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Sector News, 01 March 2010

Widening participation will be the first victim of funding cuts.  Education Guardian, 02 March 2009.

Funding cuts could target college places that are linked to university entrance.  Where universities have encompassed widening participation by going into partnerships with colleges is where cuts may be the most draconian.  This would make it harder for those students studying national diplomas and foundation degrees to obtain places in university.  Widening participation means taking people on the basis of enthusiasm and determination not just on grades.  However, with fewer places at university available it is hard to see how this will continue.

Tories will give universities control of A-level content. Education Guardian, 02 March 2010.

Shadow Education Minister Michael Groves has said that if the Tories win the next election, the control of A level examination content will be handed over to universities. He added that every child will have the opportunity to take Chemistry, Biology and Physics as separate subjects at GCSE and topics such as Geometry and Algebra would appear in tests for 11 year olds. The Tories would abolish the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency and use benchmarks from across the world as a method of ascertaining the success of English pupils.

Growing outcry at threat of cuts in humanities at universities. Education Guardian, 02 March 2010.

A number of vice chancellors and directors of major arts institutions have expressed concern over university funding cuts.  They say that the preponderance of concentrating on sciences could leave subjects such as art, history, philosophy, languages and literature severely damaged.

Trojan accreditation: Private partners pose threat in the battle for students. THE, 04 March 2010.

Many private colleges are charging fees below those levied by accrediting institutions and are recruiting increasing numbers of foreign students from outside the European Union.   A report by Universities UK, has warned about this growing trend and says that the benefits may be outweighed by the competitive threat.  The issue has been raised in the same week as the Tory party has promised to end government bias against private higher education establishments.

Privately schooled graduates more likely to take further degrees.  THE, 04 March 2010

Research by the London School of Economics for the Sutton Trust suggests that those graduates with private education backgrounds are more likely to take post-graduate qualifications than those from state schools.  The study concludes that the underrepresentation of postgraduates from poorer backgrounds is largely the result of universities' undergraduate intakes.

Full toolkit for setting standards to be reviewed.  THE, 04 March 2010.

“The Quality Assurance Agency has launched a consultation on its "academic infrastructure" - the tools used to set degree standards. The current terminology used to describe the setting of degree standards is misleading and even some academics find it hard to follow.

Audit overload.  THE, 04 March 2010.

In an article recognisable to many, the THE comments on the rise of bureaucracy and how staff constantly grumble about administration taking over their lives.  The paper cites research showing how paperwork has grown over the years and whilst supporting the need for regulation, asks whether there is too much of it and examines the consequences of red tape. Bureaucracy is seen as insidious, creating a regime that changes the nature of teaching and research.  The word  "hyper-bureaucracy" is coined , which describes "an out-of-control system" that takes no account of the costs in time, energy and money that are needed to achieve its aims.

See also: Leader Red tape: a form of distrust

It's now or never.  THE, 04 March 2010.

Whilst universities are respected by the British, they are not generally liked and often viewed with hostility.  Nigel Thrift believes that universities need to invest in debate and win arguments that they are currently losing if they are to keep their autonomy and not lose it to the audit culture.  Nigel advocates an aggressive campaign to show why universities are needed and are a necessary part of the UK’s economic scene.

‘Customer’ isn’t always right: market model could lead to disaster.  THE, 04 March 2010.

Opnion: Neal Curtis, Lecturer in critical theory and cultural studies at the University of Nottingham

Neal Curtis says that customer seller relationships do not work in education.  “We do not have to think of our students as customers to ensure our classes are interesting, informative and accessible” says Neal.  Furthermore, the student teacher relationship requires work on both sides and the relationship has brought innovative thought and problem solving that a normal customer relationship cannot match.

Other features in this week’s THE:

Kin, kinder and kindness”, Richard Larschan “recalls a genealogical quest and how the generosity of strangers [.] led to unintentional revelations”.

Exams regulator says Diplomas are too easy.  TES, 05 March 2010.

Ofqual, after looking at the three principal learning qualifications of three diplomas, has concluded that they do not make sufficient demands on students.   They say that the principle learning  written examinations for engineering and society and heath are not challenging enough and that the externally assessed component of creative and media studies is of a lower standard than equivalent qualifications.

A-level seen as option for ‘less able’.  TES, 05 March 2010.

The International Baccalaureate and the Cambridge Pre-U are beginning to be seen as higher quality qualifications than A levels.  Some non selective independent schools have said that where they run A levels alongside one of the alternatives it inevitably streams the less able into A levels.

Tories plan immediate and radical reform of curriculum.  TES, 05 March 2010.

This article is the TES’s take on the Tory plans for education.  The paper sums up the proposals as:

  • undertake review of English, maths and science to be conducted by “learned societies” such as the Advisory Commission on Mathematics Education,
  • science curriculum to be built around three separate sciences,
  • no political meddling in the curriculum once it is reconstructed,
  • Rose review of primary curriculum to be abandoned,
  • Move Key stage 2 tests (as pilot) into year 7 and include algebra and geometry in maths,
  • allow school to adopt International GCSE,
  • universities to take control of A level.

 Shock as universities told to drop college franchises.  TES, FE Focus, 05 March 2010.

Echoing the concerns stated in the Guardian of 02 March (“Narrowing Participation”), the TES reports that the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has suggested cutting franchise provision to colleges.  Leading vice-chancellors are said to be horrified by the statement saying that it would severely reduce the number of students entering university, many of whom enter via FE.  They also point out the damage that such actions would do to the widening participation agenda.

See also Partnerships with universities are ones to cherish”, comment by Alan Thomson, Editor FE Focus.