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Sector News, 01 - 05 November 2010

Graduate tax was ruled out as Browne review debated tuition fees. Education Guardian, 02 November 2010.

Professor David Eastwood of the University of Birmingham, denies that ministers had sight of the Browne Review well before its publication.  He says that contact with ministers during the review was minimal and there was nothing that could have compromised its independence.  This is not a view shared by those who point to the announcement of cuts and raised tuition fees which were uncannily in line with George Osborne’s announcements for the budgets in higher education. Rajay Naik was the student representative on the Browne committee and he says that the committee were entirely realistic abut what they needed to do in order to create a more efficient higher education service.  He points to the possibility of a graduate tax promoted by Vince Cable and states that the committee had already ruled out what they saw as an unending liability for graduates and the difficulties faced by a government attempting to obtain tax from overseas students.

School arts to be hit by cuts.  Education Guardian, 02 November 2010.

As well as adversely affecting the arts in higher education, cuts to arts funding will also affect schools.  There are thousands of pupils who have benefited from Creative Partnerships funding which is now under threat.

Colleges consider cutting spending on security.  Education Guardian, 02 November 2010.

With colleges about to lose a quarter of their budgets, there is a suggestion that removing security could save considerable amounts of money without compromising student safety.  Spending on security in colleges is estimated to be between £250,000 and £500,000 per year.  Not surprisingly, there are those who feel such a move would have a bad effect on the student environment.   However, since Truro and Penwith College announced a 24 hour open door policy they have lost just one camera in seven years.

Two-tier fees structure adopted as coalition goes beyond Browne on interest rates.  THE, 03 November 2010.

David Willetts, the universities and science minister, has announced that from 2012, institutions will be able to charge almost three times the current fees level of £3,290. “However, the coalition is also imposing a lower 'threshold' fee level of £6,000, above which universities must meet conditions on improving access to students from poorer backgrounds.”

Time for a return to entry duty.  THE, 04 November 2010.


Michael Goves seemed to miscalculate university opinion of As levels.  When he suggested that they should be removed he was immediately taken to task by the head of admissions at the University of Cambridge who described As levels as a good indicator of final outcomes at A level.  Mr Gove’s idea was to improve the rigour of A levels and make them better preparation for university life.  The question to be asked is that now the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency is to be axed, should universities take more of a role on developing the A level curriculum?

Making the A level work a little harder.  THE, 04 November 2010.

The ‘gold standard’ of the UK 16 – 18 curriculum is the A level.  Yet A level has taken quite a ‘bashing’ in recent times.  It has been accused of being too easy, of grade inflation, of too many resits and hence formed a tempting target for opposition leaders.  The then Shadow Education Secretary Michael Gove promised to remove A levels from the hands of bureaucrats and to place them in the care of universities.  Michael Goves also promised to return end of course examinations as the measure of success, thinking which has received applause from Reform, a right wing think tank, whose report “A New Level” argues that the primary function of A levels is to prepare students for university study and that the link between universities and A level should be restored. This is not a view shared by Andrew Hall, head of AQA, who believes that the qualification has a much broader role.  Andrew makes the point that not all pupils who obtain A levels go on to university and the difficulties faced by many who did not obtain a place this summer show that A levels need to be for a broader audience. Roger Murphy, professor of education at the University of Nottingham, says that it is like putting the clock back, education is complex and too much thinking has gone into creating a national curriculum to throw it out of the window.  Even so, the cry for less government intervention is loud and proponents of less intervention cite the International Baccalaureate, amongst other qualifications, as owing their success to their independence.  There appears to be no consensus as to whether universities want to become more involved in A level planning than they are now.  However, change seems inevitable.

Browne’s plan to support part-timers does not mesh with reality, vice chancellor says.  THE, 04 November 2010.

Whilst supporting in principle, Lord Browne’s attempt to support part-time students more favourably, David Latchman, of the University of London, says that there is no combination of modules that will amount to the 33 per cent of a full-time course that Lord Browne recommends for fee loans.

