Last summer 45 % of 16-year-olds missed a C grade in the subjects. Mr Gove was responding to a government-commissioned review of vocational qualifications published in March which criticised the number of pupils leaving school without a basic grasp of English or maths.

Deadwood, UK: up to half of courses need cross-subsidy to survive, analysis discovers THE, 12 May 2011

An analysis of university business models by The Parthenon Group, an international consultancy firm, found at least a third and perhaps up to a half of all UK university courses are loss-making, and many teaching-led universities have departments with no "meaningful existence" that are being kept afloat by profits from other areas. The company's analysis shows that for a group of about 50 general teaching institutions, a large chunk of their activity is focused on five areas - business, IT, design, teacher training and nursing. The rest of their resources are spent on several other departments, which are "almost certainly" losing money, Parthenon says. Surpluses from successful courses are then invested in what the company says are “whatever is interesting to academics”. The firm said with a more competitive market on the horizon, surpluses should be re-invested to strengthen popular vocational areas, and loss-making departments considered for merger or closure.

Bar set higher for IB students THE, 12 May 2011

Universities are failing to "value or even understand" the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IB) and prospective students taking the qualification are being unfairly treated as a result, two leading school heads have said. Anthony Seldon, master of independent school Wellington College, and John Oakes, head teacher of Dartford Grammar School, a state school, said they were "constantly surprised" at the "unreasonably high" offers being made to students taking the alternative to A levels. Matthew Andrews, chair of the Admissions Practitioner Group at the Academic Registrars Council, said university staff were "very familiar" with the IB and gave it a "lot of respect".

Pressure to publish papers blamed for reluctance to share digital data THE, 12 May 2011

Academics have been accused of failing to make use of new technology to improve research because they are "selfish" and bogged down in the peer review system. Speaking at a British Library debate, organised by Times Higher Education, academics and students agreed that researchers had not embraced new technology to share their data and findings.David Gauntlett, professor of media and communications at the University of Westminster, agreed that researchers should do more to share results. Academics had a responsibility to publish online, he said.

Sit-in over cuts at London Met THE, 12 May 2011

Students staged an occupation at London Metropolitan University demanding plans for course closures are withdrawn, while a senior manager has left with immediate effect. The occupation of the Graduate Centre, at London Met's Holloway Road campus, was joined by around 70 students at its peak, after beginning on 4 May. It ended on 10 May, after the university gained a High Court injunction. Occupiers complained that the university hired "heavy-handed" security guards from an outside firm. The hardest-hit faculty in the closures is Humanities, Arts, Languages and Education (Hale), and its dean, Roddy Gallacher, is retiring with immediate effect after academics in the faculty passed a vote of no confidence in him and other senior managers. London Met says the closures are needed to make the university sustainable under the new fees and funding regime that begins in 2012.

Failure to inform: Ucas chief says £1.5m ad campaign on fees misses mark THE, 12 May 2011

A new government advertising campaign about higher tuition fees is failing to explain a "key message" of the reforms to students, the official in charge of the admissions system has told a cross-party group of MPs. Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, who was giving evidence to the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee on 10 May for its inquiry into the future of higher education, said it had to be clearly explained that monthly repayments on student loans would be the same, whatever the level of fees charged. The comments came two days after the launch of the campaign, which initially cost £1.5 million, and came after months of criticism that ministers have failed to communicate their reforms for student finance in the 2012-13 academic year.

Six pioneer shared services for savings THE, 12 May 2011

Unions have warned that universities having complex contracts with private firms will lead to job losses. The University of Warwick says it is in advanced talks with five unnamed universities about sharing "a number of university administrative services and IT infrastructures". It aims to reinvest savings in teaching and research. The project is expected to be launched this summer; the universities will work with Tribal, a provider of outsourcing services. Warwick said it was “not expecting any significant job losses”. But Denise Bertuchi, assistant national education officer for Unison, said shared services were "not a panacea for the funding crisis in higher education. In fact, they could add to it."

