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Sector news, 9 - 13 July 2012

Thousands of overseas students to face compulsory interviews The Guardian, 9 July 2012

More than 10,000 overseas students who apply for visas to study in Britain are to face compulsory interview tests as part of a new UK Border Agency drive to filter out abuse. UKBA staff are to be given a new power to refuse entry to any overseas students whose credibility remains in doubt after being interviewed. Those who fail to turn up for the interview will also be refused entry to Britain if they fail to give a reasonable explanation. At the same time there are reports that David Cameron is thinking of removing foreign students from the initial net immigration count as there are fears that the government’s approach is damaging the overseas student industry which is worth £8bn a year.


University applications drop amid higher tuition fees The Guardian, 9 July 2012

The total number of applicants to British universities has fallen by 7.7 per cent this year, with a 10 per cent drop in the numbers of English applicants, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) said. The Guardian says some of those charging higher tuition fees have seen steep drops in applicants. The University for the Creative Arts had the steepest drop in applicants, a decline of 29.2 per cent. The University of Derby saw application figures fall by 25.4 per cent, while Surrey had a drop of just over 20 per cent. However overall demand still massively exceeds supply, with just over 618,000 candidates applying for 492,030 places.

Research funding limited to star academics The Guardian, 9 July 2012

As the pot of research funding shrinks, more money is increasingly going to star academics, at the expense of budding researchers, this article argues. As well as putting in a brilliant application, people hoping for scientific research funding are having to face interviews by a panel of experts in the battle for the shrinking number of research grants. Many of the awards are going to quality people who already have proven track records, and there is a trend towards research teams.

Basic skills qualifications may let down most in need TES, 13 July 2012

Adults with the most severe literacy and numeracy difficulties and those with learning disabilities could lose out under new basic skills qualifications, adult education body Niace has warned. From September, key skills qualifications will be replaced by functional skills, first introduced in 2010 and aimed at linking English and maths to practical, everyday tasks. But NIACE’s Carol Taylor, director of research and development, said the new qualifications lack a route for “pre-entry” students - those who are not yet ready for the entry-level qualifications. The 2011 Skills for Life survey, which aimed to measure the progress made since the investment of about £9 billion in basic skills, found that those with the poorest skills had made the least progress over 10 years. There was no improvement for adults with lower-level literacy skills, and skill levels in maths had declined. Research into the impact of Skills for Life found that efforts were focused on those who needed the least support to gain English and maths qualifications. Jean Kelly, director of professional development at the Institute for Learning, said that the key issue for teachers is integrating English and maths into vocational skills, and that staff need support in developing a team approach.

'Sheep dip' approach to unemployed just isn't on, says Ofsted TES, 13 July 2012

Colleges that should be helping unemployed people into work are too often focused on “the achievement of qualifications” rather than getting them a job, Ofsted has claimed. Ofsted national director of learning and skills Matthew Coffey told TES that many learning providers and colleges took a “sheep dip” approach, directing learners en masse to available qualifications instead of focusing on individuals’ needs. Last August the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) launched a new scheme to provide more “market-focused” training to tackle long-term unemployment. But a report published yesterday by Ofsted, at the request of BIS, found that fewer than one in five learners on the scheme have actually gained a job as a result.

Study of HE in FE questions whether students are making 'informed choices' Times Higher, 12 July 2012

Students who take higher education courses in further education colleges may not be making informed choices, according to a major report commissioned by the government. More than 2,500 students, as well as managers and employers, from 25 colleges across England were interviewed for the report, Understanding Higher Education in Further Education Institutions, which was commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. At the moment one in 12 HE students attends FE colleges, but the government wants that to increase. The survey found colleges provided smaller class sizes and more teaching hours than universities, and were slightly more cost effective but it was questionable whether the students had made “an informed choice of institution”. One in 10 had not realised they had chosen to study at a college and had thought they were going to university. More than a third had chosen to stay on at colleges where they were already studying, not appearing to see they had any other choices.

Private bodies saddle up for state subsidies Times Higher, 12 July 2012

Students on private college courses such as animal chiropractic care, acupuncture and “contemporary person-centred psychotherapy” have been eligible to receive state-subsidised funding during the past two years, with one private institution being given state loan access for nearly 100 sub-degree vocational courses in a single day. The coalition is increasing the number of "designated" private courses, where students are allowed to apply for loans from the taxpayer-backed Student Loans Company, thereby giving an indirect public subsidy to what are often commercial providers. The information on designation was obtained by Times Higher Education from the SLC under the Freedom of Information Act. The number of private college courses designated by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills increased from 157 in 2009-10 to 228 in 2010-11, and again to 403 in 2011-12. Roger King, visiting professor in the School of Management at the University of Bath and author of the Universities UK report Private Universities and Public Funding: Models and Business Plans, said that the issue of designation was "a matter of concern to the taxpayer" as SLC funding was "public money".