 Review’s quality drive branded dangerous.  THE, 04 November 2010.

Roger Brown, professor of higher education policy at Liverpool Hope University. has branded the idea of raising higher education standards through competition as nonsense. Professor Brown believes that the proposals in Lord Browne’s report could be disastrous and could destroy a university's reputation for quality.

‘Tribal rites: HEA subject centres’ decades of academic togetherness.  THE, 04 November 2010.

Next week the Higher Education Academy’s (HEA) board is expected to decide the future of subject specific support for teaching after being told that it will lose one third of its funding by 2012 – 2013.   

Truly supportive services.  THE, 04 November 2010.

Opinion: Alastair Wilson and Richard Brunner of the School of Education University of Strathclyde.

Alastair and Richard argue that teachers should take a greater responsibility for the welfare of their students.  In one example, they comment that young adulthood is a crucial time for the emergence of mental health difficulties. They say that the usual approach to a student suffering difficulties is to take some time off until they feel better. This is not always the best approach as engagement with university routes can often be beneficial.

Private firms keen to take Queen's shilling for student support.  THE, 04 November 2010.

The Policy Exchange think tank believes that private providers will accept more regulation in return for access to student-fee support. The think tank says that allowing their students access to government funding will bring an "abrupt end" to the "cosy settlement" enjoyed by state-funded universities.

Edexcel eyes degree-awarding powers as FE 'peasants' are urged to revolt.  THE, 04 November 2010.

Edexcel has confirmed that that it is exploring the potential for providing further education colleges with degree certification, describing the step as a natural progression from its higher national diploma provision.

Other features in this week’s THE:

Bad news travels slow” Hannah Fearn reports on the academy’s verdict on the draft report on the future of Irish higher education.

My Dan Brown moment”: The story of what happened when Jay Kennedy of the University of Manchester was thrust into the glare of the international media.

The Arts.

Unshackling a great notion”: Philosopher Kwame Anthony explains how the concept of honour can be used to shift entrenched views.

Discerning palette”: a discussion in the merits of Cézanne’s “Card Players”.

Darkness lingers”: Gary Day, principal lecturer in English, De Montfort University, looks back at “The Secret Life of the National Grid”, shown on BBC Four on the 26 October.

Ofqual’s exam-value investigation is ‘full of flaws’ warns AQA chief.  TES, 05 November 2010.

Andrew Hall, chief executive of the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), says that the study into comparative values of A level and their competitors needs to go beyond simply looking at exam papers.  Mr Hall wants the study to look at “predictive validity investigations” which will assess the qualifications in the real world. 

An Ofqual spokesperson said that the research being conducted was rigorous and built on work carried out by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

MP warns of 85% university training cuts.  TES, 05 November 2010.

University education departments are facing cuts of 85 per cent warned Pat Glass, Labour member of the education select committee.   Ms Glass has warned that PGCE and undergraduate courses will be threatened.   UCET executive James Noble Rogers says that teachers want the relationship between themselves and universities to be strengthened not broken.

Spanner mightier than pen in earning power.  TES, FE Focus, 05 November 2010.

Despite vocational courses at level 2 receiving criticism, a study initiated by BTEC suggests that students who combine GCSEs and BTEC level 2 are likely to earn more than those studying academic courses only.  London Economics who undertook the survey say “Taking level 2 BTEC on top of five GCSEs adds 5.9 per cent more to earning power”.

Edexcel seeks power to award FE degrees.  TES, FE Focus, 05 November 2010.

The TES follows its sister paper (THE 4th November) today by announcing Edexcel’s decision to consider applying for degree awarding powers. 

Colleges which break the rules threatened with loss of funding.  TES, FE Focus, 05 November 2010.

The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) has threatened to withdraw funding from colleges and training providers who break the rules on claims of success rates.  SFA says that it will carry out this threat irrespective of whether the breach of rules is by design or ignorance.   It is SFA’s beliefs that a small number of providers are putting forward success rates which are not tenable.