 'No feedback' for 63% of postgrad teachers THE, 12 May 2011

Only about a third of postgraduates who are employed by their university as teachers feel that they receive appropriate supervision and feedback, according to statistics in a charter produced by the National Union of Students and the University and College Union setting out how universities should address the issue. In a survey of about 350 postgraduates with teaching experience, 36 per cent agreed that they had received appropriate supervision and feedback, while 63 per cent had received no advice on professional development or training. However, 87 per cent said they were confident that they performed their teaching role adequately. The Postgraduate Employment Charter lists 10 principles of good practice relating to the employment of postgraduates.

Maths teaching seeks the formula for good graduates THE, 12 May 2011

The teaching of mathematics in universities "may not be fit for purpose", not least because it tends "to focus on content without a clear idea of what can be done with it", according to a report that says universities risk leaving graduates ill equipped to apply their mathematical training in the real world. The analysis, which expands on an HE Mathematics Curriculum Summit run by the Maths, Stats and OR Network and the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications earlier this year, calls for "a more flexible approach to meet employer needs". It was revealed at a summit at the University of Birmingham which brought together heads of mathematics or their representatives from 26 universities offering maths degrees.


Back from the brink THE, 12 May 2011

Rebecca Attwood looks at the new start for the former Thames Valley University, which has a new name and a new chancellor. She delves into its past and hears of its ambitions for a brighter and more secure future. Thames Valley was branded Britain’s first “failing” university in 1998 and has struggled financially ever since, staying on the Higher Education Funding Council for England's "at higher risk" list for 12 years - longer than any other institution. It was formed from a collection of colleges, and in 1992 became a university and gained its new unorthodox vice-chancellor Mike Fitzgerald, formerly of Coventry University, who was the country’s youngest VC, and was known for smoking Cuban cigarillos, who wore Armani, drove a car with the number plate M4TVU and had a sofa and a jukebox, but no desk, in his office. He also had new Labour connections and Tony Blair apparently visited, impressed by his style. But many of his reforms didn’t work, and there were disputes with unions, leading the university into chaos, with Fitzgerald resigning in 1998.. Today, the university is renamed the University of West London and focuses entirely on vocational courses.

Are paymasters just feeding unfairness? TES, FE focus, 13 May 2011

Former college principal Ahmed Choonara asks if it is time colleges’ renumeration committees were scraped. He argues that in the context of the Hutton Review of Fair Pay in the Public Sector and the austerity measures colleges have to implement the committees may cause significant harm to sound industrial relations if they award principals and senior staff a greater percentage increase in salary than the rest of the staff.

£4.2m contract killed off over 'irregularities' TES, FE focus, 13 May 2011

A training company run by a former international footballer has seen its £4.2 million contract to work with a college terminated due to claims of “irregularities”. Luis Michael Training was set up in July 2009 by former Welsh international Mark Aizlewood and won the contract with Sparsholt College, Hampshire, by November 2009. The deal was to provide 1,189 sports apprenticeships. The contract was terminated in December by the college, which blamed unspecified “irregularities”. Luis Michael Training has since threatened legal action against Sparsholt and other colleges that ended similar contracts, saying it was not told the reason for the termination, which it said was unjustified.

MPs reject call for mandatory careers advice TES, FE focus, 13 May 2011

Labour MPs’ efforts to make the provision of “high-quality face-to- face careers advice” compulsory to all pupils and students in schools and colleges have failed. Shadow ministers lodged an amendment to the Education Bill on Wednesday to secure changes to the Government’s reforms, but it was voted down. From next April, schools and colleges will not have the funding for such advice and neither will they have any legal obligation to provide it. Experts have warned that this will lead to provision being severely cut back.

Lifelong learning among the least skilled hits 20-year low TES, FE focus, 13 May 2011

The first-ever gains for participation in lifelong learning among the lowest skilled workers have been wiped out as companies axe training schemes, according to adult education body Niace. In its annual survey of participation in adult education, published to mark the start of Adult Learners’ Week, Niace found that the least skilled and the unemployed were less likely to be taking part in learning than at any time in the past 20 years. Just 23 per cent of low- skilled workers have been involved in any form, a fall from last year’s peak of 30 per cent. Niace called on the government to use its leverage to encourage industry to invest in education.